Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Virgil's melancholy

... everything, by nature's law
Tends to the worse, slips ever backward, backward
As with a man, who scarce propels his boat
Against the stream: if once his arms relax
The current sweeps it headlong down the rapids

Virgil, Georgics, bk I-199

Twice in the year, men gather the honey harvest
First when Taygete the Pleiad shows
Her comely face to the world, and with her foot
Has spurned the streams of Ocean; and again
When the same star, fleeing the rainy sign
Of the Fish, more sadly hastens down the sky
Into the wintry waves

Ibid, bk IV, 231-5

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

carved in air

'The outer suburbs have almost a moorland fascination when fog lies thick and orange-coloured over their huge flat wastes of grass ... but does not quite conceal the stark outlines of a traction engine, some procumbent timber, a bonfire and frantic figures darting around it, and aerial scaffolding far away. Other fields, yet unravished but menaced, the fog restores to a primaeval state. And what a wild noise the wind makes in the telegraph wires as in wintry heather and gorse ... If a breeze arises it makes that sound of the dry curled leaves chafing along the pavement; at night they seem spies in the unguarded by-ways. But there are also days -  and spring and summer days too - when a quiet horror thicks and stills the air outside London.

The ridge of trees high in the mist are very grim. The isolated trees stand cloaked in conspiracies here and there about the fields. The houses, even whole villages, are translated into terms of unreality as if they were carved in air and could not be touched; they are empty and mournful as skulls or churches. There is no life visible - for the ploughmen and the cattle are figures of light dream. All is soft and grey. The land has drunken the opiate mist and is passing slowly and reluctantly into perpetual sleep.'

-Edward Thomas, The South Country, 1909, p.96-97

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I had no idea where the phrase 'Halcyon days' came from until I read this beautiful lyric by the ancient Greek poet Simonides:

'During the winter solstice
Zeus orders fourteen days of peaceful weather
and man has called this windless season holy
for then the mottled halcyon rears its young.'

A Halcyon was a kind of Kingfisher (probably - we're not even sure which colours the ancient Greeks were referring to in their literature; there is no ancient Greek word for 'blue'). They believed it nested on the open sea in midwinter, coinciding with two weeks of calm, mild weather.

The most celebrated Greek lyric poet is Sappho, none of whose work has survived intact. Often her manuscripts were torn into vertical strips: they were used as mummy-wrapping! So in many cases we only have incomplete lines, but sometimes when those fragments are presented together, they coalesce into something extraordinary:

'a deed
your lovely face

if not, winter
and no pain

I bid you, Abanthis
take up the lyre
and sing of Gongyla as again desire
floats around you

the beautiful. when you saw her dress
it excited you. I'm happy.
The Kypros-born once
blamed me

for praying
this word
I want'

Monday, March 10, 2014

Suburban Light reissue

Our first record, Suburban Light, is getting an expanded reissue by Merge Records in May. Both vinyl and CD versions will have an extra disc with 30 minutes of rare and unreleased stuff, which we compiled by slowly and painfully going through a carrier bag of old portastudio master tapes over Xmas.

It was quite surprising what we found - songs we'd recorded and sung but completely forgotten - a string quartet prelude to a tune that was never finished (how the hell did we even know a string quartet?), an expensively recorded brass quartet-led version of What Goes up which was so out of tune as to be unreleasable other than for comedy purposes. A cover of a Jacques Brel song sung in original, and horribly English accented French. It also brought me back to a well remembered space from the past.

We recorded most of Suburban Light in the room above guitarist and singer Innes Phillips' garage in the summer of 1996, after finishing at University and signing on to the dole. We had an 8 track portastudio and two mics. We sang through guitar amps ‘cos we liked the way their reverb sounded on our voices. We couldn’t afford a guitar tuner. Below you can see us playing in his garden in 1994. Really fighting the urge to be nostalgic here so will just say a. look at that Luna t shirt! and b. it's a really special feeling when someone thinks stuff you did when you were young is worth revisiting.

Suburban Light is out May 13. The Clientele are playing a special one-off show at the Bell House in Brooklyn, NYC on March 21st.