I’m so glad to announce that in just a over a weeks’ time on the 1st December, my first collection of songs for a good long while will be released into the wild!
Arcana – A Winter EP will be available as a digital download and as a limited edition CD (just 500 of them, hand-numbered) available to pre-order now or you can get hold of one at one of the upcoming UK winter tour dates with the superb double bassist/Dane/person Jasper Høiby.
A longer mull about ‘Arcana’, glass harps, life's transience and pop shields below, should you have a moment to spare.
So in January of this year, which feels like once upon a time, a very long time ago, I had an idea as I was crunching my way through a icicle-laden forest. Why not gather my favourite wintery songs - an old English ‘dream vision’ song dating from the 14th century, an ancient Gaelic hymn, a ballad sung from the point of view of a lovesick night visitor who travels through frost and snow to visit his lover (and who incidentally won’t let him through the window, in case her parents catch them…talking) and record them. My favourite carol also had to go in there, 'In the Bleak Midwinter' (serious pedigree for a hymn – I mean, music by Holst, words by Rossetti) which I arranged for the glass harp (aka singing wine glasses). It’s been so much fun re-envisaging these magical songs and especially working with my Danish music soul family - aka double bassist Jasper Høiby plus Bjarke Falgren, percussionist Jacob Smedegaard and singer Signe Trylle who all lent their fantastic talents to the project. Representing in the English corner, we have the amazing Adrian Lever hitting the Bulgarian tambura for one track too plus Swedish superhero August Wanngren on co-engineering/mixing duties. Very Euro. I also wanted to contribute a couple of my own to the festive canon: the opening and closing tracks, ‘Winter Psalm’ and ‘Love Deeper’. Winter Psalm is dedicated to my mother, who has been gone ten years this year.
I’ve often thought that grief is not linear, but more like the moon’s rotations, some days looming large in the sky, tugging at the oceans, flooding windows with stark, lunar light, and the dead feel so close it’s as if they breathe beside you, as if you could see their breath fogging the glass. And on other days the moon is a splinter, barely detectable and the night is dark and benign. But ‘Winter Psalm’ is also an imagining of how it was to be our mother, as I find myself at the age she was when I was born. Winter as a child: fronds of ice-grass, blackbirds meditating on the bare branches like sages, the morning sky a ‘deep headstrong blue’. I know I’ll speak for some of you when I say the happy-families festive season can be tough in so many ways, for reasons large and small. To re-enter this precious moment in time was like stepping into a portal to the past, bitter-sweet. And talking of sweet, the final song, ‘Love Deeper’** is a setting of a short poem by the brilliant George Szirtes.
[Here I am smiling excitedly next to a pop shield because I figured out how to record my own stuff. Finally. This has been on the to-do list for the last 5 years. Sometimes #goals take #abloodylongtime.] George is a prolific creator and in between writing acclaimed collections of poems and winning the Man Booker prize for translation, somehow also finds time to write beautiful words, meditations, opinions and thoughts on his blog / facebook / twitter. 'Love Deeper' was written for his wife Clarissa on their wedding anniversary and I was immediately drawn to it for it’s sentiment but also because it read like the lyrics to a classic folk song, full of everyday wisdom: ‘The years grow expensive the faster they pass/And the moments are whispering all flesh is grass/ Your heart may be gold but your neck is of brass/ Love whom you love, love deeper’. I love that amidst the last minute shopping and the pulling of crackers and the feasting (totally into those last two for the record), there is that entreaty that says: cherish the ones you love, love deeper, for the fleeting moment we exist here, together. On a similar tip, I came across a poem the other day which stopped me in my tracks: ‘What the Living Do’ by Marie Howe, written for her brother John who died at the age of 28. It was this last bit that teared me up with recognition, happy-sadness, gratitude: We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it. But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass, say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless: I am living. I remember you. More soon. Till then, with love, Ax ps. Track previews for Arcana coming soon.