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Chosen One: Adrian Crowley & James Yorkston

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Interview with Adrian Crowley.

“Your picture
is still
on my wall
on my wall
the colors are bright
bright as ever
the red is strong
the blue is true
some things last a long time
some things last a long time”

Daniel Johnston, ‘Some Things Last A Long Time’

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Last December marked the release of a special collaborative mini-album between Adrian Crowley and James Yorkston, on the Glasgow-based independent label Chemikal Underground. The much-loved and highly acclaimed singer-songwriters have joined forces to re-interpret the songs of American songwriting luminary Daniel Johnston. ‘My Yoke Is Heavy: The Songs Of Daniel Johnston’ is a special dedication to the cult American songwriter that brings to mind the similarly affecting covers album ‘The Covers Record’ by Cat Power. A parallel exists between the intimacy and purity of Marshall’s interpretation of ‘Sea Of Love’ (traditional), Lou Reed’s ‘I Found A Reason’, ‘Red Apples’ (Bill Callahan), amongst many others and Yorkston and Crowley’s immaculate renditions of Johnston’s beguiling songbook, including ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’, ‘Like A Monkey In A Zoo’ and ‘Some Things Last A Long Time’.

I fondly recall the moment I first heard the music of James Yorkston. The source of the musical discovery came from my trusted independent music radio program on 2FM, hosted by Jay Ahern – the attentive silence enveloped the room as the static of the radio would transport me to the far reaches of my mind – one Sunday night in early Spring. The year was 2002. This became the year that I developed my obsession with music (there was no coming back from this, I thought) as a song entitled ‘Sweet Jesus’ surfaced beautifully on the airwaves, the gorgeous songbook of Yorkston opened up a whole new world of meaning and possibilities. The debut album ‘Moving Up Country’ – recorded with Yorkston’s formidable band, The Athletes – is one of those utterly timeless folk albums that remains one of my favourite of the Fife-native’s rich body of work. The distinctive baritone shared by Crowley and Yorkston, would serve a reliable companion to the many seasons that subsequently passed, all those years later.

I struggle to pinpoint the moment I first heard Adrian Crowley’s music. Similar to the albums of Bill Callahan (my treasured Smog records such as ‘Knock Knock’, ‘Red Apple Falls’ and ‘Dongs of Sevotion’), the arrival of a new Crowley record would forever be wrapped in a special sense of (long-awaited) discovery. The spell cast by the Irish singer-songwriter’s poetic lyrics and distinctive baritone has remained a trusted constant over the last decade or so, and with each new addition, one is left to revel in its marvel and truly appreciate the creator’s genius. The most recent albums, such as ‘Season Of The Sparks’, ‘Long Distance Swimmer’ and last year’s ‘I See Three Birds Flying’ shows a songwriting talent in full-flight, unleashing artistic treasures with each turn of phrase and heavenly chord progression.

Themes such as longing, unrequited love, pain, torment and internal struggle lie at the heart of Johnston’s deeply affecting songbook. The choice of Johnston songs and running order of Crowley and Yorkston’s collaboration – where each song is wonderfully interchanged between Crowley and Yorkston – creates an enriching journey into the heart of Johnston’s world of song. The album begins with the achingly beautiful ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’ (a song I first heard many moons ago, performed live by Jason Pierce and Spiritualized), containing the splendid baritone of Crowley, alone at his piano, and a selection of found sounds (the whistling wind and audio excerpts) adding to the wonderful spontaneity of these recordings. ‘My Yoke Is Heavy’ contains the sublime vocals of Yorkston and the soft strum of acoustic guitar, alongside a plethora of delicate sounds (harmonium and field recordings). A sense of loneliness prevails throughout the “dark deep gloom” of one of many Johnston’s tower of songs: “Your shadow knows / It’s right behind you all the way / Your shadow knows just where you’ve been.”

The intricate arrangement of ‘Hold The Hand’ containing piano, delicate woodwind and Crowley’s mesmerising baritone is one of the album’s highlights. On a later verse, a section of majestic harmonies further heightens the song’s quavering power: “I was on MTV / Everybody was looking at me / I held a hand of the devil.” The piano notes makes way for the folk tale of ‘Like A Monkey In A Zoo’ (one of my all-time favourite Johnston songs) where a sense of urgency and torment engulf the vocals of Yorkston. The instrumentation is enhanced by the addition of percussion and the sounds of chirping birds that brings to mind a vivid sense of child-like innocence and purity (often embedded within the songs of Daniel Johnston).

