Will Burns & Hannah Peel — Chalk Hill Blue (22nd March, 2019)
Birth name: Hannah Mary Peel
Born: 27 August 1985
Origin: Craigavon, Northern Ireland
Instruments: Vocals, music box, Synthesiser, violin, trombone
Location: London, England
Album release: 22nd March, 2019
Record Label: Rivertones
01 Out Of Doors 2:08
02 The Night Life 4:41
03 Afterwards 2:08
04 Spring Dawn On Mad Mile 4:22
05 Change 7:48
06 Chalk Hill Blue 6:16
07 May 9th 2:01
08 Swallowing 1:46
09 Ridgeway 1:53
10 Summer Blues 2:56
11 February 1:03
••› Chalk Hill Blue is the first album by poet Will Burns and musician and composer Hannah Peel: a record of electronic ruralism channeling lives threaded through the chalk landscapes of Southern England. It is released by Rivertones on Friday 22nd March.
••› As part of their collaboration, Will Burns, Hannah Peel and producer Erland Cooper walked the landscapes around Burns’s Wendover house together: their chalk~heeled boots tracing shared routes through the rhythms and repetitions of the place. What emerges in Chalk Hill Blue is a site~specific~non~specific record of creative place portraiture; an album that traces elements of a living landscape, and reworks them into something that is as sensitive and finely~observed as it is visionary.Review
Tom Bolton, March 22nd, 2019 11:47. Score: ★★★½
••› Hannah Peel and poet Will Burns team up for a moving and original record exploring the troubled landscapes of England and the mind
••› Poet Will Burns and musician Hannah Peel collaborate on a record of electronic music and spoken word that, at first glance, might seem pastoral and escapist. Yet it quickly reveals itself to be inextricably tangled with and influenced by the dysfunctional, dismaying reality that we seem to be living in.
••› Hannah Peel is a composer, singer and synth champion who specialises in analogue soundscapes that Delia Darbyshire or Daphne Oram would have appreciated. Her back catalogue is a fascinating compendium of albums informed by interests in neurology, the universe and social change. The Broken Wave sounded something like a Northern Irish Joanna Newsom, Awake But Always Dreaming was darker and dramatic, influenced by Herrmann and Morricone. Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia was a concept album that made gorgeous use of colIiery brass, and was given a cosmic remix as Particles in Space. Not content with covering the niches, Peel is also a Spotify star with a toy piano~esque cover of ‘Tainted Love’ that has picked up 10 million plays.
••› This eclecticism is underpinned by an analogue purity of sound that informs Chalk Hill Blue, an album named for the species of butterfly, but encompasses so much more as it takes flight. Will Burns, a poet with a growing reputation, writes work that often probes dislocation through landscape. He reads his poetry alongside Peel’s compositions, the words and the music weaving in and out of one another to entrancing and unsettling effect. His tone is blunt and regretful tone, leaves no room for sentimental illusion. Peel’s electronics seem to express the unspoken, swelling urgently in the background as Burns tells stories of old age, disease, disappointment, “zero hour drinking sessions” and impaired relationships. His ability to isolate truths about being is exceptional as, for example, on ‘The Night Life’, he intones “To beat exactly a billion times if unhindered is the only application of the heart” as, in the background, drums chug in response.
••› On Chalk Hill Blue landscape is the setting for the impossible task of living, whether as a hostile condition — “The madness, really, of a dawn chorus” — or a place that offers no possibility of belonging, however drunk you get. Burns reflects, darkly, on “The slick beds of somebody’s home county.” The album is specific about context, with tracks called ‘May 9th’, ‘February’ and ‘Ridgeway’, but these timestamps are only clues to a fragmented narrative. We catch tantalising glimpses of a story, moments brought into focus under Burns’ piercing gaze. Meanwhile, Peel’s music is hypnotic, whether brooding quietly or surging into a series of gradually overlapping and separating beats. On ‘Change’, her synthesisers sound like a forest fire, a distant orchestra, a swarm of insects and a flock of birds. ‘Summer Blues’ uses sad pianos, and ‘February’ a chirping bassoon. The title track is an all~instrumental piece with synthesisers that drop neat lines of lone, heart~stopping notes.
