FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Posts Tagged ‘I Lived In Trees

Fractured Air 29: Road Of Dreams (A Mixtape by Mark Fry)

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English singer-songwriter Mark Fry’s name has become synonymous with his psych-folk masterpiece ‘Dreaming With Alice’ released on RCA Italy in 1972 when Fry was only 19 years of age. Some 39 years later (Fry would become an internationally renowned painter while music would continue to play a vital role in the intervening years) Fry released the long-overdue follow-up ‘I Lived In Trees’, an album recorded with The A. Lords (English musicians Michael Tanner and Nicholas Palmer) in Dorset, Normandy and Oxfordshire, released in 2012 via Second Language. The fact that the legend of Mark Fry’s utterly transcendent music still burns so brightly can also be attributed to the many contemporary musicians — Mercury Rev, Four Tet, Colleen, Super Furry Animals and Jim O’Rourke, to name just a few — who have become some of Fry’s most passionate and ardent of believers. This year Fry returns with his latest soul-stirring and dreamlike collection, ‘South Wind, Clear Sky’, available now on London-based independent record label Second Language.

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Fractured Air 29: Road Of Dreams (A Mixtape by Mark Fry)

“Songs can lead you down a road of dreams. These are just some of them, old and new, that made me want to become and continue to be a songwriter and musician, and whose echoes, like pebbles in a pond, still ripple through my life today.”

—Mark Fry

To listen on Mixcloud:

http://www.mixcloud.com/Fractured_Air/fractured-air-29-road-of-dreams-a-mixtape-by-mark-fry/

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Tracklisting:

01. Traffic ‘Hole In My Shoe’ [Island]
02. The Beatles ‘A Day In The Life’ [Parlophone]
03. Procol Harum ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ [Deram]
04. Joni Mitchell ‘River’ [Reprise]
05. Lucio Dalla ‘Com’è Profondo Il Mare’ [RCA]
06. Joan Armatrading ‘Love And Affection’ [A&M]
07. Kaouding Cissoko ‘Kana Kassi’ [Palm Pictures]
08. Nirvana ‘Something In The Way’ [DGC, Sub Pop]
09. King Creosote and Jon Hopkins ‘Bubble’ [Domino]
10. Bill Callahan ‘Small Plane’ [Drag City]

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The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.

 


 

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“South Wind, Clear Sky” is available now on Second Language Records.

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http://www.markfry.co.uk
http://www.secondlanguagemusic.com

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November 4, 2014 at 12:21 pm

The Story Of An Artist: Iker Spozio

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Interview with Iker Spozio.

In our new regular section – entitled “The Story Of An Artist” (named in tribute to the American singer, songwriter and artist Daniel Johnston) – we will be focusing on the artists who have brought their own distinctive artwork and indelible mark to the independent music scene. First to contribute is the wonderful Italian artist and illustrator Iker Spozio, who currently resides in the northern Spanish coastal town of San Sebastián. Spozio’s name has become synonymous with the independent music scene over the last number of years, with the creation of record sleeves for such independent labels as London-based Second Language and the Brighton-based label Fat Cat Records. Spozio’s work graces the sleeves for such bands and composers as Colleen, Adrian Crowley, Mark Fry, Delia Derbyshire and Hauschka. Over the years, Iker Spozio’s reputation for a master craftsman, engraver, illustrator and painter of immense talent and versatility has been widely evident for all to see.

Words: Craig Carry, Artwork: Iker Spozio

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“Self Portrait” based on El Greco’s “El caballero de la mano en el pecho”.

Even if the Italian artist Iker Spozio is not a household name to you, his distinctive artwork has bound to have passed your eye on more than one occasion. In fact, the chances are his artwork adorns some of your most prized and precious records in your collection. Spozio’s artistry has adorned albums by some of the most inspiring musicians in the independent music scene. Musicians such as French composer Colleen, Irish songsmith Adrian Crowley, German pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka) and the legendary English folk songwriter Mark Fry – to name but a few –  have all had their music beautifully adorned by Spozio’s immense artistic gifts.

Most notable in his musical work is his ongoing collaboration with the gifted French composer Cécile Schott (aka Colleen). The pair have been partners for many years and their symbiotic relationship has produced a string of truly memorable and everlasting records over the last ten years or so (with Spozio creating both album and e.p. sleeves as well as concert posters), Spozio applies the visuals to Schott’s music, both as deeply immersive and enchanting as each other. Their most recent collaboration has come in the form of Colleen’s current album, “The Weighing Of The Heart”, an album released last May on London-based independent label Second Language. The album is an extraordinary achievement for both Schott and Spozio, where both artists sought new departures in their ever-expanding artistic visions. The resulting work (both in sight and sound) is a true joy to behold.

Iker Spozio’s work has thus far been as impressive in its versatility and scope as well as in its unwavering and passionate attention to detail. Throughout his varied work (across commissions, personal work and longterm projects) there is a huge emphasis placed on craftsmanship where virtues of both patience and skill are always in evidence. Spozio’s versatility as an artist is nothing short of breathtaking, his portfolio showcasing works across many mediums including watercolour, engravings, monoprints, pencils and india ink. Often, the work is a hybrid of many techniques combined together – where a truly remarkable appreciation for each process’ own intrinsic qualities can be discerned – yet such works never serve to lose any sense of vitality as Spozio’s own distinctive graphic approach can always be appreciated and admired. For any work which bears the name of Iker Spozio can safely be described as something truly precious and singularly unique.

Most recently, Spozio’s work has been published as part of Mark Fry’s “Dreaming With Alice” songbook, a limited, special edition publication which collects together for the first time Fry’s lyrics and sheet music from his seminal 1972 album “Dreaming With Alice”, an album which is today recognized as one of the most defining records of psychedelic folk music. Spozio’s work here encompasses a series of twelve specially commissioned engravings which serve to beautifully illustrate Fry’s dreamlike and mysterious sonic masterpiece. Like any of Iker Spozio’s masterful handmade work, the imagery – like those from an everlasting and recurring dream – will journey straight to your eyes (and heart).

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Taken from “Dreaming With Alice” Songbook, engraving.

