Unpopular advent 2021 – day 19

Constant Follower – ‘Weave of the World’ from Neither Is- Nor Ever Was

If there are common threads in some of the records in this year’s Unpopular advent then one of them may be that of the flux between past and present; the illusory nature of the perceived persistence of memory. If any record can truly be said to be about such things, however, it is surely the stunning ‘Neither Is – Nor Ever Was’ album by Constant Follower. Written following a ten year period of rehabilitation and isolation after a devastating attack in Glasgow left songwriter Stephen McAll (then still a teenager) semi-paralysed and with all memories lost, it is quite literally an excursion into a realm where memory is (re)constructed from what we find around us in the present. A collage of possible falsehoods masquerading as precious, hoped-for realities, perhaps.

Even with no knowledge of this backstory, however, there is an ineffable sense of melancholy throughout the record that hints of a deep, inexplicable sorrow married to an elusive gentle optimism. This means that it is certainly not a record that sounds sorry for itself, but rather that it is one circling the ground at the edges of what is here/not here and what is there/not there. The seen and the unseen switch places with every blink of the eyes. Like a Bert Jansch soundtrack to a David Lynch short film, ‘Neither Is – Nor Ever Was’ is an artefact crafted lovingly into being from jetsam on the beach delicately bound together into peculiarly natural form with fragments of thread clutched from the air. The record resonates too with a similar energy that can be found in some of Jad Fair or Daniel Johnston’s recordings: In other words a deceptively simple form that cloaks the complexities of fragile self-doubt married to the inescapable need to create. Impulses that come from somewhere deep and magical.

Co-produced by Kramer and released on the iconic Shimmy Disc label, ‘Neither Is – Nor Ever Was’ reminds me of hearing the first Red House Painters recordings on ‘Down Colorful Hill’ some thirty years ago now. It feels similarly, extraordinarily, other-worldly whilst being simultaneously rooted in the rich loam of a here and now that glistens with the delicate patina of mediated nostalgia. Like the best art it both connects powerfully at a personal level whilst remaining detached and imperiously self-contained. Such a difficult balancing act to pull off.

Not that it is just McAll carrying off this stunning balancing act, for on ‘Neither Is – Nor Ever Was’ he is superbly supported by Andrew Pankhurst, Amy Campbell and Kathleen Stosch, each of whom add their musical weight to produce a sound that is gossamer thin and elegiacally light of touch. Elsewhere too it is worth noting the Constant Follower’s role in pulling together the tremendous ’19-21 Fray, Dissolve Into Fade’ compilation of ‘Death Collective’ recordings by various artists in the environs of Stirling and its surrounding landscape. Constant Follower contribute the Boards of Canada meets Erik Satie in a flotation tank gem of ‘Amiama Dolphin’ but every one of the other nine tracks are as idiosyncratically intriguing.

Nothing else though can reach the heights nor the depths of Constant Follower, as ‘Neither Is – Nor Ever Was’ transcends the moribund realm of sensitive folkie singer songwriters with an ease that is as effortless as it is individual. Breathtaking.

3 thoughts on “Unpopular advent 2021 – day 19

  1. Thank you Alistair for the delightful therapy provided by your link to ’19​-​21 Fray, Dissolve Into Fade’ which helped my enter the required readings for our dual fuel consumption whist shuddering from the proposed new contact from January. . Now I know that energy prices have soared but….phew, a bit of a ‘stunner’ so the songs from Stirling (I actually hitched there once as a 17 year old ‘adventurer!) were a total balm. What a lovely surprise as well as a reminder of the excellent ‘Weave of the World’.

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  2. Thanks Rob, really good to hear that you have dug the ‘Dissolve Into Fade’ compilation and of course the Constant Follower record. Hope you enjoy the rest of the advent series!

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