Martyn Bates
Your Jewled Footsteps (solo and collaboration works 1979-2006)
(Sub Rosa SR 257, September 15 2006, Cd)

Review 1

by Mike Barnes (The Wire, January 2007)

Eyeless In Gaza
Summer Salt And Subway Sun
Plague of Years : Songs And Instrumentals 1980-2006
Martyn Bates
Your Jewled Footsteps :Solo And Collaboration Works 1979-2005

Even before one listens to the music within, the artwork of the two Sub Rosa compilations gives a visual insight into Martyn Bates’s muse. Photographs of nondescript houses in his hometown of Nuneaton, sitting under grey skies, are juxtaposed with rain-spattered windows, flame red sunsets and lush fields, neatly illustrating a sense of an otherness on the edge of the everyday that has run through Bates’ lyrics and music from the very first.

For a time in the early 80’s Eyeless in Gaza, the duo of Bates and Pete Becker, appeared to be raincoat-clad popsters with severe haircuts – a notion that soon evaporated. Their music was melodic, but there was intensity about it. Plague of Years illustrates how Bates remarkable voice has developed in character and poise from these early untrammelled outpourings of yells and yodels where syllables were chewed up or elongated to the point of incomprehensibility.

Eyeless in Gaza soon became more lyrical, with Bates’ lyrics capturing transience, loss, the subtleties of sensation and a pantheistic awe at the natural world. It’s unsurprising, then, that he has enjoyed an overlap with the folk tradition. Although ‘She Moves Thru The Fair’ (from 1985) has so much reverb it sounds like it was recorded in a cave (in a garage, actually –Ed.), it is beautifully sung. Bates’s exploration of folk forms is more in evidence on Your Jewled Footsteps. Although his earliest solo work is almost interchangeable with Eyeless In Gaza’s, ‘90’s collaborations with Max Eastley (‘Cherry Tree Carol’) and Mick Harris (‘Cruel Mother’, from their Murder Ballads album) are more spectral, with his voice soaring through the music’s space.

Although Eyeless in Gaza’s work has a tendency to slip under the radar, its quality has been remarkable consistent. Bates still enjoys a potent musical relationship with Becker and the brand new album Summer Salt And Subway Sun is fresh and vital, as good as anything they’ve done before. A mix of drifting ambiance, churning guitars and layered sonics, it ranges from the sparse piano and voice of ‘Mixed Choir’ to the dark edged instrumental ‘Whitening Rays’. According to Bates, this album represents a conscious sideways move to prevent them being lumped in with any of the new folk fads. But let’s also hope that it doesn’t estrange them further from the attention they so obviously deserve.

Review 2

by Jeff Penczak (Terrascope, November 2006)

MARTYN BATES – ‘YOUR JEWLED FOOTSTEPS’ (CD from Sub Rosa 149-151 avenue Ducpétiaux 1060 Bruxelles, Belgium)

Sub Rosa’s companion release to the above-reviewed Eyeless in Gaza compilation, this retrospective from the EiG vocalist covers essentially the same quarter century (1982-2006, with an excerpt from ‘Dissonance,’ by his 1979 pre-EiG project, Migraine Inducers, an apt description, indeed). It runs the gamut of emotions through Bates’ back catalogue, from over-emoting Paul Humphries (OMD) soundalike to mature, introspective warbler who was never afraid to wear his soul on his sleeve (or cozily wrapped around his tonsils). Featuring similar folk/psych accompaniment to EiG (such as the flute and harmonium backing on ‘Shorepoem’ (from 1994’s ‘Mystery Seas (Letters Written #2’)), there is more of a medieval, archaic feel to Bates’ solo material. The tracks also display an armload of traditionally non-pop instruments, such as the banjo backing on ‘I Can’t Look For You’ (from 1996’s critically acclaimed ‘Imagination Feels Like Poison,’ a fan favorite that ‘s represented by three tracks) and the church pump-organ(?) on ‘Letters Written’’s ‘Mirrored In Me.’

