Monday, December 1, 2014

MORROW - Ghostwriter and Michael Paine

Here’s an unusual and unexpected work: music inspired by Phyllis Paul. Until about ten years ago, the novels of this austere and enigmatic author were lost amongst the dustiest bookshelves. But then Glen Cavaliero of Cambridge University began to write about her work, and continued with calm persistence to champion her wherever he could. It was a footnote in his study of Charles Williams that first alerted me to her. Since then, he has written about her in Wormwood 9 ("Mysteries of The Thirteenth Hour: The Enigmatic World of Phyllis Paul"), spoken of her to The Powys Society and others, and introduced a reprint of her A Cage for the Nightingale (Sundial Press).

I particularly remember listening to Glen tell about the phrase used by the motorcyclist involved in the accident that led to her death. She was blown across the street, he said, just like a sheet of paper. Her books remain hard to find and second-hand copies disappear as soon as they are discovered. A few titles have eluded searchers for years. And there remain mysteries about her life and work which several researchers are still trying to fathom. Doug Anderson has recently discovered that she probably had an earlier career as an illustrator of children’s books (see earlier post here).

Ghostwriter and Michael Paine have now released an album, Morrow (on Time Released Sound), which is inspired in part by Phyllis Paul’s books. Her readers will recognise some overt references in the titles (‘Cooling bay’, ‘Pulled down’) and less obvious ones alluding to her life or conjuring scenes and phrases in her work. The two musicians describe their work here as “English pastoral noir, drawing variously on folk, evangelical hymns, jazz, Debussy and Maurice Deebank.” (The latter was the guitarist on the smouldering songs and instrumentals made by the band Felt, a great favourite of mine.)

The music is on the surface gentle, with hints of musical boxes, fairground organs, grandfather clock chimes, and graceful ballet scores. But there are also more sinister sounds – disembodied voices, stray incursions of curious noise, off-key notes, cymbal splashes like footsteps pounding through damp streets. I was reminded of the theme and incidental music to the Seventies TV series “Thriller”, or such haunting Sixties tunes as “Windmills of Your Mind”. Morrow succeeds wonderfully in creating a pensive atmosphere of genteel peculiarity, where at any moment toys might start talking or the door of the nursery cupboard could swing open upon the abyss.

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