The universe is making music all the time

Posts Tagged ‘Mark Fry

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

leave a comment »

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.


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:



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]


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.




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



Written by admin

November 4, 2014 at 12:21 pm

The Story Of An Artist: Iker Spozio

leave a comment »

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


“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).



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.




“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.



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.



“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.




“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.



“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.



“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.



“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.



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


“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?…


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


“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:


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.


Chosen One: Directorsound

leave a comment »

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


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.


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



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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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…


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!


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.


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


Written by admin

August 8, 2013 at 10:44 am

Central And Remote: Áine O’ Dwyer

leave a comment »

Interview with Áine O’ Dwyer.

“Nothing in particular inspired me to take up music, it has always been an accessible form of expression as long as I can remember. Although, listening to massively inspiring works allows me to hear, feel, digest, understand and learn in a different way, whether it’s Arvo Pärt’s ‘Tabula Rasa’ or Robbie Basho’s ‘Blue Crystal Fire’.”

—Áine O’ Dwyer

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


Later in the month of May sees the release of Áine O’ Dwyer’s first full-length album on London’s Second Language label. The name of this eagerly awaited body of work is ‘Anything Bright Or Startling?’ and most certainly, it will make for a highly enriching experience. A bonus cd contains eighteen minutes of true beauty, featuring two piano improvisations, a church organ piece, a chant/harmony (‘A Calling’) and a short flute interlude. This masterful artist and musician is capable of conjuring up an otherworldly sound through the meditative symphonic sounds of harp, piano, organ and not least, her beautiful voice. What I love about the music of Áine O’ Dwyer is the divine purity that is embedded in each of the songs. The solo piano and solo organ pieces are works of stunning beauty that places O’ Dwyer in the realm of the current Neoclassical age of composers. The harp-based compositions was my first introduction to the Limerick-born, London-based artist and it is this very instrument she is perhaps best known for.

Áine O’ Dwyer is synonymous with the independent music label, Second Language. The album ‘I Lived In Trees’ by Mark Fry was where I first came across O’ Dwyer. Her harp playing serves a vital part to the achingly beautiful folk songs of Mark Fry and The A. Lords. A pastoral landscape is etched across a gorgeous canvas of sound that aches of a lost England; evoking dreams, childhood, loss and our very existence. The delicate harp notes meanders effortlessly amidst the A. Lords’ soundscapes of spanish guitar, harmonium, accordion, bouzouki, clarinet, banjo and bells. There are numerous other collaborations O’ Dwyer has been involved with, most notably The Cloisters, Richard Moult, Piano Magic and United Bible Studies. As a collaborator, the staggering works of art – many of which have been released by Second Language – showcases the artistry and supreme talent of O’ Dwyer, where a deep understanding is forged between like-minded artists. A musical telepathy is forever inherent in these special recordings, from Michael Tanner’s Cloisters project to the experimental folk of United Bible Studies.

Seeing Áine O’ Dwyer live in concert is something to truly behold. Little did I know what awaited me. In the intimate space of my local recordstore, a beguiling tapestry of harp notes ascended into the atmosphere that simply left me dumbfounded. With no aid of technology – microphones/pedals or otherwise- O’ Dwyer’s voice and harp-based compositions carved out a sacred sound, reminiscent of Joanna Newsom. The music possesses the power to penetrate the human space, where the deeply affecting songs remain rooted to your consciousness. Later, O’ Dwyer joined United Bible Studies but it was her solo songs-not shielded behind noise of electricity-that in my eyes, celebrated art in its truest sense. Raw, fragile, moving and utterly captivating.

‘Music For Church Cleaners’ is an album of church organ music performed by Áine in St Mark’s Church, Islington. As the title suggests, the music was performed in the presence of the church cleaners, who at times can be heard in the recordings. The organ improvisations are truly breathtaking as you feel the organ filling the sacred space of the church. The music can be termed drone, ambient or classical but above all, it is sacred music. Whenever I revisit this special album, I feel a meditative and hypnotic quality exuding from the organ compositions. The pieces of music share the spirit of John Cage where a work of true beauty is created. The album was released on cassette on the Dublin-based independent label, Fort Evil Fruit.