Firstly, congratulations on the magnificent achievement of the recently published “Dreaming With Alice”, the lovingly assembled songbook containing Mark Fry’s lyrics and sheet music for his seminal ’72 LP of the same name. The project is obviously very close to your heart as you have expressed a deep admiration for Mark Fry (as both musician and painter) in the past, as well as sharing a close friendship over the years. You also featured Mark Fry heavily in your fabulous “Morning” music magazine when you memorably interviewed him back in 2009 for the issue’s second edition.
So, first off, I would love to ask you can you remember the first time coming across “Dreaming With Alice?” What effect did it have upon you when you first heard it?

I first came across “Dreaming With Alice” about fifteen years ago, when I was still living in Italy, my home country.
I was just starting to work as an illustrator, back then, but also had a “proper” job as a graphic designer for a company which did websites. This job allowed me to pay my bills and also, of course, to cover my badly needed monthly fix of music!
I used to get my pay and then drive straight away to the bigger town in my district, Varese, where there used to be a pretty big and nice record shop, called La Casa del Disco. I soon became friends with one of its clerks, a guy in his fifties who had lived first-hand all the psyche, folk and folk-rock era. He used to suggest me all kinds of amazing records, describing them with contagious enthusiasm and in the most colourful ways. He’s the one who sold me Mark’s album, in its unofficial CD version released by Akarma.
I perfectly remember the particular day I got the album and playing it at home: I really got blown away by it, especially by the eponymous song, that seems to constantly appear and disappear like a ghost all over the record.
I still find it hard to believe that I’m friends with Mark, now. It’s definitely a pleasure and a privilege to me.

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“I Lived In Trees”, LP sleeve for Mark Fry & The A Lords (Second Language, 2012).

You created the wonderful artwork accompanying Mark Fry & The A. Lords LP “I Lived In Trees” which was released in 2011 by Second Language. As this was effectively Fry’s return to music for the first time in over thirty years it was clearly a truly special project for all concerned. I love how deeply evocative your artwork (including the concertina inner sleeve) is to the music within. I also love how – on the one hand – we have strong dominant shapes and forms, yet, we’re also presented with so much texture, imagery, colour and detail. It’s one of my all-time favourite sleeves! Could you talk about the artwork for “I Lived In Trees”, the process and techniques involved and the resulting sleeve?

Well, actually “I Lived In Trees” is the second album after Mark’s “come-back”, following 2009’s “Shooting The Moon”.
I’m delighted to know you like the artwork for “I Lived In Trees” so much, since it’s also a favourite of mine. The idea for a tree being the subject of the sleeve came from Mark, while the format suggestion came from Second Language’s mastermind Glenn Johnson.
I thought it would be a nice concept to depict a tree that would be visible in full only when the concertina would be completely unfolded. This allowed me to insert various elements, sometimes incongruous, in each panel, making each section of the booklet kind of self-sufficient but also part of a whole.
Technically speaking, the background was painted in watercolour, then all the elements were inserted in the typical collage way, using various papers and textures I had prepared beforehand.

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Taken from “Dreaming With Alice” Songbook, engraving.

If we return to the “Dreaming With Alice” songbook and the twelve accompanying illustrations that accompany this special publication. Firstly, just to confirm, these are linocuts?

Yes, they are.

Since there is such an amount of detail and varying focal points across the various compositions, I imagine you must very carefully “sketch” these out beforehand? How does the process between the inception of your idea through to the realization of the completed artwork happen for you?

Yes, indeed, I design, or should I say “plan”, everything in detail beforehand, especially when I’m working on an engraving, a technique that seldom (or never) allows one to have second thoughts.
I must confess that I’m quite a perfectionist, when it comes to my artwork. Maybe too much for my own good, since there is always the risk of getting too rigid and clinical in pursue of a perfection of sorts. That’s why, especially in recent times, I have been kind of forcing myself to “let go” and surprise myself through less thoroughly planned projects.

I love how you have used both reds and blues separately across the work. It seems to create a distinct contrast for the series as a whole, and seems to represent that idea of fantasy and reality for me. What was the significance of the use of colour for you here?

At first I thought of using more colours than those. But, in the end, I found that red and blue were really the most suitable for the project, both technically and aesthetically. The colour choice for each illustration was based on my feelings and the perception I had of each song in Mark’s album. It’s hard to explain: I just found some songs to be “blue” and others to be “red”!

Actually, I seldom use more colours than the primary ones, in association with black and white.
Dealing with colour is not something that came really naturally to me. I used to work in black and white only for several years, until I decided to overcome my lack of confidence and try my luck in the technicolour world!

I love how your work can appear quite abstract and fluid here, yet it always seems so rooted in the world of reality and representation. Recurring imagery such as birds, figures, the moon, floral elements and musical imagery are interspersed throughout. The use of space – both positive and negative – is also so striking and makes for almost multiple versions of the same piece. In terms of the series itself, are the individual artworks done specifically for songs in mind from “Dreaming With Alice” or are they more loosely based on the music?

The illustrations are completely based on the actual songs, and they usually feature elements drawn from the lyrics.
Some of the engravings are more descriptive, others less so. I must confess that I have a marked tendency towards abstraction, which I tried to keep restrained in this particular project. I think that abstraction often got to the surface, anyway, mostly due to the fact that at the time I did these particular illustrations I was extremely interested in African art and its tendency to translate reality into geometric shapes and patterns.
The Odyssey project, which I did not long after completing the Dreaming With Alice songbook, shows my more abstract side, and its illustrations, which are still based on the characters and events described in the book, are so minimal that one may find it difficult to immediately associate them with the text.

If the opportunity arose for you to do a similar project for another classic album (of any time or period), which would it be and why?

Hhhm, tough question, here, since I’m such a music “freak” that it would be a hard choice to make: too many wonderful albums around…
A particular favourite of mine, though, is Burning Spear’s first LP, which I consider a masterpiece. I would love to illustrate it.
Actually, right now I’m working on a series of paintings inspired by Jamaican songs. They are going to be completely abstract, since I believe that music such as dub, which relies so much on sound treatment, could hardly be translated into descriptive images.

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“Run Run se fue pa’l Norte”, inspired by Violeta Parra’s song of the same title.

