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?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sounds from Birch Well

Sounds from Birch Well, Epping Forest (3m extract of 17m piece).

On Sunday 9th December 2012 I cycled out to Epping Forest to record the sound of the woods for my friend Julian's art exhibition. As always in Epping Forest there was lots of mud, bike wheels spinning in it as I tried to ride uphill..

I recorded the sound of the traffic from the underpasses and the woods just shy of the North Circular, then along the old road from Walthamstow to Essex, now an avenue of trees leading from wood to wood. Then I cycled over to Hollow Ponds and Birch Well, the spring by Eagle Pond. I stood very still and pressed record, listened through the headphones. The wind, the traffic from the distant roads, aeroplanes, an occasional caw of a rook or a robin singing. The sun came out. I hadn't listened that hard to the world since I was a kid, and it reminded me of those days, listening to the the suburb around us, being filled a sense of weightlessness and wonder.

I heard a deep bass drone that seemed to move from the horizons to the sky. The sound of the traffic was gathered by and fed into the sound of the planes, the sound of the wind in the wood. I edited it together with another recording of a harp's strings being played by the wind, and gave it to Julian for his exhibition. Here's a sample

The exhibition is at The Link Building @ Carver Church, Lake Road, Windermere, LA23 2BY from 21 to 28th August, 1-6 pm daily. There are postcards and things and a proportion of the money will go to Windermere Food Bank.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Some new music

There's a new Amor de Dias record out on Merge Records

And half the Clientele are on it! James Hornsey plays some lovely bass for us and Howard Monk, who drummed for us for a short while around the time of Suburban Light, is the drummer. When we rehearsed it, we worked out that Howard and I hadn't played together in a room for about 14 years, which a. makes us shockingly old and b. is a tragedy as Howard is one of my favourite drummers.

This record was recorded in 9 days, the fastest I have ever made a long player. What else can I say about it? Mostly just that the dream narrative that began with Suburban Light is still carrying on, finding new twists and turns and new chapters. After 13 years it's becoming an epic.

The cover of the record is a photograph of a cracked mirror in Calle Huertas in Madrid. But with its blue filter it reminds me of sails on the sea. Some of my words were inspired by Ian Hamilton Finlay, a poet that I think would have appreciated the accidental sea/mirror/sail imagery.

Another inspiration for me was Ovid, the Roman poet who wrote Metamorphoses, which describes something similar - shapes changing, consistently moving and reforming into other shapes, without any point of rest or ending. I love this book. And then I think if you summed it up in two words, how would you put it? and the answer is 'Forever Changes.' And I'm back where I begun.

Our record comes out on January 29th in the US, and February 18th in Europe.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Carel Weight

Perfect at this time of the year. Carel Weight, The Battersea Park Tragedy (1974) and the Prescence (1955)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Darkening Ecliptic

Ern Malley was an Australian poet and auto-mechanic, insurance salesman and watch repairman. He was born in Liverpool in 1918 and died in obscurity in Sydney in 1943, at the age of 25.

Ern Malley, by Sidney Nolan

Like Lautreamont, his work was only discovered posthumously, but when it was, it caused a sensation. He appeared, almost uniquely among his peers, to have internalised the Surrealist cut-and paste techniques later made famous in English by William Burroughs et al, lifting different sources out of context and forging them together into verse, and in doing so to have opened himself up to a strange sort of literary free association.

Dürer: Innsbruck, 1495
I had often, cowled in the slumberous heavy air,
Closed my inanimate lids to find it real,
As I knew it would be, the colourful spires
And painted roofs, the high snows glimpsed at the back,
All reversed in the quiet reflecting waters —
Not knowing then that Dürer perceived it too.
Now I find that once more I have shrunk
To an interloper, robber of dead men’s dream,
I had read in books that art is not easy
But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
the black swan of trespass on alien waters.

After refusing medical treatment for Graves disease, and becoming increasingly fractious and difficult to those around him, he became seriously ill and died, leaving a folder of just 12 poems, entitled 'The Darkening Ecliptic', which his sister found and passed on to an Australian poetry periodical called Angry Penguins. In a state of excitement, they devoted a whole issue to the newly discovered poet.