‘Anything Bright Or Startling?’ will soon see the light of day, where Áine O’ Dwyer takes the rightful position of centre stage. It is here where she truly belongs.


‘Anything Bright Or Startling?’ will be available soon on Second Language Music. ‘Music For Church Cleaners’ is out now on Fort Evil Fruit.



Interview with Áine O’ Dwyer.

Congratulations Áine on your amazing music. Your compositions; whether piano, harp or organ-based, are all exceptional and utterly compelling. It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions about your music. I saw you recently on your Irish tour with United Bible Studies in Cork and Limerick. It was amazing to witness your live performance; using no microphone, allowing the intimacy of your voice and harp to capture the spark of magical art in the air. It really was something to behold, Áine. I would love if you could share your memories please of this Irish tour you recently have been on and what special moments you hold onto?

Thanks Mark! Yes, no amplification was a firm decision, although it was really special at Galway’s ‘Abandon Reason’ which took place at a disused underground carpark. The sound was filtered by the buildings cavernous belly. Gorges played that night also, a trio collab with David Colohan, Decklan Krully and Bridgid Power Ryce comprised of vocals and harmonium duets.The plugd gig at the Triskel was a really lovely start and it was a treat as always to play with United Bible Studies. That night there was Paul Condon, Gavin Prior, Enda Trautt, David Colohan, Alison O’Donnell, and Michael Tanner came over from England. It was a great reunion.

Limerick’s Conflux festival was a huge success! I didn’t get to see all the events unfortunately, there was so much going on that day but my highlight was when ‘Raising Holy Sparks’ and members of the audience delivered a chorus of horn jungle chaos!!

And then to round it off, I performed at The workman’s club in Dublin with United Bible studies and Mossy Nolan on the bill that night. It was the first time I saw Nolan perform, it was powerful! So, a very satisfying and uplifting trip.

There was a part of me which enjoyed traveling around the country via public transport with my harp. It’s an unusual sight for people I suppose. Some wondered if it was a type of surf board. I would generally meet with all kinds of guessing games whilst I’m out and about with it and not just in Ireland. The instrument is zipped up in a waterproof cover and I use a metal trolley to wheel it too and fro. I met with a train master at Cork’s Colbert train station who had worked there for over 15 years and not once had he seen a harp pass through the gates. I was surprised to hear that really. A woman at Limerick Junction scolded me, saying that I’d want to ’employ a man for that sort of thing!’


Tell me please about your introduction to the harp instrument and how you have developed your playing over time?  

Well, I was introduced at eleven and started to take lessons locally in Limerick. My teacher insisted that her students play outside of the four walls as much as possible and she was really encouraging at the early stages too. I remember playing in my school band that same spring. There were a couple of years where I felt discouraged and I do remember giving it up and taking on the trad flute instead but that was a short affair. Eventually, when I was a little more rehearsed, I got work at local castles in the area, weddings, funerals, private functions. I began to compose my own furniture music for these events which would usually have sections of improv. Of course this was never enough to feed my curiosity.

I remember I did try to incorporate the harp into performances when I was a student at the Limerick School of Art and Design but I wished to play with other people. Megs Morley was a student there at the time, and asked me to perform at the ENSO Arts Festival in Galway city in 2002. Whilst I was there, she introduced me to United Bibile Studies. They were also performing at the festival and I was invited to play with them that night. It was quite memorable, we all walked on stage banging broomsticks on the floor before we ever took to any instrument. After that, I began to play more frequently with the group, as it opened up a great dialogue with some extremely inspiring and creative music makers.

The following year of 2003 I headed off to New york with the harp. I spent the whole Summer busking on random parts of the city’s streets, parks, sub-ways etc. I was introduced to a variety of noise musicians who I would play/record with and also an improvising Orchestra with whom I performed both in New York and Woodstock.

There’s lots more to do with my development continuing on after 2003, but I would count these early stages to be a vital part.


