Martyn Bates & Alan Trench as Twelve Thousand Days
From the Walled Garden
(Shining Day SHINE 05 CD, October 29 2006, lim. ed. 300, Cd)
by Tony Dale (Terrascope Online, September 2007)
Fast forward from Martyn Bates’ very first recordings, to some of his most recent, in the form of the third full length release from Twelve Thousand Days, the duo of Martyn Bates and Alan Trench (Orchis, Temple Music). Shining Day Records grabbed some attention in 2005 with a wonderful EP of theirs called At the Landgate, drawn from the same sessions as From the Walled Garden. Also recommended (not least because you never know when these tiny pressings are going to dry up) are two earlier full length releases, In the Garden of Wild Stars (issued by Italian label Musica Maxima Magnetica in 2000) and The Devil in the Grain (on German imprint Trisol in 2001). As Twelve Thousand Days, Bates and Trench move away from the keyboard foundation of much of Bates’ solo non-EiG collaborative work to richly textured Elysian acoustic pastures like a more fractal and delicate sub-species of the sound-world found on Bates’ Imagination Feels Like Poison CD. In the Garden of Wild Stars explored further the ideas in Bates’ Chamber Music series, placing poems by Walter de la Mare, Tennyson, and Yeats in darkly luminous acid-folk settings. Like Devil in the Grain, From the Walled Garden is mostly self-penned, augmented by atmospheric readings of several traditional songs.
‘Who Lives Here’ kicks off things in wondrous incredible string band fashion, launching the listener into a jewelled landscape with the traditional (whistle and subtle percussion) offset against the modernist (ring modulator). Elsewhere – dulcimer, guitar, Tibetan bells, recorder, glass harp, e-bows and bow psaltery all add to the timeless feel. The two traditional tracks ‘Ballad of the Cutty Wren’ and ‘The Cruel Mother’ are strikingly extended live workouts, done that way to move them away from more standard readings. What results are dream-like almost ambient readings, in fact, in the case of ‘The Cruel Mother’, which is northwards of eight minutes here the artists point out that “the performance was much longer; we ran out of tape … .” As good as the traditional readings are, the self-composed and studio-recorded material, are better yet, hitting a level of star-bright transcendental bliss that normally only comes with high purity pharmaceuticals or perhaps personal ascension to somewhere else. It’s difficult to single out any one track for especial praise for fear of shutting out someone else’s favourite, but ‘Monument and Effigy’, ‘Miracles Beginning’ and ‘Thistles’ stand easily among the finest work of either artist. The latter especially contains one of Bates’ most jaw-droppingly exquisite vocals, and encapsulates the whole Twelve Thousand Days experience for me. Surprises abound, too, like the unexpected pure pop of ‘Cries Distant Calling’.
Apparently the project title was devised by Trench, who estimated that, given his age, 12,000 days was his remaining life expectancy barring illness and accident. A somewhat creepy wake-up call, really! This release is likewise time-limited – apparently only 300 were pressed.
by Mark Coyle (Harvest Home, December 2006)
After five quiet years in 2005 a new EP ‘At The Landgate’ appeared from the duo Twelve Thousand Days. It was a definitive example of modern esoteric folk music exploring secrets of the seasons. An album From The Walled Garden was promised and now at last follows here on the excellent Shining Day label.
Twelve Thousand Days along with Sol Invictus and Current 93 were influential in making a dark folk music at a time before the music was reaccepted by the public. The duo comprises Martyn Bates and Alan Trench. Martyn is a singer and instrumentalist with contemporary experiemtnal pop band Eyeless In Gaza and a notable solo artists where he has continually explored folk concepts. Alan led the band Orchis, one of the earliest examples of the earthy pagan oriented folk bands with a genuine appreciation of the tradition. Alan has gone on to create other music acts such as Cunnan and Temple Music which further explore the esoteric and magical in music.
The band originally released two albums in quick succession back now six years ago and more. These albums captured a deep sense of wildness, of people being seduced by nature, of tradition and folk symbols being gateways into the realms that exist within the land. Here then is their third album, one that upon initial listening seems far more personal, even intimate for the listener than the more strident first two albums.