Just to talk a little about your earlier work and the formative influences on you as an artist. What were the initial sources of inspiration for you to create art? Were there specific art movements in art history or specific painters you were drawn to at the beginning? Since your work encompasses a wide range of various techniques – such as painting, engraving, linocuts – I imagine there must be such a variety of people who have influenced you in your own approach as an artist?

My father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather were all painters, so art, painting specifically, was part of my life since I was a child. I always drew, but it took me quite some time to make the decision to fully devote myself to painting and illustration. It actually came gradually, and in parallel with my passion for music, since the very first works I got published were for indie labels I followed.
I like almost all art, so it would be difficult for me to choose some specific artists or movements as my favourite ones. I must say, though, that, being an Italian, I surely was influenced from the very beginning by all the Renaissance greats, Piero Della Francesca and Paolo Uccello in particular. The Bauhaus has always been a source of inspiration to me, as well as some “eccentric” painters such as Piero Di Cosimo, Léon Spilliaert and Odilon Redon. In a more “graphic design” context, I’d like to mention Neil Fujita and his work for Columbia Records in the fifties.

For the record, what are the techniques you most commonly use?

I first worked mostly in black and white, using indian ink and various kinds of pens and brushes. Then I really got into engraving techniques, such as linocut. I prefer to mix techniques up, though, so I often combine the aforementioned ones with watercolour, gouache and acrylic paints. I also do monotype a lot, a technique I particularly enjoy, since it gives one an endless array of possibilities.

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“The Weighing Of The Heart”, LP sleeve for Colleen (Second Language, 2013).

Now, to turn to the music of Colleen and the hugely enriching and stunning work that has resulted from that truly special collaboration. Firstly, I’ll point out that Colleen (aka French musician Cécile Schott) is your partner for many years now and you have been creating the artwork for her albums as Colleen for the last decade or so. The resulting “collaboration” has most recently been this year’s magnificent “The Weighing Of The Heart” album. It’s obviously such a personal and special project for the two of you, not least since it’s the first Colleen record in five years. I know it sounds clichéd, but it just so perfectly embodies visually the music within (for example, Coleen’s new focus on rhythm, colour, and movement). There’s also so much else in the sleeve, including the reference to the Ursa Major constellation, the Egyptian book of the dead and also the location of San Sebastián, where yourself and Cécile now live.
I would love if you could talk about “The Weighing Of The Heart”, the artwork and the new elements found in this new work of your’s and what influenced you in the making of the artwork?

The making of the artwork for “The Weighing Of The Heart” took me an extremely long time, since I really wanted to give it my best. It’s a very important album for both myself and for Cécile, who was getting back to recording music after a fairly long hiatus.
I actually did three different versions of the cover artwork, but never was completely satisfied with what I came up with.
I think that the final one, the one Cécile and I were both happy with, reflects well the changes we’ve both experienced in our respective arts: Cécile’s new poly rhythmic compositions and more “colourful” approach to music coincided with a tendency I had developed to get my works busier and brighter in terms of colour. As far as I’m concerned, I believe it’s a consequence of my passion for traditional African art and also an influence of Juan Gris’s cubism.
It’s funny because I hadn’t heard a single note of Cécile’s new music until I had finished the artwork, so it’s the result of a kind of telepathic communication between the two of us if both music and images work along fine.

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“Les Ondes Silencieuses”, LP sleeve for Colleen (Leaf, 2007).

It would also be such a huge pleasure for me to ask you about the sleeves for both “Les Ondes Silencieuses” and “The Golden Morning Breaks” here as well. Both those records hold such a special place in the hearts of music fans and both of the sleeves distill so beautifully the space and time in which both those special Colleen albums were made, and embody the particular mood and atmosphere of both records too.

I’m pleased that you like those particular sleeves, even if I must tell you that I find it kind of hard to look back to that particular era of my work now… I don’t feel really connected to it anymore. Actually, the cover for “Les Ondes Silencieuses” is probably the very last “official” artwork I did in that pen-and-ink, Beardsley-esque style I had been working with. Oh, well, I still have a soft spot for that sleeve though, since it has such a “home-y” feeling to it… Cécile and our cat are on it, and the landscape is a familiar one: it could well be taken from the place where we live now or from my hometown in Italy.

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“Black Magic and Its Expose”, engraving, taken from “Master & Margarita”.

Last year your project – encompassing fifteen engraved panels, all handmade and hand-printed – based on Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita” was exhibited in the Bulgakov Museum in Moscow. This must have been such a proud and special occasion for you? And this project stemmed simply from your wish to illustrate each chapter from one of your favourite books?

It was a true honour for me to have my illustrations exhibited in Bulgakov’s Museum. The museum is actually in the house where the writer lived and wrote some of his books, including “Master And Margarita”.
When I got the offer to do that exhibition I was really moved, since I enormously admire Bulgakov, both for his work and for the determination he put into it despite the terrible living conditions and restrictions that were imposed on him by the Communist government.
I just wanted to pay a small tribute to him through my work, but unfortunately got stuck creatively midway through and never managed to complete it.
The original idea was to do 43 linocuts!…

Literature has also played a major role in your work as an artist. Which books and authors have you most admired?

I’m a huge fan of classical Russian literature: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gogol, Leskov, Lermontov and, of course, Bulgakov.
I also like early twentieth century russian poetry, Esenin in particular.
Generally speaking, I love the golden era of novel-writing, mid and late nineteenth century.
Other particular favourites of mine are Stendhal, Conrad, Maupassant and Tommaso Landolfi, maybe my most beloved author of all. He’s not well-known outside of Italy (actually he’s kind of considered as an “outsider” also there), but I find he wrote some of the most interesting works in Italian literature, especially when it comes to short stories.

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“Arrival at Pylos”, taken from “The Odyssey”, a series based on illustrating each chapter for Homer’s Odyssey, collage, monotype and sprayed watercolours.

Film has equally been important for you, I know in the past you have talked about such filmmakers as Marcel Carné and Tarkovsky. Which films and filmmakers would you recommend the most?

