Unpopular advent 2021 – day 7

Ralegh Long – ‘Instrumental in D’ from Blue Nights
GNAC – ‘Cinematografica’ from Afternoon Frost

In yesterday’s instalment of this, the 2021 Unpopular advent-end-of-year-review-series, I mentioned that you might well have heard the sounds of Hannah Peel through her soundtrack work for TV. This is similarly true of Ralegh Long, whose compositions have graced the wonderful ‘Ghosts‘ show for the BBC.

Now it should be obvious to anyone with even a skimmed familiarity with my Unpopular words that I really have no clue about the technical aspects of music. There are vague memories of music lessons in school (in a room beneath the greened copper dome on the old Marr College building – I heard it later became a teachers’ staff room, which would actually have been very cool) where I was taught something about, uh, notes and what have you, but I never learned anything. Teaching and learning, you know, they are very different things. So music. I don’t have a clue, really I don’t. It may as well be magic, with one of the hardest conjuring tricks writing soundtrack music. Music that has to exist in a space where success is defined by being neither too imposing nor too invisible. That’s mixing the senses of course, but it’s no mistake because the relationship between sound and vision is the critical factor, isn’t it? The intention of the scene is the thing, but if the music can stand alone as ‘just’ music then that’s a bonus.

I don’t think Ralegh Long’s ‘Ghosts’ pieces are available anywhere except in the context of the wonderful TV episodes and to an extent I think that’s as it should be. Context being everything and all that. Of course I gave lie to that very notion just yesterday when mentioning Hannah Peel’s terrific music for ‘The Deceivers’, but the power and the pleasure of the contradiction wins over everything. So no music from ‘Ghosts’, but what Long has been doing throughout 2021 has been to release a string of tracks (‘singles’ I suppose they might once have been called in a pre-digital era) all of which are collected on the lovely ‘Blue Nights’ (mini) album. I’ve included ‘Instrumental in D’ in the advent mix largely because it fits so nicely in the sequence of things, but the majority of numbers on ‘Blue Nights’ are vocal pieces that showcase Long’s tender, brittle delivery atop his deceptively simple compositions and arrangements. At times it is rather like hearing the whispers of Blueboy playing in a dusty attic, at others like stumbling on a folkier sibling to Vetchnisky Settings, whose exquisite ‘Underneath the stars, still waiting’ LP was one of the triumphs of 2019. In other moments still (title track ‘Blue Nights’) it’s the sound of English folk traditions filtered through a Nashville Country radio station tuned into the late night downbeat show. Which is to say it sounds marvellous.

Perhaps at some point in the future I will learn something of the technical vagaries of music and be able to tell you more about why Ralegh Long’s ‘Blue Nights’ is such a terrific record, but for now you’ll just have to be content with knowing that it’s seven songs and twenty and a half minutes of magic.

Now it struck me that it might have been a wheeze to largely copy and paste what I just wrote about Ralegh Long to stand as the entry for GNAC’s terrific ‘Afternoon Frost’ record, but whilst I could likely make a compelling (spurious may be more truthful) argument for the conceptual reasons for doing so, I also thought it would be a bit tight. There are certainly threads that bind them though, and of course GNAC is the moniker of Mark Tranmer whose work with James Hackett as Vetchinsky Settings was mentioned just a moment ago.

‘Afternoon Frost’ is also a set of instrumentals; music that feels as though it is seeping into and out of the cracks of landscape. It is the sound of discovering ancient village churchyards and of walking the pathways on the edges of cities, memories drifting up from the cracks between cobbles as dust into the breezes. As ‘Cinematografica’ suggests, it’s a music rich in visual treasure, a Morriconi drift to a place where Sad Hill Cemetery is in Central Scotland and the Campsies are the Sierra de Cebollera. Visually too the record reflects the aesthetics of Tranmer’s photographs of the landscapes in which he has found himself these past years, a couple of which grace the sleeve. Both photographs and music suggest an artist keenly in touch with their environment, both physical and spiritual (in a non-ecuminical manner, except perhaps those aforementioned village churches, though their roots are often more ancient than those of organised religion anyway) and ‘Afternoon Frost’ is a wonderful meditation on the energies feeding in and out of that environment. It’s a symbiotic relationship this, just like that between music and film, real or imagined.

It’s ten songs and thirty five and a half minutes of magic.

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