The symbols were evident,
Though on park-gates
The iron birds looked disapproval
With rusty invidious beaks

Among the water-lillies
A splash – white foam in the dark!
And you lay sobbing then
Upon my trembling intuitive arm.
(from Night Piece)

The only problem was, Ern Malley was not real. He'd been made up by James McAuley and Harold Stewart, two poets who felt the Modernist avant-garde was a fraud and wanted to prove that any old rubbish would pass muster, as long as it was aggressively nonsensical. They semi-randomly cut together elements of the collected plays of Shakespeare, The Concise Oxford Dictionary and a dictionary of quotations to create the Malley poems, which were designed to be total gibberish, without any literary merit. And they manufactured a biography for him, including a sister called Ethel who had discovered the poems among his papers. The prank succeeded in making the critics look like fools, and turned Australian poetry away from Modernist experimentation for decades.

And yet, even after his exposure as a fraud, Malley has lived on. Robert Hughes and John Ashberry have both expressed admiration for his poetry. 'The Darkening Ecliptic' has remained enduringly popular, unlike the real poetry of McAuley and Stewart, which is largely forgotten. In the end, rather nightmarishly, Malley eclipsed his creators, having the last laugh despite being a figment of the imagination.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Images and 'pastness'

Last month I read an interesting article in the London Review of Books which put forward the idea that Pop Art is now over. Finished. Historical.

"Pop’s irrevocable pastness ... lies in the fact that something decisive has changed since its salad days in the 1950s and 1960s, something ‘concerning the look and feel of screened and scanned images, the capacity of consumerist and technological worlds to be represented’. "

In other words, we now look at and respond to images, to icons, differently. The 'decisive' part is probably something to do with the internet making them endlessly searchable, displayed on backlit screens rather than as prints you can touch. Light is more ethereal than paper.

We aren't encountering one single, defining image, like Marilyn or Elvis anymore. Things have got more complicated and the reference points are blurred. I can kind of see this happening in Pop Art if you go from Warhol to Richter. The image (arguably) gets more and more ambiguous and sinister. The glamour changes.

Warhol Marilyns; Gerhard Richter, Confrontation 2, 1988

I wonder whether pop culture as a whole is fading in the same way. It would make sense to me if it was. Was it all about singularity, objects (mass produced but available in singular, tactile form)? and now there are no longer any objects there is no longer a viable pop culture? Or is that an insane idea?

(It's probably just my age, but I responded more to vinyl in my hands, or an article on a magazine page (I mean, when records and magazines were plugged into a meaningful larger culture) - than I do to the equivalent digital stuff. To my mind the way that really made sense to encounter The Clientele was two songs at a time, on a 7" single. The artwork, the combination of tracks, the analogue sound. Something mysterious, and yes, glamorous, which you could also file away as part of a collection.)

As pop culture loses its grip on the iconic and the tactile it also seems to lose its worth (I mean literally, monetarily, through filesharing), but also that it becomes ultra-disposable in itself, more disposable than the most disposable thing ever was. You can lose an mp3 and then find another one, what does it matter?

There are good sides to this for sure. But right now I can't be bothered to talk about them. And anyway, maybe it's all nonsense. The London Review of Books is continually proclaiming that artists can no longer do this or that or the other. It gets on your nerves after a while... There is a much more interesting article about traditions of looking in the latest issue. (NB sorry both these links need you to be a subscriber to the magazine).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

7 Bruce Grove a large, derelict Victorian building. Its courtyard is separated from the Tottenham street by a high barrier, part-overgrown with even higher fireweed. It's for sale, although the estate agents sign is smashed. There always seems to be an accident or a fuss going on around it: a broken down bus, someone shouting, an ambulance accelerating off towards Wood Green. I once saw a Harley Davidson spread across the tarmac in separate silvery parts, it had been hit by a delivery van; there was a biker standing on the pavement and watching the debris, scratching his chin.

I zip past the house on a bike most days, and at a certain point I began to notice a blue heritage plaque on the wall. The other week I finally stopped to read it:

Luke Howard gave us a taxonomy of clouds. He had the idea of giving them double-barrelled names because they're subject to such quick changes (cumulus and stratus in mid-metamorphosis becomes cumulo-stratus). I like the plaque's slightly ambiguous wording though: he was a namer of clouds. As if his hobby was to christen them, one by one, like children, as he looked out of his window.