Tough question again! Hard for me to choose a few ones only!
I would definitely recommend some of the classic French movies of the 30s, 40s and 50s.
Carné is a big favourite of mine: I love “Hôtel du Nord”, “Le jour se lève”, “Quai des brumes” and, especially, “Les enfants du paradis”, definitely my all-time favourite movie (along with Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”).
All the French cinema of that era is really interesting though, especially for the particular flavour of the language used.
French is a fabulous language, so rich and inventive!
I also love silent cinema, the German one in particular (Murnau, Lang, Dieterle, …)
Of course I have a soft spot for classic Italian authors, especially Mario Monicelli, and for music documentaries. A particular music doc I’m totally in love with is Margaret Brown’s “Be Here To Love Me”, devoted to the life and the music of the late great Townes Van Zandt. It’s most probably the best (and most moving) music film I’ve ever seen.

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“Mark Fry”, monotype, taken from “Morning” #2.

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“Norman Jopling”, engraving, taken from “Morning” #2.

Lastly, to music, and I have to at this point mention your incredible music publication “Morning” (named after the Peep Show’s song of the same name) which you published, illustrated and designed yourself. What’s so special and unique about “Morning” is that you effectively went on a personal quest to seek out those bands and artists from the past who you felt were unfairly forgotten and neglected by the music press at large. The resulting interviews are so poignant as the reader can really get the impression that these conversations were from the hearts of the respective musicians and they valued the opportunity so much. The art direction is a thing of beauty too (imagery comprises either your own artwork or the use of previously unpublished photographs) and is such a far cry from the mostly fairly generic nature of music media at large these days.
Could you recount your fondest memories you have had from your time creating and publishing “Morning”?

The concept behind “Morning” was to publish a magazine in the spirit of vintage periodicals such as “The Yellow Book” and “La Revue Blanche”, aesthetically speaking, and devote it to the music I really love. It focused mostly on artists I personally felt had not had the recognition they deserved, either in their time or even today, when some “underground” musicians of the sixties, seventies and eighties have been re-discovered and become sort of cult-figures.
My idea was to let the musicians talk as much and as freely as possible about their lives, their creative processes and their careers.
I really enjoyed working on “Morning”, especially since all the artists I approached were extremely enthusiastic and committed to the project. It was a truly rewarding experience on a human level.
I only have fond memories about it, so it would be impossible for me to choose a particular one, but perhaps it feels particularly special that Sybille Baier accepted to be interviewed (“because it’s such a nice little project”, as she said – and indeed it was: I only published 150 copies of the first issue). As far as I know, this interview is the only one she has ever given – isn’t that cool?…

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“Sibylle Baier”, monotype, taken from “Morning” #1.

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“Dreaming With Alice”, the illustrated collectible songbook featuring twelve specially commissioned linocuts by Iker Spozio (together with Mark Fry’s sheet music and lyrics) is available now HERE

For all information on Iker Spozio and to keep updated with new works please visit:

http://www.ikerspozio.net

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To read our interview with Colleen please see here, and for our interview with Mark Fry please see here.

Very special thanks to Iker and Cécile for their time, patience and warmth.

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Chosen One: Directorsound

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Interview with Nicholas Palmer, Directorsound.

I very quickly heard how beautifully constructed it was, and what unusual arrangements they had – they ached of a lost England, beautiful and evocative pastoral landscapes – I soon became hooked.”

Mark Fry

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Directorsound is the alias for Dorset-based multi-instrumentalist and composer, Nicholas Palmer. The latest release from Directorsound – the follow-up to 2010’s ‘Two Years Today’ – is a record that showcases the album as an artform in itself. The name of this gorgeous album is ‘I Hunt Alone’ where Palmer’s distinctive blend of transcendent instrumental folk music wanders into the pools of your mind, and lingers there like the scent of a flower during spring. The instrumentation of guitars, piano, accordion, drums, cello, flute conjures up the sound of an English countryside – Dorset perhaps – but more so, a world in itself, alive with vivid imagination and artistry in full-flow. ‘I Hunt Alone’ is the latest chapter in Palmer’s treasured songbook.

The warm tapestry of sound contained on ‘I Hunt Alone’ derives from an all-acoustic lineup, including guitar, piano, accordion, harmonium, clarinet, trumpet, recorders, bouzouki, balalaika, banjo, ukulele, autoharp, bass, percussion/drums, and a vast collection of bells collected from around the world. The result is a musical feast of many styles – Eastern European, Balkan, English folk, traditional – gorgeously fused together, mapping a glorious travelogue of the places and paths ventured down by the artist. Interestingly, the place that became the source of inspiration for Palmer, was in fact, Transylvania. The record was recorded in the summer of 2011, as an attempt to produce “a cohesive, narrative-driven folk horror symphony”, inspired by a holiday in Transylvania the previous year.

To term the record a symphony serves justice to the breathtaking music on display throughout ‘I Hunt Alone’. Guest musicians include Chris Cole of Third Eye Foundation, Matt Elliot’s ensemble, and Many Fingers, on cello, Ian Holford (Nectarine No. 9) on drums, and Jess Sweetman on flute. A wonderful addition to the sonic tapestry is the myriad of field recordings that find their way in the music. The sounds of the locality – bells of church towers, rattling train journeys – are dotted across the album’s narrative. ‘I Hunt Alone’ was recorded in Palmer’s native Dorset and partly in Mark Fry’s rural Normandy home. Most of the music was written before the recording process took place.

My first introduction to the music of Nicholas Palmer was under another guise, namely The A. Lords – a wonderful collaboration between Palmer and Michael Tanner (he of Plinth, Cloisters, Taskerlands fame) – and the record was a beautiful collaborative venture between like-minded artists, English songwriter Mark Fry, and the A. Lords. The album ‘I Lived In Trees’ was released on London-based Second Language – also home to Directorsound’s ‘I Hunt Alone’ – that forms an indispensable part to any invaluable music collection. The musical telepathy between the A. Lords and Fry is a joy to behold, where the poetic lyrics of Fry and mesmerizing passages of music meanders, like a river-flow, into the sea of your heart and mind. One song in particular, ‘All Day Long’ epitomizes the masterful artistry of Palmer. A musical interlude arrives as the song fades out, containing achingly beautiful tapestries of nylon guitar, flute, and many other sources of acoustic sounds. The sonic palette – just like that of Palmer’s other projects – is forever immersed in a divine sound of impossible beauty.

