Martyn Bates & Alan Trench as Twelve Thousand Days
At the Landgate
(Shining Day shine 02, lim. ed. 200, July 2005, Cd-Ep)
by Frans de Waard (Vital Weekly 486, August 2005)
Maybe this comes a true confession to some, but some twenty years ago I was a big fan of Eyeless In Gaza, even saw them play live in the local squad back then. Throughout the nineties I lost track of them, perhaps dismissing them wrongly as some sort of goth band, nor did I keep up with the various solo projects of Martyn Bates and Peter Becker. Their come-back album on Soleilmoon, ‘Songs of The Beautiful Wanton’, was a big surprise, but that is already some years ago. 12,000 Days is Martyn Bates’ new project, together with Alan Trench, of Orchis and Temple Music, with connections to World Serpent. The three tracks of soft tinkling guitars, flutes, bass, percussion and the ever-so recognizable voice of Martyn is something that is perhaps not featured in these pages a lot, and at first I thought it to be an even more gothic version of Eyeless In Gaza, but after a couple of times, I must admit I started to like this more and more. Spacious and psychedelic at times, and introspective at other times. Three tracks at twenty minutes is perhaps a bit short, but it’s leaves a good impression.
by Mark Coyle (theunbrokencircle.co.uk, September 2005)
This band comprises Martyn Bates known for his membership of ‘Eyeless In Gaza’ and solo works, with Alan Trench of Orchis and Temple Music. Both have played an important role in developing music which incorporates folk structures with a sense of awe at nature and mystery. They have been working together for many years with the band’s name indicating the average days left in their lives at formation. On albums like ‘In The Garden of Wild Stars’ they released quietly pivotal albums which were ahead of the recent explosion in new psychedelic folk music. This review pre-figures an extensive article coming soon which explores their work together and apart since the early nineteen eighties. Here we have a relatively short EP from them which is subtitled ‘Three cuttings from the walled garden’. ‘The Walled Garden’ is a forthcoming full album on the excellent Polish land ‘Shining Day‘ and is the first release of the band (and indeed of Martyn Bates) in five years.
The first of the three tracks ‘Christmas and May’ links the two most important traditional celebration days in the calendar, Christmas the Christian celebration day which absorbed earlier pagan mid-winter feasts and May, the celebration day of rebirth and seasonal renewal. At first we hear soft haunting keyboards and gentle reverbed guitar plucking before Martyn starts to sing affectingly over a subtle but evocative drone of electronic and almost sitar like guitar. It’s a very atmospheric, intoxicating production with notes slowly decaying in reverb. Phasing keyboard effects fade into the instrumental with wonderful cantering flute melodies. This further heightens the sense of traditional music evolving sensitively. If you haven’t heard of the artists in this guise or separately, the song makes a strong introduction to their work.
Five minutes in the mood gives way from Winter to May with a spoken word evocative of the new season over a more minimal, suspended music. As the speech gradually becomes intertwined with the music until the words are indiscernible, the music becomes celebratory, the pace growing as it becomes brighter and expansive. A huge distant electric guitar solo crowns the May song which is becoming an intense dance of wonder. The flute plays melodies that flicker around the guitar as Martyn’s hypnotic words lead the music from song to folk ritual. Eventually they let the tension fall as buzzing hurdy-gurdy joins us as Alan repeats one phrase and yet…’ over and over. By now the piece feels like a psychedelic devotional prayer with Sufi like melodies interwoven with the backwards editing, huge guitar lead and bone percussion.
This song is an awesome return, showing itself to be not only contemporary but reaching a level of development that many artists aspire to. We are then on to the shorter second piece ‘Landgate’ which has continues the sound in a more mysterious way with a more strident folk song by Martyn. The melody here sounds traditional but is self-written, sounding both ancient and modern all at once. Joining Martyn is another lighter voice which may be Elizabeth S, the sometime third member of ‘Eyeless In Gaza’. This song has a wistful feeling of love lost, regret and memory interwoven with a place, the ‘landgate’ of the title. As we listen, it becomes clear how important Martyn is as a link between the psychedelic folk of the sixties/seventies to the first wave of new artists to develop the music further. There is the sense of traditional folk structures fused with folklore/nature re-appreciated and combined with spiritual exploration, which resulted in artists such as these, Current 93 and Sol Invictus.
If ‘Landgate’ had a sense of loss, then this is specifically explored on ‘Once Loved’. Here a traditional folk melody is played on flute over layers of chiming guitars and stark bone percussion. We have all heard versions of songs based on such as ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ but this achieves the mystery and wonder so missing in the errant adaptation by Simple Minds many years ago as ‘Belfast Child’. Apart from the almost subliminal textures that enrich the song’s backing from Alan, this is a relatively straight forward rendition of the song and a point therefore of accessibility to fans of the music.
On the evidence of these three songs, the album should be genuinely spectacular. They sound vibrant as though the passage of years has replenished their energy. This release should for now be treasured in its own right before the full album as the music is essential in its own right.