There was a giant's causeway of cirro-cumulus clouds early this morning, pointing off past Bruce Grove and on to the west, the direction I was heading in: I was going to navigate by them, take new backstreets to get away from the traffic. But then I thought, who navigates by clouds?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gertrude O'Brady

Balloon, c. 1940

I found this artist in a 1979 book called 'Naive Painting' published by Phaidon. Gertrude O'Brady was an American pianist who travelled in Europe and ended up staying in Paris for health treatments. She was eventually interned in Vittel concentration camp by the Nazis. She survived and carried on painting for a little while, before losing interest and disappearing from the historical record. Not much is on the web about her; her entire career lasted only a decade. Her paintings are hallucinatory and strangely mournful. Those faded stratospheres under the balloon, like a nuclear after-glow. I wish there was a book collecting her work somewhere, and that I owned it. Maybe a trip to the British Library is in order.

Balloon c. 1940

Le Théâtre Hébertot, 1946

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lapis, short film by James Whitney (1966)

I first saw this film as part of a kinetic art exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, some time in the last decade. The blurb said something vague and art world-y like 'James Whitney was profoundly inspired by Indian mysticism'. I'd love to have had it explained a bit further. Maybe I should read the Upanishads.

I once almost spent £20 at Camden Town's sorely missed Compendium Bookshop on a book called 'Jacques Derrida and Indian Philosophy - or did I only dream it? - but opted for something else instead (an umpteenth generation Lenny Bruce stand-up tape I think - or dreamt).

Here's another James Whitney film, Yantra, from 1957. It took 7 years to make, by hand, tracing the dots one after another over a page. Watch out for the strobe effects. And have a good Friday night.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Gaëtan Gatian de Clérambault

Clérambault (1872 - 1934) was a photographer and psychiatrist (apparently he invented, ahem I mean discovered, the concept of erotomania). He travelled to Morocco and obsessively took photos of women in veils. I don't know much more about him; about a year ago I found a book in a second-hand shop that contained some of his photos. They're troubling: the odd, repetitive overlap between woman and apparition. The apparent hint of cruelty and objectification. I wonder what he was doing? what was he looking for in these images?

Friday, August 05, 2011

More about painting

I've been enjoying the British Masters series on BBC4. Oxbridge Art Historian Dr. James Fox stares at symbolically thorny twigs in front of a sunset glow and roves up and down damp northern streets. He also talks about British (for this, read English) Painters of the 20th Century. He sees an unheralded and almost-forgotten 'golden age' of figurative painting stretching from the end of the Edwardian era until the suicide of Keith Vaughan in the late 1970s, taking in Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, Stanley Spencer, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Richard Hamilton and Lucian Freud, after which it all became about pickled sharks, diamond skulls and money.

Cray Fields - Graham Sutherland
Bonfire Night, Hay Bluff I - David Inshaw

(Except that it didn't: Peter Blake, Paula Rego, John Bellany, Stephen Conroy and Stephen Cambell all carried on the painterly tradition that Dr. Fox celebrates, but apparently they don't count cos they're a. women b. Scottish or c. some other reason.)

The Forest - Graham Sutherland

I love the art of most of these artists; I definitely respond to their 'Britishness'. And they deserve more international recognition. In some ways I like Dr. Fox's ludicrousness. I like the fact he flies in the face of received opinion. But his loose way with facts is quite shocking for an Oxbridge professor (e.g. on Keith Vaughan: he didn't kill himself out of despair because the conceptual artists had edged him out, as the program strongly intimates; in fact he had cancer and was at the end of a long and successful career.) Still, nice to see some of my favourite painters on the telly.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Vanishing Map

This week Amor de Dias are 'editing' the online version of the USA's Magnet Magazine, which means writing 6 or 7 pieces each about some of our favourite things. One of mine is about Ida Ekblad, a Norwegian painter and sculptor, and Julian Hyde, a writer and artist. What links them is a belief in walking and looking, gathering lost objects together and re-presenting them, whether as sculpture, photos or narrative accounts.

