Dance of Hours
(NDN 27, April 4 2001, Cd (mini-album))
by Tony Dale (Ptolemaic Terrascope, No. 31, Winter 2001/2)
‘Dance of Hours’ is actually the third part of Bates’ ‘Letters Written’ series, which began with the so-named 10” EP on Cherry Red in 1982 and continued with the 1995 full-length release ‘Mystery Seas’ on Ambivalent Scale, via World Serpent. Very close in spirit to Eyeless in Gaza, the ‘Letters Written’ series sets the magnificent instrument that is Martyn Bates’ voice against a hushed backdrop of minimalist electronics, on short and mostly original material. This latest addition to the canon is a mini-album containing eight pieces of transforming dignity and power. Few artists have the kind of gift that Bates does, but pressed for parallels, Martin Carthy and June Tabor spring to mind, as does Anne Briggs. For I have always seen Bates as a folk artist, and these comparisons seem fitting, especially given his equivalent facility in acappella mode. The songs on ‘Dance of Hours’ echo like incantations in an ancient stone church. Their devotional ambience places the listener at midnight on the fortress of time, and then slows down all of the cogs, springs, levers, and escapements that drive the mechanism of the unconscious world so that their inner workings can be examined. Hell indeed freezes over, and the stars rise above you once more. What to single out for mention? ‘Poems Pennyeach’ harks back to Bates’ previous settings of James Joyce’s poetry and places his unaccompanied voice centre stage. ‘Once Blessed’ backs a melody of curlicued beauty and words lost in “ghosts and dead dreams” with hushed, funereal organ and disquieting washes of electronic noise that are there but not there like the shards of a nightmare half-remembered. The shadow of Shirley Collins is at its deepest in the final track ‘The Heart’s Song’, written for the wedding of friends. The song awakens the power of the true love knot, because Bates knows that love is the most important gift of all, and one to be celebrated with gravitas as well as joy. In the course of ‘Dance of Hours’, no accessibility is surrendered – its all compulsively listenable and one wishes that it were twice as long as it is. ”Roll on the fourth instalment. ”
by Mark Weddle (Brainwashed, July 21 2001)
Martyn Bates is a founding member of the eclectic ’80s duo Eyeless in Gaza and a prolific collaborator and solo artist. Dance of Hours is a 27 minute mini album that is essentially a continuation of his solo work Letters Written begun in 1982. Bates plays most everything here: piano, organ, bass and electric Hawaiian guitar plus additional vocals on 2 songs by Elizabeth S. and co-production by former Gaza partner Peter Becker. But, most importantly, is the voice. To say that Bates’ voice is heavenly is still an understatement. It is undeniably the focal point of these richly melodic, poetic songs. In fact, the more minimal the musical accompaniment, the better. “Poems Pennyeach” and “Alone Reprise” (which are pretty much the same James Joyce piece, both less than a minute apiece) and “The Heart Song” showcase only Bates’ golden throat within a reverberated cloud or intermittent background vocalizations. The rest effectively couple the voice with flickers of notes and drone. Though this album is brief it’s still a very welcome addition to Bates’ catalog. And the insert thoughtfully contains all of the lyrics, pure poetry in and of itself.