Side B opens with the stunningly beautiful ballad ‘The Sun Shines Down On Me’ with Crowley on vocals. One of the album’s defining moments arrives when Crowley sings “I’m walking down the lonely road” on the first verse as a torn heart is laid bare. The immediacy of Crowley’s voice transports you to the aching core of a broken heart. A ray of hope is forged on the “empty road” that lies ahead: “And I’m getting closer to hope / That I can carry and take home with me.” The instrumentation of organ serves the ideal sonic backdrop to Crowley’s fragile vocal that brings me back to the Irish songwriter’s touching cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘The Ocean’ – dedicated to the memory of the late great Lou Reed – performed by Crowley alone on guitar on his recent Irish tour.

Church bells are the opening tones of ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Grievance’. Yorkston’s baritone and guitar is joined by an array of chimes, percussion and backing harmonies. What follows next is the album’s penultimate track – and another song steeped in moments of unfathomable beauty – led by Crowley’s baritone and divine accompaniment of guitar and piano. The voice of Crowley effortlessly melts into the ceaseless flow of piano notes and rhythmic guitar notes. The opening verse evokes a vivid sense of longing: “Try to remember / But my feelings can’t know for sure / I tried to reach out / But it’s gone.” As Crowley sings “lucky stars in your eyes”, one feels the sheer magic dispelled by a song’s brilliance. Yorkston’s formidable recording of ‘Some Things Last A Long Time’ serves the fitting close to a remarkable album and loving tribute to the songwriting genius of Daniel Johnston. The song gradually builds into a haven of celestial sounds as Yorkston’s voice comes closer into focus towards the closing moments. Not only is ‘My Yoke Is Heavy’ a fitting tribute to the work of Daniel Johnston but a joyous celebration of the art of songwriting. Some things last a lifetime.

“And when you wake up in the morning
You’ll have a brand new feeling
And you’ll find yourself healing
So don’t let the sun go down on your grievance.”

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‘My Yoke Is Heavy: The Songs Of Daniel Johnston’ is available now on Chemikal Underground.

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Interview with Adrian Crowley.

What is it precisely about Daniel Johnston’s music that drew you to his songbook in the first place? Can you recount your first time coming across the music of Daniel Johnston?

When I lived in France a number of years ago, I used to spend a lot of time with two friends of mine there. They had a massive record collection and I’d sit on the floor of their little cottage which had a nice courtyard, and we’d listen to record after record. Sometimes I’d sit their and play their guitar too. I discovered a lot of music in those couple of years. I think that’s where I first heard the music of Daniel Johnston. Either in that cottage or from a cassette — a mix tape they made for me. The raw beauty, fragility and, at once, the power. I hadn’t really heard a sound like that before. Also I got the chills.

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I read that the inception of this beautiful project began in 2006 when you performed at London’s The Barbican as part of a Daniel Johnston tribute concert which coincided with the release of ‘The Devil And Daniel Johnston’, the film by Jeff Feuerzeig. The film is undoubtedly a genuinely moving and truly life-affirming film and portrait of Daniel Johnston. I would love if you could recount your own memories of seeing the film and your feelings about it. As a music fan, I remember being really moved by it, but I can only imagine that, for you – as a musician and songwriter – it must have been a hugely affecting experience for you?

Yes, well James was asked to participate and soon after he called on me to join him and also asked a friend of ours Emma Smith to play violin. I don’t think James relished the idea of going out on that big stage all by himself and basically kicking off the show. I was thrilled to be involved. I worked out some spacey guitar parts but then a few minutes before we went onstage I remember being told that I was expected to sing also. Emma gave me a good pep talk and I decided to go for it. It worked out fine but it could easily have gone the other way. That was my first time actually singing those songs and it was in front of about two thousand people…
It has been seven years since I saw the film. But yes, I do remember being very moved. I was particularly marked by the reflections of Daniel’s father. That moment in the film, in particular, when he was telling the story of the light aircraft crash when D decided it would be a good idea to snatch the keys from the ignition and throw them out the window. The love for his son and the cycle of heartache that he lived through was palpable.

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What I loved about it the film also is how that sense of ‘community’ present in the independent music scene is very strongly evident. It must be a special feeling bringing this album into the world, knowing that it will undoubtedly introduce plenty of people to the music of Daniel Johnston’s?

I hope that it would help at least introduce a few more people to his songs, certainly. But it is only a little torch that we have made and I don’t know how far it will go in illuminating his songs for others to hear for the first time.
I am also mindful that many existing fans are probably very protective of his work. Rightly so. I tried not to think about any of those things though and to just tried to inhabit the songs in the most natural way I could. Almost without self-awareness, you know? Just sitting in a room by myself at a piano for the most part, and just pressing the red button on the recorder.

