Morning Has Broken: a strange musical tale
David Inglesfield, a 37-year-old Londoner, has been writing and recording music for many years. Starting in the early 80s, he embraced hip-hop, garage, house, soul / funk, swing / R&B ... many forms of black music, mostly American (or, if they were British, heavily inspired by US source material). This extended itself into the ideology that "black man innovates, white man replicates", and an obsessive search for The Funk, the idea of rhythm as expression of some sort of Afro-centric human authenticity. By the mid-90s, he had become dissatisfied with this, and embarked on a journey of self-rediscovery, working with a band called Fondle, who embraced the styles of Saint Etienne among others (and were managed by Sarah Cracknell's mother) who unfortunately never had any records released or received any coverage in the music press.
By 1998, the yearnings had become so strong that David started working on his own, breaking free of conventional song structures, reinvoking ruralisms that had always been magical to him (slightly paradoxical considering his veering towards Afro-centricity) and accelerating / deepening the self-discovery. Bear in mind that this change of direction was in no way a racist or protectionist act, and, like XTC's Andy Partridge, David will always indicate quite clearly that this was not the case. What has come out (currently unreleased, and in instrumental form, though with the intent of adding a female vocalist who David has not yet found) is an entirely subconscious reinvention of prog-rock (much as, I suspect, The Beta Band's reinvention of folk-rock is wholly subconscious, whereas Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's reinvention of both traditions is probably pretty self-conscious and meant, and it shows). It is a stripped-down version of prog, mercifully devoid of the self-indulgence we associate with the genre and which so often makes the idea of it more appealing than the results, and also full of the sounds and styles of 60s / 70s library music (which has been sampled on it), the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and retro-utopianists like Plone.
In a sense, he's probably the only person I know to have succeeded both the Animals' singer Eric Burdon, whose obsession with The Funk and with America in general became so great that he wrote "San Franciscan Nights", a plaintive, almost religious hymn to his adopted city and lifestyle, collaborated with US funkers War and based himself there permanently, and the Animals' organist Alan Price, who returned to his roots pretty quickly, scoring Lindsay Anderson films and having a Top 10 hit in 1974 with a five-minute song about the 1930s' Jarrow marches. Aware of this as he is, his current music is a kind of sonic working-out of his contradictions. And because of this, David has reached a fully-formed, complete vision beyond most of our capabilities.
Track 1 - currently entitled "88 Point 6" - has a flute and marching beat, almost like a hornpipe played on an analog synth, which recalls Mike Oldfield (although that's probably because Oldfield is the only person to have had two Top 20 hits in the 70s with hornpipes played on analog synths!) or even Wings's "Let 'Em In" (although it's a long way from that particular brand of sunny-afternoon mid-70s naff-pop), with an immensely reverberent melody line. The second track, "Late Late", and the third, "Solva", have similar evocations - a huntsman's horn (also evoked by Momus in "Steven Zeeland"), and the sounds usually associated with Morris dancing, with the sounds of the English countryside echoing in and out of the mix. But there's an inescapable modernity at the heart, somewhere.
Track 4 has a mournful quality and ticking clock redolent of a much less irritating version of that Pink Floyd video, or maybe two of my most cherished childhood memories - the BBC serialisations of "The Children of Green Knowe" and "Tom's Midnight Garden" from the late 80s. There is a definite feel of Tom and Hatty skating across the frozen Fens, quite literally to (what Tom thought was) the end of Time - but, again, it's all rendered electronically. This somehow protects it from any overtones of overt "authenticity" or, worse still, the dead monopoly Britishness that some use similar sounds to justify.
As Momus has written, electronic folk was a sound that never really happened when it should have done in the early 70s, because folk was already seen as being part of the past, not the shiny future with its cities in the sky. But looking back to the ideas we had about the year 2000 in the 70s, and comparing them to what we actually have now, we can see that the future will owe a lot more to the past than we thought it would back then. Most recent urban developments have been pastiches of Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian architectural styles, far removed from the low-rent futurism of 70s Arndale centres, and Disney have had their biggest ever successes with animations of ancient myth (admittedly, horribly sentimentalised affairs, but mythical nonetheless). So there's a very real sense in which this music, picking up where Saint Etienne circa "Tiger Bay" left off as an electronic reworking of these age-old styles, reflects the actual present and foretells the (probable) actual future a lot better than techno or most other dance styles do. It seems very expressive of Britain's present uneasy compromise between its innate conservatism and its latent futurism. Analog Folk, in many ways, is the point in between.
Track 5 - "Folky Disco" - has a sense of joy, a spiritual release, of the kind that was so common on the best 70s / early 80s Radiophonic music, but which is rarely heard these days, probably a result of the loss of optimism about the future and the retreat into conventions of former days (the irony, of course, is that one could say David's part of that himself). But there is a rush about it, like Saint Etienne fulfilled, running towards the 1978 playground of their dreams, with John Baker and Roger Limb somewhere behind them. It's become a bit of a cultural cliche, but it recalls that period's schools TV intermission music, the "follows shortly" clock, etc - the sense of excitement it seemed to have. The recurring sounds of fields, birds etc. in the background remind me of the paintings ITV would show for the first part of the interlude between programmes, and the propulsion recalls the clock. Both fitting together, never impeding each other. More explicitly than any other tracks here, "Folky Disco" sounds very 1978, but not in any obvious, cliched sense (flared disco or gobbing punks). Rather, it evokes the forgotten minutae of the era, the music played at the start or closedown of TV (a recurrent reference point, for me), and one of the most strangely affecting hit singles of the day, Marshall Hain's "Dancing in the City". There's a feel of sitting, wasting on an unseasonably hot autumn afternoon, waiting for a Public Information Film on ITV. The basis of our lives, untold by mainstream nostalgists.
