In a modern music industry that is geared increasingly to commercial success at all costs, we must remain thankful for those who are it for the love of their art, and who also have the work ethic necessary to demonstrate this.
Having the courage of your convictions spelled out in terms of sheer graft would perhaps tell us more than the clothes and the marketing dare to reveal. Artists produce work. It is that simple. Within the music industry, the artist then tours in order to promote their latest full length recording, and onstage, the live show gives us further insight into the recorded work: it is another perspective on the record.
That’s definitely the view of a slightly homesick Adem, who is on the final stage of the tour scheduled to bring L&OP the ears of the music loving public within hearing distance of his newly released second album ‘Love and other Planets’.
“I’m looking forward to going home” he admits (to start the ball rolling), and then he outlines the various stages of a three week tour that has taken him all over Scotland, and into Belgium, before arriving at Manchester (at the Lowry, Salford Quays tonight) via the UK leg.
Then, he launches into an impassioned monologue that is punctuated with my half-asked questions, and communicated with the help of earnest and emphatic hand gesticulations. It’s like a lecture delivered to a tutorial sized group - and from a real professor as well! The man’s ideas are all-encompassing
A producer first and foremost, even before his multi instrumental talents are considered, he is also tour managing himself this time around. The level of control is almost total, but the amount of work involved is staggering. Running late, he asks me to bear with him for five minutes, and when he returns to the echoing quayside café bar, it is barely 45minutes before he is due onstage. Yet there are no signs of frayed nerves, or panic (the emotions that spring immediately to my mind), A classically trained musician and a perfectionist when it comes to his work, he is also lucid, and enthusiastic about what he has created, easily able to wax lyrical on both the tiniest detail whilst illustrating huge concepts. With passion driving him as well as the clock, he gave rapid-fire answers that were both detailed and elaborate
“The feel of the album? Quite..… wide, quite broad” he emphasises, before further consideration prompts him to add: “– and quite open, now and again - I hope - well that’s what I’ve aimed for”.
“Whereas ‘Homesongs’ is very introverted, very insular, cosy, shrouded - under the duvet, L&OP is very open” Adem continues:
“It’s about space, cosmic things, people” he enthuses on his website, and he’s not biting off more than he can chew either. Using production techniques as a guide to the folk structures, the record is a lot more developed, although the traditional folk instruments are there order to give the record its human touch.
Macrocosmic/microcosmic comparisons are the key to understanding the records dynamic: is there a metaphysical aspect central to it, evident in the lyrics and song titles, such as ‘You and Moon’, and the title track ‘Love &Other Planets’:
“Yes, definitely” (Adem seizes upon this) “Even though there are still things happening to the central character as normal, the perspective is different”.
“That’s very important to me…..whereas ‘Homesongs’ is about detail, and things getting smaller and smaller, and smaller, what happens in L&OP all of the detail is looked at, and then all of a sudden the detail is kind of turned around so that it looks outwards - pointing out - in a broader, and also cosmic, in a physical and metaphysical sense. The sense of something happening to somebody, and that’s what it’s like for the rest of the universe. All these open vistas….”
This I take to be a reference to the all encompassing feel of the record’s subject matter -metaphysical in the way detailed close-up scrutiny is compared to some part of the solar system. L&OP is an epic, and wasn’t completed for two years. That seems like a long time, even for a concept album with such an ambitious, possibly infinite aim?
“It took a long time for me to get it right” he corrects me;
“When I get to play it live, what I try and do -a lot of my music is made like this - it’s about remembering going to the gigs and enjoying them, at 13 or 14, and deciding what I liked, what I wanted about gigs. So when I go to gigs, the last thing I want to see in a band is for them to play the album, in order…sounding like the album. I may as well go home and put the thing on my record player!”
“What I do want to see, what I do want to get is another perspective into the album, a greater understanding of the artist and the songs”
“The live shows are going really well. The record is incredibly detailed, there are lots of layers.”
It is here we begin to consider the modest and multi instrumental talents of the producer as artist:
“I’m perfectly at home whether playing, as I am tonight, completely solo, In going down to the bare bones of the songs. Whereas on one hand, I could be playing electric bass, glockenspiel, harmonium and guitar, the next one could be violin, viola, bow to double bass, chiming bells and autoharp”.
“I hope you can hear that in the texture of the songs. As a producer, that’s what I do, the way I record and write songs and the words I choose. As opposed to someone who writes a song on a guitar, gives it to a producer and says “make a song.”
“I mean…there’s no point” continues the musical all rounder, flabbergasted at the thought (but we know many that work in this way, when we think, don’t we?).
Rather than a 4-piece band (the format Sheffield experienced when he landed in the Steel City the following evening), tonight’s show is a solo slot designed to blend unassumingly with the main act (label-mates, The Handsome Family, themselves a quiet, low key blend of country and folk).
Hands on from the mixing desk and instruments right through to carting his gear from venue to venue, I learn that this one man show is about more than just a solo performance. Tour managing himself on top of the production and the shows? How was that adding to the graft involved? :
“Yeah, it’s hard work” he agrees: “The van broke down last night in Stirling, so I had to book hotels for everyone, sort out a tow, the mechanics, parts, all that side of things. I ended up journeying down on the train with whatever instruments I could carry” he adds, as my jaw begins to drop in admiration.
Did he really get from Stirling to Manchester in time for tonight’s 8pm show?