Still, it’s Bates’ distinctive vocals that will make or break the collection, whether sounding like sounding like some smartass (Marty himself?) was making flippy-floppy with the tape machine during the recording session, resulting in a warbled, distorted vocal (‘Cut Like Sunset’ from his 1982 ‘Letters Written’ 10” debut), or something that a post-Culture Club Boy George might have included on a solo album (the poppy ‘First and Last February’ from 1989’s ‘Letters To A Scattered Family’) or numerous instances where you can close your eyes and swear your listening to Alfie Moyet (Yaz) or Andy Bell (Erasure) fronting a chamber ensemble. Yes, Bates possesses one of those voices (like Family’s Roger Chapman, Tom Waits, Don Van Vliet or even Dylan) that you’ll either love or hate. But if you’re tempted to shy away from these recordings, pause for a moment and reflect upon the emotion, the oblique delivery and those wonderfully creative, somber arrangements and I guarantee that, given half a chance, it’s not an album that you will soon forget.

One aspect that Bates retained from his EiG days was the use of evocative instrumentals, and several are included here (my favorite being ‘Imagination…’’s lovely ‘The God on The Tree). ‘Morning Singing’ (from 1982’s ‘Letters Written’) is a carnival-like synth sensation with those wonderful vocals waxing poetic (more about that in a moment) about a long-lost love returning in a dream and his collaboration with Alan Trench as Twelve Thousand Days yielded last year’s ‘At the Landgate,’ from which we hear ‘Once Loved,’ a whispered, reverential rendition of the traditional Irish tale, a prime example of wyrdfolk at its finest. And speaking of…, the set concludes with an excerpt from last year’s ‘Leitmotif’ EP, his elaborate contribution to Timothy Renner’s ‘Folklore of the Moon’ subscription series, which includes excerpts from and references to Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’ and Francis Child’s ‘The English and Scottish Popular Ballads’ set to haunting, often antagonistic and dissonant electronic backing. [You can read my complete review of ‘Leitmotif’ here.  On a side note, I personally would have selected his magnificent, heart-stopping a capella contribution to Renner’s wyrdfolk compilation, ‘Hand/Eye,’ ‘Seven Yellow Gypsies.’ Renner has also reissued several of Bates’ solo albums through his Hand/Eye imprint.-JP]

Another element of Bates’ work that sets him apart from your typical pop chanteuse is his ability to put both his own (‘Mystery Seas’’ ‘Shorepoem’) and others’ (Joyce, Keats, Yeats, Rilke) poetry to music. Selections from his two albums dedicated to Joyce’s Chamber Music are included, as well as his collaboration with poet Anne Clark (whose debut album he contributed to) on the poetry of Rainer Rilke (the haunting ‘The Garden of Olives,’ a wordless-vocals hymn that’s as calm and reflective as a stroll through a serene English garden – from 1998’s ‘Just After Sunset’). A final collaboration, with Max Eastley, gave us ‘Songs of Transformation’ which provides the unreleased ‘Cherry Tree Carol,’ another theatrical spiritual piece recorded back in 1997. (Bates’ website says the album should be forthcoming from the Italian imprint, Musica Maxima Magnetica.)

Bates has a singular vision that he’s stuck with throughout his career, at the expense of commercial success, but always retaining his artistic integrity. He is truly adept at setting disparate forms of the written word to music, be it the more typical lyric, the aforementioned poetry, murder ballads (three volumes, released separately and as a boxed set – the lengthy ‘The Cruel Mother’ from 1996’s ‘Murder Ballads (Passages)’ is included here) or “letters” (included herein are selections from both ‘Letters’ volumes, as well as ‘Letters To A Scattered Family’), even if his voice does occasionally sound like Scott Walker having a bad throat day. Bates has created some of the most haunting, challenging, some might say frustrating, but definitely emotional body of work of any artist born of the post-punk milieu. Just listen to his soul saunter up his vocal pipes and drift off his tongue on ‘Of That So Sweet Imprisonment’ (from 1996’s ‘Chamber Music II’) and tell me you can’t feel the claustrophobic iron bars of four walls closing in on you!

