The Memory Band
The Memory Band began life at the turn of the 21st century, the progeny of one time Gorodisch electronicist Stephen Cracknell, his computer and a lot of imagination. In addition to releasing well respected records on the Leaf label as Gorodisch, Cracknell was a founder member of the legendary Trunk Records and spent a short stint playing bass with Badly Drawn Boy. He was also partly responsible for Londonís infamous Folky-Dokey club nights ñ part of the crucible that rekindled recent interest in all things folk.
Stephenís raison díetre for the Memory Band was based on the idea a folk ësupergroupí for the 21st century ñ drawing on disparate talents from across the contemporary musical firmament ñ all of whom shared Cracknellís predilection for music of an acoustic bent and songs about love and dancing. Early recruits included Fridgeís Adem (before he became a neo-folk magus in his own right).
The original Memory Band plan, despite flying in the face of fashion, was inspired by the music and ethos of everyone from the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Brass Monkey and The Etchingham Steam Band to Dr Dre, Aerial M and Fennesz (amid a plethora of other, extraordinarily diverse influences). Stephen seemed bent on creating a place where bucolic instrumental reveries met cutínípaste computer techniques, but with a wistful, accessible ëman in a shedí aesthetic always to the fore.
At the beginning of 2003 Cracknell and co released a debut vinyl EP (Calling On) on Spinney subsidiary imprint Hungry Hill, garnering the band some interested notices and leading to the recording of a subsequent EP, Fanny Adams which appeared at the end of that long, hot summer. Spinney had recently received hosannas having re-released Just Another Diamond Day - the long-vanished, cult album by Vashti Bunyan - and with the musical climate palpably turning in their favour, the Memory Bandís released their eponymously titled debut album in July 2004.
Essentially a compilation of the two EPs ñ with the tracks appearing for the first time on CD - the album duly attracted rave notices. That the zeitgeist had begun to catch up with the Memory Bandís sophisticated take on musical rusticity was reinforced by the bandís ensuing popularity in the live arena. Now a sextet (sometimes bigger), the ëin-the-fleshí version of the Memory Band had come a long way from computer loops and now boasted some hot-blooded permanent members like singer Nancy Wallace and fiddle player Jennymay Logan (of the highly respected Elysian Quartet), who, alongside guitarist-singer-leader Cracknell, would propel the group into an exciting, life-affirming on stage spectacle that would win legions of new admirers at the bandís ensuing Green Man Festival, Glastonbury and Big Chill appearances.
After a year spent gigging, the band signed to Agenda/Peacefrog in 2005 and began recording a new album. Tracing a partial journey back from the live band formula and into the digital clutches of the computer again, many of the new tracks were built from a moirÈ of digital loops, though a considerable number of tracks were captured completely live. Indeed, far from concreting over the hedgerows, Apron Strings, as the LP would be dubbed, echoes to the very non-machine-like talents of singer Nancy Wallace (whose own Young Hearts EP had been released by Hungry Hill the previous year - to rave reviews) along with inspirational violin courtesy of Jennymay Logan, with well-travelled viola player Rob Spriggs adding his resonant signature. Beats/drums were provided by the bandís rocket scientist-in-residence Rhys Morgan, while (now Domino artist) Adem and Al from Hot Chip turned in sparkling cameos and latest recruit Simon Lord (once of Simian, latterly of Garden) played bass and sang.
Apron Strings was subtitled ëSongs Of False Love And Trueí which underscores itís primary concerns: the nadirs, epiphanies and all-round poignancy of love. From the joyous expectation of Come Write Me Down, with its bucolic but loverlorn air, spiralling string lines and declamatory, îthatís where my fancy liesî refrain, all the way to Nancyís touching, wind-through-the-treetops makeover of Carly Simonís Why, the album rifles through melodies and love stories from the past, the present and the future, then draws itís own conclusions.
The songs mix arrangements and bastardisations of traditional pieces (a summery take on the tradí Blackwaterside as beloved of Anne Briggs and Burt Jansch; a genuinely moving take on Irish folk gem Green Grows The LaurelÖ) with original compositions and unlikely cover versions (the Carly Simon cover, a superb, valedictory swing through Ronnie Laneís The Poacher) to make music that is both modern and timeless, completely unconstrained by most peopleís ideas of ìfolk musicî.
With the gentle might of Agenda/Peacefrog behind them everything is in place to ratchet up the Memory Bandís ever broadening appeal and with the album due for summer 2006 release, they will soon be heading out across the lanes of Britain once again. As we speak theyíre appearing as monthly resident at the City Folk nights at The Social in central London - bringing a whiff of summer hedgerow magic to the petrol fume canyons north of Oxford Street.
David Sheppard. March 2006