It’s always been there. A few miles out of eye-shot, a few beats out of hearing, one feeling in the back of your neck and another in the pit of your stomach, a place where you go when you read certain books, recall certain television, replay certain records.
It used to be secret. Your secret. It used to be private, and when you tried telling people about it, they’d look at you as though you just seen a fairy, or just heard a ghost, or maybe you were one or the other yourself. It didn’t have a name, and that made it more difficult to describe to different folk, and it wasn’t really folklore because its impetus was way too recent. Those books. Those shows. Those records.
Whispers are overheard. Secrets are divulged. You thought you were the only kid in your street who knew all the words to Bright Phoebus. But you weren’t. Learned theorists, excitable archaeologists, headstrong hauntologists… there’s a world out there that is sometimes called acid folk; which is sometimes plain wyrd; which is conjuring its own legends every fresh week. Regular readers of almost a year ago will remember the Book of the Lost, recreating a TV show that had yet to be created. Perceptive browsers this summer will have stumbled upon Songs from the Black Meadow. Neither existed before a short time ago. Both feel as old as our selves.
An entire racial memory has unfurled around the disparate strands that cling to the left field of our culture, to a pre-apocalyptic, post-superstitious, present-times-medieval mindset that could never have spread so far without the benefits… and possible menaces… of modern pop culture and technology too. But which were waiting in their shadows regardless.
Music plays. Jonesville was the 1973 second set from English singer-songwriter Al Jones – lost at the time, in common with most everything on the Village Thing label, but murmuring in the ear of anyone who heard it; everyone who wanted to be first to draw the comparisons between Jones and the then-still-living Nick Drake, or the not-quite-pickled-in-mythical-aspic Syd Barrett… but who were too late, because the album vanished and Jones went with it, a Cornish coastguard who barely looked back on the music he left behind. And now it’s too late, because he passed away in 2008, but Ghosts from the Basement have just reissued Jonesville, and if you listen to nothing else tonight, before you go to bed, listen to his “Black Cat”…
“‘Who are you?’, the young girl cried, ‘this land belongs to me…’”
Listen to his “Earthworks”…
“running as fast as I can go, through the black meadows I must go…”
And listen to his “Bernard’s Exit,” an instrumental that he apparently wrote for his newborn daughter Emily – whose own newly-released album, Autumn Eye, is the follow-up to her half of the Book of the Lost that she conjured with Rowan Amber Mill; is her scrap of the map that might lead you through the Black Meadow on a song; and builds, without more than an echo or a breath, on the same specters and spirits and shadows that shaped Jonesville all those years ago. The exit that Bernard took to the entrance that awaited him.
Autumn Eye is a short album. Seven songs, twenty-six minutes, and almost half of its bodyweight has already seen the light of day. Early versions of “Bed of Mud,” “Tethered” and “Hermegant and Maladine” appeared on Jones’s Miscellaneous Tracks collection earlier this year; while the opening “Dark Moss and Coldheart” cast a spell and a shade among the songs from the aforementioned Black Meadow, that land of ancient wonder and inexplicable mystery that writer Chris Lambert conjured into such lurid life.
But statistics lie and this is no encore performance. The Autumn Eye opens and there is so much to explore, so many leys to follow. Because if Emily is to be your guide, you will see things that the books never tell you, hear things that the songwriters never dared set to music. Like she sings in “Little Ghost,” another cut from Miscelleaneous Tracks, “you won’t sting me if I run on tiptoes.”
She conjures similar specters in “Hermegant and Maladine,” with its strange kinds of friendship… its eerie shadows dancing… and it would be so easy to sit and simply mine further jewel stones from Jones’s lovely lyrics, or rhapsodize seventies TV and culture, and make out that those things alone unveil her beauty… or mask her darkness. As if all her songs remember Gillian Hills as an actress, not a French pop star; and knows there’s a straight line running from Straw Dogs to Children of the Stones.
Her roots go deeper than that, though, and further too, through that line of literary Englishness that reads and regards Radcliffe as breathlessly as it relives Daphne DuMaurier (whose mark is here, in all its coastal Cornish starkness), a sure-footed romanticism that knows the precise path through the marshes, and the most economical way between tor and tumulus, but understands, too, when to pause for breath. Or to freeze for dramatic effect.
Behind lyrics whose vision is all the more effective for their sparsity, over vocals whose loveliness is only amplified by their naturalness; through the auspices of accompanists armed with flute (Shelley Trower), omnichord and harmonium (Kemper Norton), keyboards (Jake Ashworth-Jones) and bass (Paolo Sala); Jones conducts a backdrop of grandiose simplicity that itself is as eloquent as the wordcraft – and then gleefully undoes it with a single stroke of madcap mischief, the gentle twist of accent with which she delivers key lines in “Pieces of People.” From daughter of Alice to Dickensian market girl in three-fifths of the Airplane’s ten seconds… plus a song which (probably unintentionally) utterly displaces Wings’s “Old Siam Sir” as the greatest song ever to mention the London burgh of Walthamstow.
Across Autumn Eye as a whole, elements of “the usual suspects” can naturally be discerned, from recent Judy Dyble to classic Nick Drake… or not Drake so much as Robert Kirby, arranger and orchestrator supreme; from all our favorite early seventies folk rock mavens, through to the same sly smile that speeds Current 93 across the landscape. To that magic land where Jake Thackray meets William Hope Hodgson; and even, as one especially perspicacious reviewer has already pointed out, to Duncan Browne, during his Immediate Records heyday.
And to Jonesville, of course, an album that – with a symmetry that could never have been planned, designed or in any way intended – so exquisitely bookends Autumn Eye that, if they weren’t bound together by blood, there’d be scope for ever more spooky solutions.
And maybe there still is. But some secrets are best divulged, and certainly have more meaning, when you hear them by darkness, when you listen alone. Which isn’t to say Autumn Eye is an album for hermits. But if there’s someone else in the room when it’s playing, make sure you know exactly who they are. And what they are, as well.
Because there’s this landscape…