The Bitter Lay (LP)
Long Play Vinyl
No of Discs:
Slip Sleeve (CD or Vinyl)
Arch Garrison are: Craig Fortnam: voice, guitars, piano, Philicorda organ, monosynth, percussion. James Larcombe: melodeon, dulcitone, wind organ, Philicorda organ, monosynth, piano. Arch Garrison have sometimes been seen as Craig Fortnam's 'other band', his 'main' group being North Sea Radio Orchestra; the 'alternative chamber group' he started in 2002. NSRO have now released five albums but Craig has always returned to AG as a complimentary, yet refreshingly 'other' to the larger ensemble. Indeed, this is AG's third studio album (following 2010's 'King Of The Down' and 2014's 'I Will Be A Pilgrim'). Fans of Craig's music do not see much distinction between the two; both are melodically and harmonically rich with arrangements, counter melodies and instrumental sections aplenty. Whereas NSRO favours wind, strings, vibes and piano, AG is very much its smaller sibling with guitars, organ/piano, percussion, monosynth; and for this release the addition of melodeon and dulcitone by keyboard player James Larcombe. The melodeon particularly lends 'The Bitter Lay' a clear folk influence but in reality this has always been apparent in Craig's writing and fnger-picked guitar stylings. Pressed for a description of AG, Craig calls it psychedelic folk music. The psychedelic not just apparent in the synths, organs, backward pianos, bells and drones but as Craig says, "...for me it's all about unexpected major chords - something I hear a lot in the English psychedelic tradition - that and the lydian mode - the raised 4th being the most Cosmik of all the intervals! Also with both NSRO and AG, people have always said how 'English' my music sounds. Maybe it does....but whatever. It is really about using a major chord where you would normally use a minor, something that can be traced from Purcell all the way through Vaughan Williams and Britten to early Pink Floyd and latterly Cardiacs."This harmonic language is perhaps what gives Craig's music its 'English' favour and is probably a legacy of learning Dowland lute transcriptions as a teen classical guitarist. But however you describe it, it is characteristically rich, very beautiful in places and UNIQUE. Thematically 'The Bitter Lay' continues on from previous AG releases; songs about the specifc landscape Craig has spent most of his life living in; Chalk downland - old droves, Roman roads, pylon-lines, lost lanes, green roads - but all seen through the prism of connection/disconnection: Despite being written and recorded between March and June 2020 and therefore technically a 'lockdown record', The Bitter Lay is not about lockdown at all. However, as well as freeing up time to work in a more methodical way, lockdown has lent the album a certain intensity and introspection. All these songs about Gardens, green things and an almost childlike focus on small growing things. Hunkering down! Most days will find Craig walking the many lanes and droves that criss-cross the chalk hills of south Wiltshire.
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