Black Flowers - I Grew From A Stone To A Statue.
Alex Neilson's peripatetic travels through the musical landscapes of this
isle and beyond seem to have reached some kind of milestone with "I Grew
From A Stone To A Statue". A summation to date of his musical praxis and a
vertiginous launch pad into a number of possible futures. Joining him are a
number of fellow travellers who share his love of song and a restless
frustration with the limits imposed by that or any other form. It's
difficult to avoid hackneyed Q Magazine vernacular such as "supergroup" when
writing about a coming together such as this but given the way talent
attracts talent that was always going to be the case. Lavinia Blackwall,
whose fearless improvised vocals have electrified other of Alex's projects,
Trembling Bells and Directing Hand, also plays harp, psaltery and organ.
Michael Flower plays guitar, never sounding more like the Leeds Takashi
Mizutani than he does here. Possibly straying furthest from familiar
territory is Glaswegian singer/songwriter Alasdair Roberts, who also plays
guitar and shares vocals with Lavinia on the traditional "Polly On The
The music they create frequently wrong foots the listener with folk and rock
references before tearing down with iconoclastic fervour all the
associations of those song-based, narrative-driven, vocal-centred forms.
What is left when that scaffolding is removed is music that is infinitely
expansive and joyous in its freedom. The songs do have a narrative but one
that moves upwards and backwards as well as forwards, with a use of
three-dimensional sonic space that doesn't figure in the rulebooks of those
megalithic modes. Not only space but time becomes a fluid and malleable
concept, as it always has been in the hands of those drummers good enough
and free enough in style and mind to break through it.
And this is music that likes to play with time. Not just musical time, but
rock historical time. The opening radical reworking of "Calvary Cross" laces
the metaphysical concerns of Richard Thompson's epic with some much needed
vitriol and amphetamine jolt. "Polly On The Shore" is rent by an explosive
solo from Mick that sounds like the perfect metaphor for the songs' two
lovers separated by the unbridgeable gulfs of war and water. At other times
it seems like the scuzzy no-goods of the late '60s avant garde have been
summoned to miscegenate with the ghosts of English folk still wandering
confused around this landscape. Some of the songs here ride on that
knife-edge momentum of chaos heard on prime Velvets cuts, while others reach
that levitational wooosh touched previously by such explorers as Angus
Maclise or Taj Mahal Travellers (or indeed as heard on some of Alex's
collaborations with that other Glaswegian channeller of psychogeographical
energies, Richard Youngs).
The voice is central here, but not the authorial voice, the giver of
meaning, the sacred synecdoche of English folk. This is voice as jouissance,
reaching beyond meaning, beyond its own corporeality. "And The Words Fell
Like Malting Blossom" is a lysergic chorale of massed, ecstatic tongue that
peaks on waves of organ drone and guitar flutter. The delicate harp melodies
of the following ballad, "Sweet Rivers Of Redeeming Love", sound like the
gentlest of comedowns.
The music references repeatedly the cyclical nature of life, in both the
form and the lyrics. "I've seen them all rise and fall." With that, the
inevitable break in the cycle. "For the Lord knows who must die." Another
reminder to live in the now. And this is what it sounds like.
Photo taken by Alex Woodward