”Four changes” he muses absently, more to himself than to me (and there is a hint of disbelief in his own voice here). This gives me time I need to digest this amazing tale of train-surfing, this beyond-human-limits feat of determination as it slowly sinks in.
On Sunday train services to boot! I am impressed – “That is D.I.Y. innit, man!” I remark, to which Adem smiles and shrugs modestly:
“Well, yeah – you gotta keep it real” he explains, with a twinkle in his eye and a widening smile. But he has a point to make here:
“If you’re not willing to do that, then you shouldn’t be doing it” he states. End of.
“Of course it’s really hard tour managing as well” Adem states: “Badly Drawn boy is one of the people I admire most in this respect. If you’re Badly Drawn Boy, the last thing you want to do is find yourself sitting on a train with a lots of people coming up and asking you questions and getting in your face, but he’s so down to earth”.
”He’d judge a pony contest if you asked him to” he adds, in tones of admiration.
With the combination of harmonies, there is very much going on. The autoharp being a favourite find at one of the jumble sales, craft fairs and car boot sales Adem scours for likely and unlikely looking sound making devices.
“I love the instrument, and always will, but, I want to be surprised. I (recently) got these bells, really clanky old bells, got them together on string, and you can bang them together, or swing them round your head and make a big noise”.
“Cutlery, an old toy, whatever” he muses, open to all possibilities. I am put in mind of early ‘90’s Belgian techno. This approach I love! An artist once told me that you can make a picture with anything that makes a mark – making music with anything that will make a noise you find euphonious is perfectly aligned to this school of thought.
Adem began tonight’s set on acoustic guitar, with the rest of the instruments laid out in a manner that seemed to have far-reaching significance when placed on the bare boards of this venue, a beautiful scale model version of an Elizabethan theatre
Did they imitate a constellation I did not recognise? This was about much bigger places than Earth, and there wasn’t the tiniest detail present in either the densely-textured album, or this all encompassing metaphysical solo show that was left open to chance. Adem looked tiny from the circle, which only strengthened the metaphysical, and emphasised the intended feel of the record.
This superb theatre was ultra quiet, as Adem opened with two tracks from L&OP’s predecessor ‘Homesongs’, his guitar playing picking out the classical and folk elements of the music in a naturally simple and beautifully relaxing manner. When he then turned to the songs on L&OP, we could hear and feel the cosmic forces at work, as the introspective feel was replaced with a conceptual framework that seemed huge even in comparison to the solar system.
The microcosms were turned on their metaphysical heads as the detail looked outwards to encompass huge and almost endless topics, the sparseness of the one man, one instrument at a time show leaving our imaginations to run riot as they were compelled to work furiously, forming mental pictures of life light years away, other galaxies (‘Spirals’).
The childlike simplicity in me resurfaced (if it ever went away) as I found myself wondering what God looked like, and why the sky was ‘up’?
“On a clear night, if you look close enough, you can feel love” is one gorgeous example of a lyric that also has the eerie feeling that We Are Not Alone, and the other-worldly sense that extraterrestrial life is looking through a powerful telescope at us, frowning at the dysfunctional breakdown of our world.
Or am I looking through a microscope? From high in the rafters, the album’s view of itself was my perspective on tonight, as I considered the amount of musical instruments placed (strategically, I am convinced) beneath the spotlight, and wondered how the hell he got it on and off the train!! That was the detail getting bigger again, and looking outwards alright, as I checked out the array of folk/acoustic devices. Bells, guitars, thumb piano - yes.
The autoharp? I admit it. I am gobsmacked all over again!
How did he do it?? He looked so relaxed. Laddish indie outfits and prima-donna divas determined to suck on the limelight until they are living in a vacuum, take heed. Mark E. Smith, nod your head. Rappers, and bling-heads, give respect.
The autoharp sounded truly outstanding, and fed much of Adems easy, relaxed banter as he broke the ice and loosened up a tense audience aleady frightened to breathe following the screeching interference from mobile phones picked up on the monitors at the show’s beginning. Gentlemanly to a fault, Adem deflected the collective wave of horror by apologising and reaching in a bag for his mobile phone and then (perhaps in pretence) switching it off.
Only too happy to laugh warmly with this endearing performer, we then found ourselves loosened up enough to let this other worldly, macrocosmic sound engulf us and make us feel tiny in comparison to the solar system. A pin dropping would have chimed along nicely.
‘Fool, you’ve lost your way, look to the stars to guide you/You’ll find all you need to get by”: Is he telling us to look at the bigger picture, or consider the happenings beyond Earth’s stratosphere? Through self-accompaniment on the thumb-piano, it was at times the sounds we weren’t hearing that held greater significance. It was like saying:
“Listen how much space and time stretches out before you, when I strip the music down to its component parts. Hear the massive and engulfing sound of absolute silence!”.
Loneliness is never more acutely felt than when you are alone in a crowd. This was the silence of everything, everywhere, and it was deafening to the power of minus 375 degrees! (Come on numbers experts, comment including the sums involved, and show you're working out!????)
You heard the seemingly infinite, and started to try out your mathematical skills. Well, I did - I know there’ll be an equation somewhere, even though the variables are endless, and the perspective will always be different. This is an artist you can see time and time again, and always be surprised. The all-encompassing sound he created here was amazing - the tiny, detailed and almost ambient show that not only echoed out to the stars, but put you up there with them, as they represented our surroundings.
Future generations in hundreds of years will use this as a holiday, rocket-stereo soundtrack and marvel at the similarities with the view they’re enjoying from some moon off Saturn. How did he know?