Monday 27 December 2010

"This was all fields once ..."

The festive season's musical accompaniment has unexpectedly been provided almost exclusively by The Hardy Tree’s The Fields Lie Sleeping Underneath, a last minute treat for myself . It’s not often I buy a new record on impulse, but I had to have this one after seeing a tip-off by the excellent House of Superflake.
In the words of The Hardy Tree’s Frances Castle, the record was “recorded at home in an attic room over a year ... patched and stitched together a wonky orchestral jigsaw puzzle of sounds that hint at audio memories from lost 70s kids TV program's, ghost orchestras, cinema organs, folk song , and static and crackle.”
That ‘pitch’ was almost enough to put me off. For while the sound assemblage scene of Ghost Box and its extended family has been one of the most appealing areas of activity in recent years, I’ve got to the stage where I’ll scream if I see another reference to gentlemanly ghost stories, sound lab technicians, Arthur Machen or John Wyndham. The Hardy Tree record, thankfully, evokes a whole other set of references. I hasten to add these are just my responses but I am reminded more of Stevie Smith, E.S. Nesbit, and a certain principled, stubborn independence and genteel poverty that characterises a brand of English eccentricity captured perfectly in the blitz memoir Few Eggs and No Oranges: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45 which is an essential read published by Persephone.
I instantly felt a sort of emotional engagement with this CD in a way I haven’t with a lot of sound assemblage work. It’s rather like when I first heard Colleen’s Everyone Alive Wants Answers for the first time, and was swept away. The Hardy Tree with its suggestion of junk shop instrumentation, strains of scratched light classical charity shop LPs, and lopsided lullabies is a little in the tradition of the Raincoats and Pram. It also has a strong London theme, conjuring up a lost local London lore I would have loved to include in The London Nobody Sings ... It’s a London whose story is perhaps undocumented in the current vogue for urban psychogeography, but it’s one that fascinates me and is only known now by resilient elderly ladies who’ve always lived in a certain location and remember ‘when it was all fields around here’ and know all about the tea shops in the woods The Hardy Tree so brilliantly evokes.
The Hardy Tree CD comes in an exquisite hand-drawn and hand-printed sleeve with a little booklet inside the packaging. It feels special, and it makes the product something to cherish beyond the actual listening experience. In fact it’s worth buying for the fantastic fox on the cover with its air of “and you are?” Find out more here ...

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