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Immediately, what’s apparent on listening to this album, is how special both your voices are in singing Daniel Johnston’s songs. It’s such a powerful thing, and I guess it’s like listening to the best examples of “cover” songs, when they’re done not simply as a straightforward exercise but done thoughtfully out of love and respect for it’s author. I’d love to know your favourite Daniel Johnston song and why? Also, keeping on the art of the cover song, so to speak, what are your favourite cover songs that have been recorded and the ones you find most fulfilling?

Thank you. I think both James and I are able to take a song away (if we like it / love it enough) and let it percolate through ourselves so it’s informed by who we are as people. At least we try and allow that to happen, I think.
Favourite covers? Shipbuilding performed by Robert Wyatt springs to mind. But to me that came before the version by its author (Elvis Costello) so it almost doesn’t count. But that is a very tall order for a question…Hurt by Johnny Cash also.
I love Marissa Nadler’s version of Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen. That’s one I’ve been listening to a lot over the last couple of years.

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I love the arrangements and various sounds you use which serves to create such an enriching soundscape throughout the eight songs. They serve to create that wonderful sense of spontaneity and kind of childlike and innocent mood which perfectly offsets the deeply affecting words and songwriting of Daniel’s. Sound recordings (chirping birds, for example) also add to create this effect. What did this process involve and what elements make up these sounds in the first place?

Yes, that was the aesthetic that was there from the beginning. And the element of fun was a feature too.
It’s true there is particular effect of the juxta-positioning of sometimes harrowing lyrics with playful sounds.
I must explain a bit about how the record was made. You see, we weren’t actually in the same room for any of the recording. We both just recorded parts at home and then sent the raw material to the other to add more parts. We both used what ever instruments and things we had around us. I, for instance, did most of my recording in my attic where I have an assortment of oddities. I borrowed my (then) five-year old son’s things too sometimes and made all kinds of racket with a set of Chilean spurs and an old super 8 camera. I also ended up taking a mini disc recorder to a mountain village and recorded some church bells and rainfall. All these things found their way onto the record. Oh, and I remember sticking the microphone out of the skylight of my attic to try and capture a magpie that was cackling away on the roof.

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Please take me back to your most recent record, ‘I See Three Birds Flying’, Adrian; one of your crowning jewels in a rich body of work. I love the unique world the record immerses you into – like any great songwriting records – where ‘The Starlight Hotel’, ‘Alice Among The Pines’, ‘Lady Lazarus’, are just some of the imagery and characters inherent in the enlightening journey. I would love to gain an insight into the space and time in which you wrote this record please? Also, the creative process involved. I apologize as this seems such a criminally general (and over-simplistic) question. It never ceases to amaze me how your songs are so effortlessly interwoven together that forms one large cohesive whole, steeped in unfathomable beauty.

Gosh, that’s nice of you! Well I mentioned that attic earlier and that’s where I wrote the songs for ‘I See Three Birds Flying’. Two of them, ‘Fortune Teller Song’ and ‘Alice Among The Pines’ happened in the same evening. Sometimes there is a kind of magic hour there where everything goes silent, just before it gets dark. And afterwards I sometimes find myself sitting on my chair with just the blue glow of the skylight and the stars coming out. I spent a lot of time there capturing the songs. I suppose I just found my way into another world and didn’t know where I’d end up. It’s a very solitary thing which usually I need to contrast when I leave that frame of mind. Incidentally, the album was actually delayed somewhat in it’s completion. I had planned to go into the studio in the Summer of 2011 to start the recording but I suddenly fell ill. I had/have been suffering from some kind of mystery illness and then all of a sudden I was struck down with pneumonia. I called Steve from the hospital to cancel the recording. I ended up being kept in for 8 days and spent the rest of the Summer finding my feet. I remember having a notebook in my bedside locker writing bits and pieces in the hospital. Maybe if it wasn’t for that diversion, the record may have not turned out the way it did. I don’t know if that gives you any insight but those are the circumstances from where the album came.

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You kindly shared with us some tour diaries of yours from the not-too-distant past. Are there any moments of your recent travels that you’d like to recount please? I imagine Europe and the act of traveling must be a wonderful source of inspiration for your own songwriting?

