sound and vision

'Christmas Eve, Gracechurch St.' by Mark Northfield & Gareth Forster

All proceeds from the sale of this single will go to CRISIS - the UK based charity for single homeless people: www.crisis.org.uk

It will be released through all good online stores on Dec 1st 2014. Pre-order it here on indie music store Bandcamp. Bandcamp enables purchasers to donate more than the minimum price of £1 (which includes the 'B' side - my reflective version of 'Good King Wenceslas').


PLEASE SHARE THIS VIDEO with friends, family and work colleagues, especially on social media. The more people we reach, the more we can raise.

If using Twitter to promote the song, please include both my Twitter handle and the charity's one in your Tweet: @MarkNorthfield   @crisis_uk

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This song is dedicated to the memory of Richard Hanson. A generous, humble and loving man who gave so much to those in need, both in his local community in Sheffield and as a professional photographer for Tearfund.

Gareth and I found out that Richard had only weeks left to live (following a year's battle with leukaemia) the day I finished writing 'Christmas Eve, Gracechurch St.' From that point on it became - for me - Richard's song, and in a lengthy email a few days later I promised I would both dedicate it to him and donate any proceeds from sales to a charity helping the homeless.

That charity is Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people in the UK. They help not only with housing, but also with health, education and finding employment.

The festive season can be an incredibly difficult time of year for those with next to nothing. Every year, Crisis at Christmas provide companionship and support to tackle loneliness and isolation, and help people take their first steps out of homelessness.

Bandcamp enables donations of any amount when you purchase this single, so please feel free to give more if you are able.

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Many thanks to all those who participated in the recording: my wonderful partner Gareth Forster, my Cherry Mint Koala colleagues Tony Woollard and Charlie Brown, and the lovely ladies of Colliers Wood Chorus in South London.

Please take this song to your hearts.

Mark x

 

A few years ago I released a digital EP led by a song called Nothing Impossible (see cute fishy video on YouTube). On this EP was another song called Keep Driving, a hypnotic ambient pop number about the seductive nature of modern travel and how it seems to separate us from the world.

Yeah, I know, that old chestnut.

Since then, I felt a curious pull to do more with Keep Driving. I arranged it for the Cherry Mint Koala album Beguiling Transmissions (coming soon…) and the recording session video for that piano trio version I’ll post about separately, as I decided to put them both out together this weekend.

However, I also felt minded to give the original song a video, and the idea of pointlessly driving round and round the same tedious loop of road took root in my head and wouldn’t budge. I liked the idea of creating a deliberately dull and frustrating music video where nothing actually happens. (And then perhaps mischievously advertise it with one of those highly irritating and manipulative ‘what happened next blew my mind!’ type slogans.)

Where might I find a tedious loop of road, I wondered…

I currently live in Bracknell, a post WW2 new town west of London, gateway to nowhere in particular and a mecca for roundabout lovers (though not quite in the magic roundabout league of Hemel Hempstead or Swindon). There used to be a large-ish village where the town centre is, but almost all of it was knocked down to create a futuristic concrete utopia of retail and multi-storey parking, with a massive hotel towering above. What a view its lucky guests must have.

The town centre itself is a depressing folly of 60’s urban planning, adrift from the past, half-dead by day, fully dead by night. There are a couple of pubs lurking at the edges (the better and safer of the two is a Wetherspoons) and no restaurants actually in the town centre bar a MacDonalds (a few lurk just outside heading toward a separate ‘out-of-town’ type parade of big retail units, normally busier than the town centre during the day).

The zombie heart of Bracknell is apparently going to be revived with a redevelopment currently underway, the northern third having been demolished for a futuristic concrete and glass utopia of retail and multi-storey parking. There will be big names coming, we are promised. Pizza, pasta and burgers too! (No doubt they will also be big.) Indeed, we will be living the dream.

Until recently, Bracknell had what was effectively one massive three-lane roundabout - imaginatively named ‘The Ring’ - encircling the town centre. Part of The Ring has now been chomped off for the aforementioned redevelopment (thus giving it a bit of an identity crisis), but a mere week or so before that happened the lovely Simon Bennett popped over to shoot this video for me.

As it happens, Simon has made the finished result far less deliberately dull than I originally intended, and really rather beautiful in many ways. His overlaying of images, light and perspectives is strangely captivating, and I’m particularly fond of the end sequence as everything gradually goes out of focus. He also uses a few other bits of Bracknell here and there, though The Ring is the main focus.