Box containing 'Book of Days' and ephemera, Julian Hyde, 2009

Julian's work has been a major inspiration to me over the years. I see him as one of a peculiar breed of English writer-artists who experience something transfixing in the landscape: sometimes beautiful, sometimes unbearable; I'm thinking of painters Samuel Palmer, John and Myfanwy Piper, Paul Nash and the Brotherhood of Ruralists; maybe the tragic poet John Clare. In his work, visions of the woods combine with the liminal spaces where road meets forest,  the edges of private estates, car wrecks in forgotten B-roads.

The Books of Days in paperback form

Julian has most recently written two Books of Days, each detailing a year in his life. I've contributed drawings to illustrate both, along with his own photographs; the second, darker volume, 'The Ecology of Memory' details a crisis of confidence and a slow recovery through the rhythms of nature and friendship. The books are based in Windermere in the Lake District, beauty spot and home of Wordsworth. He finds meaning in walking, looping through the woods and lakes. He sometimes extends these walks into cordoned-off areas, getting up before dawn to witness and photograph the derelict and abandoned places that the authorities have marked off-limits to the public. I think to have a genuine sense of place you need to be aware of these kind of spaces on the margins and refuse to be hemmed in by footpaths and fences. It reminds me of John Clare, and his dismay at the 19th century Acts of Inclosure, which closed off tracts of common land to local people, essentially forcing them out of their own landscape. As I know from my own walks down the Lea Valley by the London Olympic site, this still happens today, and it's every bit as undemocratic and shameless.

Julian collects his impressions in beautiful books of photos and text, lovingly bound, sometimes mounted in Joseph Cornell-style boxes surrounded by the leaves and ephemera that inspired him. They describe a kind of archaeology of the abandoned, objects observed day by day as the year moves on, as well as catalogues of his own emotions and political observations, and not least, unforgettably vivid and real portraits of the people and places around him. His small town world is genuinely and convincingly described, a true testament to a life lived in England in 2011, with all its beautiful and depressing minutinae, and all its fetishistic details.

Page 7, 'The Ecology of Memory'

Incidentally, and much less importantly, 'The Ecology of Memory' also contains a CD with a classical guitar piece by me, called 'The Secret Commonwealth'. Julian’s books are labours of love and, as such, aren’t produced in large numbers. In fact, I don't even know if they are for sale, or whether he just sends them to me and a group of like-minded people. He has no web presence, except this Flickr page, which he can be contacted through. He's one of the very few genuine artists I know.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


On Friday, Amor de Dias played at the Scandinavian Seaman's Church in Liverpool. It was magical. We played in the church itself, a whitewashed room with lovely natural reverb. If you got bored you could go downstairs to the lounge where the church staff served soup and home-made bread, and the walls were covered with nautical engravings. There was no bar, so everybody brought their own alcohol. We ended up sleeping on bunk beds in the basement.

Harvest Sun, the promoters of the show, seem to specialise in finding unusual and fascinating places to play around the city. A year ago, they put The Clientele on in the Williamson Tunnels, a warren of unearthed Victorian tunnels which were commissioned and dug by the tobacco merchant Joseph Williamson for no apparent reason. Our backstage space was the tunnel museum! The Williamson Tunnels show also ranked as one of the Clientele's favourite outings.

Above is a video of Amor de Dias playing Harvest Time at the Scandinavian Church. The wonderful Seek Magic blog has footage of a lot of the other songs we played. Thank you to Wally for filming it, and Harvest Sun for putting us on. It was one of my favourite nights of music ever.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

O you brittle concrete swans

I tried to put my heart and soul into every Clientele record (succeeded with some more than others I expect). Maybe one day we'll make another record. I hope so. But for now we are resting, an ageing actor, a monstre sacré killing time at the Cadogan Hotel, ignoring the cards left by the young acolytes in the Beatles wigs.

I like the idea that any group of people in suburbia, who had encountered the same books and records we did at the same times we did, could have formed The Clientele themselves.

Meanwhile, if you're interested, I am working on a few new things. The main one at the moment is Amor de Dias. You can read about that on the Merge website, but it's a slightly different kind of band, more acoustic and formed around different kinds of rhythm (literally and metaphorically). I write half the songs and Lupe Núñez Fernández of Pipas writes the other half. Our first record is out on May 17th and we're touring the US with Damon and Naomi around that time.

