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Feature: Some Recent Richard Skelton Releases

2009 has been a pro­duct­ive year for Eng­lish artist and musi­cian Richard Skelton. I’ve been fol­low­ing his work for over two years and am still amazed by his unique style and approach to music. It com­bines an open men­tal­ity towards the Brit­ish coun­tryside and his­tory with layered, mel­an­cholic acous­tic music, flow­ing and ambi­ent.

In this post, I’ll give a brief over­view of some of his recent releases that I found par­tic­u­larly inspir­ing.

Richard releases his music under dif­fer­ent monik­ers, each cor­res­pond­ing to subtle dif­fer­ences in instru­ment­a­tion and com­pos­i­tion. Clouw­beck, for example, seems to be mostly about music writ­ten for bowed string instru­ments. This was clear in the pro­ject’s first release, A Moraine (2007), but again in this year’s Wolfrahm, released on the Pol­ish label Shin­ing Day.

Clouwbeck - Wolfrahm (CD, 2009)
Clouw­beck - Wolfrahm (CD, 2009)

Its six tracks flow gently, reach­ing dif­fer­ent levels of intens­ity, and touch­ing upon vari­ous emo­tions along the way. The min­im­al­istic pack­aging is suit­able and styl­ish, though per­haps a bit bland com­pared to the lov­ing pack­aging of Richard’s own releases on Sus­tain-Release.

Another release this year was the EP Tide of Bells & The Sea by Heidika, the pro­ject that con­sti­tuted the first Sus­tain-Release out­ing in June 2005. I haven’t heard that ori­ginal record­ing, so I can’t com­ment on how this new one com­pares to it, but by itself, the EP is a fas­cin­at­ing piece of work.

Heidika - Tide of Bells & The Sea (CDr, 2007)
Heidika - Tide of Bells & The Sea (CDr, 2007)

Richard described it as one of his most elec­tronic works, but that should be inter­preted in con­text. I assume some elec­tronic edit­ing and warp­ing most have taken place, but the final res­ult is still quite organic and exudes a mys­tical atmo­sphere. A softly pulsat­ing acous­tic drone forms the back­ground of this one 18+ minute track, which evokes images of the twi­lit hours before dawn, when the day comes to life. Like many of the releases on Richard’s own label, this one was pro­duced in small indi­vidual runs with dif­fer­ing art­work; the ori­ginal release date was set late in 2007, but it might still be avail­able in some ver­sion or other.

Another ‘old’ pro­ject get­ting a new release was Carou­sell, with the beau­ti­ful album Black Swal­low & Other Songs. This, too, was released in a lim­ited edi­tion on Sus­tain-Release. It is more song and melody-ori­ented than most of Richard’s other works, though never com­prom­ising on the style or atmo­sphere.

Caroussell - Black Swallow & Other Songs (CDr, 2009)
Carous­sell - Black Swal­low & Other Songs (CDr, 2009)

It proves that the instru­ment­a­tion and approach that is gen­eral to all of Richard’s works also works when the com­pos­i­tions are less ambi­ent and more to the point. The use of some field record­ings (church bells) and the addi­tion of word­less female vocals by Autumn Grieve on the final track fur­ther improve on the diversity of this album.

Per­haps the most beau­ti­ful of all Richard’s recent releases is Mark­ing Time, the first to be released under his own name. It was released on CD by the Aus­tralian Pre­ser­va­tion Records in 2008. I missed out on that ver­sion as I believe it sold out rather quickly. This year, how­ever, it was rereleased on vinyl by Type Records, a won­der­ful decision. That’s the ver­sion I even­tu­ally pur­chased (also sold out now, though) and have grown to love.

Richard Skelton - Marking Time (LP, 2009)
Richard Skelton - Mark­ing Time (LP, 2009)

The album’s seven tracks basic­ally show­case many of Richard’s dif­fer­ent sides. Some tracks, like the impress­ive “Brook” and the heart­break­ing “Fold” focus on bowed string melod­ies, while other tracks util­ise gui­tar and harp pick­ings, piano, and other sounds. Through­out all the tracks, Richard’s unique artistic per­spect­ive is rep­res­en­ted, the abil­ity to instil human emo­tions into a nat­ural land­scape, and express­ing that through sound. All of his releases fea­ture this ele­ment to some degree, but Mark­ing Time is argu­ably one of the best. Highly recom­men­ded, and def­in­itely worth look­ing up, even if you have to go second-hand.

These wer­en’t the only new releases from Skelton recently. Men­tion needs to go out to the fol­low­ing:
the LP/CD rework­ing of A Broken Con­sort’s Box of Birch on Tomp­kins Square Records (2009);
Also by A Broken Con­sort: the second part of Crow Autumn on Sus­tain-Release;
Finally, Richard con­trib­uted to the latest EP by afore­men­tioned Autumn Grieve, Stray Birds, which has by now seen a couple of edi­tions and comes highly recom­men­ded to lov­ers of ambi­ent folk with moody female vocals. It’s been released on Cor­bel Stone Press, the joint label of these two artists.

Last but not least, keep your eye out for news con­cern­ing Richard’s pro­ject Land­ings, where he com­bines music, text and bril­liant pho­to­graphy. I’ve har­ves­ted most of the mater­ial from when Land­ings was a blog, and taken together it’s a great ges­amtkunstwerk, won­der­fully doc­u­ment­ing some of Richard’s for­ays into the Brit­ish land­scape and his­tory. The blo­g’s been taken off­line since, but there has been a very lim­ited release in book form, hope­fully to be con­tin­ued or repressed some time soon.