Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Stephen Cracknell

Stephen Cracknell | 10th January 2024

For The Memory Band’s Stephen Cracknell, 2023 was a time to listen.

After putting it off for a number of years, I spent much of the year taking time to listen, as for the first time in my musical life I have been revisiting my own musical history: working my way through the archives of The Memory Band and assembling a collection of unreleased recordings for a compilation album called Never The Same Way Twice. 

I’ve always considered myself lucky. The Memory Band started because opportunities that were too good to turn down presented themselves and I felt I had nothing to lose. A request to perform a live score for The Wicker Man at the ICA; an invitation to support Coil at a festival called Megalithomania taking place at The Conway Hall. I knew enough musicians and they knew other musicians, how hard could it be? At least it would be fun to find out.  Two decades later, it’s hard to believe everything that thought process led to and how much my own life was changed along the way. Early on working on the compilation was a slightly discombobulating process,  like trying to make an album in reverse, but as the dust began to settle it became clear my task was simply to listen to everything I could find and choose the best moments as they were recorded and mixed at the time. It was to be a long but ultimately rewarding process, labouring down the music mines. Predictably all my preconceived ideas about what I was likely to discover proved to be unfounded. Just as throughout the history of The Memory Band the words of Simon Jeffes from The Penguin Cafe Orchestra resonated through the process, ‘the quality of randomness, spontaneity, surprise, unexpectedness and irrationality in our lives is a very precious thing’. 

Quite a bit of time this year was also spent back in the stacks, sorting and pricing a large array of books for sale in a friend’s shop, boxes and indexes again. The highlight of the summer was a magical trip to Coldrum on a glorious summer day: approaching along the chalk ridgeway we came upon the stones just as people were leaving, and had the place to ourselves until precisely the moment we decided to leave. Around the same time, working on Never The Same Way Twice led to two brief but wonderful meetings with Nancy Wallace and Jess Roberts, both now resident across the ocean, whose voices are among those featured on the record. My musical companions from the band are now spread across numerous counties and countries and the compilation has been a great excuse to both reminisce and as ever to get their invaluable feedback; musicians’ ears are marvellous aids to navigation.  

Recently I have begun a series of walks in my home city of London between two fixed points — Red Lion Square where we played that first show announced as The Memory Band, and the Burial Grounds at Bunhill Fields, which I lived beside for several years in a building which has since been demolished. I have been walking between them several times in opposing directions, taking a different route every time, never the same way twice.


‘Never The Same Way Twice’ will be released on the Spring Equinox, the twentieth day of March 2024. Pre-orders are available on Bandcamp from Feb 2nd.