The title-track ‘I Hunt Alone’ begins with church bells, before delicate notes of nylon guitar ascends into the atmosphere. This solo piece of music is reminiscent of The A. Lords and takes me back to Mark Fry’s gorgeous ‘I Lived In Trees’. The chord progression is gradual and the lovely diminished chords float peacefully by. ‘Serpents In The Jaws Of October’ – as the title itself suggests – is one of the album’s milestones. The opening sounds of music boxes conjures up the sound of label-mate Colleen. The sound of a passing train is placed in the background of the mix. A haunting soundscape of bouzouki and collection of many instruments moves at a slow tempo for the first half. Soon, the tempo is increased, and drums/percussion and a guitar groove comes to the foreground, sharing the spirit of 70’s folk of The Strawbs and Fairport Convention. An utterly timeless sound is formed.

‘Pan In Paradise’ is a mini-folk orchestra containing nylon guitars, woodwind instruments, drums, piano, and accordion. The windswept sound provides yet another special moment. The gradual layering of sounds and pristine arrangements by Palmer, is wonderfully showcased here. The accordion blends effortlessly with the soft chords of piano and gentle drum beat. The perfect prologue to the fulfilling journey of ‘I Hunt Alone’. ‘Sun Dazed & Dancing’ conjures up the sound of Eastern Europe and Balkan sounds, reminiscent of A Hawk And A Hacksaw. The feel to the piece is immaculate, as the dynamic changes from frantic polka rhythms to mournful embellishes of accordion waltz. Palmer can do no wrong. ‘Nocturne For Grace’ is a tour de force, encompassing many worlds of sound, from film score and gothic worlds to Eastern European traditional forms. The enchanting piece of music contains several glorious movements. The romantic bliss of the piano-led melody could be ‘As Time Goes By’ from the 1942 drama, ‘Casablanca’, where scenes of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman comes to mind. ‘I Hunt Alone’ is a musical world, belonging in its own separate realm, where you are invited to wander and get lost in its endless wonder and marvel.

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‘I Hunt Alone’ is out now on Second Language.

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Interview with Nicholas Palmer, Directorsound.

Congratulations on the newest Directorsound album, ‘I Hunt Alone’. It is a truly gorgeous and breathtaking tour de force. The instrumentation and arrangements, as ever, are things of pure beauty. Please tell me about the new album and the inspiration of a holiday in Transylvania that led to the inception of ‘I Hunt Alone’?

Why, thank you Mark! I’d had the seedlings of the general idea of an album that would then later become ‘I Hunt Alone’. Then a trip with my partner to Transylvania helped to shape the mood and direction of it. I love the idea of the album as an artform in itself. So not as not just a bunch of songs but a cohesive, narrative driven whole. This is probably more so important with instrumental music, where the lyricism must come only from the instruments.

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Please tell me about the stages involved in recording ‘I Hunt Alone’? The found sounds of church bell towers, trains and a myriad of other sources find their way, wonderfully in the music. The wide array of instrumentation is something to truly behold, where a whole spectrum of emotion and texture is etched across the sonic canvas.

So I used the field recordings I made in Transylvania as the starting point. Unusually for a Directorsound record, most of the music was written before I started to record with many of the pieces having been refined and practiced while on tour as part of my one-man-band stage show promoting the previous album ‘Two Years Today’. The bulk was then recorded over a few months during summer 2011. Arranging pieces for various instruments is probably my favourite part of the process.

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The piece I’ve been obsessed with lately is ‘Nocturne For Grace’. This piece of music is hauntingly beautiful. The lead piano melody is steeped in mesmerizing beauty. There are worlds of sound created, from Balkan and Eastern European, to gothic and film score works. I would love to gain an insight into this composition, and your memories of writing/composing ‘Nocturne For Grace’?

Thanks again Mark for your very kind words! I believe I wrote the first section years ago and then the remainder building up to the start of recording. Essentially I see it as a piano work. It took a lot of practising, especially as I write nothing down! I then recorded it over one weekend while I was house-sitting/watering the greenhouses for my folks where my main piano is still housed. I seem to remember it being fairly nerve-wracking. Being 10 minutes in length, so many times I got so close to the end of a take only to bottle it and fluff the ending. As an Irishman you may recognise that the translation of Grace into Irish is Grainne, the name of my now wife who I met while on an Irish Directorsound tour nigh on 5 years ago. I’m not sure how she feels about its dark undertones but in fairness, not every gal gets a ramshackle gothic opus written for her!

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Tell me please about the instrumentation used on ‘I Hunt Alone’. What were the first instruments you learned to play?

I had lessons on an old 2-tier furniture organ from about the age of 9. And before that, I’m guessing much like for you guys and the penny whistle, we all had to learn the recorder at school. I was awful. I never did and still don’t get on with reading music and those formal introductions into playing music put me right off for many years. And then as I got to the age where you start forming a counter-cultural identity and developing a ‘taste’ in music I began to teach myself guitar. Still got loads of bad habits from self-teaching I reckon.
On this record it’s entirely acoustic, essentially as part of an attempt to create a sound without a temporal context. I’ve been lucky over the years, people have kindly off-loaded lots of archaic instruments on me. Consequently along with picking up a few bits of my own I seem to have amassed a small folk-orchestra’s worth of instruments most of which were employed on ‘I Hunt Alone’. Then I was joined by Jess Sweetman on flute who also played on the Mark Fry and the Alords record, friend and old work colleague Ian Holford from Nectarine no.9 and the Sexual Objects who plays drums on one track and old chum Chris Cole from Many fingers and Third eye foundation/ Matt Elliott’s band on cello.

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As a multi-instrumentalist and gifted composer, I would love to gain an insight into your creative process? In your music, do you normally begin with a guitar or piano and work from there, or is there no real conscious method involved?

The writing method varies but the base instruments I write with mostly are piano, accordion and guitar. If I’m working purely from music in my head I’ll write on the piano as it’s the most logical and easily visualised instrument. Accordion tracks come mostly from messing around. The guitar’s pretty much a combination of these techniques but aided these days (including the Mark Fry record) from experimenting with the possibilities of various altered tunings.