What are the possibilities in this musical instrument that you see can only be obtained from the very strings of the harp?

I’ve always experimented with and enjoyed using extended techniques more so than using additional technology. It’s really lovely to bow the lower base steel strings of a harp. A lengthy piece of rubber cable also creates a nice drone. Playing on dampened strings comes in handy. (excuse the pun) Drum brushes work beautifully. I like to lay the harp down flat and play it as a hammer dulcimer too, given the chance. Metal or glass slides work very well along the strings. If I want a guitar or lute sound, I pluck the string closer to the sound board rather than in the center. Playing it backwards is fun! After that, there’s plectrums, harmonics, tremors, string bending……So, plenty of possibilities there before I ever think of plugging it in.


Is there a piece of music or song that inspired you to take up music? 

Nothing in particular inspired me to take up music, it has always been an accessible form of expression as long as I can remember. Although, listening to massively inspiring works allows me to hear, feel, digest, understand and learn in a different way, whether it’s Arvo Pärt’s ‘Tabula Rasa’ or Robbie Basho’s ‘Blue Crystal Fire’.


Staying on the harp, I love the wide range of sounds you create so effortlessly in your playing. The music sounds contemporary and new yet steeped in traditional/folk but always feels so touching and real. This is clearly apparent on the beautiful piece ‘A Pelagic Recital’, a co-write between you and Michael Tanner. Please give me an insight into this musical collaboration (found on the new album from The Cloisters) and the process involved. 

Michael asked me to respond to a piece of music which he gave me to listen to, and I did just that. We spoke very little about it as it was more an intuitive exchange.


Your album ‘Music For Church Cleaners’ is very special indeed. I can hear sparks of spontaneity throughout as you play the pipe organ inside St Mark’s Church in London. I would love to hear you recount this moment in time when you are playing the organ in this space. Describe the church, the sound and feel of the room and the recording of the music. In terms of the compositions, were they improvisations and experiments? 

I would always play on a Saturday morning when the church cleaners would come. There was also a coffee morning in a separate room near the foyer of the church for the local elderly community and a little jumble sale displayed at the back of the nave. I remember the first morning of my visit, I found some rare vinyl there, a favorite of mine was an interpretation of Pérotin by The Dessoff choir, from the 1950’s.

The recordings took place over a space of seven months. I made seven visits and each time I brought with me two zoom recorders. I would sit and play for roughly 2 hours. Yes, they are improvisations and experiments which led to a selection of recordings which made the album.

At the end of the 7 months, I compiled the tracks and as it happens, each track is from a different month. I had explored a similar process the year before, conducting piano improvisations in my family home whilst undergoing construction. (The poor builders!!) But I managed to loose all the recordings. It was a good thing in a way, as it gave me a hunger for further experimentation.

I liked the idea of using the tape format, particularly for this project and Paul Condon of Fort Evil Fruit understood where I was coming from. I would also like to release it on vinyl if ever the opportunity arose and the finances were there.


Tell me please about the church cleaners too, who play such an integral part. I love how they themselves become the conductors of your music, if you like. For example, when a lady tells you to play different notes, rather than one single note continuously and how you follow their instruction.

Yes, I liked that part too! I think on another recording the same lady came over to ask me if I could bring sheet music the next time. They were growing a little weary of my dronings I’m sure. Maybe I’ll return one day with a score of organ music to play for them and take away the irony of the title. It has been on my mind. There was an elderly man who would do the hovering. I remember he sat on the pew behind me once, waiting for the music to stop so that he could continue with his work and not disturb me. It was only when I stopped playing that he asked me if it would be alright to turn the hoover back on again.

An elderly woman would do the polishing. One Saturday, I had placed my recorder on a nearby piano and when I listened back the next day, I heard her breath very close to the microphone, the spraying of her Mr sheen and finally her hand grabbing the sound device, lifting it up and cleaning the piano’s lid underneath it. There were many elements of chance involved and I wanted that to come through in the recordings but without heavy editing. So there are somethings which I found hard to leave out.