‘Who Lives Here’ is the first song on the album and starts with whistles evoking bird calls over slow organ and strummed acoustic guitar. The lyrics of the song look at the deepest unseen recesses of nature and question what force lives in those places. Are there an intelligence, spirits or gods? The karimba and flutes seem to imply there are secrets here we cannot find the answer to. With few layers the combined guitar, whistle and organ evoke far more than a complex artifical arrangement could.
‘Ballad of The Cutty Wren’ introduces dulcimer and flute but continues the softer sound of the first track. This allows the listener to focus on the lyrics which tell of going to the ‘old dark green wild wood’. Perhaps this is their aspiration, to go and reside within the woods, even to become part of it. ‘Song of Slowsand’ has a marvellous three dimensional production with sublimal noises from the environment, long reverbs on the vocal and slow electronic keyboards. It is as though dark land itself calls out. Here the lyric of ‘forever’s fall is marked out in weeks’ introduces a recurrent theme, that of our fall back into indivisibility with nature.
‘Monument and Effigy’ is a word painting of violence, decay and the routes available to us. A warning perhaps with excellent intense electric guitar from Alan. ‘All Will Fade’ seems an especially important song on the album, a sinister ballad of forelorn beauty. The music subtle but discordant, beauty corrupted. Coming half way it is the most obvious statement, all will fade back into death, the cycle of birth and death, growth and decay, threatening but inevitable.
‘Sparklenight’ is a masterpiece of production, slow string note reverberate endlessly. The melody here is bright, appealing almost catchy. It is swathed in a web of notes and effects. In the thrall of night, waterfall and moonlight the lyrics tell of losing yourself amongst nature. ‘Cries Distant Calling’ is a complete surprise, almost acoustic country music at first but with an engaging chorus.
‘Thistles’ is beautiful. Here we have simple interlocking acoustic guitars and Martyn’s vocal layered over itself. The lack of adornment and directness of the song heighten its impact. Any listener will perhaps be reminded of ‘Gently Johnny’ from The Wicker Man soundtrack which is deserved praise as a comparison.
A version of ‘The Cruel Mother’ in their style takes us back to the traditional murder ballads of Martyn’s early solo period with minimalist music and Martyn storytelling in a half sung vocal. Alan adds forbidding noises in the background, a disturbed bed for a dark story.
On the final song ‘Miracles Beginning’ we see hope at last, the divine starting the cycle once again, the decay giving way to renewal. Although restrained, even hushed the song is clearly of particular importance to the duo. It marks the end of a chapter and start of another for us, this album and their partnership. On this track at last the whistles return, life amongst the foliage once again. They build an intense evolving bed of electronics and guitar. At one point it moves half an octave into something close to a major chord which is held to the end. It’s unexpected and positive, life begins again.
2006 has been a busy year for both artists. Martyn returned with a new Eyeless In Gaza album and his collaboration with Troum. Alan released new music as Orchis, Temple Music and Cunnan. For us, this ranks amongst their best. There is something unique when they come together, a place they find in music and environment that is hard to discover. The Walled Garden is their collaboration, the third place created briefly as they play. This album shows it is a place they should invite us to more often.
by O.S. (Eveningoflight.nl, Early 2007)
After a musical silence of about five years, Twelve Thousand Days recently came back on the scene with a three-track EP. Those songs were taken from the same session as that of this their third album, From The Walled Garden. Martyn Bates and Alan Trench are joined on this recording by Stephen Robinson (also of Trench’s Temple Music), who handles bass and several other instruments.
The general sound of the band has changed little in the past years. Twelve Thousand Days still have a very appealing own take on folk music, combining light and dark, traditional and modern, the familiar and the mystical. Guitar chords are accompanied by subtle droning notes and elaborate soloing on other string instruments. As this suggests, the atmosphere of the band is somewhere between fantasy and earthy folklore, placed firmly in the musical tradition of today. Thus, we get ballads like the second song, where Bates displays his eccentric but wonderful vocal style, combined with some excellent instrumental experimentation. But several of these tracks, such as “Monument and Effigy” and “All Will Fade” have a slightly obscure touch, calling forth visions of a dark forest, rather than the starscapes of In The Garden of Wild Stars.
