Monthly Archives: December 2017

Magical and magnificent, bewitching and beautiful

bring back home - digital coverA review of Bring Back Home, by Ange Hardy.

First of all, that cover by Michael Cook. Absolutely a work of art. You can’t tell from the picture there, but it shines luxuriously with gold leaf on willow-leaf and moon-crest. You’ll want to have a bit of a fondle, and why not?

When you’ve finished pleasuring yourself that way, you big weirdo, surrender yourself to the music. With the addition of Lee Cuff on cello and Peter Knight – a long-time hero of mine – on fiddle, Ange’s sixth studio outing has an extra, beguiling layer of complex beauty over and above the mesmerising song-writing and rhythmical nous of her preceding albums (the glorious Esteesee is a standout album that everyone should own).

These are songs by a master-songwriter, performed with flair and confidence. I’m not going to bang on about every track individually, but I must single out the album opener, Sisters Three. It’s three minutes and fifty-nine seconds of sheer, bloody, untrammelled joy. It had me leaping and dancing like an eejit, not a sight oft seen in these days of dry age. It also begs to be written as a short story, and I’ll be on that like a tramp on chips, if Ange doesn’t mind. From the haunting, violin-wail strangeness of The Hunter, The Prey (part of Ange’s ‘mother Willow Tree’ sequence of songs) to Chase the Devil Down (a song to give strength to all of us who find our loving hearts pierced occasionally by the steel teeth of the uncaring modern world), every song here is equally strong, equally stirring, and each an instant classic.

More than anything, I love the landscape of Ange’s songs – in her own words, “Willow trees and streams interspersed with dense woodlands, immense trees with tremendous root structures.” It’s a land of wonders. Join me, and let us adventure in that country with a smile on our faces and dance in our steps. The rewards are legion. I love this album so much that my inner editor even forgives the occasional spelling error in the booklet, and so will you. wombicon5It’s right champion, this music. Makes my old blood sing. Five wombats out of five.

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The Train Now Arriving

'Dead End' by Keith AlexanderI open my eyes. The train is moving slowly, the steady, paced rhythm of the wheels doing its damnedest to lull me back to sleep. In the afterdoze, I wonder where I am.

“Ah, you’re awake!” my companion says.

“Yes,” I say. My tongue is dry.

“Here, clean your mouth.” The man sitting opposite hands me a small plastic bottle of water, which at least refreshes my tongue, if not my dream-befogged mind.

“You looked dead to the world when you got on,” he says, “and just collapsed into the corner there. Don’t worry,” he gave me reassuring smile, “you didn’t snore.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t …” I look around. The compartment seems fairly nondescript, though rather old-fashioned. Bench seats face each other, and above them are luggage racks and faded paintings screwed onto the wall. To my right a sliding door gives onto the corridor. To my left, through the sash window, a wide expanse of sunglinted mirrorwater reflects a steel-blue sky. The only other person in the compartment smiles, lines crinkling his periwinkle-blue eyes.

“My name’s Charon,” he says.

“Ah, after Pluto’s largest moon?”

“In a way, yes,” he says, his eyes flashing. “You’re an astronomer?”

“I’m not sure,” I say honestly. I try to think. “I can’t even remember getting on the train.”

“Oh, dear. Mind you, it looks like you came a long way to catch it,” he says, pointing at my feet. They are filthy; bare, blistered and bleeding. “You should clean them.” He passes me a white handkerchief, almost dazzling in the intense sunglare that streams into the compartment. I pour a little water onto the cloth, squinting against the brightness.

“It’s not that bright,” Charon says. “You just have the dust of too many memories in your eyes, refracting the light. You should clean those, too.”

I begin to rub at the grime on my feet, staining the pristine cloth brown and black.

“The handkerchief’s a metaphor, clearly,” Charon says. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. I think it was Chekhov that said that, wasn’t it? Oh look, we’ve arrived.”

I look up. I am alone in the compartment. Outside, a railway station glides into view, all picket fences, milk churns, flowerbeds, waiting rooms and porter’s barrows. As the train slows to a halt, I see Charon standing on the platform in a guard’s uniform, holding a red flag. Behind him an ornate metal sign displays the name of the station, and suddenly I realise where I am. Charon blows a shrill whistle.

“All change!” he shouts. “Purgatorium! This is Purgatorium!”

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