I've been playing guitar with a few people - I did a bit here and there on the new Comet Gain record, which is called 'The Howl of the Lonely Crowd' and comes out soon. I'm also playing in uncle Louis Philippe's live line up at the moment, with gigs coming up in London and Madrid. It's a lot of fun.

Also, I'm trying to write something. A truthful account of what it was like to be young and directionless in the mid 1990s in England. Maybe I'll have some progress reports here before long. It's humbling how hard it is to write interesting prose at any length. So on that note... see you soon.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Totes Meer

I designed this rabbit tote bag for Merge Records the other month, and now they have some for sale. It'll carry vinyl, groceries, or a brace of weasels.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Two Songs

I have been listening to two very beautiful songs this week, over and over again: California Lullabye by Spectrum, and Water Wolves by the Chills. That is all.

Monday, April 26, 2010

duh duh duh duh duh duh duh

I finished a song earlier, my first in about 18 months. I'd been feeling really inspired to pick up a guitar by the Clientele's very pleasant trip to Liverpool at the weekend, listening to lots of Shack and the La's. Anyway, as I was walking down Lower Clapton Road I had it playing in my head, no words yet, just a tune that went duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh.

To my complete astonishment, a pub on my left was playing my tune through their loudspeakers, I could hear it from the pavement. It sounded fantastic. I was puzzled and alarmed. Then I had one of those melancholy moments of realisation. I had written "I Feel Fine" by The Beatles.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Confused but grateful

We're all home safe and sound from our US road trip now, except for the sneaky feeling I have that my apartment, ahem I mean, flat, is perambulating up some American freeway.

This tour was the biggest and best we've ever done, with some wonderful opening bands (the elegance, restraint, and musicality of Vetiver in particular, while initially inspiring, slowly became breathtaking as the nights wore on). But everyone we played with was great; we were extremely lucky to have Field Music and The Wooden Birds; and I still can't believe Liam Hayes opened for us in Chicago, as well as The Mad Scene in New York. We also got to be on TV, caked in make up and hair wax - it was like Romo had never gone away.

So thank you for coming out, if you did come out. We'll hopefully see you again before too long.

And now to mail order a breakfast burrito, as well as vow in writing never to fly Delta Airlines again (I hope we get a decent royalty for the fact they use our music as in-flight entertainment, it may offset how badly they gouged us on every charge they could invent, in both directions)

ps the silkscreened poster above, inspired by the song 'Harvest Time', is available from Piecemaker Design

Saturday, February 20, 2010

We Are Making a New World

Landscape of the Vernal Equinox by Paul Nash.

I snuck in a visit to the rather snooty Dulwich Picture Library just before leaving to tour the USA for a while. They have a Paul Nash exhibition on; judging by the ecstatic reviews it appears to have resurrected his reputation as a major British painter, a worthy addition to the line of Blake and Palmer, a key mythologiser and re-imaginer of the ley lines of the English landscape. In fact, all the things I wish people would say about me. But, er.. maybe there's some more work to be done there.

I thought it was incredibly inspiring, almost physically affecting at times. The last room brought a tear to my eye. See it if you can. Surrealism in Swanage: sign me up!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Haunted Weather

"I had set up my recording equipment on the edge of a clearing, with the microphones pointing up the hillside. As the light faded, the distant roar of stags rolled down through the forest and into the clearing. It began to rain. As usual I had heard the rushing sound of the wind blowing down the glen and across the canopy, but just at the point when the light was almost gone, the wind changed. The effect was dramatic. The atmosphere changed very quickly, as did my mood and perception. I can honestly say that I felt something blow down that hillside and into the clearing - the quality of the sound changed, the deer seemed to stop calling, and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck - what few I have - stand up. I packed up as quickly as I could, and I left. Over the next few days I went back there to similar locations and made a series of successful recordings without ever feeling the same effects."

- Chris Watson, of Cabaret Voltaire on making field recordings in Glen Affric, Scotland.

