music for visuals – live sessions

I’ve spent most of my life concentrating on the audio side of music; gathering tools, learning techniques, practicing techniques, developing (hopefully) interesting sounds for the guitar, the guitar synth, and keyboards as well, via software synthesizers. And applications 🙂

It’s always been about sound, how to get the best sound, which guitar, which amp, which devices, which processors, which looper. Or…which application.

And to a large degree, that will always be true – sound is the most important thing to music! They can’t really exist without each other.

Whatever your view, music is basically sound organised over time, and getting pleasing or beautifully harrowing or wonderfully dissonant sounds is something I have always loved – and always will.

However, I’d always wished that I could create a visual record of some of the performances, especially, live, improvised performances either just playing the guitar or guitar synth and/or keyboards, vocals, kaoss pad, etc. – and finally, in 2011, I acquired a decent video camera – and, because I am limited in what I can do in terms of playing live gigs – I decided to regularly film these improvs, and hope that some of them produced some interesting…audio.

So it’s back to the audio again, but suddenly, it’s 2014, August 2014, and I am now able to look back for almost three full years, at the videos shot, and the pieces of music recorded.

At first, I would record many, many takes, and only release one or two videos. As time went on, I tended to release a few videos from each session, in some cases, I have actually released an entire session, or, a good part of a session. In other cases, two of them I can think of off the top of my head, a video session produced music of such quality that I immediately knew it to be the basis for, or that it would form a part of, an upcoming album.

Those cases were, July 24, 2011, when I played almost the entirety of “The Haunting” album live on video (it was later combined with the already-existing title track – but the majority of the songs on the album – were recorded at this one, single session – totally live). August 20, 2011, was another very productive day, where several live tracks that eventually ended up on the “Gone Native” CD and download album, were also all captured live on both video and audio, all in one long session.

So the video sessions, which are available on the pureambientHD youtube channel, which were really just to capture a moment in time, began to create music that I could not have anticipated or planned – since they are all live improvs – and some surprising results, such as a ready-made album “The Haunting” or, a session that produces several tracks for an in-progress album (as the 20110820 session did for “Gone Native”.

Videos were also made for other purposes, such as for my own enjoyment, as an example would be videos created for my “ablackboxHD” you tube channel, this is intended to become an “anything goes” video channel, but so far, I’ve used it exclusively to perform peter hammill / van der graaf generator covers – because not enough people cover peter hammill or van der graaf generator.

I have long intended to take a closer look at the audio side of these videos, and the moment I began working to create “music for visuals – live sessions” I hit pay dirt – I found that the sessions from which my very first video, “St. Alia Of The Knife” came, actually had no less than 18 takes on it !!! I immediately found an alternate version of “St. Alia Of The Knife”, which I have titled “inside the keep (alia’s secret)” which I have mastered and is featured now as an outtake, on the new “music for visuals: live sessions” album. I am currently going through the rest of the session, to see what else might be worth presenting.

There are some startling pieces there – ranging from the very peaceful, ambient “oboe in clouds of reverb” of “St. Alia” and similar tracks, all the way to very, very loud metal guitar – basically, in this session, I am trialling patches on my then-brand-new roland gr-55 guitar synth, so there are a startling number of very, very different sounds on these 18 tracks.

I then looked at the folder for the second video I ever produced, “Folding Space” and I found a similar scenario played out – again, many takes made, only one released. So there will probably be a number of viable outtakes that can now be included on the new “music for visuals: live sessions” album.

There are two aspects to this, one is worthwhile but time consuming – in that, there is a lot of undiscovered, improvised music in these sessions, that’s not been heard or considered for up to three years; but of course, there is a hit in time, as I have to listen to them all, and clean up and master those that are worth preserving – the other aspect, is also worthwhile, and it saves time – because most of the video sessions already have a mastered, clean, audio track – I should not need to (in most cases) remaster the tracks – it should transpire that I can literally lift the audio masters, from the video build folders, which will mean – that once I reach sessions with few or no outtakes – that I will be able to populate this album with many, many tracks, quite quickly.

