Those who regularly read this blog will know that I spend a lot of my time walking, especially around the Eastern part of Sheffield where I live. One the the most noticeable things about the area is how, after centuries of industrialisation, a great deal of the area is being reclaimed by nature. A short distance from my home are the Waverley and Treeton Dyke lakes which stand on the sites of old coal mines and, in the case of the former, the Orgreave coking plant where the Miners’ Strike of the 1980s came to its bloody zenith. Where once there was blood, graft and dirt… now is an abundance of flora and fauna, and of bird life in particular.

I am writing this because I feel that this may be one of the reasons that I find this album from Great North Star to be such a wonderful artefact to be cherished. Having read around the album a little bit I understand that the two musicians responsible for this very special record, Dean Thom and Phil Considine, have a shared passion for ornithology, as well as astronomy (hence the title of this album). Now while I have to confess that I don’t know my lapwing from my wagtail, what I do appreciate is walking amidst the teeming wildfowl of my little corner of Northern England… and feel that this album is the perfect soundtrack with which to do so.

Indeed, it is one of those sets which entranced me from the first chord of the first time I listened to it… immediately taking me away to my special music place… and over the next forty minutes keeps me fully enraptured, right through to the last chord of the final track… and into the silence beyond. There is something deeply ineffable about this record for me, which I’m now going to try to explore as I experience each track once more.

The album opens with ‘Gliese 581g’. The track is named after a potentially habitable exoplanet, the idea of which asks more questions than could ever be answers… the music itself is as uptempo as it gets in this set with some jaunty electronics accompanying the gossamer guitar that permeates throughout… it is almost like a fragment… and then its gone, replaced by the fragility of ’Dagger Dubber’… I laugh to myself every time I hear the first chord of this because it weirdly reminds me of New Model Army’s ’Vengeance’. With this fleeting thought past I settle into what is nothing short of a stunning track… beautiful in its sound and its arrangement. I feel fully in the zone and entranced by its wiles.

After that ’Deus Ex Machina’ takes these feelings forward. I am conscious of how every note played, every sound produced, feels so deliberate… specifically placed like trees and stones in a Zen garden… and yet despite this the overall feeling you get is one that is so organic. This continues with ’Glories’, which has more of a folk element to it. I am reminded how this somehow feels specifically like a Northern album. Certainly this has something to do with the way that the folk elements emerge here, but it’s hard to fathom exactly why… maybe its just something that is self-suggestive but I definitely feel there is a geographical affinity here.

‘Getting a Fix’ also has such a gentleness to it… more contemporary in its sound, although none of this album feels out of time, but a track that seems to suggest that you look up and around more than many here… a little more extrovert perhaps (within the context of what feels like an a more reflective feel overall). This leads into one of my favourite numbers, ’Song of the Ocean’. The repetitive pattern here just gets me every time and seems to lead me into such lovely places of deep thought and contemplation… it causes you to slow down and really just be. I can imagine listening to this track on repeat for a while and really get deep into my own introspection.

‘The Stone That Speaks’ is another delicate and brittle number which you kind of want to cosset and nurture… this is a much for the space between the sounds as the sounds themselves… I think that this is what I was trying to get at earlier with my comments about the Zen garden and organic nature of the music… while there does feel a deliberateness to everything here, the music allows you enough space to bring in your own thoughts and feelings… this feels like a very generous act on behalf of the musicians, who themselves have clearly put a great deal of themselves into these eleven beautiful tracks.

A title like ‘Being and Nothingness’ seems to suggest some of the things that I’ve just mentioned may be the case… and, for me, there is definitely being and nothingness in this music. Here there is a lovely melody too… one that hits you really quite deeply… it’s a short track, but very well formed. As is ’750’ which is as spare and tender as anything here… and as I sit here listening to its pacifying nature… it feels so calming in the way that it draws you into your own world, for me, in such a positive and palliative manner.

We are nearing the end of this lovely journey with the penultimate number ’Dagger Dub’. Again this feels like a fragment of something more… and you could imagine this forming part of a longer jam… while it is playing, though, it continues that theme of tender reflectiveness.

I don’t know what it is about the last track here, ’Birds on the Dee Estuary’, but it brings tears to my eyes nearly every time. There is just something about plangent nature of the guitar here that seems to set me off… and that is before I discovered the title. I spent my early childhood living on the Wirral… that small peninsula between the rivers Dee and Mersey… and I remember Sunday afternoons at the Dee Estuary (usually getting an ice cream at Parkgate) and watching the birds fly over the silted wetlands that makes it such a unique place. Perhaps it is the evocation of these memories that affects me so deeply, but either way it is a lovely piece of music.

For me personally, it feels like a fitting way to end what is a beguiling and exquisite experience of an album which feels so personal and unique. In short this is an utter gem of a release which I will be playing over and over again… both on my walks, and in the quiet surroundings of my headphones. It is an album that hits me in the right places and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

‘Great North Star’ is released by The Acid Test Recordings; and is available from the label here, and the band here.


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