In the last twelves months or so, I don’t think I’ve ever travelled so much with my music. I love to take photographs of where I go too. Not necessarily of well-known landmarks but anything, even the close up of a sticker on a lamp post in Oberhausen or a parked car in a leafy street in Utrecht. The pictures take me back to that moment. Again a very solitary experience. I pretty much did 50 or 60 gigs by myself, being my own tour manager and merch guy…I got to meet a lot of amazing people, be it at the gigs or just on a HiSpeed train.
People really brought something to my experience where ever I went.
I remember talking to a lovely girl in Dresden, her name was Kristin, I told her how nice everyone had been to me (I had just spent a week or so crossing The Netherlands and Germany.) Her deadpan reply made me laugh, she just said, “well, with music that you make did you expect everyone to be cross with you?” I put that in my diary the next morning on the way to Cologne.

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Can you share with me please any ideas you have planned for the follow-up to ‘I See Three Birds Flying’? Also, what records have you been listening to most these days?

Ah, let’s see. I discovered this great record this summer, released earlier this year: and album called ‘Still Smiling’ by Blixa Bargeld & Teho Teardo. I think it’s incredible. The strings are great…the arrangements, the overall sound and the writing is sometimes bonkers. I also remembered how much I love the sound of German. Blixa is in fine voice, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him sound better. It’s beautifully recorded too. That’s the album of the year for me, so far. There are others too.

As I write, I’m mentally preparing to go into the studio tomorrow to start a new album. I have a lot of new songs and just feel it’s the right time to get on that horse again.

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‘My Yoke Is Heavy: The Songs Of Daniel Johnston’ is available now on Chemikal Underground.

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http://www.chemikal.co.uk

http://www.chemikal.co.uk/artists/adrian-crowley
http://www.jamesyorkston.co.uk
http://www.hihowareyou.com

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January 8, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Road Atlas: Adrian Crowley

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We are thrilled and overjoyed to have Irish songwriter Adrian Crowley featured in the latest installment of our ‘Road Atlas’ series. Adrian has been busy touring Europe these past cold months of Winter and colourful months of Spring, in support of his latest masterpiece, ‘I See Three Birds Flying’. The extensive tour encompassed all of beautiful Europe, from the lowlands of Belgium and Holland to the frontiers of Germany, Spain, France and ending in Scandinavia and Britain. Over the years, the distinctive baritone of Crowley has formed an indispensable part of my record collection. I have always likened his precious music to kindred spirits such as Bill Callahan and Leonard Cohen. A true voice. A songwriter’s songwriter. Forgive the cliché, but I would like to describe Adrian Crowley as a national treasure, whose utterly beguiling folk music has endlessly inspired all those fortunate to have discovered any of his records. ‘I See Three Birds Flying’ is, for me, his masterpiece, where poetry is painted on a canvas of divine sound. The strings on album opener ‘Lady Lazarus’ continues to amaze me in its unerring beauty. As with all works of art, the sonic creations continue to soar just like those three beautiful birds in the sky.

Words & Photographs: Adrian Crowley, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Adrian Crowley – {excerpts from a tour diary Winter 2012 – Spring 2013}

2012-12-06 15.30.42

December 3rd, 2012 (Utrecht, The Netherlands)

I leave the hotel/hostel at 6am to head for the train station.

A freezing damp black morning, or should I say a night-morning in Utrecht, my Austrian full length military coat keeping the wind from cleaving my belly. I drag my injured wheelie case across cobbled streets (an obscene dawn racket) and with my guitar and rucksack I pass the very shop where, only yesterday, I bought this very coat.

Who would have imagined the wrong coat for this climate could have elicited such worried looks?

Genuine concern and wonderment. The sweet exotic woman with the lazy eye tightened my belt from the back as I stood bolt upright there among the racks of vintage clothing. I kept my arms slightly raised to give her clear passage to my flanks.  Then stroking down my shoulders and tugging up the lapelles she stands before me, frowning  in thought and  biting her lip.

“There, now I think you are ready for Berlin. With just one additional button you could fasten up your collar all the way to your chin in the cosiest way. Maybe come back with a button and I’ll sew in on for you. Free of charge of course.”

So I listened to her directions, the right turns, the left turns, the description of the little sewing shop…I watched her as she talked, her eye fixed on me ..all the while her lady colleague stood behind the counter – pretty and perfect and as still as a painting.

I did actually try to find the little sewing shop but soon abandoned the search. My fever was mounting again and my wheezy breath was shortening.My legs felt as heavy as train track sleepers.

So I steered myself back to number 8 Boothstraat where my bunk bed awaited me.

Maybe in the Spring when I return to Utrecht I’ll head for Voorstraat and bring a button to the lady with the curious eye and dark hair and remind her of her promise to the Irish singer who came to Utrecht in Winter dressed for Summer and walked into her shop looking for an emergency overcoat.