So I am hoping that this album will grow exponentially, at the moment, i am starting out slowly – I’ve recorded a LOT of videos, which are all still available on YouTube, but now, the “music for visuals: live sessions” album will be able to showcase all of the additional audio, the best of the outtakes from all of the video sessions – and, if memory serves – some of that music is quite remarkable.

Often, if a session goes well, it would be a tough choice – OK, I have ten good takes of this improv – and, I might have released them all, or, I might have released the best six, or, I may have, in the earliest days, only released one or two – which means there may well be up to EIGHT really fantastic alternate takes just waiting to be discovered…

And I suppose that’s the real joy of this project – finding and hearing music that was recorded three years ago – to my mind, it may as well have been thirty years ago, for all I remember it. Of course, once I hear the tracks, then I do remember – but initially, it’s very exciting, because I have NO IDEA what to expect when I press “play” !!! That is a lot of fun.

It’s a similar/parallel experience to cueing up old reel to reel tapes that you haven’t heard for 30, 40 years, and the surprise and occasional amazement you feel when you hear something that you played, but have no memory of – a very strange feeling, I can tell you!

Anyway, I am very, very excited about this album, because – well, you tube, beginning in may, 2011, has become my world stage – I’ve only managed a couple of live performances in the last decade, for a variety of reasons, but by filming and posting 100 percent live improvisations, listeners can see and hear me playing a variety of musics that hopefully, will be pleasing to the ear.

I am looking forward to a time when this album has many, many tracks, perhaps, hundreds (I know there will be a LOT of outtakes) and in a way, it’s like my “live album” – it’s the audio feed from live video takes made over a three year period – so it has more of a live feel, and it’s perhaps a more honest representation of how I play (compared to say, a studio album – nothing wrong with studio albums, but, they can sometimes lack a bit in immediacy – which is certainly not lacking from most of these live improvisations!) – it’s my ongoing live record.

Of course, much of what I’ve recorded elsewhere is also live, looping performances, solo guitar or keyboard performances, piano and vocal covers, kaoss pad loop improvs, energy bow guitar solos or loops, and so on – it just so happens, that I did not film on those occasions.

It’s interesting to me, I think that many / most musicians, tend to use the studio more than I do, to layer sounds, which I do also do, and I enjoy – but for me, perhaps due to my early involvement in Guitar Craft, I do not know – but for me, it’s always been about the live performance. I think I am unusual in that probably, in excess of 80 percent of my recorded output is 100 percent live. Maybe it’s closer to 90 percent – I do not know.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing more rewarding than a seriously considered multitrack “studio” song – witness “Wettonizer” or any other track from the “Gone Native” CD but in my case, those are few and far between – most of what I do is live, with the aid of the looping pedal, of course, but I don’t generally use pre-recorded loops – I do it all live, on the spot.

So I am hopeful that this three year long series of live videos, will produce a body of work that describes Dave Stafford as mostly, an ambient looping guitarist, who also does…other stuff. Loud stuff. Fun guitar. Rock guitar. Experimental guitar. Extremely Strange Guitar. All in a live setting, captured on film (but in many, many cases, the video was never made and never will be) but, the audio was captured and is available now, in 2014, to form part of “music for visuals: live sessions”.

I look forward to the next several months then, of digital archaeology; each time I open up one of those early folders, I never know what may tumble out! The first thing I found in the session for “St. Alia Of The Knife”, was a longer, slightly less ambient version, which I then mastered for the first time, and titled “inside the keep: alia’s secret” in honour of the original track – they are similar, but “inside the keep” is quite a bit more lively, and it includes some fairly wild guitar synth/oboe playing. It’s not perfect, but it sounds pretty good, and it makes a nice compliment to the original track.

