In Memoriam: Nick Talbot aka Gravenhurst

Like many, I was stunned yesterday evening to hear the news of Nick Talbot’s passing at the age of just 37. Nick’s work as Gravenurst, both as a solo performer and with a group were amongst the finest of the past decade or any time, and were profoundly important to me.
 
The first I knew of Nick was when he took the stage, nearly twelve years ago, at the Cavern in Exeter as part of a Sink And Stove label night. His solo set was an intensely sensitive yet powerful performance and I was instantly enthralled. I recall immediately picking up a copy of his ‘Internal Travels’ album and having it on what felt like repeat play for months afterwards.
 
A year or so later I ‘interviewed’ Nick for a piece in Plan B magazine ahead of the Warp release of ‘Flashlight Seasons’, though really it was, as these things tend to be, a chat over a beer in the pub. We talked about all sorts, and I recall feeling instantly at ease despite his obviously fierce intelligence and prodigious talent. The Gravehurst records were proof of this, but so too were his own journalistic endeavours, and his Police Divers Notebook blog was always a delight of sharp, slightly eccentric observations and spot-on political statements. The fact that I kept it filed in my ‘Friends’ folder of RSS feeds should tell you everything.
 
I do not think the resultant piece from that interview is available anywhere on the Internet, so I include it below. Although over ten years old now, I think it still captures what was so special about Nick’s songwriting and performing. I like to think too that it was the reference to Ray Davies in that piece that led in some small way to the wonderful, mesmerising nine minute Gravenhurst cover of ‘See My Friends’ on the following year’s ‘Fire’s In Distant Buildings’ set. Few, if any artists can record a Davies song and have it come even close to the original. That I rank Gravenhurst’s version as equal to The Kinks’ should tell you everything.
 
In the 2012 Unpopular advent series I wrote about what will now inevitably go down as the final Gravehurst album, the divine ‘The Ghost In Daylight’. In that short piece reference was made to the fact that it sounded very much like a new Gravehurst album and that there was nothing wrong with that. There wasn’t. And the fact that each new Gravenhurst record over this past decade filled me with eager anticipation and unbridled pleasure should tell you everything.
 
It must be said that 2014 was already an annus horribilis for me and, at the risk of sounding overly melodramatic, the news of Nick’s passing has left another void in the already pockmarked landscape of my soul. How it must feel to those close to him I can only imagine. Nevertheless, in darkness there is light, and the lasting legacy of Nick’s work is that there will always be this magical, rare and priceless treasure buried deep that can always be unearthed and marvelled at. And that, more than anything, should tell you everything.
 
R.I.P. Nick Talbot.
 
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Gravenhurst (from Plan B magazine, issue 0.5, September/October 2004)
 
“You don’t like Black Sabbath? I love Black Sabbath.”
 
Gravenhurst singer / songwriter Nick Talbot is not what you might expect. Listening to his ‘Flashlight Seasons’ album (Warp) you might form a picture of a slight, lonely young man hiding in the shadows. But things are seldom quite what they might seem at first glance. Scratch the surface of Gravenhurst songs and you often as not discover a quietly seething sea of disquiet, a blistering anger seeping out with the finest of precisely focused power. But Black Sabbath? Maybe not.
 
Musically it’s easier to neatly nudge Gravenhurst into some kind of folk revivalism slot than into dark proto-metal. Their sound is certainly one that often recollects some of the finer moments of the ’60s English scene like Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Soft Machine even.
 
“Well, yes, I have a few of the early Fairport Convention albums,” says Nick, “a couple of Bert Jansch records, but nothing much really. I’m not really into the whole thing. It’s quite a superficial connection. Same with all the Nick Drake references.”
 
Well quite. The Drake references certainly are just too easy and are wide of the mark. It seems to me that a much more valid link can be made to the late ‘60s songs of Ray Davies, in particular to the masterful collection that made up the classic Village Green Preservation Society set. It’s all to do with the way Davies consciously constructs and deconstructs the myths of the English country idyll, in so doing creating a knowingly mediated space inside which dreams and narratives can form. Nick Talbot does a similar thing: he creates carefully sculpted songs that breathe on your neck and weave strange paths through your psyche; songs that make reference to (sub)urban geographies and that knowingly reflect on mediated realities, in so doing rendering those ‘realities’ questionable. Which means it’s all somewhat surrealist – though naturally in the vein of Joseph Cornell’s assemblages as opposed to Dali’s preposterous landscapes.
 
One of the most important elements of Pop is that as the consumer you are able to take ownership of the artefact and subsume it within your own world. Naturally not all Pop manages this as well as others. It’s a difficult line to walk, one that’s about leaving hints, about dropping references that reverberate with an emotional vibrancy of just the right intensity so that you are neither swamped nor left out in the cold. There are doors left open a shade, windows into lit rooms viewed from passing trains or automobiles. Flashes of light, lakes of shadow, like the suggestive ghostliness of M.R. James’ stories, or Edward Hopper’s paintings of urban emptiness.
 
“Yes”, says Nick. “Lyrically, there has to be just the right amount left open to interpretation – it has to allow the listener in, has to allow them the opportunity to get inside the song.”
 
That Gravenhurst songs achieve that with admirable ease is testament to the mature craft of Nick Talbot and his instinctive understanding of the magic of music. You could do much worse than to let yourself go and feel that magic yourself.
 
Alistair Fitchett 2004

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