Well in honour of the sun beginning to show its face shyly around these parts recently I reached for another one of those LPs that I seem to have been the only person to ever have bought, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci The Blue Trees, a mini album by everybody’s favourite band from Carmarthen.
They’re an important lot to me, Gorky’s, partly because they’re from my hometown and partly because my brother got me into them. They started precociously young in a Technicolor blaze of pastoral bilingual psychedelia and quirkiness, before evolving into a very rural-sounding not-quite folk outfit. Both ends of their sound life have their champions but I’m a bit less discriminating than that and I just tend to love it all.
The Blue Trees, from 2000, is firmly in their pastoral phase and I defy anyone not to be charmed and uplifted by ‘This Summer’s Been Good From The Start’, an ode to teenage friendships, hazy school holidays, sleeping outdoors and wistfully unrequited crushes; or at least that’s what I hear in it. What Gorky’s always seem to be able to capture for me is a certain flavour of innocence and childlike happiness, or maybe it’s just me extrapolating wildly from my own memories. Like all the best things in life it doesn’t last any longer than 2:39 and has a touch of bluegrass about it.
Three of the eight tracks on The Blue Trees are acoustic instrumentals which in other circumstances would have had me reaching for the tone arm way before now, but not so much here. The opening, title track is the least interesting of the three, it’s perfectly nice and sets the scene for the gentleness that lies within but doesn’t take us anywhere substantial. Maybe I am missing the point though, possibly it functions as the airlock between The Blue Trees and the rest of the world’s hurly burly – a chance to decompress and acclimatize appropriately. Gorwel Owen’s production, as always, is crisp and warm, he captures the feeling of a band playing around a campfire perfectly, cleanly.
My favourite instrumental track here is ‘Foot and Mouth ’68’, inspired by their producer’s memories of the disease’s outbreak in North Wales that year. In the excerpt from Gorwel Owen (age 9) on the back cover I was intrigued to see the mention of the ‘disinfectant straw on Menai Bridge because of the foot and mouth disease’. Britain was wracked by foot and mouth again in 2001 and the childminder who looked after my baby son at the time lived on a farm and we had to hand him over to her at the end of her drive across a barricade and mat of the disinfectant straw every morning, like a little prisoner exchanged at our own rural Glienicke Bridge. But I digress … ‘Foot and Mouth ’68’ is a tense, atmospheric track based around a keyboard drone that veers off in a Gallic direction half way through, redolent of shapes half glimpsed in the mist.
On paper ‘Lady Fair’ really isn’t the sort of thing I would usually like because at no point does the titular* lady gyrate brazenly during the song, or get very angry about stuff. It is instead a rather lovely acoustic yearning beastie with a hint of the medieval about it,
With sun beating down from above
What use is sun when you haven’t got love
I could listen to this for hours on repeat, gentility and contemplation never sounded so good. Richard James’ picking is perfect in its’ simplicity but the real star is Megan Childs’ violin which underlines the whole proceedings rather beautifully.
The instrumental ‘Wrong Turnings’ takes a dab or two from Nick Drakes’ paintbox to great effect before the upbeat ‘Fresher Than The Sweetness In Water’, which sounds like Kevin Ayers** in hoedown mode and never fails to widen my grin. The only misstep on The Blue Trees for me is ‘Face Like Summer’, which sounds a little forced and is a return to previous indiecoustica.
The final track ‘Sbia Ar y Seren’ is the only track sung in Welsh on the album and whilst I translated the last part to ‘ … at the star’, I was a bit flummoxed by ‘sbia’ and worried that my Welsh was getting too rusty. When I had to stoop to looking it up I found that ‘sbia’ is a North Walian regional word for ‘look’ – they’re a funny breed up that end of the country. The track itself, a lucid graceful paean to wonderment and (yet more) yearning is another joy.
So despite the fact that the sun has thought better of enriching our April I can still hear echoes of its warmth in my speakers tonight.
*I love that word, it makes me deliriously happy every time I write it.
**Gorkys worshipped Kevin Ayers.