Of course the day would have turned out differently had I gone to the right station but for some reason I assumed my ticket was for the 07:25 from Utrecht Centraal not actually from the station that was marked on the ticket: Amersfoort. Oh God I’ve missed the train now. Just need to cover 700+ kilometers and make it to Leipzig, Germany, in time for the soundcheck. I head for the information desk scraping my limping suitcase as I go.

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2013-02-28 10.28.32

Berlin, December 5th-7th. 2012.

Alex (aka Cyann) sits across the table from me, the pictures of sushi and rice wraps on two laminated pages between us.  Dazed and tired from travelling, I stare vacantly at a plug socket in the wall next to my bench. I’ve taken the corner seat to shelter from the intermittent draft coming from the opening and closing of the restaurant’s front door. Alex is telling me about her friend and flatmate in hospital and how she had to pay one hundred and sixty five euros to rescue the clamped car she had borrowed (from her other flatmate) for the visit.

I mention our gig that is taking place the following night and we begin talking about it.

‘Oh, it’s a very good sign if they say there’s going to be a soundcheck’

‘Really?’,  I say.

‘Oh yes’, she says ‘one thing you must understand; this is Berlin. Last week I played a free gig to four people in a bar using just a toy piano.That was definitely a recent low point for me, where I questioned everything and wondered how I could allow this to happen…I’ve quit my band, left Paris and my life there and all my friends, my favourite book shops, my room…and here I am in a Berlin bar playing a toy fucking piano to four drunks who don’t even know I’m there’.

‘Ok, well’  I say, ‘I think the show tomorrow night will be different’.

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2012-12-06 19.30.08

There was a black dog sitting in Monarch.I said to Andreas the promoter, “Gosh I just noticed him sitting there’.
‘Noticed what?’ asked Andreas.
I pointed to the dog right next to Andreas,
“Holy shit, I didn’t even notice!’

December 6th:  Monarch , Berlin.

The U-bahn screeches past in luminous green, the snow all packed in piles on the pavement below.

I sit against the glass and try to catch some of the scene on my camera phone as Alex soundchecks.

She puts on a silver jacket…. and now she’s Cyann.

The room fills with warm drones, mechanical whirrs and whistles. Her friend Anna (Morley) says she could listen to that sound all night. “Too bad”, I joke, “I hope you’re ready for my songs”.

Anna and I take a seat at a table at the other end of the room from the stage. We both notice a large and curious black and white framed photograph on the wall next to us. It resembles a 1930s police photograph of the scene of a crime… a  murder … a shooting. There is a car, a close up, all smashed glass, and there is a deer awkwardly ‘sitting’ in the passenger seat.His legs seem bent the wrong way – one antler out the door , the other peaking through the space where once there was a wind shield.

Despite all of this, the deer seems placid.

‘It’s disturbing, isn’t it?’ remarks Anna.

Then I make sense of the picture: someone must have crashed into the deer.

That reminds me of a story I heard about a guy driving near a forest in France. I tell her my story.

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2012-12-06 10.57.53

December 7th, leaving Berlin

‘So long Mariannenplatz’, I sing quietly to myself as I step into the taxi, my Austrian military coat buttoned to a couple of inches below my chin. I turn and glance back at the snow-covered square as we leave it behind us.

I’ve missed my meeting with Nina. Her text reaches me just as I’m giving up on the idea. Time had got away from me and I’ve miscalculated how long things will take.

‘Hi A, Nina here, running ten minutes late. If you would like to continue on the U1 to Warschaver Strasse, I can meet you there at 5’.

‘See you the next time, Nina’, I reply as the taxi enters a dark tunnel bound for Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

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2012-12-06 10.20.00

Photographs and text © Adrian Crowley 2013.

“I See Three Birds Flying” is out now on Chemikal Underground. 

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http://www.adriancrowley.com
http://www.chemikal.co.uk

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May 30, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Step Right Up: Rick Redbeard

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Rick Redbeard is the pseudonym for The Phantom Band’s Rick Anthony; ‘No Selfish Heart’ is the debut solo work of Rick Anthony which was released by Glasgow label Chemikal Underground at the start of the year – a beautifully realized folk masterpiece. 

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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“There is a grave
On the far side of the woods
That bears your name
But now lies empty”

Scottish independent label Chemikal Underground is responsible for yet another indispensable folk treasure. Last year it arrived in the shape of Adrian Crowley’s ‘I See Three Birds Flying’, and for 2013 it is the singular voice of Rick Redbeard. The debut solo album is entitled ‘No Selfish Heart’: an album that has been a long time in the making. There are themes of love, place, and the passage of time interwoven amongst the heavenly instrumentation and arrangements. ‘No Selfish Heart’ possesses an intimate, homely feel that exudes a fireside intimacy, akin to a treasured Leonard Cohen record. Beautiful melancholy breathes the very space these songs are calling from, and in turn, Rick Redbeard’s album inevitably becomes part of you.