Review 3

Hard Format reviews the cover artwork
by admin (Hard Format, 27/6-2007)

Martyn Bates – Your Jewled Footsteps

Artist: Martyn Bates
Album: Your Jewled Footsteps
Label: Sub Rosa
Year: 2006
Designer: Concept and photo by Dominique Goblet, design by Twin Peaks Mount, ‘musicians environment series, Nuneaton, May 2006?
Type of music: Folk, sort of
Notes: Putting aside the deliberately mis-spelled album title (which doesn’t sit well with me at all!), what fascinates about Your Jewled Footsteps is the domestic focus of the imagery. We’re privileged with a view into Bates’ ordinary, ’50s suburban semi. The heavy saturation of the colours, the rain, the oblique portraits and the focus upon light combine to create a subdued, but powerful setting for the singer’s impassioned music.

Review 4

by Colin Buttimer (Grooves, Late 2006)

Martyn Bates, one of the co-founders of post-punk duo Eyeless in Gaza, has a voice that’s alternately yearning, choral, impassioned, and quavering. Like a banner unfurling on a windswept moor, with rain falling in sheets. There’s also something that initially appears unschooled, pent-up, and rapidly unravelling in the forms Bates traces. The brief, but incredibly to-the-point epilogue at the back of the lyric booklet for Your Jewled Footsteps, a compilation of his solo and collaborative work, locates the singer firmly in the tradition of UK roots music. Although I can’t claim to be an expert on such traditions, the sense of passionate imprecation, of woes borne with stoicism rings familiar and true. It feels touchingly moving, shadowed as it is by pipes and strings and history. Bates’ voice might be considered alongside Joanna Newsom’s, as both evince a rare honesty and challenge the uninitiated with their respective deliveries. Bates’ lyrics are, however, somewhat easier to decipher.

Take the magical suspense of 1997’s ‘Cherry Tree Carol’, a collaboration with improviser and instrument maker Max Eastley: there’s something angelic, even medieval about Bates’ vocal, enough to make wherever you listen to it hallowed with age. Or the passionate ‘Later War Cries’ yelled out and driven, or the pastoral ‘The Garden of Olives’, at once plaintive, lyrical, and seemingly wordless. The 20 tracks on this overview dance backwards and forwards in time, from 1982 to 1994, 2005 to 1979, and so on, but despite the temporal hairpin bends, the music flows cohesively onwards. Even the cover of Your Jewled Footsteps is a wonder, rich in color and form. It’s the first time I can think of a musician’s environment being brought to life in such a way-and suits Bates’ work perfectly.

Review 5

by Ned Raggett (allmusic, Late 2006)

Conceived and released as a complement to Eyeless in Gaza’s Plague of Years compilation, Your Jewled Footsteps focuses on Martyn Bates’ solo and other collaborative work over the years, providing a handy one-disc overview of an extensive discography. Like his more well-known duo work, Bates has released material on a slew of different labels over time, making this collection a good if inevitably limited take on a vast, underrated musical archive. Bates’ tender but tense singing has the same gentle impact here as with Eyeless in Gaza, but the settings range from the comparatively familiar – much of the straight-up solo work is not far removed from Eyeless in general – to the contextually adventurous and surprising. Songs like the brief ‘The God on the Tree’ and the chaotic 1979-era snippet from ‘Dissonance’ help to emphasize his instrumental gifts, while various duets, most especially the mesmerizing dark ambience of ‘The Cruel Mother’, done with Scorn/Lull main man Mick Harris, ghostly vocals floating over huge depths of sound, showcase other areas of work. The sequencing is part of the joy of the compilation – sticking to no chronological setting, it flows readily across years and styles, showing how well Bates’ voice has held up over time. Hearing the shifts from the (generally) more electronic earlier years to the acoustic-based, hushed folk turns of more recent times in this fashion establishes not only surprising continuities but creates a lush atmosphere that demonstrates his creative impulses to good effect. No otherwise unavailable or unreleased songs are featured on Your Jewled Footsteps, so hardcore fans can make their own equivalents as they wish, but for others this is a welcome look into a defiantly creative cycle of work.

