Whew, let me catch my breath. Crawford Mack has released an album that isn’t just an ordinary recording. This album, Bread & Circuses takes my breath away, and I’m not even jumping up every 17.5 minutes to flip the record over, pick the needle up and find more on the other side.
The album opens with the powerhouse track, Life Changing Moment, which Crawford Mack tells us is about keeping one’s options open. This song builds tension effortlessly adding instruments as it goes along, and then closes with a joyous chuckle, which sounds appropriate after a song that made me smile.
Track two is a single previously reviewed on WeatheredMusic, Depends On Where You Stand, it has stood up well since its release.
A snapshot from Crawford Mack himself:
“A Love I Can’t Live Up To:
I put you on a pedestal so I could disappoint you.
A ‘how-not-to guide’ to happiness featuring realisations that came far too late.”
Four tracks in we come across the song “William” which has become my favourite from this album, Bread & Circuses. Again, I will let Crawford Mack speak for himself:
“When I was a very young (probably around 3 or 4 years old) boy in Aberdeen I had what I guess you’d class as an imaginary friend called William. My parents were fine with this until they became spooked by me describing him; I described someone in a First World War British army uniform in a level of detail that was hard to comprehend me being able to conjure up at that age.
I was once playing an imaginary game by myself, well with William, at the end of my old street. We were tearing little leaves off of a hedge and throwing them up in the air shouting “We’re rich!”, suddenly started shouting at me to run up the street as fast as I could. Moments later, a car crashed into where I had just been standing.
My short legs can’t run that far,
Cos the car that crashed on Carden nearly took my breath.
Oh William did you save someone’s son William?
For the avoidance of doubt, I’m fully aware of how utterly mental this sounds. I’m not an especially superstitious person in general, but it’s always made me wonder what happened; whether or not I was saved by William, and if I was then where was he as I made a litany of mistakes throughout the rest of my life? What would my friend think of the world as it is today? Would he have perhaps thought it worth any sacrifices he may or may not have made?
Are there neon signs where there were front lines?
Imagine Maginot, where the flowers never grow at the best of times.
Did they put your name on the Menin Gate?
Keeping company with the bloodline rushing through my veins.
Did you save someone’s son William?
During writing this track Jamie and I started to speak about hypothetical theories concerning whether the present could affect the past as well as vice-versa, and it dawned on me that if that were the case, maybe it was my responsibility to warn William of the dangers he was about to face and the ultimate futility of sending people to an early grave. Hence the shilling line alluding to the King’s shilling he may have received for his service:
Sting a sting of roses
The guns are fully loaded
The bayonets and poppy-heads are screaming bloody Moses
A military manoeuvre
The morphine’s there to sooth you.
I’d give you my last shilling cos the Crown will never rule you.
The song derives its musical influences from three main inspirations:
Nick Drake and John Martyn’s open guitar tunings.
Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley’s vocal stylings.
NIN’s ability to make a rhythm section feel sinister and drive momentum whilst playing at slow tempos. As soon as that influence was described to Richard Rayner (drums) and Jack Tustin (Bass) I could just sit back and let them find their parts around the harmony and guitar lines Jamie, and I had written.”
Track five is a song called Turning which confused me; I’ll let Crawford Mack give his take on this track and then I will share my two bits worth.
“I sat in a songwriting lecture tensing each and every sinew of my body so as not to combust and rant the house down as a lecturer reflected that most people don’t even bother listening to lyrics anymore, so there isn’t the same pressure for them to be brilliant, just make it a short intro and get to the chorus quickly.
I spent most of the remainder of that class considering the implications of committing our experiences, hopes and fears and those of the people we encounter to song, and subsequently to record.
I remember thinking that the decline of music as a physical product has led to this being taken less seriously by artists and consumers alike. Then I started to think of all the work that goes into making that product possible; from the recording process, the cover art to whoever has mixed chlorine and ethylene to make polyvinyl. If you’re going to put out a legacy of work, then at least consider what else has gone into making it possible.
I built a scenario in my head where somebody places a record written by an old lover of theirs and asked whether the experience would bring closure, longing or outright disdain.
As the needle picks me up, once again you hear my voice.
I wonder if it sounds the same wandering through all that pain?
As the needle picks me up, I have left you with the choice,
Left myself nowhere to hide, find me on the other side.
So no, it’s not a song about drugs. I can’t stand needles.”
Crawford Mack sings: “As the needle picks me up“, an obvious allusion to a record player, and later on he says, “find me on the other side“, side B of a vinyl record, a physical medium. My favourite medium by the way. However, in the intro to the song, he laments the “decline of music as a physical product”. I would like him to sing that “once again you hear my voice” on a vinyl record. But I can’t; there is no option to purchase a physical copy, not even a CD or cassette. Alas, the only options are digital streaming or buying a digital copy.