Rick Redbeard AKA Rick Anthony is also the lead singer with Scottish band The Phantom Band. Some of the material on ‘No Selfish Heart’ pre-dates The Phantom Band’s 2009 debut ‘Checkmate Savage’ by as much as five years. ‘No Selfish Heart’ represents a life’s work and is a hugely inspiring and fulfilling journey. It feels like a culmination, where Rick Redbeard’s spartan folk and endearing words remain deeply rooted to your consciousness-now and forever more.

Rick Redbeard: “It’s my attempt to harness that sense of yearning for something you’ve never had or can never hope to recapture. The nostalgia for when I was a child-growing up in the countryside-has never left me, it’s a constant melancholy for something I can’t even name anymore.”

‘No Selfish Heart’ was recorded in Rick’s parents house in rural Aberdeenshire and his home in the west end of Glasgow. The album’s backing vocals are provided by Rick’s sister Jo. I feel a parallel with Nick Drake-a kindred spirit-whose sister Molly serves as accompaniment on many of his treasured recordings. Similar to Drake or Cohen, the warmth of storytelling radiates magically from Redbeard’s divine songbook.

Rick Redbeard: “I’ve always been attracted to comforting music; for me, Leonard Cohen’s music is never depressing, it’s soothing. I want people to hear my songs in the same way I’ve heard certain music over the years: like kind words from an old friend.”

The album’s monochrome artwork-a scene of autumnal woodland, conveys the themes of solitude, nature and the changing of the seasons. ‘No Selfish Heart’ exudes yearning for such a place, where one hundred years of solitude reigns in your beating heart. The directness and openness of each of the ten songs-whose immaculate prose and poetic lyrics, stirs your soul and soothes your heart. Is there higher praise for a work of art?

“There’ll be a place
When we reach the other side
There I’ll lay in your arms forever”

(Lyrics are taken from ‘Cold As Clay (The Grave)’ from Rick Redbeard’s album ‘No Selfish Heart’). 

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‘No Selfish Heart’ by Rick Redbeard is out now on Chemikal Underground.

https://soundcloud.com/rick-redbeard
http://www.chemikal.co.uk/artists/rick-redbeard/
http://www.chemikal.co.uk/

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March 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Whatever You Love You Are: Adrian Crowley

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2012 saw the much-anticipated release of ‘I See Three Birds Flying’, the sixth studio album by Adrian Crowley. The album is nothing short of a masterpiece, full of heart and mesmerizing beauty. Crowley’s writing is sheer poetry. The album is a true treasure and is one of the most cherished albums of the year.

Words: Adrian Crowley, Illustration: Craig Carry

acrowley_craigcarryCurrent Inspirations…

Books recently read and currently being absorbed include works by Raymond Carver, John Mc Gahern and Kevin Barry (all short stories). The Raymond Carver one is called ‘Beginners’ and came into my possession after a couple of friends remarked that I might like him. They were right. His stories are incredible. There is a sense of anger and beauty in his writing and everyday realisms turn into magic under his hand. It took me a while to realise the connection between him and Robert Altman films.

The John Mc Gahern one is called ‘Creatures Of The Earth’. A friend of mine was telling me about it last week and then on Christmas day I saw it on my sister’s bookshelf so I borrowed it. She had two copies so maybe I’ll keep it.

The Kevin Barry book is ‘Dark Lies The Island’. It’s a beauty. He’s so good.

I’ve been revisiting some lost records of the last few years. Well, some had been lost and some were dormant. ‘La Fosette’ by French artist, Dominique A still sounds gorgeous. I first came across this record in the early nineties before I temporarily moved to France. There isn’t a voice like his, that I’ve heard anyway. Also there’s a charm to that album that isn’t like any of his later records. It’s kind of tentative but bull’s eye at the same time.

Earlier this year two friends of mine Thomas and Kevin released an album. I remember asking the guys how the recording was going for what seemed like years..there was a sense that it was some kind of beast struggling to be born, but on it’s own terms. I wasn’t sure if we’d ever hear it. Eventually I stopped asking about it and then out of the blue Tom and Kevin announced that their album was done and it was called ‘Melting Cavalry’ …and that they were called Seti The First. It’s a beautiful record and a beauty that I am sorry to say many have overlooked. It’s a massive sounding piece of work, sometimes dark and portentous sometimes tender and sweet. It surpassed my expectations, considerably. And I had already held them both in such high musical regard.