You told me from our last conversation about the different churches you have visited and been to and the differences you observe. I would love to know what other churches you have found magical and what is it that makes these spaces a place of inspiration?  

I can’t remember which ones I talked about before.. Maybe it was the Greek Orthodox church I walked into one day ? I went through the door and the alarm immediately sounded! There must be something I don’t know about entering a Greek Orthodox church? Or maybe I’m just a bad egg. In any case, I quickly walked out again. Or was it the time I walked into another church and found two priests dressed in their black cassocks singing in unison, each standing on separate lecterns across from one another, I was the only witness there.

A house of religious services is always an intrigue of mine,  whether it be the architecture of it’s walls, it’s beliefs, it’s congregation or inside where the repetitive theatrical action of ritual is housed;  blessing, kissing, genuflecting, kneeling, sitting, standing, shaking hands, singing, praising. Although, more often than intrigue, I find it harrowing to know that religion is so tied up with so many disasters, wars and corruption and I’m  concerned about Ireland’s dark past and present.


Your first musical instrument was the piano; if I remember correctly. I love your many beautiful piano improvisations you have recorded. (I’m sure I’ve only heard a small portion!) ‘December Piano’ is my favourite that completely transports me. I would love to gain an insight into your creative process involved in the piano-based compositions? 

Ah yes, December piano.. This particular piece was an improvisation I made one morning at my parents house. We’ve always had the same piano and it’s like an old friend at this stage! I always try to make some time for it when I’m home. I’ve a heightened sense of awareness in this particular setting as it’s very still and quiet there. In this instance, I took inspiration from the wind which I could hear howling from outside the window, so, I began by mimicking it’s sound on the piano.


I love your song ‘A Calling’. Gorgeous harmonies, bird sounds and percussion creates this timeless folk sound. There is a meditative power to this song. Can you shed some light on this song please?

I made a short super 8 film based on a prayer, the same time Music For Church Cleaners was underway. ‘A Calling’ was the sound track I made to go with the film. There were dancers who wore black cloaks and reflective circular masks, a drummer and another person signaling with seamphore.


You have collaborated with many like-minded artists, such as United Bible Studies, The A. Lords, Piano Magic, Mark Fry to name but a few. As a composer, this healthy collaborative side to your work must be a wonderful thing. Tell me please about this collaborative aspect that you clearly thrive on and the impact it has?

I’m always keen for a chance to learn and explore and experience new horizons, so I will always collaborate with others. Sometimes they happen to be like-minded and sometimes not at all, it can work either way and in the spirit of the new, I always try something out at least once.


What’s next for you Áine?

I have an album coming out in May 2013 on the Second Language label. After that, I intend to find a home for an organ based release.


What direction will your next album take, if you know at this stage?

Yes,  the album – ‘Anything bright or startling?’ is different in execution. Most of the tracks are centered around harp apart from one piano track and another pipeorgan track. Some are studio recordings whilst others are more of a low-fi approach. I record my voice for the first time and enter into the world of song.



‘Anything Bright Or Startling?’ will be available soon on Second Language Music.

Chosen One: The Cloisters

with one comment

Interview with Michael Tanner, The Cloisters.

“I vaguely recall wanting to invent a raft of bands for my label that didn’t actually exist…I love myth-making in music. But I suppose The Cloisters really festered away there at the back of my mind and this – 14 years later – is that album (sort of).”