But in the sense that nothing happens, it is still very much what I had in mind. The video captures the essence of this soulless commuter town at night, its ugly concrete parody of grandeur empty and brooding, designed entirely from scratch for the fossil-fuel age with a use-by date fast approaching, lights blazing away for no purpose whatsoever.

We are here, they say. And yet we are not here.

 

Let The Body Go was written a few days after my mother's death last summer. It was my way of coming to terms with the intense combination of grief and release (she had suffered with severe chronic pain and mobility problems for many years, with no hope of recovery). The dual-meaning of these four words seemed to capture the essence of those final bittersweet moments better than anything else.

In part, I wanted to undo time, to rediscover the woman she used to be when physical illness wasn't so all-encompassing, the simple joy and wonder of sensual experience and movement. I also wanted to highlight the enduring gift of love she gave me and my brother, two children adopted and loved as completely as her own flesh and blood would have been.

So while this song definitely acknowledges the depths of grief, it is at heart an uplifting celebration of life, an encouragement to let love and memory help us deal with the nature of mortality.

Musically it is serene and beautiful, with simple piano and string accompaniment from my Cherry Mint Koala colleagues Charlie Brown and Tony Woollard. The arrangement tips a hat to the pastoral warmth of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Automatic-era REM and Nick Drake.

My sincere hope is that it will resonate with - and bring comfort to - anyone coming to terms with a profound loss in their own life.

 


Meanwhile, Track 3 on this new EP is a shuffling slice of glumpop about our collective climate change denial called Giving You What You Want.

It is all too easy to go along with business-as-usual: a focus on the short term, herd behaviour, consumerism and the desire for an easy life all push us that way, not to mention wilful misinformation funded by the fossil fuel industry and its major backers.

But the scientific consensus is very clear, and the outlook is not getting better. In fact, the situation is genuinely a lot worse than most people might imagine, as the rapid melting of summer ice in the Arctic these past 30 years has shown. Unfortunately, the fluctuation of temperatures day to day fools people into thinking that a 4-6ºC rise by the end of the century is not that big a deal, when actually our ecology is much more finely balanced. Not only that, but the atmosphere is very slow to respond to what we do: nothing we do now will make any difference for several decades.

Sure there are many other troubles in this world to consider, but this particular one will greatly affect our food and water supply, and where human beings are able to live on this planet. Pretty fundamental stuff. And yet we're collectively demonstrating by our actions that we don't think this is a problem, mostly because we like having the freedom to travel widely, eat lots of meat, and overheat our leaky homes rather than insulate them properly or put on more layers of clothing (to name but a few things).

As a songwriter, it seems that if you want to be commercially successful and get your music featured in an ad or a film (one of the more reliable sources of income from music these days) then this is exactly the sort of topic to avoid. It doesn't give your audience an escapist fantasy, a sugar rush or emotional depth, just an uncomfortable dose of reality and pricking of conscience that maybe you're screwing things up for the next generation.

The pyschological tug-of-war - between doing what is expected and not toeing the line - is very much what this song is about.

  

 





Here are some videos from Alterations. You Don't Need Me To Tell You That features the vocal talents of Ellen Jakubiel and Matt Crutchlow, both previous collaborators (E on The Death Of Copyright and Decidedly Dumb; M on Waiting For Green). It is available as a free download on Soundcloud.

As for the slightly ridiculous video. Well, with colourful hand puppets lying around, who wouldn't? It was filmed at home in my kitchen by the lovely film-maker/photographer/musician/all round good egg Rosaleen Donnan. Extra puppetry assistance toward the end from Gareth Forster.

 



Another of the freebie Soundcloud downloads is a rather more sinister number entitled The Up Shit Creek Blues, sung by the wonderful Alexandra Howlett (previously heard on Ascendant's closing track Luco).

The concept of lip-synching the song while being transformed into drag and then a zombie was one I had a long time ago, thinking it might capture the mood of the song and look quite striking, whilst not being stupidly difficult to film (famous last words...).

Knowing the superb make-up artist Ian Massa Harris was a good starting point, and together with his colleague James Goldie they were able to engineer a stunningly disturbing transformation. James did the drag section, Ian the zombie, and it was all filmed by Simon Bennett.

We had to film it at half speed in a complete take (this was take 3 of 3) in order to give sufficient time to Ian and Jae to do their thang. This made the whole process feel curiously intense and David Lynchian-esque, and made timing a few of the lines rather awkward.

