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Old 15th Aug 2014, 16:34   #1
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Join Date: 10 Apr 2003
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Default Plinth : Music For Smalls Lighthouse

I would never have encountered Plinth’s Music For Smalls Lighthouse if I hadn’t bought a new turntable and turned back to the vinyl. Not that it’s not available via other formats, of course it is, but – oh, I don’t know, haven’t I justified and explained enough already in this blog? – the whole point of this adventure was to find music that thrilled and engaged and did so more within this medium than any other, and Smalls did that for me from the moment I encountered it. I mean, look at it.

Beautifully packaged by Clay Pipe’s genius illustrator and designer, Frances Castle, it looks wonderful; a perfectly pitched combination of soft marine greens and darker, deeper shades. Like Jon Brooks’s Shapwick before it, Smalls asks to be held, looked at, turned over and over. You see, I had started tentatively on my vinyl travels with a couple of Ghost Box releases (of whom more another time), and from there to Shapwick (ditto), before landing here, on the rock. And what a place it is.

The LP comes with an illustrated booklet telling the legend of the lighthouse, a bizarre chicken coup-like construction on stilts, not at all the structure you would conjure when normally imagining a lighthouse. For many years it was the most remote manned lighthouse in British waters. Two hundred years ago, an ill-suited pair of keepers, Howell and Griffith were contracted to spend six months working out at the light. They were well-known for their mutual animosity, their history of squabbles and disagreements. With just each other for company, the men continued to fight until one night Griffith died in an accident. Although blameless, Howell was concerned that he’d be blamed for the tragedy, and so decided against disposing of the body for fear of incriminating himself, and instead attempted to make a coffin, which he attached to the side of the lighthouse. As he struggled to fend for himself, as the weather gradually tore the coffin apart exposing Griffith day by day, Howell struggled to hang on to his sense.

The album tells their story in episodes of careful craft. Pictures are painted with disarming simplicity, building all the time. A gentle plaintive piano grows steadily sinister, piercingly beautiful dulcimers resounding with both the memories of home and the horrors of distance, uneasily beautiful strings teasing and picking out the shapes revealed at dawn. Only with Sirens (a fabulous track, and the standout for me) is a human voice – the wonderfully monikered Autumn Grieve – introduced, and that is almost unquantifiable; a wordless, formless, restless thing.

On listen after listen Music For Smalls Lighthouse pieces together, falls apart, pieces together again. It is a moving, coalescing, disintegrating tale that seems different each time, almost like putting on a selection of records from a series. But the unifying theme is water. Water on every track, be it rain at the start, lapping waves or a full on storm, water envelopes the entire piece. It rises and falls, and sometimes it is all too clear and gruesome, and at others, murky and dark and unknown.

Plinth, otherwise known as Michael Tanner, a Dorset musician who has recorded under many names and guises over the years, need to be investigated further because this is completely spellbinding.
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