—Michael Tanner

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


The Cloisters is the latest music project of Dorset-based musician Michael Tanner. The debut album was released late last year on the wonderful independent label, Second Language. Across four tracks and 41 minutes in length, the self-titled release is gorgeously layered ambient music with delicate etchings of divine folk. For those already familiar with Michael Tanner’s diverse body of work, a terrific sense of nostalgia and mystery is embedded in the masterfully crafted songs. The Cloisters’ intricate arrangements and gorgeous instrumentation allows the listener to be immersed in an insular world of forgotten dreams. This album has served as my headphone listening for many a winter’s evening, forever shining light onto the night’s sky. The musicians on this collaborative project display their peerless musicianship. The sounds and textures are intricately woven together forming abstract landscapes of an English countryside and fantasy filled dreams. The album features Áine O’ Dwyer (United Bible Studies) on harp, Daniel Merrill (Dead Rat Orchestra) on viola, Aaron Martin on cello, and Hanna Tuulikki on church harmonium. The tracks were recorded in some of the places Michael Tanner grew up in, including Symonds Yat, in Herefordshire and a few Welsh border towns. In this way, the music evokes childhood memories and vivid nostalgia across the tapestry of sound. The material was heavily influenced by re-reading Susan Cooper’s ‘Dark Is Rising’ series of pagan children’s books, with their tales of billowing mists rolling down Welsh mountains. My favourite piece is ‘A Pelagic Recital’, written by Áine O’ Dwyer and Michael Tanner. Delicate notes of O’ Dwyer’s harp are the first sounds you hear, before a wave of church harmonium and strings provide a spectrum of ambient flourishes. The harp as the lead instrument is simply mesmerizing, as it meanders like a river flowing out to sea. Sublime indeed.

It is a real joy to see a music label like Second Language deliver such artistic gems, especially in this modern age of digital music. The independent label releases collectible new music by a wonderful international roster of hand-chosen artists (including Heather Woods Broderick, Piano Magic, Plinth, Mark Fry And The A. Lords) and not to mention their awe-inspiring compilations. The releases are often very limited editions with such time and dedication taken for every detail of the particular work of art to be realized. Each album is unique and holds a special significance that represents a specific space and time, far removed from the commercial mainstream. It is a fitting testament to Michael Tanner’s artistry that sees a wide range of his works home to this prestigious label. Plinth, The A. Lords are just a couple. The Cloisters represents the latest chapter. As mentioned above, it was through Mark Fry And The A. Lords that I was first introduced to Michael Tanner and one very beautiful album entitled ‘I Lived In Trees’. The vinyl album was released a couple of years ago on Second Language.

‘I Lived In Trees’ was an album that came some 39 years after the release of his cult-classic ‘Dreaming With Alice’ in the early 70’s. The album is a collaboration between Mark Fry and The A. Lords. This wonderfully named musical entity is Michael Tanner and Nicholas Palmer. ‘I Lived In Trees’ was given its wings when the pair would send Mark Fry (while at home in Normandy, France) some instrumental pieces they had recorded in Dorset. In the words of Mark Fry: “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.” The album itself is a true work of art and the songs have been a daily soundtrack for me since first purchasing the vinyl in my local record store a couple of years ago. Songs so beautiful and so true and touching. It’s not often that albums like this come around, breathing such meaning and truth. I know I will be revisiting ‘I Lived In Trees’ for the next 39 years and more.

It is amazing to look into the discography of Michael Tanner. The myriad of aliases and side-projects are staggering but it’s the high level of artistic quality attached to this output is what’s most endearing. These sonic ventures include Plinth, as part of the duo The A. Lords, United Bible Studies, Directorsound, and Taskerlands. I have yet to delve into some of these projects but I soon will. Music is an endless exploration and the songbook of Mr Tanner is precisely just that.

‘The Cloisters’ by The Cloisters is out now on Second Language Music.



Michael Tanner Interview. 

Congratulations Michael on your latest project, The Cloisters-a gorgeous collage of pastoral folk and cinematic soundscapes. It’s great to ask you a few questions about your music. Thanks for your time.

Thanks Mark. It’s had four years of lurking on various hard drives and shifting shapes prior to last November’s release.


What was the pre-cursor that led to the formation of The Cloisters?

There was no formation as such – the name merely reflects a more collaborative nature in the material, which is usually whittled away in private. When I first started my tape/CDr label in the late 90s, we listed a forthcoming release by The Cloisters, which promised to be modern classical quintet. I hadn’t recorded any material in that vein nor was I capable of doing so with just a primitive sampler, guitar and total lack of ability, so I don’t know what I was thinking. I vaguely recall wanting to invent a raft of bands for my label that didn’t actually exist…I love myth-making in music. But I suppose The Cloisters really festered away there at the back of my mind and this – 14 years later – is that album (sort of).


