A GUEST POSTING by SWC from NO BADGER REQUIRED
It’s difficult to know where to begin with Gravenhurst, I mean the obvious place is the beginning, but if I do that I am in danger of missing so much out. So, thumbing my nose at convention, I am going to start at the beginning and at the end, if that makes sense.
Here’s the beginning. Gravenhurst was the musical pseudonym of Nick Talbot. As well as being a singer, a brilliant songwriter, he was a multi instrumentalist and many of the sounds heard on his first couple of records were all made by him on his own. He was also a record producer and a journalist. The word genius is banded around a lot these days, especially by me, but Nick Talbot genuinely was a genius, and a thoroughly lovely chap to boot.
You’ll note the ‘was’ in the last paragraph, because here’s the end. In early December 2014, Nick Talbot died, he was 37.* The cause of his death has never been disclosed, and that is pretty much all I am going to say about it. I knew Nick, well a bit anyway, I met him a few times, let’s go with that. Friends of mine were very close to him, and I know that his warmth, wit and talent are greatly missed.
*JC adds…..the anniversary of his death is today, hence my decision to interrupt the Indietracks season
I loved the fact that Gravenhurst had signed to Warp Records, a label normally associated with dance music that contorts and twists your mind beyond comprehension. Gravenhurst’s music was the anti-Warp if you like. All acoustic guitar, the organ, ambient soundscapes and an angelic voice that sends shivers running up to your shoulders every time you hear it. It was the perfect home for Gravenhurst, with a label that were prepared to let him do what he wanted, which was to make beautiful music that occasionally veered into the dark and mysterious forces of nature that we all try and fail to understand.
In total Gravenhurst released five studio albums and a couple of mini albums, there was also a posthumous six album box set. The first few releases are almost entirely acoustic and quite folky. At the times the music veers towards shoegaze but remains heavily influenced by the likes of Simon and Garfunkel and Nick Drake. The later releases take a twist towards psychedelic rock, and Talbot cites the work of bands like Flying Saucer Attack as a major influence on him.
This imaginary compilation doesn’t do his work justice, it is just a collection of my personal favourites of his songs.
Peacock (2012, Taken from ‘The Ghost in Daylight’)
I’ve started this compilation with an instrumental, I’ve done it deliberately so to delay the impact hearing Nick’s voice for the first time will have. ‘Peacock’ is taken from the band’s last album, by which point Gravenhurst were a three-piece and had added the word ‘Ensemble’ to their name. Regardless, ‘The Peacock’ is a scene setting kind of track, an atmospheric affair, featuring a barely strummed guitar, and the occasional wave of ambience which washes over the track, barely noticed.
Bluebeard (2004, Taken from ‘Flashlight Seasons’)
‘Bluebeard’ starts with a mournful sounding guitar and some more of those elegant sounding ambient waves, and it’s nearly thirty seconds before you get to experience Nick’s voice for the first time. If you are anything like me, that moment resulted in your arms having goosebumps. ‘Bluebeard’ is one of the more upbeat tracks on ‘Flashlight Seasons’ but it’s an incredibly simple yet wonderful song about adversity and overcoming demons.
The Collector (2007, Taken from ‘The Western Lands’ )
‘The Collector’ is taken from the bands fourth album ‘The Western Lands’ by this time Nick had turned Gravenhurst into a five piece, and they had started to explore a more psychedelic sound. The track starts off in a style more accustomed to the bands earlier work, but around halfway through the drums kick in and the guitars get plugged in before descending into a wall of feedback.
Black Holes In the Sand (2004, Taken from ‘Black Holes In the Sand Ep’)
In the gap between the release of ‘Flashlight Seasons’ and the follow-up album, ‘Fires In Distant Buildings’, there was an EP of tracks that showed a band in transition. Some guitars were plugged in, organs fire up unexpectedly and all of it physically competing with the acoustic guitars and Nick’s vocals which remain beautifully calm amidst the chaos unfolding around it. The result is a very distinct indie sound that took the band’s music to a place somewhere in the middle of ‘Race for the Prize’ era Flaming Lips and ‘Hail to the Thief’ era Radiohead. It sounded wonderful, and the next album promised great things.
The Diver (2004, Taken from ‘Flashlight Seasons’)
‘The Diver’ is probably Nick Talbot’s finest hour (although this writer tips its hat to the song that opens Side Two). It’s raw, emotional and recorded in such a way that the vocal talents of Nick can be heard to their full effect. The music behind it is stripped back, pretty much just Nick’s guitar, a simple riff that is carried throughout the song and a rumbling old bass line. It’s the vocal that make this such a stunning piece of music. A delicate, fragile sounding falsetto that whispers angelically and menacing at the same time. It’s a mesmerising piece of work.
Nicole (2006, Taken from ‘Fires in Distant Buildings’)
‘Nicole’ is probably the band’s most recognisable track, in that it features heavily in a Shane Meadows film and grabbed the band some largely unwanted attention from the mainstream media. It’s as close to a pop song as the band ever got, but even ‘Nicole’ is some distance from being a pop song. It has an almost country edge to it, which you can hear as Nick sings away about doomed relationships. It’s one of the finest things he ever wrote.
Damage II (2004, Taken from ‘Flashlight Seasons’)
‘Damage II’ is desperately short, clocking in at just under two minutes. It’s another Nick and guitar track that looks at guilt, rejection and the pain caused by all that. The emotion can be heard in Nick’s voice which sounds close to cracking at one point. At around two minutes the song fades out and is replaced by the sounds of running water, rain, probably, which washes over the speakers for about 40 seconds.
Diane (2004, Taken from ‘Black Holes In the Sand’)
Over at my blog, I’m going to be doing a rundown of essential cover versions next year. If you are a regular reader, I’d get used to hearing about this track if I were you because it’s one of the greatest cover versions ever recorded. Never has a song about the rape and murder of a teenage girl sounded so essential. It’s really hard to believe that a line such as “We could cruise down Roberts Street all night long, but I think I’ll just rape you and kill you instead” could be sung so perfectly that it almost sounds acceptable. The way that the “Its all over now, with my knife” line is delivered as the song reaches into climax is truly remarkable.
Trust (2007, Taken from ‘The Western Lands’)
I think that Gravenhurst were an entirely different band when they expanded their sound. On ‘Trust’ which was the lead single from the band’s fourth album (one that they had to re-record due to some swearing) they sound almost unrecognisable from the songs that came a year or two earlier. The guitars are almost surf like, the vocals are more polished and almost gruff sounding (although unmistakably still Nick).
Animals (2006, Taken from ‘Fires in Distant Buildings’)
I’ll end with a track from ‘Fires In Distant Buildings’ which hints at what the future held for Nick. You get a quiet guitar, the odd cymbal crash and a subtle sounding organ and this almost devastating opening line “They descend upon the city like flies/ Spring their eggs into a dead dog’s eyes/ It’s England on a Saturday night.”.
Thanks for reading, sorry I’ve gone on a bit.