Tracks 6 and 7, although beautiful, are clearly only half-there, very much in need of lyrics. And there's definitely a sense, on the second half of this self-recorded CD, in which the combination of romanticism and melancholia starts to pall, becoming too emotionally monotonous. Maybe, as David acknowledges himself, the "mystic traveller" (the hero of so much prog-rock, especially Yes's "Wondrous Stories", and earlier of Joe Meek / Heinz's "Just Like Eddie" and even Del Shannon's "Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow The Sun)") has travelled enough for now, and this style might benefit from being pushed against the urban aggression of David's pre-1995 style. The results could sound appallingly ham-fisted, but on the other sound they could have a strange, alien beauty, as the yearnings for rural innocence came head-to-head with the harsher, edgier reality of now. This music could do with more moments like the hip-hop breakdown five minutes into Track 7, it would, definitely, benefit from lyrics. And Track 8, although very expansive and quite affecting, is a bit samey and probably continues too long.
The earliest song here, Track 9, is better. Originally intended as a Fondle song, it is more rhythmic than most of the others, and recalls the best of early 80s electro-pop and (again) Saint Etienne. With its quietly insistent Human League / early OMD feel and bank of arpeggiating synths, a friend of David's christened it "Post Office Tower" because he thought it evoked the P.O. (BT) tower "surrounded by fields". Although the ending is overtly sudden, this is a Number One hit from a parallel pop universe, where the spirit of 1981 survived into 1985 instead of being crushed by the Live Aid / MTV consensus. Track 10, although it returns to the joyous feel (I'm reminded of the title, though not really the sound, of Cornelius's "Seashore and Horizon") is not much different in mood to quite a few of the earlier songs, and if this music has a problem, this is it. That said, of itself, it works wonderfully, always avoiding the curse of "authenticity" with its own plasticity which somehow stays at its heart, despite all the sounds in the background which might suggest otherwise.
The only other person I know of thinking in these terms in Britain is Momus, with his globalist locality and vision of Analog Folk. In two of his most fascinating thoughts ( http://www.demon.co.uk/momus/thought110899.html and http://www.demon.co.uk/momus/thought150999.html ) he declares a desire to release music so close to what David is doing it's uncanny. A copy has now been sent in Momus's direction ...
When this music finally gets a release in some form, something beautiful will happen to music in this country.
Robin Carmody, December 1999
In February this year Nick Currie emailed both me and David Inglesfield, expressing appreciation for the music and saying that he'd love to release it on Analog Baroque. I met David on 26th February, at the last London Momus show before Nick moved to New York, and I found him inspirational and enjoyable company, but I shared his feelings that this music needs vocals, preferably emphasing the bleaker, even Gothic side of English ruralism, and as far away from the "wondrous stories" ilk of pseudo-romantic prog lyricism as possible, to make it whole before the music can be released. I've been out of touch with David since then, but still hope to see his music released, as I said, in some form.
Robin Carmody, 21st May 2000
Notice that four of the instrumental pieces are now named in the above piece where they never were before; MP3s of "88 Point 6", "Solva", "Folky Disco" and "Late Late" can be downloaded at http://www.besonic.com/huntsman, and David's own site is at http://www.huntsman.clara.net.
Also, going back to my comments about how electronic folk never really happened when it should have done in the early 70s; it occurs to me now that, of course, folk-rock did happen then, and back in late 1999 I was still subscribing to the bizarre Momus view, promoted in the otherwise excellent "Mock Tudor" thought (http://www.demon.co.uk/momus/thought130899.html) that a band like Fairport Convention were, in their early years (he was referring to Richard Thompson's tenure with the band, so we're talking 1968-1971) somehow about "authenticity" and a fetish for exact historical accuracy. It's all contextual, of course; Fairport's early albums may sound "classic" now in a rock sense, but the idea of "rock classicism" didn't yet exist in 1969 (though it would be fully formed within a few years), and before the synthesiser made inroads into pop music (the first two pop records to use the Moog synth being The Beatles' "Come Together" and "Here Comes The Sun", both recorded in the group's dying days in the summer of that year and released in the autumn on Abbey Road, but the Radiophonic Workshop didn't really start using synths until 1971 or so) electric guitars and amps were - hard though it is to imagine today - as "inauthentic" as it got, to a great many people, certainly to anyone of a remotely folk-purist bent. Of course it would have been fascinating to hear more grasps at folk music and ruralism generally from those creating electronic music 25-30 years ago - Paddy Kingsland's hints in that direction, especially on the soundtrack to The Changes, are so fascinating and brilliant that it's deeply frustrating that the RW didn't head into that territory more often. But I think I underestimated folk-rock's importance back in late 1999, and if Nick Currie isn't excited simply by looking at the cover of the eponymous 1970 album by Sandy Denny's band Fotheringay (http://www.concentric.net/~jpdaspit/fotheringay/disc2.html), then I'd be very surprised ...
Of course, David Inglesfield's music was to me - and still is, really - often similar in mood to much music of the late 60s / early 70s, just not similar in sound (my early description of it as "Analog Instrumental Nick Drake" still sounds pretty good to me). Oh, and I think I should have said ages ago that the slow build of Track 9 - "Post Office Tower" - reminded me a lot of Felix's enduringly awesome "Don't You Want Me?", because that comparison occured to me back then (and it still does, really). That is all.
Robin Carmody, 19th February 2001
Something else worth mentioning: the similarity of Inglesfield's music to what little I've recently heard by Ultramarine. Slow down and remove the deliberate rhythmic quirkiness from "The Badger" (from 1993's United Kingdoms, though I know it only through Napster), and it could fit perfectly between "Solva" and "Folky Disco".
Carmody, 21st February 2001
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Back home, I'll be thinking about you when you are far away