The next track I am mastering, is so incredibly different to “St. Alia” it’s not funny, it’s a one minute demonstration of two of the wilder patches on the gr-55 guitar synth, which I’ve melded together and given the clever title of “metal synth lead / organ rock lead” – which is simply the two patch names combined] and it’s like a massive blast of raw noise after the two lovely, “reverberant guitarsynthoboe” tracks. It still seems strange to me, hearing myself switch from super ambient to super loud guitar mode at the drop of a hat, I do it a surprising number of times in a surprising number of sessions, many of which are meant to be primarily ambient or drone-like in nature – and then suddenly, after a really peaceful, relaxing, hypnotic piece of ambient music – you get this blast of heavy metal noise.

that will be the 15 year old Dave Stafford trying to escape from within the 50-something Dave Stafford, and sometimes, succeeding. I noted above that I don’t use pre-recorded tracks, and in the main, in 97 percent of cases, I absolutely do not – because I prefer to play the whole thing live, in real time, just to see if I can manage all those “threads” simultaneously. It’s a lot of fun, playing “all instruments”, live…and oddly enough, right now, I am in the middle of mastering and preparing a session from 20121207 – later christened as the “evolution” series, where I do just that – I play keyboards, kaossilator, distorted guitar, clean reverse guitar, ipad including iTabla, and various iPad synths – all to a running drum machine track. it’s very odd to hear myself doing a “quick change” a la Steve Howe, switching from distorted forwards guitar to clean reverse guitar and back again, repeatedly, without missing a beat – really fun to do.

I am thinking now, though, of another track with the rather silly name of “Big Rock”, this was a demo piece that was stored in the roland rc-50 looper, which I happened across, and I began selecting different roland gr-55 guitar synth voices, to play over this basic guitar, bass and drums “Big Rock” backing. While I never made a definitive version of this wild guitar jam, I know there are a few different versions of it lurking in the video archive, so hopefully, one or more of those will be useable for the album. It’s an absolute BLAST to play, just three chords, with a heavy rhythm section that does indeed, rock – so I would just solo in an incredibly free and wild way, and while imperfect, some of the existing takes are extremely exciting in content.

So without really trying, I hope I’ve given you some idea of what to expect from this new “music for visuals: live sessions” album, anything from:

• super quiet, intense guitar, ipad or synth loops – NOTE 4
• hybrid sessions where I play all instruments – NOTE 4
• distorted rock riffs or song fragments, using heavy distortion + effects – NOTE 4
• wild experimental jams featuring bizarre reverb and/or pitch settings – NOTE 3
• live ebow guitar loops similar to those I used to do back in the 1990s (I am thinking of the live session that produced “The Haunting” again here) – NOTE 4
• live loop performances using the korg kaossilator – NOTE 3
• live loop performances featuring classical and other bizarre sounding instruments via the roland gr-55 guitar synth – including “rich strings” loops with added ipad synths – NOTE 4
• lost piano and vocal performances and outtakes – NOTE 1
• “dream piano” instrumental improvisations – NOTE 6
• synthraga multiple apps controlled from an 88 key MIDI keyboard – with Indian itable, tanpura drones, and many different ipad synths soloing on top – all in real time – NOTE 4
• live loop duets of guitar synth and animoog (one of the best ipad synths) – NOTE 4
• live loops of almost anything musical or involving a guitar or guitar synth – NOTE 4
• fragments of instrumental songs from days past, played on the roland gr-55 guitar synthesizer, sometimes in old standard tuning, sometimes in New Standard Tuning – NOTE 4
• loops purpose built, using any number of instrument combinations (such as, for example, “scape” and ebow, or “animoog” and guitar synth “rich strings”, and so on) for the express purpose of creating very, very atmospheric, ambient music – NOTE 4
• a cappella vocal performances – ordinary or treated with effects – NOTE 1
• covers of songs by peter hammill, van der graaf generator, the beatles, todd rundgren, and others – usually, on piano and vocal, occasionally, on acoustic guitar and vocal – NOTE 1
• live performances, app synths, directly played on one ipad – NOTE 2
• live performances app synths, directly played on two ipads at once, using both hands – NOTE 2
• live performances app synths, directly played on three ipads, using one to produce a drone, and two to play on simultaneously, using both hands – NOTE 2
• live performances on the full size 88 key MIDI keyboard, driving various ipad applications or combination of applications, or, occasionally, using the onboard / internal voices of the keyboard – NOTE 5
• live electric guitar performances recorded using ipad apps (such as ampkit+ or bias) as amplifier, speaker emulation, and virtual effects chain – instead of a hardware set up, playing guitar through the ipad – NOTE 4
• live electric guitar performances through the pignose practice amp – NOTE 8
• live performances with the ipad using unusual ipad applications that do not have keys, strings or other ordinary means of triggering sound – for example, the “touch controlled” TC-11 synthesizer, which I have set up to play on two ipads – one for each hand, and, all sounds are triggered simply by finger or hand motions – a remarkable process – NOTE 2