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Discuss for me please the influence that your native Dorset has on your music?

For Directorsound its main impact was the isolation, quietness and hence space for thought that it allowed. Virtually without a musical scene so to speak, other than some admirable work from a handful of promoters and musicians, it helps facilitate the creation of a little musical world of your own. I guess the “Dorset sound” if you will is most overt in my work with Michael Tanner and the Alords. The pastoral thing was definitely in mind for us albeit an idealised notion of Dorset. Michael and I have never really discussed it in detail and obviously I can’t speak for him but I guess, idealised or not it nonetheless impacted on the music we made and our sound palette. I worked in the country for years so its bound to have an influence. I mean it’s a stunning part of the country. Cider country too, so that’s almost certainly had an influence for good or worse on my music…

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Please take me back to your collaboration with Mark Fry on the stunning album ‘I Lived In Trees’? Between you and Michael Tanner, as The A. Lords, your beautifully constructed music serves the perfect canvas for Mark Fry’s endearing folk songs. Mark Fry described The A. Lords music to me in wonderful detail: “I very quickly heard how beautifully constructed it was, and what unusual arrangements they had – they ached of a lost England, beautiful and evocative pastoral landscapes – I soon became hooked.” I would love for you to share some of your memories of this dream-collaboration?

Personally it was pleasingly odd and novel-writing in mind of knowing the music would eventually become a ‘song’. And Mark has the most beautifully poignant voice. It has all the comfort of a happy memory from long ago, remembered with pathos and a hint of sorrow for a time passed. It was extraordinary getting tracks we sent to him back with that voice added. Not to mention, Mark and his wife Roxy are about the two nicest people you’re likely to meet and their house in Normandy is sublime. In fact, it’s where I proposed to my wife!

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What albums are you listening to most lately?

Marion Brown’s ‘Geechee Recollections’ and ‘Sweet Earth Flying’ a lot. And I’m still ploughing through the complete works of Mahler that I picked up last Autumn. I’m still after years obsessed with the unfinished Symphony no.10. I picked up Morricone’s ‘Moses’ soundtrack on vinyl a while back and an LP of London Barrel Organ music in a charity shop. You’ve kinda got to be in the right mood for that one though. And spring has finally appeared which tends to mean the 60’s folk comes out this time of year for me. I’ve not much money for records these days (like many) so I’ve been digging out some old favourite’s like Bridget St John’s ‘Songs for a gentle man’. Likewise another favourite for this time of year, Sam Prekop’s eponymous debut’s begun to have some airings again. My friends at Swedish label Tona Serenad who released my ‘Two Years Today’ record sent me and are about to release the debut album from the new band formed by Musette’s mastermind Joel Danell, ‘Joe Davolas’ spread over a series of 7″s which is smile-inducingly awesome. They’re like every charity shop record I own squeezed into a handful of songs. Oh and I’m re-watching a load of Argento films, so plenty of Goblin.

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‘I Hunt Alone’ is out now on Second Language.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Directorsound/148924375122494
http://www.secondlanguagemusic.com

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Written by admin

August 8, 2013 at 10:44 am

Chosen One: Mark Fry

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Interview with Mark Fry.

English singer-songwriter Mark Fry is best known for his psych-folk masterpiece ‘Dreaming With Alice’ released in 1972. In recent years the cult classic has received deserved recognition and universal acclaim, having been championed by the likes of Jim O’ Rourke and Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden. A new audience has been introduced to the awe-inspiring talent of a true artist. Some 39 years later, ‘I Lived In Trees’ was released last year on the Second Language label. This ethereal folk gem was the result of a collaboration between Mark Fry and The A. Lords (Michael Tanner and Nicholas Palmer), recorded in Dorset, Normandy and Oxfordshire. I was privileged to interview Mark Fry about his life and music, offering an insight into the creative mind of a painter and musician.

Words: Mark Carry, Painting: ‘Triple Counterpoint’, Mark Fry

‘I Lived In Trees’ is an album I hold very dear to my heart. Released last year on the Second Language label, the vinyl itself is a work of art. Illustrations of trees, birds, leaves, rivers, blue skies and a glowing moon lovingly grace the album’s sleeve, designed by renowned Italian illustrator Iker Spozio. The music, composed by the A. Lords (Nicholas Palmer and Michael Tanner) creates such beautiful and pastoral landscapes of sound, evoking dreams, childhood, loss and our very existence. The instrumentation of spanish guitar, piano, harmonium, accordion, bouzouki, clarinet, banjo, mellotron and bells creates a divine tapestry of sound, (courtesy of the A. Lords) that meanders like a river flowing into the sea. Gorgeous notes of harp (Aine O’ Dwyer), flute (Jess Sweetman) and strings (Steve Bentley-Klein) adds to the utterly timeless feel that flows throughout ‘I Lived In Trees’. The poetry of Mark Fry’s lyrics are painted on the A. Lords canvas of heavenly crafted sound. Mark Fry/The A. Lords is a collaboration of like minds from different generations. Palmer and Tanner would send Mark Fry some instrumental pieces they had composed and recorded in Dorset. Fry was taken aback by the beautifully constructed music and unusual arrangement, steeped in a feeling of loss. ‘I Lived In Trees’ was soon given its wings. Fry, alone in a little studio, would record the vocals at home in Normandy. This deep communication between artists ensued; a pathway formed between the English and French countryside. Working with the A. Lords, Mark Fry found his “inner musical voice again” and the resulting work ‘I Lived In Trees’ is a testament to the many creative minds that brought fleeting dreams to reality.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mark Fry’s debut album ‘Dreaming With Alice’, released with (tragically) little fanfare in ’72. The album is a psych-folk masterpiece that has transcended time and is today seen as one of the most enigmatic albums of all time. Similar to Linda Perhacs’ cosmic folk opus ‘Parallelograms’, the album has become a treasured gem, many years after the teenage Fry recorded his compelling batch of folk songs in Rome, Italy. For the years that followed, Mark Fry has been constantly immersed in art, through the mediums of paint and music. In the words of Mark Fry; “For me, painting and music have always walked hand in hand.” Years later, in 2006, ‘Dreaming With Alice’ was re-issued and introduced to a new generation of audiences, finally receiving its deserved recognition. Justice was done. This served as a catalyst for the songwriter and musician, giving him the encouragement to keep going. Several years later, ‘I Lived In Trees’ was shown the light of day-a haven of sounds, textures and feelings. Fry’s affecting lyrics painted on the A. Lords’ poignant dreamscapes. A collaboration made in heaven. Let your mind wander across “the mountain snow”, “the high streams” and “follow the moonbeams” that guide you home, “down to the lowlands.” Soon, you will be lost in the pools of you mind. A true masterpiece awaits you.