{One funny story I have to put in here is that one day I was telling Tom about a picture I was working on called ‘The Defenestration’ after the painting depicting The Defenestration of Yann Masaryk, in the infamous Defenestrations of Prague. I’ve been really obsessed with the idea of Defenestration for a while.I love the word and love explaining it to people who haven’t heard it before so I was gratified to see Tom’s face light up with delight as I went through the origins of the word ( de fenestra / from the window/ out of the window…..) and the whole concept of that way of this involuntary exit – to be thrown from the window. And so it came to be they had found a title for one of their songs that had until then refused to be named.}

Marissa Nadler, ‘Bird on The Water’ was released a few years ago. She’s an American singer. I love her voice.This is definitely my favourite of her albums. I’ve been going back to it recently. It was produced by Greg Weeks from Espers in his (analogue) studio in Pennsylvania. There is a haunted feeling to these songs and her voice is like a cross between a skylark and a musical saw.The stories in the songs are like excerpts from novels, that make you want to solve the mystery behind them. She does a beautiful version of Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat. It seems fitting that she did.

Speaking of Leonard….Another record that came out this year that I loved was by Sharon Van Etten.
My favourite song on it is called Leonard. What a beauty.

I’m (still) listening to Serafina Steer too. She’s got a new album out soon and I can’t wait to hear it.

Adrian

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‘I See Three Birds Flying’ is out now on Chemikal Underground. 

You can see our original review for the album here. 

http://www.chemikal.co.uk

http://www.adriancrowley.com

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December 31, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Chosen One: Adrian Crowley

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Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

A special album is very soon to be released on the ever dependable Chemikal Underground label, namely Adrian Crowley’s sixth studio album. ‘I See Three Birds Flying’ is Adrian’s highly anticipated follow-up to 2009’s Choice Music Prize winning album, ‘Season Of The Sparks’. Crowley’s peerless baritone immerses you into a deeply contemplative listening experience. The prose and storytelling on ‘I See Three Birds Flying’ is mesmerizing that evokes rich imagery. ‘I See Three Birds Flying’ is timeless, in the truest sense that captivates the heart. This enchanting album is Crowley’s strongest to date, and is a fitting addition to a rich body of work.

Earlier in the summer, Adrian Crowley’s new music was introduced to audiences during the Cork Midsummer Festival. The event itself was Bowerbird: Modern folk and beyond that was curated by Adrian Crowley and Gary Sheehan. In essence, the event heralded an exploration of the folk tradition in 2012, over the course of two majestic nights. Folk luminaries such as Andy Irvine, Sam Amidon, Adrian Crowley, Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat performed their unique blend of folk music in the intimate surrounds of Triskel Christchurch that was utterly transcendent. The magical flow of emotion I felt on those two nights in June have flooded back upon the arrival of Crowley’s ‘I See Three Birds Flying’. In fact, the rich musical tapestry of the latest album is an exploration of modern folk and beyond. Albums like this do not come around very often, but when they do, a gem of a discovery is made.

‘I See Three Birds Flying’ was co-produced with long-standing comrade, Stephen Shannon. The strings were performed, arranged and recorded by London-based duo Geese (Vincent Sipprell and Emma Smith) and Cork cellist Kevin Murphy. The personnel on these recording sessions have been the same collaborators on much of Crowley’s previous works. It is clear a deep chemistry exists between this tight knit group of loyal friends that creates the rich canvas for Adrian’s vivid colours and textures. A wide range of instrumentation is used by Crowley; marxophone, mellotron, baby grand piano, electric guitar and omnichord, in turn, providing the perfect backdrop to Crowley’s glorious storytelling.

