Caught by the River

Never the Same Way Twice

23rd March 2024

Hinting at something deeply held but unknowable, The Memory Band’s ‘Never The Same Way Twice’ simultaneously points the way forwards and shows the paths taken before us, finds Mark Hooper.

If you were to draw one of those Pete Frame-style Rock Family Trees for the ‘folktronica’ sound of the early 2000s (horrible name, lovely folk), then most of the limbs would eventually lead their way to Stephen Cracknell’s The Memory Band.

Essentially an ever-evolving and revolving cast of musical collaborators with Cracknell as the one constant, The Memory Band counts amongst its many members (past and present) Adem (once of Fridge with Kieren Hebden of Four Tet), Nancy Wallace, Liam Bailey, Jon Thorne from Lamb, Simon Lord from Simian, Lisa Knapp, Hannah Caughlin, Jess Robert, Jenny McCormick, Findlay Brown, Paul McGee and Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor.

Well schooled in the Cecil Sharp orthodoxy of British and Irish vernacular music, Cracknell was nonetheless canny enough to ensure that his vision of folk took its musical cues everywhere from Arthur Russell’s experimental proto-house to Neil Young’s washed-up, heroin-soaked classic On the Beach. The band itself developed out of an invitation to provide a new live soundtrack to the film The Wicker Man for the ICA, and soon became a mainstay on the nascent independent festival circuit at the turn of the millennium.

To mark 20 years since their first, eponymous album, The Memory Band have unearthed a veritable feast for their loyal following this week (to coincide with the spring equinox). Rather than a mere compilation of their highpoints, Never The Same Way Twice gathers unreleased archive tracks from the vaults: original demos sit alongside alternate takes, mixes and arrangements of familiar tunes, as well as a few never-heard-before nuggets. 

These include a soulful cover of Talk Talk’s ‘I Don’t Believe in You’, a masterful reworking of Arthur Russell’s ‘This Is How We Walk On the Moon’, and a rendition of ‘Come Wander With Me’, a song originally composed by Jeff Alexander for the last ever episode of The Twilight Zone. Elsewhere, a new version of ‘So Fleet Runs The Hart’ is introduced with an ancient drinking song from Wayhill Fair, sung by Olivia Chaney. Spoken-word intros (including by Caught by the River MC, friend and contributor John Andrews) and field recordings abound, as do beautiful, bucolic instrumentals — plus the very first studio take of the traditional ballad ‘I Wish I Wish’, hauntingly sung by Nancy Wallace.  

The result is a journey in itself — a patchwork collage that highlights Cracknell’s ever-inventive, restless musical soul. This is a man who has literally walked the walk — the 2013 album On The Chalk (Our Navigation of the Line of the Downs) was inspired by his exploration of the ancient Harrow Way that connects the chalk ridgeways from Seaton in Devon to the white cliffs of Dover in Kent. Combining traditional folk tunes with Balearic and ambient influences, it’s typical of Cracknell’s anything-goes approach, mixing myth and legend with contemporary sounds. The cover artwork for this new collection is a drawing of the Long Man of Wilmington — a giant hill figure carved into the steep slopes of Windover Hill in East Sussex. It’s an apt symbol for Cracknell and his Memory Band — hinting at something deeply held but unknowable; a marker for the times, pointing the way forwards as well as showing the paths taken before us. But never the same way twice.


‘Never the Same Way Twice’ is out now on Hungry Hill.