NOTES:

1 see ablackboxHD for video examples
2 see applicationHD for video examples
3 see kaossilatorHD for video examples
4 see pureambientHD for video examples
5 see synthesizerHD for video examples
6 no current examples available as of this writing [August 2014] however, videos in this configuration have been filmed, they have simply not yet been processed, mastered or uploaded, so eventually, video and audio examples will become available.
7 no current examples available whatsoever, these are audio-only outtakes that will eventually be produced as part of the content upload for the new “music for visuals: live sessions” album – so, no video will be produced, but, audio examples will eventually become available.
8 planned future session, for which absolutely no video or audio examples exist at this time [August 2014].

The first five links above, in the “NOTES” key / explanation, are links to the five main “live improv” you tube channels we are currently maintaining. Each has a specific purpose, and each is meant to capture live improvs of certain types, so that similar works can be maintained together.

There are also two other you tube channels, not mentioned here, because they don’t contain live improvs, or at least, not contemporary improvs, and those are:

bindlestiffHD this you tube channel features the mostly live music of “bindlestiff”, a live / looping ambient duo from the early to mid-1990s, featuring my good friend and long-term musical partner, Bryan Helm – we’ve now formed a new group, to create new music with, called “scorched by the sun” – and our debut album is available on the “scorched by the sun” bandcamp page.

purescapes17 this you tube channel features recordings of “scapes” – ambient pieces created using brian eno and peter chilvers’ brilliant generative, ambient ipad application, “scape” – so in a sense, they are “live” – they were captured once, and that was it – so the first few tens of scapes, from over 1100 that I’ve created, are on the purescapes17 page.

And, just to confuse things even more, each one of these video channels has an audio equivalent, on the bandcamp site, and the bulk of my recorded catalogue, spanning a number of years, has now been uploaded to bandcamp for your listening / downloading pleasure….

I look forward to adding many (perhaps hundreds, who knows? – I certainly don’t) of tracks to this new eternal album, “music for visuals: live sessions” over the coming months (and knowing me, and long-term projects…over the coming years, I should really say!) – a voyage of discovery, and hopefully, I will find us all some items of interest to listen to – for all of you fans of many styles of ambient and experimental guitaring…this is the blog for you!! 🙂

See links below for bandcamp sites (audio) and you tube (video) channels.

web: www.pureambient.com
twitter: @pureambient
blog: https://pureambient.wordpress.com/
facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pureambient
bandcamp: http://www.davestafford.bandcamp.com
bandcamp: http://www.bindlestiff.bandcamp.com
bandcamp: http://www.scorchedbythesun.bandcamp.com/

youtube channels:

pureambientHD http://www.youtube.com/pureambientHD
purescapes17 http://www.youtube.com/purescapes17
applicationHD http://www.youtube.com/applicationHD
synthesizerHD http://www.youtube.com/synthesizerHD
kaossilatorHD http://www.youtube.com/kaossilatorHD
ablackboxHD http://www.youtube.com/ablackboxHD
bindlestiffHD http://www.youtube.com/bindlestiffHD

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SKYLARKING – XTC – a mini review – yes, the polarity, and a few other things, have been corrected!