Please Mr Mack, could you cut this to vinyl, please? I highly recommend my friend Todd at Moonshot Phonographs which is in the process of being rebranded as Flashback Records Inc., you can give him a call at Phone: (587) 501-6461
“I wonder if it sounds the same“? No, it doesn’t vinyl sounds different from digital.
I am “wandering through all that pain” of not having a physical copy.
I would love to be able to say that “As the needle picks me up, once again you hear my voice.” my ears pick up the dulcet sounds of your music and singing.
“I have left you with the choice,” I have left you with a choice, but I left myself nowhere to hide.
I hope the day will come when I can say that I found on the other side. For today I am content with listening to this glorious album on iTunes.
The rest of the album is just as good as the songs above; in other words, they are amazing.
Bread & Circuses:
I’ve had the idea of this song for years. It’s been through so many iterations I can barely keep track. Initially, it was a song begging for an end to the political establishment as was. What I wouldn’t give to bring back those halcyon days though, before Michael Gove uttered that “People are tired of hearing from experts” and our national media outlets gave fringe lunatics of the far-right a platform that brought them prestige and credence in the name of balance, before it was possible to micro-target voters with falsehoods before the truth had time realise, let alone get its pants on.
Propping up a system feeding off the press,
Everybody’s choking on the Eton mess.
Using immigration, they focus on the skin
Diverting the attention to cover up their sins.
I was turned onto the phrase ‘Bread & Circuses’ by reading writings from the Roman poet Juvenal, via Montaigne. The phrase refers to the increase of the grain supply and Gladiator matches to placate potential civil unrest or revolution.
Sadly I feel that the political sphere has become its own theatre of late, let alone needing to create new distractions. We have a government seemingly unable to play by acceptable rules of engagement, and an opposition too insipid to do anything about it. It is maddening when you consider how much is on the line at this moment and time. My hope against hope is that the opposition and voters wishing to live in an inclusive, tolerant and compassionate country show some pragmatism, use their vote, and use it wisely.
“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions – everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: Bread & Circuses.” Juvenal, Satire 10.77–81
The Story Is No Longer Available:
The initial inspiration for this track came from me reading a piece on the damage caused to world heritage sites and sites of historical significance during the Syrian Civil war such as Bosra, Palmyra, Krak de Chevaliers, the Al Madina-Souq and Great Mosque of Aleppo, Damascus. The tragic list goes on and on.
As I went to bed that night a friend I haven’t seen in a while posted a ‘story’ to her Instagram and took it down immediately, all that was left was a slogan reading ‘This Story Is No Longer Available’.
It got me thinking about those tragedies that befell enlightenment and history all evening, the next day I was on a walk with Jamie, and a long chat ultimately came to a sober realisation of the fact that everything we have experienced and built is coming under the threat of premature decay and destruction if we do not change our attitudes to the consumption of resources and seek to offset our impact on climate change as a matter of urgency.
“We are the true disaster,
There is no sticking-plaster,
Don’t need an explanation.
More like a second chance.
No time for Mother Nature,
She doesn’t want to hate you.
Our finger’s on the trigger.
She had amazing stories.”
Gather me under your wings, and I’m onside.
How will the Butterfly sting if it cannot fly?
My partner and I were arguing in the build-up to making this record. She was away studying her masters, we were barely seeing each other, and a lack of communication combined with stress is just an absolute nightmare at times. I sat in Jamie’s front room, observing a butterfly with a clipped wing trying to fly and do what it is supposed to. I started to consider how frustrated it must feel, whether it would want to lash out at the world if it had a sting to do so whilst feeling so vulnerable and helpless?
As I came to my conclusions on the matter I realised I was actually describing how I felt about my own life, particularly my journey through the music industry: Hurt, frustrated, and without everything in place to do what I feel I’m supposed to. It was desperate.
I couldn’t communicate with my partner for fear I would fall to pieces and break everything we had built together from lashing out with my ‘sting’, admitting that I was not comfortable in the slightest and I needed that to be ok.
Whether the record works out or not, the cathartic experience of writing it has finally made me wrestle my demons whilst surrendering to them at the same time. Oriana came through for me with love and acceptance, and therefore the whole experience has been truly life-changing.
Promise me it doesn’t hurt Mr. Squadron Leader.
I’ve lived my life one bullet at a time.
I didn’t want to go to church where the firing squad sang requiems instead of a lullaby.
You tried to test my faith, but all you did was take away my dignity.
Aimed between the eyes, blew away my childhood memories.
Every time you twist the knife, I’ll play on your mind.
Be careful with the power you have over others; sometimes, your own actions will haunt you more than they ever could.
A diary of falling in and out of love with places and people following a split. However bizarre it may seem, I sincerely vouch for the veracity of every word.
So there we have it, a rather long post but this is not an ordinary album in my humble opinion. Happy listening and play safe.