Review 6

by John Kealy (Brainwashed, January 6 2007)

This is a fantastic compilation that shows the range and talent that Bates is in possession of. Cold, post punk songs sit comfortably beside real English folk songs that are full of warmth. Impressively, despite covering over 25 years of his career, the different styles and periods of Bates’ works still sound like they were recorded all in one go.

With folk now being a term used loosely by many, including myself, it is important to get things straight: Bates writes songs in a proper folk style; he does not just throw an acoustic guitar into the mix and try to pass it off as some hippie jam piece of crap. Instead his songs have an ancient quality about them, sounding like they have been crafted by a few generations of singers. Songs like ‘Shorepoem’ and ‘Cherry Tree Carol’ are two examples of Bates’ quality songwriting. There is a timelessness to these songs that is hard to capture and surprisingly the small hints of electronics used in the songs do not take away from this timelessness.

It is not just serious folky sounds that this compilation covers but the poppier end of the spectrum too. Songs like ‘First and Last February’ and ‘Later War Cries’ remind me of Matt Johnson’s brand of pop but Bates is far from a The The clone. His more experimental efforts are also represented by an excerpt from a noisy piece called ‘Dissonance’ from before he formed Eyeless in Gaza. This piece would sound at home on Industrial Records, which is not something that can be said of the rest of Your Jewled Footsteps.

One problem with some of the songs, mainly those from the early ’80s, is that there is sometimes a severe hint of goth off them. At times Bates puts too much effort into sounding emotional on these tracks, coming off a little hysterical. However, the keyboards on all these early songs are excellent, very like those found on Joy Division’s Closer which is no small complement in my book. The music and the singing improve as Bates’ career progresses with the mid-’90s material definitely being the best in overall quality. Although some of the better lyrics belong to James Joyce and not to Bates, his musical arrangements of Joyce’s poetry are a damn sight better than many I have heard on many a Bloomsday walking through Dublin.

Your Jewled Footsteps is a wonderful collection of songs. To the detriment of other albums that need reviewing I have been spinning this quite a lot over the last couple of weeks. It does not sound like a compilation at all; Bates’ work all fits together nicely so instead of sounding disjointed like most career retrospectives it sounds more like a normal album. I cannot recommend this enough for those who are new to Bates. As for those who are familiar with his work, there are enough rare and unreleased songs here to justify the release of Your Jewled Footsteps.

Review 7

by DO (Hi-Fi, Late 2006)

Music: Martyn Bates spent much of the 1980s as half of the indie experimentalists Eyeless In Gaza. What wasn’t always obvious, was his interest in English and other folk musics, which he explored in greater depth as a solo artist. This is collected on this beautifully packaged retrospective. There are some lovely moments, even though the subjects of his songs largely seem to concern futility and loss. Standouts include the haunting synth patterns of Cut Like Sunset and his doom-laden arrangement of the traditional murder ballad The Cruel Mother.

Sound: These are intimate, quiet songs, many of them recorded at Bates’ home studio in the Midlands, but though the circumstances may have been lo-fi, the results never sound cheap.

Review 8

by Céline Rémy (Les inrockuptibles, 22 janvier 2007)

Plus romantique encore que l’anthologie Plague of Years de Eyeless in Gaza qui sort ces jours-ci, la compilation Your Jewled Footsteps consigne quelques-unes des nombreuses pistes osées en solo par leur chanteur Martyn Bates: entre traditions celtiques, divagations médiévales et folk lunaire, il dessinait là les contours flous d’une pop illuminée, qui allait faire la fortune de This Mortal Coil ou de grossistes new age qui débarrasseront sa musique de ses épines et poisons – mandragore ou dansemort.