••› Chalk Hill Blue is another fruitful divergence for Peel whose work is fast becoming something exceptional. Burns is a powerful writer, who tells us some of what need to hear in our anxious era of species collapse and climate change. His dispatches from the hills and pub gardens of Southern England anatomise the land effectively and concisely as Peel conjures spirits from the implacable earth, and sends them rolling across the downs, like a drifting mist. — Quietus. ••› https://thequietus.com/
Five Questions for... Will Burns
℘ We are extremely pleased to welcome the poet Will Burns to Elsewhere: A Journal of Place for the next in our series of “Five Questions” interviewers with writers, artists, practitioners and indeed anyone for whom place is central to their work, whatever that may be. You might have spotted Will on these virtual pages recently as we reviewed the new album Chalk Hill Blue that he made with Hannah Peel, a thoughtful and thought~provoking collection of poetry and music rooted in the landscapes of Buckinghamshire where Will lives.
℘ Named as one of the Faber & Faber New Poets for 2014 and the poet~in~residence at the wonderful Caught by the River, Will’s poetry evokes a strong sense of place and was praised by The Guardian for its “quiet intelligence and subtle ways of seeing”, a description that we can only wholeheartedly endorse. A regular live performer, Will has read at festivals around the UK including Port Eliot, Green Man and Glastonbury and you can catch him at a number of festivals this summer as he tours Chalk Hill Blue with Hannah Peel.
On with the interview...
What does home mean to you?
℘ Like most people I suspect, ‘home’ is a bit of a complicated word for me. It definitely applies to Wendover, the village in Bucks where I live now and lived from the age of about ten until I left home. And even after I left I’ve always come back. Sometimes only for a few months or so, and sometimes out of necessity — but I suppose the point is it’s always there, which is a function of home I think. I have to say London too. I was born there, and I’ve lived there, in various spots, almost as many years as Wendover, all told. But London’s such a big thing isn’t it? The little areas you get to know might feel like home for the period you know them, but change is so fast there that you leave and a year or so later it feels entirely alien.
Which place do you have a special connection to?
℘ I’m going to say the Rough Trade shop on Talbot Rd. My Dad was one of the owners of the Rough Trade shops until about three years ago, and I grew up seeing him in that shop as a child. Then I ended up working there in my twenties. I was there a few days ago and I hadn’t been there for a couple of years, and I realised just how burned into my consciousness and imagination the place is. Some of the posters, the counter, the architecture, the smells of the place. What a strange contradiction a record shop is - it changes completely every week when a new batch of releases goes up on the walls, in the racks in the windows, and yet at the same time it’s not changed for thirty years.
What is beyond your front door?
℘ The main high street in Wendover. Although that section is actually part of the Ridgeway, so you’re on an ancient path the moment you put a boot out the door. It’s a classic market town high street with an abundance of charity shops. We’ve resisted chains for the most part though, so it retains a sense of itself. Take the road left out of the door and up the hill and you follow the Ridgeway onto the scarp. Ten minutes and you’ve got views across the whole vale. Nobody talks about the Chilterns really but they are a very beautiful place.
What place would you most like to visit?
℘ I’d love to go to Iceland sometime. I’ve always loved the Sagas and the history of Northern Europe. But India as well. My grandfather was born there and it was him who inculcated my love of wildlife, partly through his stories of India. It has sort of remained as an unscratched itch ever since.
What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now?
℘ A new album by my all time favourite band came out today, so I’ll be with that non~stop for the foreseeable future. That’s Union by Son Volt. My capacity for listening to them is pretty much infinite. And I’ve not really been able to stop reading One Lark, One Horse by Michael Hofmann since it came out. I’m one of these obsessive types I think who re~reads and listens to things once I’ve fallen for them.
April 26, 2019