Hello. This is a review of the re-released ‘Skylarking’ CD by XTC, written in a new style that I like to call, ‘stream of consciousness’. In headphones, my very first listen to the ‘new’ ‘Skylarking’. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

Ahhhh…..I am back now in “SUMMER’S CAULDRON” – drowning here, in actual, fact, sonically drowning in my headphones, at least! – with the insects buzzing in rhythm all across the sharpest stereo field of any version of “SKYLARKING” I’ve ever heard – from the moment the disc begins, I realise that ANDY PARTRIDGE is right – the original release does sound “thin and distant” – but that has now been sorted by original album engineer JOHN DENT, who, after discovering the album’s polarity issues, then applied just the right amount of 2013 technology to the problem, this strange problem of “incorrect polarity” – but whatever that really is, it’s been fixed, let me assure you – the backing vocals of “SUMMER’S CAULDRON”, so clear and clean, the vocal harmonies layered so beautifully, TODD RUNDGREN’S melodica part drifting beautifully through this wonderful, clear new mix – the insects and birds constant throughout, and then we are suddenly brought into “GRASS”, with its swaying, utterly beautiful violins introduction, one of COLIN MOULDING’S best pop songs, ever, from any album – and the guitars, finally, the XTC GUITARS have arrived – jangly, bendy, wonderful guitars – and there seem to still be some crickets lurking here and there in this song – with its double entendre about being “on grass” – lying on grass, or, is it lying on grass whilst BEING on grass – “the things we used to do on grass”…what a lovely tune, and when that big vocal harmony comes in near the end, and the violins switch back from pizzicato to legato – and then, the birds and insects return to help the feedback guitar to gently end the piece in their long fade out. Producer Todd Rundgren’s wonderful “musical” programmed birds and insects sound amazing throughout “SUMMER’S CAULDRON”, and then when they reappear at the end of “GRASS” in full, finally fading away so that we can all meet up in “THE MEETING PLACE” – this one is so, so quirky, but I love it, it’s just fantastic – with its gently moving up and down form, and that irresistible descending guitar riff, COLIN MOULDING supplying some wonderful PAUL MCCARTNEY style high register riffs as is his habit, and then “THE MEETING PLACE” gives away to ANDY PARTRIDGE’S ode to superwoman, “THAT’S REALLY SUPER, SUPER GIRL” – a fantastic and underrated piece of pop music, very complex background harmonised vocals, wonderful Electro-Harmonix phaser shifter style sounds, great effects on all of the vocals – this song is really all about harmony, and even counterpoint – the layering of main vocal, background vocals, and harmonising vocals is exquisite – and then, we get the first proper lead solo on the record, an absolutely snappy gem, ending with some truly sublime whammy bar bending, a super (sorry, there’s just no other word to describe it!) clean, super concise lead solo, the kind that XTC have become known for, ever since childhood friend and guitarist DAVE GREGORY joined the band, on their third album, the much lauded “DRUMS AND WIRES”. But now we are back to ANDY PARTRIDGE, and a song that has a very special place in my heart, as I spent many, many hours working up my own very special cover version of the song, for one of IAN STEWART’S wonderful XTC cassette compilations, this one entitled “SKYLACKING”. My version of “BALLET FOR A RAINY DAY” wasn’t meant to sound anything like the XTC version, I built the music for the song entirely out of ebow guitars, working in harmony, to emulate the pianos and guitars of the original – and then, I sang a very tenuous, uncertain lead vocal on top of the ebows – but, even if imperfect, working on this song just sent my admiration for XTC through the ceiling – the vocal arrangement, when those background vocals appear, and the amazing piano in the background, not to mention ANDY PARTRIDGE’S remarkable lead vocal performance – what an incredibly beautiful voice…and with the words “slow descending grey” a phalanx of violins introduces us to our next tune, “1000 UMBRELLAS” which features an all strings backing, very, very intense strings, which underpin Andy’s strangely agonised vocal, he seems at the point of desperation here, a huge contrast to the easy and beauty of the previous track, “BALLET FOR A RAINY DAY”, which just shows you how multi-talented he is – this vocal is practically a different persona – and then, hope returns at