Review 9

by Sylvain (On a Good Day, 14 octobre 2008)

Jour 200, Sylvain : MARTYN BATES, Your Jewled Footsteps (2006)
Album en écoute intégrale (sous l’article)

J’écoute ça épuisé, après une séance d’écriture, lorsque je n’ai plus rien à conquérir. La savante instabilité de la voix de Martyn Bates me rappelle alors mes phrases les plus dépenaillées, écrites en me disant « Allez je le tente ». Celles dont la plupart disparaîtront à la séance suivante. Martyn Bates, lui, n’efface pas. Dans son studio personnel de Nuneaton (Midlands, Angleterre), il enregistre. Son approche est restée adolescente : l’expérimentation prime sur le résultat.

Chose extraordinaire, Martyn Bates n’a pas de fiche Wikipedia. Il en existe une pour Eyeless In Gaza, le duo qu’il forme par intermittences depuis trente ans avec Peter Becker, mais Martyn Bates en solo c’est légèrement différent. (Précisons qu’une légère différence entraîne sur la surface étale de cette musique un bouleversement complet du paysage.) Impossibles, ses débuts de chansons excluent tout espoir de développement, donc il ne les développe pas, laisse juste le temps passer sur eux.
Ce début impossible par quoi passe le temps, c’est la chanson.

Ce CD, Your Jewled Footsteps, est une compilation de disques si rares (Bates solo + collaborations hors Gaza, 1979-2006) qu’il peut être possédé pour lui-même. Il vaut album, conçu comme tel, recomposé sans chronologie, et unifié par le mixage. L’écriture de Bates a pour point commun avec ACDC d’être posée depuis le début et d’avoir à peine varié ensuite. (Sauf que là, si le chanteur décède, il n’y a plus personne pour demander à quelqu’un de le remplacer.)

Peut-être, quand on parle de la mort d’un genre (« la mort de la peinture », « la mort du cinéma », « la mort du rock »), ne s’agit-il pas d’un constat objectif, sujet à datation et à controverse, mais d’une phase donnée de la sensibilité d’un homme. D’une hypothèse. A tel moment de ma vie, me voici plus réceptif à la part de mort présente en toute chose. Sous cet angle, il est permis de dire que M. Bates compose une ¦uvre « de la mort de la pop » ; une pop post-mortem ; une pop pour l’On a Good Day post-mortem qui s’ouvre ce 14 octobre au soir.

C’est à la troisième écoute qu’apparaît le caractère terrien, villageois, en partie gaélique, d’une telle collection de chansons. Voilà une musique folk du Royaume-Uni, vierge des évolutions américaines de la souche de départ. Revenir à cette souche, interroger son développement avorté par la domination du grand cousin, se demander ce qu’il reste pour se définir dans un espace géographique donné, et tenter de le faire au présent (dire sa terre tout en proposant une vision de la modernité) : je vois quatre personnes en Angleterre pour réaliser ce travail, Martyn Bates, Andy Partridge, Martin Newell et Kate Bush.

Les photos de pochette (« L’environnement du musicien à Nuneaton », lit-on) sont instructives ; sans intérêt photographique particulier, sauf dans l’imagination et l’envie de celui qui déclenche, elles disent parfaitement l’ici et maintenant de se trouver en Angleterre et nulle part ailleurs : la bow-window du voisin ; les feux de stop d’une voiture, rouges au milieu de la rue, vus à travers la vitre mouillée d’un autre véhicule ; etc. A leur image, les morceaux de cette musique d’apparence étale, en se rejoignant par-delà les années, créent une tension du sentiment d’exister, où l’on sera surpris de soudain reconnaître un pur accès de joie.

Review 10

by Paolo Bertoni (Blow Up # 104) (Italian)