Felix Hess, on his work with infrasound microphones, recording the inaudibly (to the human ear) low frequency sounds of air pressure fluctuations:

"Using a time compression factor of 360, one hour of audible sound on a CD represents 15 days and nights of recorded infrasound, originally in the range between 0.03 Hz and 56 Hz. {note: the human ear tends to hear between 20 Hz and 16,000 Hz} The sensation of hearing this … is deeply strange, like being buffeted by a high wind and at the same time hearing the extreme high frequency activity of neural processing. ‘One hears high-pitched whistles, beeps and insect-like buzzes’, Hess writes, ‘which come from the deep rumbling of factories, trains and trucks, and other motor cars, or even nearby washing machines. The opening and closing of doors gives rise to countless tiny clicks, which may add up to form a sound like soft rain on autumn leaves. Finally, an extraordinary presence: a rich, deep drone, originally at 0.2 Hz, audible like a multi-engined heavy airplane in the distance. This deep droning sound, at times all but inaudible, is formed by oscillations in the atmosphere – microbaroms – caused by standing waves in the Atlantic Ocean, far away.' "

Both quotes taken from David Toop's fascinating (and occasionally infuriating) Haunted Weather. Seascape Photo by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A New York evening of music and laughter with The Clientele's Alasdair MacLean

I remember a friend of mine once telling me that her friend Stephin Merritt was being flown from New York to London solely to 'do press'. This seemed impossibly glamorous to me, I mean they fly you to a different country and put you in a hotel just so you can talk to people… about YOURSELF! You must have some weighty pronouncements to make to the world if that’s how you’re being treated, better greet the journalists with a faintly melancholy smile (oh, the loneliness of genius, the weight of one's towering intellect) and an honest, if distracted, handshake.

Anyway every dog has its day, and they’re flying me over to New York this week to 'do press'. And a bit of radio, and a seated show at Joe's Pub where I hope to have a pleasant stroll down memory lane / through the Clientele’s back catalogue. So this is the bit where I plug the show. It's on October 29th. The press, containing my views on all the important matters of our times, will be forthcoming.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises

After a cold, bright weekend, we’re in the middle of a dark and drizzling week here in London, a week which sees the new Clientele LP released in the USA. Many people advised against releasing it this late in the year, but I don’t really mind how this one sells, and I love the feeling that everyone is experiencing these Autumnal songs together as Autumn really kicks in (unless you’re Australian of course). Also great from the limited amounts of press I’ve read that people are finally beginning to appreciate the mental distress and paranoia behind my work.

Unfortunately we couldn’t rush-release the European version (preorder it here) for October – although I was hoping for a Bonfire Night release on November 5th. But let’s hope it’s a mild early winter and November 30th still hits the spot. Don’t forget I’m playing at Joes Pub in New York on the 29th Oct, and that there are at least two full band Clientele gigs before the end of the year. And if you buy the record, thank you very much indeed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Amor de Días, Damon and Naomi: it's summer duo madness!

Next week sees the return of Amor De Días, the new psych-folk / tropicalia duo I play in with Lupe from Pipas, opening for Damon and Naomi at the Dulcimer in Manchester on 3rd September and Café Oto in London on the 4th. And no, we will not cancel this time. Excited to be sharing the bill with the Left Outsides in London too!

Manchester tickets

London tickets

We’re also much closer now to finishing our record, hopefully we will be able to unveil some tracks soon. Watch this space, or see you in Chorlton or Dalston. The choice is yours.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Don't Look Now

As the last post on the Victorian spiritual underground helped connect some people to Samuel Palmer’s art, let’s have a look at a Victorian painter of a very different character. I first encountered Atkinson Grimshaw’s work on the dust jacket of a collection of M.R. James’s ghost stories.

Grimshaw was initially a railway clerk, but abandoned his day job to become a painter of moonlight scenes and rainy nightscapes in northern English towns. It appears he’s remembered now for the very good reason that there was pretty much no one else like him, although there are parallels with Arnold Böcklin and Caspar David Friedrich. His pictures may have been meant to communicate a kind of idealised rustic beauty, but to modern eyes the best of them come across as essays in loneliness, a wintry counter-argument to Palmer’s ecstatic landscapes.

His pictures perfectly compliment M.R. James’s stories, and they echo Jonathan Miller’s 1968 BBC Omnibus treatment of James’s most famous (and terrifying) story “Oh Whistle and I’ll come to you” in which a pompous academic on holiday in Norfolk discovers an ancient whistle in the sands with the words “And who is it that is coming?” inscribed in Latin. He blows through the whistle, and soon, in the indistinct horizon where the sea meets the sky, he sees a figure running, unreally, towards him….