Congratulations Mark on your truly wonderful new album with The A. Lords ‘I Lived In Trees’. Several decades have passed since your classic psych-folk opus ‘Dreaming With Alice’ was released (back in ’72) and it’s a beautiful moment to see recently, a new body of work of yours given wings to see the light of day. It’s a real honour for me to have the opportunity to ask you a few questions about your life and music. Funnily enough, my first introduction to your music was only months ago, as opposed to years. In my local recordstore I saw the beautiful vinyl of ‘I Lived In Trees’ gracing the shelves and I immediately picked it up. Since then, your music has been played consistently, providing my daily soundtrack. The album is a thing of pure beauty, with words and music so utterly transcendent.

Tell me please first of all, about the making of the new album ‘I Lived In Trees’.

The making of I Lived In Trees was very much a collaborative work – Nicholas Palmer and Michael Tanner, aka the A.Lords, approached me in 2010 to see if I would be interested in working with them. They began by sending me some instrumental pieces they had recorded in Dorset. At first I thought the music was all too folky and slow for me – but I very quickly heard how beautifully constructed it was, and what unusual arrangements they had – they ached of a lost England, beautiful and evocative pastoral landscapes – I soon became hooked. I recorded the vocals at home in Normandy, alone in my little studio. And that’s where the process began, sending files to and fro – we worked like that for almost six months before we eventually met.

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You are both a renowned painter and musician. You have said “For me, painting and music have always walked hand in hand.” I can imagine your music must feed into your painting and how through the act of painting songs would come to you. I’d love to get an insight into this dichotomy of worlds and the creative process that lies therein.

Henry Moore once said that it is a mistake for an artist to talk very often about his job because it releases tension needed for the work – I sort of understand what he meant, the fear that some magical energy might escape, and get lost in the analysis. Painting and music have always felt very close for me, the only real difference between the two is the nature of the materials you are working with. For me, one is a chaotic process of wrestling with unruly paint, marble dust, chalk, beeswax and turps – the other like trying to tempt a flying bird out of a clear blue sky to come and land on your shoulder – they are just different ways of trying to tell a story.

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There was a time in your life, maybe around ’77, when you focused your time on painting but importantly, you never stopped writing songs. Are the songs on ‘I Lived In Trees’ these very songs that you were writing all your life?

No, not really, but in a way yes. If you’re lucky, surrounding stimuli will bring to the surface things that have been lying dormant at the bottom of your creative well. My contribution to this album was triggered by the beautiful music The A.Lords sent me. It was my role to see if I could find a way into these instrumental pieces – find the song within the song, to let myself be carried away by the strong visual nature of the music, and hope I could return with a good lyric and a vocal line that would reinforce and give the music an added sense of place.

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The nine songs on ‘I Lived In Trees’ are nine works of art. The words are sheer poetry. Do you write with the music in mind or are they both separate entities?

In this case I was responding solely to the music as a separate entity, but trying to melt into the poetry of the A.Lords musical language – sometimes it came very spontaneously, at other times it felt like walking in wet clay and took forever to find the narrative – the structures and metre of the pieces often felt like a secret garden I could not find the door to – but I was determined to discover what lay beyond.

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Themes of life, memory and existence flow throughout ‘I Lived In Trees’. The music matches your lyrics, note-perfectly with this heavenly tapestry akin to dreams and memories. What are these songs about for you?

The music often suggested to me a sense of loss, and I tried to tap into that feeling – which sometimes lies in the hinterland between waking and sleep – it’s a space that holds a special kind of dimension for me. I often write music very late at night or early in the morning – if you’re lucky you can catch yourself unawares then.

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Listening to ‘I Lived In Trees’ I can hear a painter’s voice. Beautifully rich metaphors are etched on the cosmic-folk canvas of sound. The words evoke such vivid imagery and worlds onto themselves. Nature metaphors are wonderfully embedded in your songcraft. I’d love to gain an insight into your mindset as a songwriter?

I see music in a very visual way – it has colours and shapes and smells. When I’m writing songs I am in a sense painting at the same time (not literally, but almost – there’s a lot of paint on my guitar!) The song will quickly transport me into a very vivid picture – almost like a technicolour film running in my head.

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You have lived in Normandy, France for a lot of your life. What effect has living in this place had on your art?

I once thought that I would like to go on a spiritual retreat – then I said to myself ‘hey, you ARE on retreat’ It’s very quiet here, I live an almost monastic existence during the week. I need solitude to work successfully.

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If we go back for a moment to 2006 when ‘Dreaming With Alice’ was reissued. You have said that this served as a catalyst which encouraged you to keep going. Tell me about your feelings and thoughts on firstly, your musical revival (commercial-wise) and secondly, your difficulty to keep going under (relatively) unknown commercial status? I mean, in terms of music there’s simply no justice at all that an album like ‘Alice’ was so long under the radar and the album has stood the test of time that conveys how utterly timeless the music is.

When Alice first reappeared in my life, I thought that if I just keep my head down the whole thing will blow over and I can quietly get on with painting. But it didn’t blow over, it just kept crunching along like a fairytale snowball. Eventually it seemed crazy to resist having another adventure with Alice, and to see where she would take me. It has taken me quite a long time to find my inner musical voice again – working with The A.Lords helped me greatly in getting back on that path.