Please tell me about the beautiful artwork that graces the album’s sleeve?

Like most of my artwork, the images were sourced at various Dorset car boot sales. They were a series of slides found in a large mouldy box that housed over 30 years of images of a certain family taking various European holidays…mostly round the Alps and Germany.
I was pretty staggered to find them there, and the thought process that can go into letting a generation of your family history become a box of junk, yours for £2 or less if you fancy haggling.


The pieces of music were recorded and mixed between 2008 and 2012. Please give me an insight into this process and the ensemble of musicians that feature on the release? 

It just took a really long time and kept changing shape. It just happens sometimes. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted the album to be, which was a first for me. The contributions from Aine O’Dwyer (harp), Dan Merrill (Viola) Aaron Martin (Cello) and Hanna Tuulikki (harmonium) really helped shape it into a cohesive whole and define a much-needed structure to proceedings.


Is there a central theme that ties the pieces of music together?

As I mentioned this is the first record I’ve worked on without any strictly wound concept, something I normally have to enforce on myself to focus, otherwise my mind tends to uncontrollably wander. Two significant moments are the album’s opening – my cat Michu with several contact mics over her, purring away – and the outro, again, Michu coming down stairs to let out a plaintive mew after the final note on the record is played. That scheduling, if you will, happened unplanned. I liked that it bookended the record, gave it a consistent whole. She died unexpectedly as the album was being mastered and since then it’s been a tough listen for me, but as stupid as this sounds, I’ve had these crazy revisionist thoughts about the album. Hearing her content in that opening minute prior to a wall of bowed strings rising up…it sounds like death to me. Not in a goth-y/black hat kind of way, just the beginning of a journey, an afterlife. It makes her final meow at the end of the record take on this weird cyclical, metaphysical importance. I realise this makes me sound completely insane, but I can live with that.


I love the opening piece ‘Riverchrist’. There seems to be several sections within the composition itself. Can you talk through the construction of ‘Riverchrist’ please?

Normally I find dissecting the music making process either robs some of the magic from the playback or is only of interest to musos, so anyone reading this should feel free to skip this section! (But for the rest of you…)

The opening 8 or so minutes of Riverchrist were the first to be recorded. I remember it being a freezing March evening and I was toying around with bowing my 12 string guitar through a loop pedal. I was re-reading ‘Over Sea and Under Stone’ by Susan Cooper, and found myself switching between reading the chapters of the book on the couch and layering the next sound, with the previously recorded loop ringing out of the amp in the meanwhile. This slowed the whole music-making process down in a really interesting way, meaning that the next sound I overdubbed was very considered and couldn’t be too obtrusive. This bowed section gives way to Hanna, in Lullington church, playing the tiny harmonium. You can hear my wristwatch ticking as I’m holding the recorder, and again as I record the seagulls on the window ledges of the Brighton hotel I stayed in that evening. There’s a larger, disorientating section after this with strings, gongs and water-bowls prior to Dan’s wonderful Viola arrangements. He’d initially recorded these as an overdub for the opening 8 minutes of bowed guitar, but they were so evocative and bold that I wanted them to be heard without my ‘busy’ undertow. So I chopped them up, did some re-arranging and incorporated them into the larger body of the piece. I think his contributions gave a wonderful finality to proceedings.


You have an endless array of collaborations and projects ongoing from the likes of Plinth and United Bible Studies to The A. Lords, amongst many others.
What’s fascinating is the quality of this musical output. How do you maintain both the high quality and quantity of your music?

That’s a tricky one. For my involvement in those projects, I just have to feel like I’m excited and going into an insular little world. There has to be atmosphere. Each new project should have something novel or unique about it, rather than copying the moves of earlier releases. Normally it then needs to sit with me and my headphones for several months, and if it still sounds worthwhile after that litmus test, it gets released.


Discuss the A. Lords please – your wonderful collaboration with Nicholas Palmer, and the strong musical connection you both share?

