This has come as a bit of a turn-up for the books, and no mistake. Again, I was just browsing around – can’t even cite boredom as an excuse at the moment either as I have a stack of good and great recent records & reissues to plough through – and this did one of those inexplicable “standing out without really having a reason to do so” things that end up being far more intriguing than something that leaps off the page with bells and whistles. I suppose it’s my nature to find more fun in being inquisitive about the enigmatic rather than be excited about the obvious, so with that in mind I happily forked out for this one. And, as is the way with these things, I find myself once more pleasantly surprised by what arrived.
There’s a strange pathway that can be carved through people’s record collections sometimes where some of the more obscure artifacts can be linked through most of their shelfbound neighbours through reasons both obvious and spurious: I know of Craig Ward from True Bypass, who I know from Sleepingdog, who I know from A Winged Victory For The Sullen (with a swift diversion via Nu Nog Even Niet), and even that Matroyshka stacking doesn’t really scratch the surface given the myriad other bands and styles he’s dabbled in over the years. I must admit to this being the first time that I had come across Mark Mulholland, but a quick read of his site proved to be an interesting read and maybe a suggestion of how this record came about and also how it sounds.
Both musicians are Scottish, but their wings have spread – Craig spent many a year in Belgium (during which time he spent nine years in the company of dEUS) before returning to Glasgow, Mark is currently based in Haiti. Friends since their teens, their paths crossed more than a couple of times during their travelling years, although these many geographical shenanigans would go some way to explaining why Waiting For The Storm has taken a while to come to fruition: mooted in 2007, recorded in 2010 and 2011, and now released in 2012.
This time spent is evident throughout the record, as it’s an incredibly intricate and patient work. It’s also very Scottish in nature but containing hints and flavours of other countries and cities, suggesting a pooling of reminiscence for the two protagonists. Opening with the delicate Something On The Breeze, there is an unmistakable far-Northern folk feel to the gentle guitar playing, while the vocal melody and harmonies bring to mind the New York of Lou Reed and Simon & Garfunkel. Elsewhere, vocal melodies in All The Doors Are Open and Secret Places strike me as being somewhat Belgian in mood, reminding me of serene versions of passages from Creature With The Atom Brain’s first full album. There’s even room for some late-night deep Southern Blues, A Strange Place evoking everything that its title suggests.
There is a third element to proceedings here, and one that evokes the strongest musical memory: the double bass of Hannes d’Honne has a definite spirit of Danny Thompson about his playing, the spooky Icy Shivers in particular having something of Three Hours surrounding and breathing through it, and in general adding a level of gravity and thoughtfulness to the songs and intricate acoustic guitar playing of Mark and Craig, with the instrumental Black Sail especially benefiting. And finally, Haitian polymath Frankétienne contributes Les Belles Promesses (an excerpt from his 1998 book Voix Marassa), the septuagenarian artist adding his voice to his words to help create a strange and beautiful Creole/Celtic drama.
All in all, this is one of those unique records that feel as if you’re being taken on a journey – a feeling made all the more magical by not expecting that to happen. By the time The Six O’Clock Whistle (and I really do hope that’s a deliberate Chigley reference!) has ended, there’s certainly a feeling of distance travelled that sits well with the listener. Mark Mulholland and Craig Ward have made something rather unique thanks to their separate journeys, linked by a desire to share their origins. I’m looking forward to more musical postcards from them in the future.