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I’d love to hear your memories of the early 70’s and the beginnings of ‘Dreaming With Alice’. In 1970, you set off to Italy to study painting but took your guitar with you and ended up recording ‘Alice’ in Rome. Please take me back!:)

I arrived in Italy in the summer of 1970 and enrolled at the Academia delle Belle Arti in Florence to study painting. Italy was in an anarchic frame of mind in the early seventies, nothing really worked (one of the first words I learnt in Italian was ‘sciopero’ which means strike) – the art school was often closed, and if it wasn’t on strike it was on holiday celebrating an obscure saint’s day – as students we were lucky to get a two-day week.
By early ’71 I began to feel I was wasting my time at the Academia and left. All during this time I had been writing a series of songs – Some Italian friends took me down to Rome and introduced me to RCA studios. I played some songs to some rather stiff looking A&R men in suits in an office, and I was offered a ten year contract. I signed on the dotted line, it felt like signing my life away.

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There are similarities with your album ‘Dreaming With Alice’ and Linda Perhacs’ ‘Parallelograms’, another timeless psych folk gem from the 70’s. It’s a similar story shared too in the way both albums have taken on new significance as a new generation embrace the album.
What do you make of the music industry today and what are the differences between now and then?

The music industry as we knew it then has completely imploded – but some wonderful and innovative labels have sprung up to give artists a new home, like Second Language, who released I Lived In Trees. They are doing all the things that a big label could never do. Their beautiful and creative approach to packaging is quite stunning, and there is a real ethos at Second Language which is inspiring for the artists involved. The big difference between now and then, is that ‘then’ it was almost impossible to get your music recorded and released without the infamous ‘deal’ but now (for better or for worse) almost anyone can record in their kitchen and put it out there.

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Staying for a moment with ‘Alice’. ‘Dreaming With Alice’ flows throughout the record, in the form of verses, scattered across ten tracks. I’m intrigued to know how you came about to record ‘Alice’ in this way?

The chopping up of the verses of the title track and splicing them between the songs was a post editing job – I received a phone call back in England long after I had finished recording the album from the producer in Rome, saying they had this idea in mind, and would I give them clearance to go ahead – I thought it sounded like a great idea, and it worked very well, although the edits are quite rough.

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Forward to 2011, I love the title track and opening song, ‘I Lived In Trees’. The music is dream-like, matching the nostalgic feeling of childhood memories etched in your lyrics. The opening verse so perfectly captures childhood; the innocence and freedom one feels as a child. Was this the first of the songs that shaped the new album?

Yes, it was one of the first songs that came to a happy resolution. I had a scrap of a lyric lying around from a song of mine that wasn’t quite working ‘When I was a boy I lived in trees’ it was a little germ of an idea. I spent a lot of my childhood up the top of trees dreaming on my own. Anyway, I tried singing this line to the instrumentation and it felt like the lines had always belonged – the music became a tree and I was in it, all I had to do then was peer through the branches and the rest came swiftly – it was a very special moment.

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Tell me please about the gorgeous musical interlude closing the song ‘All Day Long’? The spanish guitar lead melody evokes spring and new beginnings for me. The piece builds with layers of bells, percussion, strings and flute that is very touching.

I agree, it’s a beautiful and mesmerising passage – Nick Palmer wrote and played all the instruments on that section (except for a little bit of harp by Aine – and the strings were added later by Steve Bentley-Klein in London). It’s one of my favourite moments on the album too, it takes you on a wonderful meandering journey.

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A lyric “lost in these mirrors of time” is sung on ‘All Day Long’. The song itself has the slow-feel of a stream’s trickling flow, reflected in the lyrics:
“I gaze down the stream, of what might have been.” The song is reminiscent of ‘Time’ by Tom Waits. Tell me please about this song.

When I heard this piece it immediately conjured up for me a slow, lazy river, weaving its way through water meadows. When I wasn’t dreaming in the tops of trees, I was wading up and down rivers when I was a boy – fishing for trout, searching for hidden moorhen nests, playing ducks and drakes – I closed my eyes and remembered those days, a man looking back at his life in the reflections of water – through the fractured prism of time.

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My favourite song at the moment is ‘We All Fall Down’. Your vocal delivery is sublime. Your voice just melts into the sonic canvas. This song feels it was done in one take, such is its directness and immediacy. Was it a straight-forward process to record?

Nick Palmer, Michael Tanner and Aine O’Dwyer (who plays harp) recorded this song in Michael’s kitchen in Dorset, and then they sent it over to me and I put the vocal on. At first I found it one of the most difficult pieces to find my way into – I wrestled with it for months. At about the same time I was listening to a lot of Kurt Cobain, and had his song ‘Something In The Way’ on my mind. At some point I found myself turning that line around, to ‘There’s nothing in the way at all’ suddenly a door opened – it was the key to finding a path into the song, and then I found myself in a surreal, baroque landscape of kings, fireworks and wandering minstrels.

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The album closer ‘Taking Wing’ is awe-inspiring. Simply to read the words alone is so rewarding. What does this song represent for you?

Every spring the swallows arrive on the farm in Normandy to breed in the barns, and every year they bring with them the mystery and magic of their secret migratory journey – they reunite you again with the sky in a wonderful and joyous way after the long winter months – and yet there is a great sorrow in their voyage.

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What inspires you today to make your art; to write songs and to paint?

I think inspiration is really a by-product that comes from the act of working – which is an engagement with life. If I didn’t work and pursue the things I hope I’m good at, I wouldn’t have much to offer – a longing to ‘make’ something is part of that desire to give something – it’s the fundamental root of the creative process, the thing that keeps you going.

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What are your current plans and future projects, Mark?

I’m working towards a show of my paintings next year in London, and playing some gigs in Tokyo next spring. I’m also working on The Dreaming With Alice Songbook with illustrations by Iker Spozio who did the wonderful artwork for I Lived In Trees – the book should be out in the new year. And I’m recording again…

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Are there more collaborations with The A. Lords on the horizon?

Nothing’s planned with The A.Lords for the time being.

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Thanks very much for your time, Mark. Best wishes, Mark.

It was my pleasure!

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The painting Mark Fry very kindly let us use with this interview is titled ‘Triple Counterpoint’, which Mark describes as ‘one that follows a musical theme I’ve been working on for some years.’

‘I Lived In Trees’ is out now on Second Language Music. For information on Mark Fry’s music and paintings, please visit: http://www.markfry.co.uk

 

Written by admin

November 5, 2012 at 10:52 am