Another new development are “Sparklenight” and “Cries Distant Calling”, two uplifting, bright songs. These are very catchy, and you have to have at least a tolerance for sweetish folk music to be able to appreciate this. But, as I said, there’s the light and the dark. “Thistles” is misty nighttime song with exquisite mystical lyrics, and “The Cruel Mother” is a wry murder ballad. The album ends with “Miracles Beginning”, which is hopeful and foreboding at the same time, not to mention beautiful.
This is another very well-succeeded album by this greatly underappreciated band. The intricate weaving of these light and dark themes might not appeal to everyone in the end, but any lover of modern folk should at least give Twelve Thousand Days a listen. This album, with its great lay-out on thick carton, and easily available from the label, is a very good place to start.
by Frans de Waard (Vital Weekly 553, December 4 2006)
Following ‘At The Landgate’, a limited edition mini CDR (see Vital Weekly 486), there is now a full length CD by Twelve Thousand Days, the group of Martyn Bates (formerly of Eyeless In Gaza) and Alan Trench of Orchis and Temple Music. Guitars play a big role, but there is also whistles, karimba, percussion, tibetan bells, dulcimer, recorder, keyboards, and of course the ever present voice of Bates, which can be recognized quite easily. Like I was pleasantly surprised by the EP, which I thought was a bit too short, and again I’m surprised, although now I think it’s a bit long. Forty minutes would be the right size, I think. The music of Twelve Thousand Days is not my usual thing. The voice of Bates is drenched with spleen, the music of soft tinkling guitars, mediaeval flutes and dulcimers, the reverb on the voice: all the ingredients of music that I would normally not like, but it is quite captivating. The best track here is ‘Cries Distant Calling’, with a strong melody, nice slide guitars, and a tune that sticks right in your head. Despite the fact that it is so different, or perhaps because of that, this is a damn fine release. The mastering of the Twelve Thousand Days CD was done by Paul Bradley, […].
by Renee Johnson (Judas Kiss, Late 2006 or early 2007)
The first time I heard this album, I was borrowing a friend’s car, and the speakers were terrible. I was disappointed in the album, at first; how was I to know it was just the speakers and not Bates’ tendency for tinny recording techniques? The combination of both left me wanting to hear it on a good system, which I was eventually able to do.
I’m glad that I gave it another chance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to the teaser EP At the Landgate: Three Cuttings from the Walled Garden, three songs that I will never forget. I’m a huge fan of Martyn Bates and all that he lends his golden vocal chords to, and was hoping for another masterpiece. While it’s a lovely album, enchanting and shimmering, it’s by no means mind blowing. Where’s the spoken word poetry? Where are the nods to modern poetry and the poets that wrote it? Those were all apparently cut for the finished product … .
“Ballad of the Cutty Wren” is based on a traditional ballad, something which I tend to obsess over. Their take on the traditional is innovative and certainly fits into their usual rolling-wall-of-shimmering-sound technique. Perhaps it didn’t quite gel for me because it’s not one of my favorite ballads, but the music should speak for itself, I think.
More than one track is unremarkable. Without the usual Twelve Thousand Days beautiful guitar work, amazing vocal harmonies and lyrical prowess, there would be no enduring substance at all. Thankfully, they survive on that alone, at times.
“Cries Distant Calling” caught me completely off guard. I was not expecting something so poppy to end up on this album. It’s like Psychic TV doing the Beach Boys: you sure as hell don’t expect it, but you can’t deny that it works incredibly well.
“The Cruel Mother” is another traditional ballad which actually is one of my favorites. It’s hard to find new and interesting arrangements for traditional songs to make them your own. Bates and Trench create something beautiful and bittersweet which really carries the message of the ballad. The interpretation that Bates did with MJ Harris was so much more sinister and bleak, focusing only on the death and jealousy in the ballad, rather than giving us any of the love.
Hopefully, this is just a slump for Bates and Trench and their next collaboration will bring back some of the incredible work we saw on the three songs that were cut from this full length.
by Paolo Bertoni (Blow Up # 103) (Italian)