Miller’s only other film project of this era was a version of Alice in Wonderland (1966) starring Peter Sellers and Peter Cook. Unfortunately neither of them are very funny in it, but it doesn’t matter, as the project is saved by a slowly building, beautifully hallucinatory ambience, centred around Anne-Marie Mallik as Alice, and the English woods and trees she drifts through, in floods of sunlight, at the height of summer. To the sound of none other than … Ravi Shankar.

When Peter Blake was a member of the Brotherhood of Ruralists he painted some very similar depictions of Alice, which reminds me to note that the Brotherhood (and sisterhood) are still active, and still exhibiting in 2009. And there was recently a monograph on Atkinson Grimshaw published in the UK. I just wish Jonathan Miller would make another TV film.

Friday, July 24, 2009

England's Lost Eden

The original, archaeological site of the Garden of Eden is believed by the members of the Panacea Society to be at 18 Albany Street in Bedford. This is so obviously a delightful idea I hardly need to expand on it; God and Adam arguing on a suburban lawn, sprinklers twitching over the grass. Then the Fall and the Exile, or more specifically the beginning of life at no's 16 and 20. As cults go, the Panacea Society seem like quite nice people, they take their creed from an 18th Century 'prophet', Joanna Southcott, who, like some other very interesting ranters, shakers and jumpers who formed a religious subculture in the 18th and 19th centuries, believed she was receiving messages directly from God, and that the end of the world was close. Jesus would re-enter triumphantly through the streets of Bedford. I can very vividly imagine this, perhaps cos there is an early Peter Blake painting of a similar scene, called Christ Entering Venice:

He painted it while studying at the Royal Academy. Much later, after Sgt Pepper and the swinging 60s, Peter Blake becomes part of the Ruralist Brotherhood, and his paintings take on a beautiful folkloric feel. He reaches back to the art of Samuel Palmer and William Blake, tapping into a sense that the land itself is sentient in some mysterious way. I love Samuel Palmer's eerie paintings of fields at night with the harvest moon hanging over them, ghost-figures walking through the furrows. Seeing an exhibition of his work at the British Museum a few years ago, I was struck how hugely ahead of his time he was. Sadly, the death of his son, Thomas, chastened him, and he abandoned or lost his original ecstatic vision and ended up as a Victorian academic painter, forgotten for many years after he died.

18 Albany Street, The Site of The Original Garden of Eden, was eventually bought by the Panacea Society, and is now rented to non-religious tenants, apparently kept on two months notice should anything of a millenarial nature happen. A Channel 4 documentary crew recently filmed the inside of the house. Alas, God's signs and wonders kept themselves under wraps. But I love the idea of people still re-imagining the English suburbs and countryside as a kind of sacred, prophetic landscape. It's part of the Blakean tradition still alive in 2009, however eccentric it seems, however ironically distanced from it we've become. This magical sense of symbols being hidden in the everyday: symbols of the ancient, of the sacred agrarian, old as history itself. You can find them in the corners of suburban cul-de-sacs as much as in the fields themselves. Our forgotten Gods waiting for us in the long grass, just behind the forecourt of the empty shopping centre, as a long evening begins to fall.

More on this in England's Lost Eden, Adventures in a Victorian Utopia by Phillip Hoare.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

For future tribute bands

I have to admit, this has made me happier than any press on the Clientele I have ever read. Guitargeek made a picture of my "rig"! It must have taken hours!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Psychedelic Werther

Poor Werther, on top of all his other problems, in this 1960s paperback edition of his tragic story, he don't know whether he's in Picasso's blue period or his pink! What's a boy to do? Actually, don't answer that one.

I got this from the Oxfam book shop in Strutton Ground, Victoria, which is one of London's best-kept secrets. The key to its magnificence is the type of people who live nearby and donate their libraries to the shop when they move on or die. So close to Whitehall, they're all ex-civil service, ex-MI5, Chelsea aristocrats or Communists (generally donating militant pamphlets from 1920-1950), or all four put together, and the books they leave behind are fascinating.