Caught by the River

Voices (Street sounds swirling through my mind)

Stephen Cracknell | 7th November 2021

Stephen Cracknell ushers in a brand new album from The Memory Band. With illustrations by Pete Fowler.

‘Having broken loose from gaol, my study, and utterly abandoned the conversation of my old calf-skin companions I found an itching inclination to visit London. But to shun the censure of my sober country friends I projected for their satisfaction and my own diversion, the following journal intended to expose the vanities and vices of the town as they should, by any accident, occur to my knowledge, so that the innocent may see by reflection what I should gain by observation and intelligence, and not by practice or experience.’ – Ned Ward, The London Spy, 1703.

As I write this many of the recent words of tribute I have read for Ian Rawes of The London Sound Survey are still fresh in my mind, particularly those of John Andrews for Caught by the River. I was there that night in Piccadilly, one of several I spent in the company of Ian and others, hearing him talk about the field recordings he made and collected from the city we lived in.

        John Andrews; Liam Bailey; Lisa Knapp

John’s dulcet tones, as well as those of a number of my friends and companions, can be heard on the track ‘Voices’ which appears on our brand new album Colours. The track is just over two minutes long but it is a distillation of several years work digging deep in the stacks and sound archives searching for the ghosts of those who walked this way before us. The excerpt from Ned Ward’s London Spy read aloud by Liam Bailey and the voices of John and Lisa Knapp were all initially recorded for an hour long sound piece for voices I broadcast one year at the Port Eliot Festival.           

‘For the rays to speak properly are not coloured. In them there is nothing else than a certain power and disposition to stir up a sensation of this or that colour. For as sound in a bell or musical string, or other sounding body, is nothing but a trembling motion, and in the air nothing but that motion propagated from the object, and in the sensorium ’tis a sense of that motion under the form of sound.’ – Isaac Newton, Opticks, 1730.

Liza Bec; Helene Bradley; Olie Brice; Hannah Caughlin

Ian told me once that it was the Icelandic volcano shutting down all air travel to Britain that had prompted the beginnings of his field recordings of London and it was another shutdown, this time more recent, that led both the track ‘Voices’ and the whole album their finished forms. Far away from my band, starved of their company I began going through old rehearsal and studio recordings listening to the spaces between the playing when people talk; the jokes, the explanations, the colours, the questions and the confusion. Only when I had done that did I know the direction that I should take.

‘I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.’ – Georgia O’Keefe, from an introduction to an exhibition catalogue, 1926.

Tom Page; Fred Thomas; Nancy Wallace

The album includes arrangements of traditional tunes ‘The Sweet Primroses’ and ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’, two pieces inspired by the poetry of William Blake, a drone-filled nocturnal wander into a nightingale wood and a fanfare to mysterious ancient monuments left upon the landscape. There is also a cover version of Paul Giovanni’s ‘Gently Johnny’, a train-song for the equinox and a jazz requiem for a council estate.

Alex Bonney; Dee Byrne; Howard Cottle; Sam Ewens

‘I’ll never forget those aimless years, Street sounds swirling through my mind’ – Street Player (Seraphine/Wolinski), 1979

When I completed the album I asked my friend Pete Fowler to sketch everyone who appears on the recordings. Ultimately Colours is much like all my productions, a collage of recordings made in different places at different times; partly autobiographical detailing my own cynicisms and sentimentalities and partly just a document of the people and places I encounter. As with everything I do it is entirely reliant upon the skills, time and talents of so many of the wonderful folk I meet along the way. In time this record, completed in isolation, became a love letter to them, to the city I call my home and to all of us that are left behind. 

Should your glance on mornings lovely
Lift to drink the heaven’s blue
Or when sun, veiled by sirocco,
Royal red sinks out of view –
Give to Nature praise and honor.
Blithe of heart and sound of eye,
Knowing for the world of colour
Where its broad foundations lie.

– Johann Wolfgang van Goethe, Theory Of Colours, 1810  

‘Colours’ is now available on all digital platforms. Limited edition CDs and lathe cut vinyl will be sold as private pressings from The Memory Band’s Bandcamp page.