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.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Virginia Woolf - Mrs. Dalloway, p.85-87 Harvest Books edition.

The grey nurse resumed her knitting as Peter Walsh, on the hot seat beside her, began snoring. In her grey dress, moving her hands indefatigably yet quietly, she seemed like the champion of the rights of sleepers, like one of those spectral presences which rise in twilight in woods made of sky and branches. The solitary traveller, haunter of lanes, disturber of ferns, and devastator of great hemlock plants, looking up, suddenly sees the giant figure at the end of the ride.

By conviction an atheist perhaps, he is taken by surprise with moments of extraordinary exaltation. Nothing exists outside us except a state of mind, he thinks; a desire for solace, for relief, for something outside these miserable pigmies, these feeble, these ugly, these craven men and women. But if he can conceive of her, then in some sort she exists, he thinks, and advancing down the path with his eyes upon sky and branches he rapidly endows them with womanhood; sees with amazement how grave they become; how majestically, as the breeze stirs them, they dispense with a dark flutter of the leaves charity, comprehension, absolution, and then, flinging themselves suddenly aloft, confound the piety of their aspect with a wild carouse.

Such are the visions which proffer great cornucopias full of fruit to the solitary traveller, or murmur in his ear like sirens lolloping away on the green sea waves, or are dashed in his face like bunches of roses, or rise to the surface like pale faces which fishermen flounder through floods to embrace.

Such are the visions which ceaselessly float up, pace beside, put their faces in front of, the actual thing; often overpowering the solitary traveller and taking away from him the sense of the earth, the wish to return, and giving him for substitute a general peace, as if (so he thinks as he advances down the forest ride) all this fever of living were simplicity itself; and myriads of things merged in one thing; and this figure, made of sky and branches as it is, had risen from the troubled sea (he is elderly, past fifty now) as a shape might be sucked up out of the waves to shower down from her magnificent hands compassion, comprehension, absolution. So, he thinks, may I never go back to the lamplight; to the sitting-room; never finish my book; never knock out my pipe; never ring for Mrs. Turner to clear away; rather let me walk straight on to this great figure, who will, with a toss of her head, mount me on her streamers and let me blow to nothingness with the rest.

Such are the visions. The solitary traveller is soon beyond the wood; and there, coming to the door with shaded eyes, possibly to look for his return, with hands raised, with white apron blowing, is an elderly woman who seems (so powerful is this infirmity) to seek, over a desert, a lost son; to search for a rider destroyed; to be the figure of the mother whose sons have been killed in the battles of the world. So, as the solitary traveller advances down the village street where the women stand knitting and the men dig in the garden, the evening seems ominous; the figures still; as if some august fate, known to them, awaited without fear, were about to sweep them into complete annihilation.

Indoors among ordinary things, the cupboard, the table, the window-sill with its geraniums, suddenly the outline of the landlady, bending to remove the cloth, becomes soft with light, an adorable emblem which only the recollection of cold human contacts forbids us to embrace. She takes the marmalade; she shuts it in the cupboard.

“There is nothing more to-night, sir?”

But to whom does the solitary traveller make reply?