the end, the strings cheer up a tiny bit…Andy’s voice of desperation changes to beautiful pop mode again…and then suddenly, a slow ritard to our all-strings extravangza ending, and it’s the circus-accordion into to the bouncy, jaunty, and extremely fun “SEASON CYCLE” – “pushing the pedals on the season cycle – summer changed by autumn….” this piece is very, very PAUL MCCARTNEY to my mind, like something that belongs next to “GOOD DAY SUNSHINE” – but in this case, “SEASON CYCLE” has a curious central bridge section that is suddenly very solemn and serious, taking the mood down several notches briefly – before returning to the bright and wonderful refrain of this remarkable pop tune from ANDY PARTRIDGE. A very short silence now, for the first time, and suddenly, the incredibly powerful beginning of what may be my personal favourite track on the album, “EARN ENOUGH FOR US”, which every man seeking employment or a better job or a better paying job can instantly relate to, having a wife and family to worry about, but this age-old story here is told to the absolutely popping snare of ex-TUBES then-TODD RUNDGREN drummer PRAIRIE PRINCE, who plays drums on a number of these tunes (and completely kicks ass on this particular tune – it really is an amazing piece of drumming) – and this song, to me, is just THE perfect power pop song – it rocks, that’s all there is to it, it has a really strong drum part, and then, powerful, power-chording and lead guitar playing from both ANDY PARTRIDGE and DAVE GREGORY, a fantastic chord progression that the BEATLES would have been proud to use, it’s just an incredible piece of power pop / rock craftsmanship – and there a million reasons why it’s my favourite – COLIN MOULDING’S bass part is amazing, again, with those PAUL MCCARTNEY like high register sections, working perfectly with the drums – very REVOLVER-like at the end – this song just wakes me up, it’s bright, it’s message, while somewhat dark, is framed in the brightest of sounds – a wonderful dichotomy, and I can’t say enough good about this song. Amazing, beautiful vocals, too. “I’ve been praying I could keep you – and, to earn enough for us” – no sooner has it arrived, then the hopeful, beautiful pop masterpiece “EARN ENOUGH FOR US” has to end…leading into the a cappella start of “BIG DAY”, Colin’s foreboding warning to newlyweds everywhere, which while lyrically is not perhaps the most genius on this record, or as a song – this song still has a lot going for it, including that odd intro, which repeats during the song, which actually comes to a complete stop to allow this burst of harmonised “BIG DAY”S to repeat. I like the stop start feel of the track, it’s nice that it stops, and each time that vocal section plays, it gets odder and odder, the second repeat, a strong tremolo is applied to the vocals, and there are lots of lovely psychedelic sounds in the background…the tremolo then is applied to the verse itself – maybe it’s more of an auto-panner, difficult to tell sometimes, but a great effect nonetheless, this song is all about sonic imagery – and the sounds do evoke a lot of mental, visual images – so it succeeds wildly on that scale. The next song is one of the most eerie, beautiful songs that ANDY PARTRIDGE has ever written, with a vocal that is so remarkable, and has such beautiful effects applied to it – what an amazing piece of music is “ANOTHER SATELLITE” with it’s beautiful delay lead vocal, which then leads to other islands of different types of vocals, including some lyric-less “ta-ta” sounds, then, glockenspiel or similar arrives to accompany our spaced-out lead vocal, the rhythm is sort of drum machine, but with those big ringing, heavily chorused guitar chords ringing out in the background, it sound alive, not machine like – marimbas now appear, to tie up the verses – and then, a long outro of repeated choruses ‘don’t need “ANOTHER SATELLITE”…’ on and on into the distance, which then leads up to…the lovely (and for a time, the “omitted”) “MERMAID SMILED” a beautiful acoustic guitar number, with insane, high speed percussion courtesy of ex-TUBES percussionist MINGO LEWIS, another awesome musician who participates on this amazing album, due to the RUNDGREN-EX-TUBES axis of power. Meanwhile, muted trumpets, and intense bass part, and some just amazing melodic and chordal ideas, bring “MERMAID SMILED” inexorably to its all-too soon ending…but then, more MINGO LEWIS mad percussion begins another one of the albums standout tracks “THE MAN WHO SAILED AROUND HIS SOUL” – with its hippie flutes and jazzy piano and bass parts, this