All in all though, I think it's scarily fine, even if I had never smoked before and don't intend to again! (that definitely wasn't my idea...)

Enjoy.


Nothing Impossible EP

Tracklisting:

Nothing Impossible

Good Money

Keep Driving

Reminders, Remind (counterpart song on Alterations to Nothing Impossible)

Digital release 6th February 2012, through Bandcamp and all the obvious online places.

This release was originally intended to include a further melancholic Scandinavian pop cover in the form of Robyn's 'Dancing On My Own'. Being too clever by half, I decided to incorporate the melodic theme from another unrequited love song ('Getting Away With It' by Electronic) and the finished result was a thing of great beauty; a waltzing piano/string number with a strong hint of Yann Tiersen.

However, because of publisher or writer greed - I'm not sure which - in being unable to agree a profit split, that hasn't proved possible, and the upshot of this is that I'm not allowed to let anyone even listen to it online now. (No potential profit, y'see?) Another great triumph for the music industry there.

It has been replaced by a previously unreleased electronic song called Good Money, brought bang up to date with lyrics about the financial crisis and the boundless greed behind it. Strangely appropriate in the circumstances, I feel.

The whole EP can be heard on Soundcloud RIGHT HERE.

 

 

There's something fishy going on in the multi-coloured undersea world of card and random household objects. Will the little pink fish ever find his friend again? Only one way to find out...

As with the video for The Death Of Copyright, this has been created entirely by me hunching over a table into the small hours in the name of art. There may have been alcohol involved.

And before we leave the Nothing Impossible EP, the Robyn replacement track Good Money also has a video. A nippy and slightly satirical slideshow affair to go with the subject matter.

 


 

 

The Death Of Copyright EP 

Digital release 11th July 2011, from all the usual online suspects (emusic, iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby etc)

Tracklisting:

The Death Of Copyright

The Day Before You Came (pretty bleak ABBA cover)

Headlonging (Stretched Out)

The Forecaster (counterpart song on Alterations to The Death Of Copyright)

Listen to the whole EP on Soundcloud by clicking 'yes please'!



Wordy video created by my fair hands over several increasingly late and inebriated nights.

 

 

 

Ascendant (2008)

 

This melancholic neo-classical song-cycle owes as much to boundary pushing acts like This Mortal Coil, Kate Bush and Rufus Wainwright as it does to 19th/20th century composers such as Faure or Bryars. The arrangements shimmer with romantic textures while the songs themselves contain strong undercurrents of rock, folk and cabaret. Ghostly fragments of themes found elsewhere on the album introduce each one, melding the work into a near-continuous whole.

The lead vocals are performed by a loose collective of immensely talented vocalists... And me. I only take the lead on one track, Zero, partly because it has immense personal significance, and partly because it was easier to sing than all the others!

You can hear the whole album beautifully streamed in its entirety on Bandcamp,

Alternatively, you can hear it streamed in full on Spotify. However, that probably does mean putting up with adverts for travel agents and bingo websites, which wasn't quite part of my artistic vision. I may yet create an album with fake adverts included, just so that the listener can play 'spot the real ad!' on sites like Spotify.

But then again, I may not.

Here is a selection of tracks from Ascendant without the in-between bits. Some of these can be downloaded from Soundcloud.


 

And here's a choreographic interpretation of the opening track, Waiting For Green (feat. Matthew Crutchlow). It's a contemporary dance duet by choreographer Eva Perdiki, filmed by Rosaleen Donnan at The Place, London. The dancers are Alice Murray and Jack Burton.




 
Anachronisms (2002)

 

Originally recorded in 2001 as an 8 track live demo, the full album was fleshed out with extra tracks and instrumentation during 2002. Handmade CD copies were then sold at acoustic gigs during 2003-05.

Unlike it's more wide-ranging follow-ups, Anachronisms is very much a piano-focused singer/songwriter affair. From the Yann Tiersen-esque opener Penegal, through the more aggressively strung Take It From Me and The Well Tempered Improviser, to the robotic life support tones of Executors, it's suffused with typical Northfield melancholy and poeticism. The songs mostly tackle the darker undercurrents of love and how these shape our identity, but there are also flashes of optimism to be found, most especially in the theatrical closing number Carefree Singalong.

On the tenth anniversary of its 'unofficial' first release in 2003, it is now available as a digital release on Bandcamp.

Here are some tracks from it on Soundcloud: