Music by Maggie Nicols and Sid Thomas

 

‘…all too easily’ wrote Albert Seay ‘the music resulting from uncontrolled improvisation might have sensual beauty of sound but be completely lacking in all that would delight the mind.’

I respectfully argue it should be possible to have it both ways.

A couple of years ago Maggie and I recorded Vivid black and Nomad in Ben Thomas’s home studio and the idea of a whole album began to take shape. Finally Maggie found two days in May 2019 to visit me in Kent, where we recorded the remaining tracks. The result is What are we?, named for Maggie’s remark after we’d captured a passage of free improvisation, for which she is, of course, renowned. Here are some comments on the songs. There’s a track list and a page of lyrics  here

What are we, (continued) and (concluded) represent three different moods. I’m not a natural free improviser, but through my friendship with Maggie, I’m slowly learning to overcome my inhibitions. This has certainly benefitted my intrinsically buttoned-up approach to music (and life, for that matter).

Vivid black is Maggie’s celebration of darkness. This is mirrored in the later track, You, darkness, a setting of Rilke’s beautiful poem. Here’s a video of Vivid black:

Together with Pete Stacey, Maggie and I have occasionally performed as the trio Ouroboros. We once played a kind of ‘pass the parcel’ game where we each in turn suggested a chord and finally took the sequence of  changes away and composed three melodies based on these harmonies. Maggie’s effort was a setting of Ouroboros, lines by the prophetic satirist George Wither (1588-1667). Ouroboros, the alchemical symbol of the serpent that consumes its own tail, is Pete Stacey’s description of my fondness for writing songs that endlessly loop back to the beginning instead of ending with a final cadence.

Been here before is concerned with epiphanies, those moments of mysterious resonance that come upon us for no particular reason. I’ve arranged it as a mash-up with an old tune of mine from the nineties, Larry, you’re unbelievable.

Maggie’s Fierce and tender is the nearest we come to a blues, musically and lyrically.

Pale creatures is a song I wrote many years ago to reflect the subject of my scientific research, which concerned studies of ageing and lifespan. I’ve used the notation and lyrics as a chapter introduction in my 2016 book Senescence.

Finally, there’s The Honest Miller. This, too, arose from the subject of a couple of books that I wrote, in which I’ve given accounts of human history from the perspective of food and agriculture. Just about all the performances I’ve been involved in throughout my musical life have been essentially chamber music in scope. Here I decided to go for something symphonic in scale. I’m not sure whether it’s a success, but it certainly makes a grand noise and goes on for ages.


For more music by Maggie and Sid, see Sid’s YouTube Channel. Here’s a sample.