is just an odd, odd song, but somehow, it absolutely belongs here – and it also sounds incredibly “JAMES BOND” – high pitched strings, heavily-reverbed “spy” guitars – in fact a lot of cliché spy guitar here and there in this piece – and then back to those jazz breaks – it’s so odd – but I love it to bits, what an amazing and unique ANDY PARTRIDGE piece – MINGO LEWIS popping the fastest bongo solos you ever heard, PRAIRIE PRINCE’S drumming is insanely clever, a mad break in the middle, then, back to bongo’s and flute for the outro, with Andy singing a lone refrain of the title…an absolute classic, with a perfect spy ending. And then – the other controversial song on the album, the incredibly poignant, sad and musically perfect “DEAR GOD”, this song is the first thing I heard from this album, except, at the time, it was just a single, it wasn’t actually ON the original album, it has only been added in in later years (and some purists object to its presence on these later releases – this one included) but personally, I can’t imagine listening to the rest of SKYLARKING without it. In this short, pop masterpiece, ANDY PARTRIDGE has a long chat with GOD, and he challenges him on several burning issues, whilst amazing, Beatle-like TODD RUNDGREN strings drift in sheer beauty in the background, a great tune – fantastic string arrangement, and ANDY PARTRIDGE’S acoustic guitar and vocals are absolutely sublime – and then, a strident, powerful bridge, where ANDY PARTRIDGE seems fairly disgusted with GOD’S performance – and finally, to an ending that mirrors the song’s beginning, both the beginning lines, and the final line, both being sung by a young girl named JASMINE VEILLETTE that TODD RUNDGREN suggested for the part. The amazing GOD-questioning “DEAR GOD” is followed, suitably, by COLIN MOULDING’S remarkable song, “DYING”, which features among other things, a sort of clip-clop horse-like rhythm (but not quite) some fragmentary acoustic guitar chords, a serious bass part, and then, a beautifully arranged bridge, with lovely clean electric guitars, and a lot of beautiful ATMOSPHERE – and finally, a clarinet during the songs fade out, “DYING” is a song full of regrets, and a song full of forlorn longing, not wanting to end like his beloved relative did – “I don’t want to die like you…” – very, very serious subject, but a wonderful and rewarding song…sitting in the penultimate position on the album, “DYING” is followed by yet another COLIN MOULDING tune, the very unusual “Sacrificial Bonfire” – with yet another absolutely incredible, truly beautiful orchestral arrangement from TODD RUNDGREN, which in the middle part of the song, threatens to overcome the vocalist with its power and presence. Luckily, COLIN MOULDING holds his own throughout, the song is based around a very simple acoustic guitar and bass figure, but it then builds to a fantastic crescendo thanks to TODD RUNDGREN’S orchestral contributions. In 1986, when the album first came out, I admit, I struggled with both “DYING” and “SACRIFICIAL BONFIRE”, but over time, as is their wont to do, their particular magic has worked on me, and I eventually realised just how beautiful, and just how important they are to winding your SKYLARKING experience in just the right way – it can’t all be triumphant highs, and COLIN MOULDING provides just the right amount of sober realism to create a rounded, beautiful end block of two remarkable songs. The contrast between the writing and performing styles of ANDY PARTRIDGE and COLIN MOULDING has always been one of the most important aspects of why the music of XTC is so successful – they each write in a very individual style, but by gracefully peppering a bunch of ANDY PARTRIDGE tracks with a smaller number of COLIN MOULDING tracks – you end up with the perfect masterpiece pop album – and SKYLARKING is damn near perfect in every way – I can’t think of a more consistent, more creative, and frankly, more beautiful pop extravaganza – 15 remarkable tracks by two writers who over time, have become national treasures in Britain – I just wish they were still writing together. So – SKYLARKING – Polarity Corrected version – get it- you won’t regret it. A beautiful setting-straight of the record, this is the way it was meant to sound, and, the way it was meant to look – and now that Andy has the rights, he has set right a grievous error, the release of the thin and distant, incorrect polarity version, from 1986 through to 2014 – it’s now, in 2014, finally “right”. Enjoy the fruits of ANDY PARTRIDGE’S labours: a new, improved, thick and lustrous SKYLARKING. 🙂