Nick and I both spent our teenage years here in Dorset, frustrated by the lack of any local scene. I think I met him when he was 18/19 in a local indie nightclub. I was wearing a Palace Brothers T-shirt and I think he might have been sporting a mauve Labradford number, which sealed the deal. We exchanged tapes and got to become closer friends on his return from studying in London. I played various things in live incarnations of Directorsound for a few years and he made some wonderful additions to early Plinth music, so The A.Lords just seemed a natural extension of hanging out and music making. I think our early cassette material was really lo-fi, very abstract…at least until we saw the re-release of Wicker Man (2001?) which had a profound effect on both of us defining a folkier path ahead. We were already experimenting with recording outside, having miked up the roof of Nick’s parents bungalow to record overpassing planes. I think we were averaging a song a year until the self-titled album’s eventual release in 2011 – not a great batting average – but I think it’s a very personal record, one that’ll stay with us.


Can you discuss the concept behind ‘Music For Smalls Lighthouse’ please. This is an exceptional album and one of my favourite Plinth releases.

Thank you. It was just a story that evoked an almost overwhelming sense of atmosphere, and ticked all of my dark fetish boxes…The stench of death astride the abyssal sea – who could not love a story like that? When I was 10 I went on a trip to the Yorvik Viking Centre in the north of England – memorable for being my one school trip that didn’t end in near-death/disaster. The ‘Vikings’ were barely convincing models with balding beards made of thatch-y material and the whole experience would have been a naff write-off were it not for a sequestered tape machine looping insane environment sounds alongside the smells of ‘battle’ and ‘farming’. Aurally, It was completely overpowering in the presence of relatively poor mannequins. That over-compensation of sound really stayed with me and in hindsight, sowed the whole conceptual seeds of playing with a historical story and littering it with heavy thuds, thunder, heavy rainfall etc…I can still recall the waxworks with a shudder.


I would love to learn more about your musical background. What instruments did you begin to play first? 

I was a really late bloomer. I’m still not particularly adept at any one thing…I just hammer away at instruments and objects until they fit through the holes in my head. The sound source for the first Plinth recording was a sewage line that was running outside a friend’s house. I had a guitar in my house from the age of 15 but didn’t learn to tune it until I was almost 20. I’m ok with my inept playing style. I used to beat myself up about it, but equally there are aspects of astonishing acts of musical virtuosity that make me feel uncomfortable. And jealous. But mostly uncomfortable.


In what way does the English countryside influence your unique blend of music?

Well I’ve been chained by the ankle to it since birth, so there’s no way it could not effect not just my music, but certain attitudes and traits that are hard to beat out of myself. It’s a bit of a jaded love affair, to be honest. I vacillate between craving the culture and faces of city life and longing for the solitude the country offers. I’m told there’s an English-ness to my output, and I get that. It feels like a dirty word sometimes. I think it all stems from an intense craving for something/someplace that doesn’t really exist.


What albums are you listening to most these days?

I tend to go through phases whereby I get obsessed with one particular album and live inside it for a while. Most recently that’s been side A of ‘Sir John A Lot’ by John Renbourn, but before that it was a collection of Lassus’ psalms by the Hilliard Ensemble. Virginia Astley EPs. I like a Tame Impala song I heard on the internet. I also have an ongoing, slightly-debilitating and completely unhealthy obsession with the entire recorded output of England’s greatest dark knight, Mike Oldfield.


What is next for you Michael?

I have no idea. Musically, I feel everything needs to change but I’m not sure how. I’m becoming very suspicious of what is loosely termed ‘ambient/experimental’ music. I have an album of Vangelis synth-inspired pieces due on my friend Paul’s Fort Evil Fruit cassette label early in 2013 which should be quite different to my usual output. I’m recording the new Noa Babayof album at my home studio in Dorset over Christmas. Locally, I’m attempting to form the Bournemouth Improvisers Orchestra to get some of my latent live performing frustrations out for when I’m not playing with United Bible Studies. Other than that, the usual bollocks. Chart domination.


The self-titled album by The Cloisters is out now on Second Language Music.