Artists On Albums: AOA#46 (Brave Timbers’ Sarah Kemp on The Night Is Advancing)

Sarah Kemp (Brave Timbers) on…

Appendix Out’s The Night Is Advancing (Drag City, 2001)

Appendix Out - The Night Is Advancing

Appendix Out – The Night Is Advancing

I first got to hear of Appendix Out through a boyfriend I had at the time, around when I was about 19 or 20 years old. We were listening to bands like Low, the Dirty Three, Will Oldham and his Palace stuff, and I guess it was maybe because Appendix Out came out on Drag City that we got to hear of them. There were (and still are) quite a few great bands/artists on that label; Stereolab, Movietone, Papa M, Bill Callahan, and another of my all time favourites, Silver Jews (who I nearly chose for this feature in fact, it was so hard to decide).

 

I chose Appendix Out’s The Night Is Advancing as it’s one that I often have fragments of floating around my head, and I remember how much I loved it from the very first listen. At the time I thought, I wish I could have played violin on this record, I would really have loved to, so much! They cross that middle ground which is hard to pigeon-hole; not traditional folk although still folky, acoustic instruments but with warm arrangements, interesting textures and beautiful lyrics. I really like the fact that the band seems to be more of a collective, different members on different albums, so it’s hard to work out who plays what. Each instrument and its part is understated, adding just the right amount of light and shade – nothing takes centre stage, it’s subtle and balanced throughout.

Even though I haven’t listened to some of these songs in a long time, and my physical copy got lost somewhere along the way, many snippets of the lyrics and bits of guitar are ingrained in my memory. Thinking of “Cyclone’s Vernal Retreat”, I really love the guitar parts on it, simple and repetitive, picked so clear and soft – in fact you could strip the track right down to the guitar on its own and it would still be great. But the words on top really make this one of my favourites, I love the phrase “Nestled together like birds…”

The words are often related to seasons and nature; they have a really organic, countryside feel and they flow like scenery out of a train window. I find it a great album to travel to for this reason – it has a feel of movement, of walking along hedgerows. I think Alastair Roberts such a great lyricist; at times nostalgic, reminiscent of times long ago but without being sentimental or clichéd. To me his words are very evocative; I can almost imagine the smell of chimney smoke from Scottish villages under cold starry skies.

Maybe another reason why I’m drawn to Appendix Out is Roberts’ voice – the lilting Scottish accent which is so unaffected and honest. My parents are also Scottish, my Dad from Stenhousemuir and my Mum from Stirling, not far at all from Callander where Roberts grew up. I found that out when I Googled him, and it seemed a strange coincidence his mother was also German – as was my Grandfather, so in a way I feel like I share common ground with his Scottish and German roots.

I was lucky in that my parents were both really into music, they played all sorts of records in the house, and I can remember my Mum singing the Incredible String Band lyrics to me when I was little… “Born in a house with the door shut tight, shadowy fingers on the curtains at night, cherry tree blossom, head high snow, a busy main road where I wasn’t to go.” I can definitely hear influences of them in Appendix Out.

I went to see Alaisdair Roberts play live in Newcastle a couple of times, unfortunately I never got to see Appendix Out, I guess they must have disbanded soon after I started listening to them, which I was pretty gutted about! However, Roberts was great. The best gig was at Morden Tower, which is part of Newcastle’s city walls and is just a tiny cylindrical room in one of the turrets. The audience was packed in, sitting on the floor or standing where they could squeeze in. It was so intimate; you probably can’t fit more than 30 people in there. RM Hubbert was supporting and he was great too. The best venues are the most interesting ones. I always find the bigger the stage, the greater the distance between audience and musician – it’s a much colder experience. So in this case – no stage at all – it was just as if he was playing in someone’s living room. You could hear a pin drop throughout – he was captivating.

I guess Appendix Out must have rubbed off on me in some little ways with Brave Timbers, such as the way I like to use acoustic instruments to create a clean and organic sound that’s balanced and warm. Their other albums, The Rye Bears A Poison and Daylight Saving also stand the test of time for me too. I think the sign of a really good album is one you can return to after years of not hearing and it still lifts you; you can notice new things inside it.

Notes On The Artist:

Brave Timbers (Sarah Kemp and Andrew Scrogham)

Brave Timbers (Sarah Kemp & Andrew Scrogham)

Since first appearing in the recorded music world with Manchester-based rustic noire collective Last Harbour, on 2002’s The Host Of Wild Creatures long-player, the now Newcastle-dwelling multi-instrumentalist Sarah Kemp has forged a beguiling and largely bucolic path for her distinctive yet transferable talents.

In parallel to her well-regarded tenure in Last Harbour over four albums and a clutch of EPs, Kemp also bolstered the line-up of likeminded fellow Manchester group Anna Kashfi. Away from the extended Last Harbour/Little Red Rabbit Records family, Kemp has also been a regular collaborator with former Hood fulcrum Richard Adams since 2008; across a prolific spree of albums, EPs and singles with the Leeds-based operations of The Declining Winter and as a key player in Anglo-American outfit Memory Drawings. Kemp’s second most high-prolife career break, after her time with Last Harbour, came with a 2008-2014 two album stint in lauded Newcastle-birthed Bella Union-signings Lanterns On Lake.

On top of more band member-configured positions, Kemp has additionally lent her considerable skills to another Leeds-centric collaborator, Paul Elam, as part of Fieldhead and guest appeared on recordings from Epic45, Library Tapes, Talvihorros, Summer Night Air, RxGibbs and The Home Current.

Brave Timbers - Hope

Brave Timbers – Hope

However, for those who have followed Kemp’s many strands of work over the last decade and a bit, arguably her most bespoke and captivating creative outlet has been Brave Timbers. Originally a pared-back solo project for 2010’s sublime and extremely limited For Every Day You Lost album on the Second Language label – featuring Kemp showcasing her gifts for the violin, piano and tenor guitar across a beatific suite of intimate chamber-folk – Brave Timbers are now a duo with the enrolment of erstwhile Lanterns On The Lake bandmate Andrew Scrogham. The first fruits of the modestly-expanded Brave Timbers appear with this year’s Hope LP, as co-released through Manchester’s Gizeh and Little Crackd Rabbit labels. Recorded in a Victorian concert hall in Salford with the able assistance of Samson & Delilah’s Sam Lench, Hope retains its predecessor’s plaintive pastoral calmness whilst subtly extending its reach into even more ornate and evocative post-classical arrangements that are seeped in autumnal colours and warming hearth-side ambience. Already picking-up well-deserved plaudits elsewhere, Hope could be a long-deserved sleeper hit for Kemp – amongst discerning lovers of ruralist psychogeographical explorations at the very least.

Aside from overseeing the release of Hope, Sarah Kemp is already planning a follow-up EP with Brave Timbers as well as co-creating a third Memory Drawings long-player. Brave Timbers will also play a special album launch show at Newcastle’s Cumberland Arms in April.