Album opener ‘Lady Lazarus’ immediately lures you in. ‘Well I took up residence/With a girl of many charms/Thousand mile eyes and hunger in her arms’ are the first words you hear, amidst heavenly strings. Many of the vocals for the album were captured in the first take and this is evident on ‘Lady Lazarus’. A directness exists in Crowley’s aching voice. There is humour with a playful turn of phrase, ‘And little did I know what little I’d forget’. The string arrangement is stunning. The swirling melody reminds me of Georges Delerue’s ‘Camille’ such is the sheer beauty created. In just over two minutes, ‘Lady lazarus’ pours with emotion and tenderness with startling effect, which could be Jacques Brel or Scott Walker. ‘September Wine’ starts with a gently picked guitar, percussion and cello. Crowley sings ‘I was never one for reunions/and never one for goodbyes’ on the chorus with a palpable immediacy that echoes James Yorkston. One of my favourite lyrics are on the final verse, ‘Got the royalest of soakings in a London shower’. Atmospheric strings brings ‘September Wine’ to a gorgeous close. Next up is ‘Alice Among The Pines’ which is reminiscent of Bill Callahan. Delicate strumming of electric guitar and piano provides the sonic backdrop. ‘Her life is a eulogy, I try to keep time/I’d sing along if she knew a line/And we enter the forest ‘deep dark and sublime’/Her words not mine, Alice among the pines’. Crowley’s lyrics is poetry. The rich imagery that lies in the heartfelt lament evokes immense beauty. ‘Deep dark and sublime’ indeed. ‘In this endless dream of mine I step from the shadows one last time’, Crowley sings on the opening verse beneath a meditative hymn like opus of sound makes you feel afloat in an age-long dream. An endless seam of lyrics on each verse lingers long after the words are uttered, ‘Where reasons are many and excuses are few/Ever spinning the reverie into this dream of mine.’ Lead single ‘Saddest Song In The World’ is majestic. If only all singles released today would sound like this, wouldn’t that be something. Gorgeous strings and electric guitar breathe beneath ‘the tear soaked pages of careworn lines and forlorn phrases’ of Crowley’s storytelling. A magical realm of sound comes to light on the chorus, ‘And I tried to write/The Saddest Song In The World’. Soaring violin, viola and cello brings the song to a magnificent climax. Sublime.

‘At The Starlight Hotel’ is Leonard Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel’ for the 21st Century. A beautiful melodic guitar line leads you in to the Starlight Hotel; where ‘the shutters are down and the waltzers are under wrap’ at the nearby arcade. Some of the storytelling echoes Morrisey, ‘And inside my pocket/Is a torn ticket stub/ For the Cinema of Forgotten Matinees.’ ‘Fortune Teller Song’ is the title track of the album, and my favourite. To read the words alone is a pure delight. ‘I see three ships sailing/One is eastward bound and/One will run aground/And one will lead you home’ is the first verse. On the second verse, Crowley sings ‘I see three birds flying/One will steal your rings and/One will make you sing/And one will lead you home.’ Utterly beautiful. The closing line is: ‘I see three roads turning’. An awe inspiring ballad of a mere two and a half minutes in length and drifts in a soft whirlwind of delicate guitar, piano and string section.

‘Red River Maples’ is (yet) another gem. The descriptive imagery paints the art that’s on display here: ‘Red River Maples and Blue of the Heavens/Bitter night shade, black eyed Susan/And Blue of the Heavens’. Dreamlike vocals, mellotron and piano creates the eerie quality so prevalent throughout. The song takes you to ‘a shady arbour’: ‘In a shady arbour/I watched her sing with a locket in her hand/My bride to be/And she sang so soft and the words were wild/And I left her there in the shady arbour.’ Brooding electric guitar opens ‘Juliet In Flames’. This is vintage Smog/Bill Callahan territory and the song’s immediacy is breathtaking. ‘Carrying dangerous cargo/Steer well clear of me/Juliet I’m in flames’ is the song’s chorus that could be ‘I Break Horses’ by Smog. The song is a tour de force. The arrangement comes to the fore halfway through with meandering guitar notes and layers of vocals creating an atmospheric crescendo. ‘Seven seconds, I count the gaps/Between lightning and thunder crack/This fair warning I give you/Take heed’ builds the tension that could easily be the soundtrack to a Shane Meadows film.

Humour is found on the sparse ‘The Mock Wedding’. The lyrics of the chorus, ‘It’s a near perfect morning for a near perfect wedding/All rise for her, The Mock Wedding Bride.’ The omnichord creates a woodwind sound that recalls Robert Wyatt. ‘From Champions Avenue To Misery’ is the penultimate song on ‘I See Three Birds Flying’. A deep sense of longing and searching can be felt, ‘And I’ve come back to find you/And then bend to your will/From Champions Avenue to Misery Hill.’ Floating electric guitars and field recording creates a cinematic backdrop to these honest and touching words. ‘The Morning Bell’ brings ‘I See Three Birds Flying’ to a thrilling close. ‘So ring, ring, ring the morning bells’ is the song’s refrain, sung amidst joyous drums, bass, cello, piano and guitar.

‘I See Three Birds Flying’ is an artistic treasure and a haven for the senses. Immerse yourself in ‘the great beyond’ with ‘the catherine wheel spinning bright in the dark’, the ‘house of shells’, the ‘city of ghosts’ and ‘blue of the heavens.’

‘I See Three Birds Flying’ is released on the 14th of September on Chemikal Underground.

Written by admin

August 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm