Stretching My Legs: a Dog, the Dead, and a Mad-Looking Librarian

Yesterday, I went for a 6km walk. Instead of visiting the usual bush lookouts, I kept to the streets. My destination: the war memorial next to the community centre at the head of Galley Road. It’s a nice, quiet spot. The monument squats in the corner of a tennis-court-size lawn, one point in a triangle in which each of the other two corners is marked by a park bench, both in need of paint.

One in every suburb…

The car park was dominated by a large red truck, an Australian Red Cross mobile blood transfusion centre, left there for a few days so that the locals can do their bit. Donors came and went. They included a youngish Asian couple with an old collie. The man ducked into the truck while the dog, slipped from its lead, sniffed around. The woman called him a few times but, deaf or indifferent, he ignored her.

“He likes to take his time,” she said.

“Showing his independence,” I replied. She smiled, barely.

When she put him back on the lead, I reflected that, in human terms, he was probably about my age. For a moment I wondered how it would feel to be totally dependent on her.

Communing with the dead isn’t really my thing, but they are unobtrusive and therefore congenial company. Some of the names were familiar—Windybank, for example; and strange: one surname was “Sustenance”. I sat there for nearly an hour. What would I say if someone I knew saw me? “What are you doing here?” they would probably ask, to which I would reply: “Dwelling on the past is melancholy; I prefer to contemplate my future.” Not everyone appreciates droll gallows humour.

The centre houses a branch library. I called in to browse. As I was leaving, I noticed a young female librarian who hadn’t been at the front desk when I arrived. She stood with her back to me, absorbed in her work. She had long blonde hair and her black top and jeans showed a pleasing figure.

As I walked past her, I turned to thank her with what I like to think is my charming-and-totally-unleering old-man smile. It must have faded quickly. The lower half of her face was obscured by a blue surgical mask. Above it, her eyes were wide and bright, probably because she was smiling back at me and acknowledging my old-fashioned courtesy. The eyes were lovely but, deprived of their proper facial context, looked slightly deranged.

On the way back, before turning into Cockatoo Road, I paused to peer into the bush. Close up, it’s a confusion of fine green brush strokes (she-oaks, etc) and bold brown lines (tree trunks—thin and, below their canopies, mostly branchless). A bit like Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles.

Along Cockatoo Road, two of my female neighbours—one walking her dog, the other returning from the shops—were deep in conversation. Continuing the old-fashioned courtesy theme, I raised my hat as I approached and intoned “Ladies”, just as one of them said “…and then I had diarrhoea.” Spoiled the effect somewhat, I thought.

The Queen, the Prime Minister and the Rise of Woke

As the world remembers Queen Elizabeth II and ponders the symbolism of her life and the monarchy, a fact likely to go largely unnoticed is that the month of her passing coincides with the thirty-fifth anniversary of a very different, but also highly symbolic, event in British history.

It was in September 1987 that then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in an interview with Woman’s Own magazine, uttered the immortal—and, for many, notorious—words: “There is no such thing as society”.

The contrast between the monarch who selflessly served her country, her faith and the traditions she inherited, and the neoconservative politician who saw life and the world in terms of market forces could not be starker.

Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II. Credit: Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

It helps to illuminate the economic, social and cultural changes that have taken place in the last three and a half decades, and goes some way toward explaining many of the crises that we face—crises that can be traced back, with relatively little difficulty, to Thatcher’s ill-chosen words.

Naïve and Idealistic

To be fair, Thatcher was not advocating a devil-take-the-hindmost philosophy. She was elaborating a view of life that rejected the notion of society as a theoretical construct in favour of a vision of men and women as flesh-and-blood individuals seeing to their own needs first, then the needs of others.

It was a world in which no individual had an a priori claim on social welfare. She did not dispute that the unfortunate may need help, but she insisted that such provision should be made within a framework of rights and obligations that fell equally upon all individuals, rich and poor.

Her ideas are often dismissed as social Darwinism; they might equally be seen as naïve and idealistic, because they are so impractical. Essentially, they delegate social welfare, charity and altruism to market forces—dynamics that are impersonal in aggregate and self-interested at the individual level.

The destructive import of her words, however, is not confined to the narrow concerns of social welfare. It extends well into the macroeconomic sphere, and even into geopolitics.

Economic Expediency vs. Social Cohesion

Few who lived through Britain’s strikebound Winter of Discontent from November 1978 to February 1979 would deny that it paved the way for Thatcher to become Prime Minister the following May. There is little doubt that her economic policies, though stringent, were necessary.

But they came at an enormous social cost. Cuts in public spending led to record unemployment (11.9% in April 1984), while privatisation and attacks on the trade-union movement helped to dismantle important sources of cohesion in working-class life.

Scene from UK miners’ strike 1985. Source: Daily Record (UK)

“Thatcherism”, of course, was not confined to the UK. It was a local manifestation of a Western trend inspired by classical liberal economists Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek and supported by Thatcher’s political contemporary and ally, US President Ronald Reagan.

At a macro level, the trend resulted in financial deregulation, the increased mobility of capital, and globalization, in which manufacturing jobs migrated from Western nations to the low-cost workforces of developing countries, further undermining social cohesion in the West.

Many lines of historical cause and effect can be drawn between the economic expediency pursued by Thatcher and her peers and the social and cultural deprivation that we experience today. They all culminate with the rise of populism and Donald Trump becoming US President in 2016.

And with the rise of woke.

Self-Identity vs. Social Identity

Social theorists commonly distinguish between an individual’s social identity and self-identity. The former is a sense of self and belonging that derives from being part of a group; the latter is the sense of personal identity that one perceives as being intrinsic to oneself, independent of social influences.

Thatcher’s elevation of economic concerns above social ones, the effect of her policies in helping to erode social cohesion, and her emphasis on the primacy of individual initiative and enterprise, have created a milieu in which self-identity has taken precedence over social identity.

A consequence evident in her own time was the emergence of the yuppie, or young upward professional. The epitome of self-interest and social mobility (or rootlessness), the yuppie was a forerunner of today’s privileged meritocrats and technocrats, often referred to as “the élites”.

Meanwhile the less privileged—the outliers and minorities of society—have invested their sense of self-identity in aspects of themselves that put them (or are perceived to put them) at odds with the mainstream: race, sexuality, gender and so on. Hence the rise of identity politics and woke.

Woke is widely seen as the province of the left, but it has its roots in Thatcherism, as both result and reaction. Within the left, it works against the centrist tradition created by Tony Blair and New Labour in response to Thatcher (who once described Blair and New Labour as her “greatest achievement”).

And the fact that Western companies and cultural institutions are eagerly embracing woke values in the form of diversity and inclusion, corporate citizenship and responsible investment should surprise no-one. Woke is, after all, a product of the market forces that drive them.

There are two lessons to be drawn from this, both highlighted by the Queen’s passing.

A Time for Reflection, Risk and Opportunity

The first is that the conservatives who mourn her passing as the loss of a strand of continuity in an uncertain world should reflect—and reflect deeply—on the extent to which neoconservative values and policies have helped to create that uncertainty.

And while they’re about it, they should consider how to rebalance today’s prevailing right-wing economic orthodoxy with the more traditional social and cultural values that conservatism is meant to represent.

The second lesson is that the new King represents an opportunity and a risk. The risk is that his well-meaning but unworldly progressivism may tilt the monarchy further from social identity to the tendency for self-identity which has already captured too many members of the royal family.

But he may also provide an opportunity to re-align the progressive values he represents with the traditional values so well exemplified by the late Queen, to the benefit not just of the monarchy but society as a whole. One can only hope.

Triumph of the spirit: Jeff Cotton’s 52 years of healing

Jeff Cotton via Zoom on August 3, 2022 (Australian time)

Smiling, tanned, relaxed, sitting in a studio on his island home of Maui in the Hawaiian archipelago, Jeff Cotton is a very different man from the one who, 52 years ago and physically and mentally close to breaking point, finally quit what had been his dream job.

Jeff, then known as Antennae Jimmy Semens, had been one of the two guitarists with Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, a legendary US ensemble that made an equally legendary album, Trout Mask Replica. Released in 1969, the album continues to be both controversial and influential.

Artists are supposed to suffer for their art, but not the way Jeff had done.

“Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band was my Vietnam,” he says.

The Trout Mask Replica era: Jeff Cotton/Antennae Jimmy Semens is second from right (Photo by Ed Caraeff/Getty Images)

Shortly after joining the band in 1967, Jeff received his call-up papers to serve in the Vietnam War.

“Obviously, I didn’t want to go to another country and take out my brothers and sisters, of any age, whether the children or elderly. The band wanted me and I wanted to be in the band, so, we did everything we could to get me out [of the draft], and we did get me out.”

Before long, however, Jeff found himself in the midst of another conflict. Beefheart, real name Don Van Vliet, was a creative visionary but, to put it mildly, a hard task master.

The band shared a house. While they typically rehearsed 18 hours a day for the Trout Mask Replica recording session, Beefheart usually slept. When he appeared, it was often to subject Jeff and the others to verbal and mental abuse, apparently to bend them more easily to his creative will.

Beefheart even encouraged violence. When Jeff was physically attacked by a stand-in drummer, he decided enough was enough.

“I thought I could escape war in Vietnam, but if that [war] is what’s laid out in front of you, you’re going to have it anyway. So, I had my Vietnam in the Magic Band. It was probably, for me, as intense and emotionally wrenching as going to war.”

His acceptance that war of one kind or another was to be his lot says much about Jeff’s philosophical take on life. It’s an attitude deeply embedded in his first solo album, The Fantasy of Reality, which he is about to release (August 12, 2022) to mark his return to the music scene after a 47-year absence.

The new album is a long way from Trout Mask Replica.


Except, that is, in a couple of minor respects.

I suggest that his vocal on Elvirus is reminiscent of Beefheart. It’s a stretch, I know: Jeff’s light quavering tenor is nothing like the Captain’s booming baritone, but the falsetto flick-ups that punctuate much of his intonation echo a hallmark of Beefheart’s style.

Jeff disavows any mimicry.

Every song I write tells me what it needs in voice or whatever.  I’m 74, and I think I sound more like 97.  But I like humour.  On Heavy, another song on the album, I use a very old man’s voice.  I won’t tell you who he was but I used his voice.”

But Jeff does see a link between Trout Mask Replica and one of his instrumental tracks, On the Thread.

“That’s one of my favourites because I do like avant-garde-type music.  And Beefheart fans may not see it exactly as I do.  They may say, ‘Well, that doesn’t seem too Beefheart to me,’ but that’s my concept.  Had I been more influential back then in the Trout Mask days, the songs would have probably been a little more conservative, like On the Thread.

Of the three instrumentals on Trout Mask Replica, the one likeliest to offer a line of descent to On the Thread (to my ears, at least) is Hair Pie: Bake 2. Both tracks have a full band arrangement (Jeff played all the instruments on The Fantasy of Reality, and programmed the drums) and foreground intricate interplay between guitar parts.

But there the similarity ends. While Hair Pie: Bake 2, like the rest of Trout Mask Replica, is harsh and discordant, On the Thread is light and airy—indeed, almost airborne.

The difference provides clues not only to where Jeff stands, musically and personally, in relation to Trout Mask Replica, but also to his innermost character, and to the distance he has travelled, emotionally and philosophically, since, as a 21-year-old, he helped make that iconic album.


This article is not meant to be about Trout Mask Replica. The album casts a long shadow, however, and it seems necessary to enter the darkness to draw Jeff and his own album into the light.

Sleeve of the Trout Mask Replica double album, released June 16, 1969

While Trout Mask Replica has grown in critical esteem over the years, it continues to divide ordinary music fans into lovers and haters. Prior to its release, Beefheart and the various incarnations of the Magic Band had been a respected blues-rock outfit with increasingly psychedelic leanings.

With Trout Mask Replica, they shredded that legacy. Steady beats were abandoned in favour of arhythmicality and clashing time signatures, while melody and harmony gave way to atonality and a sonic grind based on random horn-blowing, strangulated guitars and Beefheart’s wild vocals.

Even fans would concede that it sounds like a bear roaring drunkenly to the accompaniment of metal scraping against metal. But they hear something else, too: an underlying order and beauty.

Beneath the chaos, many elements and influences are at work, from the band’s roots in the delta blues to the free jazz of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, and even (according to those who know about these things) the serialism of Stockhausen and fragmentariness of Stravinsky.

At the risk of sounding pretentious (oh, go on, then), it reminds me of T. S. Eliot’s classic modernist poem, The Waste Land. Both break down accepted artistic forms. In the poem, Eliot uses the phrase, “a heap of broken images”. It could easily describe both the poem and the album.

The Fantasy of Reality couldn’t be more different. Instead of fragments it offers an aesthetic wholeness based on Jeff’s rich blues sensibility and deep spirituality—both of which are evident on the album’s opening track, Does It Work for You?

Jeff Cotton’s debut solo album, The Fantasy of Reality, released August 12, 2022

What, in Jeff’s view, does the album say about how he has developed, musically and personally, in the last 50 or so years?

“40, 50 years ago, I believed in art for art’s sake and, today, I’m not interested in that at all.  I’m interested in communication and connection with another being, another human being.  So, all the music has evolved.  The lyrics have evolved, and the music has evolved, in that direction.”

He cites as example another instrumental from the new album, a classically-flavoured solo-guitar piece called Ivy. Like On the Thread, it’s warm and lyrical, but takes its strength from a deliberate sparseness.

“I’m looking for the least notes, the simplest construct possible. You’ve heard it many times: It’s not what you play; it’s what you don’t play. It’s the silence between. That’s why I love music even more than film, in some ways, because music allows the listener to cocreate. 

“And if there’s more space in the song, there’s more time and space for people to cocreate.”

For Jeff, the ideas of communication and cocreation have a philosophical as well as a musical dimension, because they are ways of drawing people closer to each other.

“We’re at a unique time in history. There’s never been anything like it before, and we’re all in it together.”


It was when he co-founded MU in 1971 with two old friends and musical collaborators, guitarist Merell Frankhauser and drummer Randy Wimer, that Jeff fully began to step out of Beefheart’s shadow.

MU—short for Lemuria, the mythical lost Pacific Ocean continent that preceded Atlantis—recaptured some of the idealism and optimism of the pre-Manson 1960s. The band’s fascination with the legend behind its name led to its relocation from California to Hawaii, now Jeff’s main home base.

Jeff Cotton with MU, early 1970s

It was around this time that Jeff began the healing process he alluded to in his YouTube interview a few years ago with Canadian musicologist Samuel Andreyev. It wasn’t just his time with Beefheart that he was healing from, however.

“By the time we’re teenagers, we have had a lot of reprogramming done on us. Unconscious reprogramming is a nice way to put it—or the dark side—where we don’t even question things until a certain time in our life.  Maybe something will happen that’s really heavy and we begin to question our lives.  Or some people say they hit a bottom before they started coming up.

“So, I had everything everybody else did to deal with as a kid, the emotional stuff.”

His time with Beefheart provided an extra difficulty, but he bears no grudges.

“I can look back at it and really enjoy it because, yes, I did a lot of healing work. I mean, right from the get-go—every kind of cutting-edge modality I could find.  Rapid eye technology is outrageous.  There are so many other different things that [I] did.  And so, I cleared it, as much as I could.  

“To me, it was important to clear the emotional garbage, because I don’t care how spiritual one may be, if one’s emotional body is polluted, all you’re going to do is shine that beautiful light through a maze of yucky colours. So that, to me, was a responsibility.”

In 1974 he converted to Christianity (but did not, contrary to some online bios, study for the Christian ministry). MU disbanded in 1975 after which Jeff devoted himself to family (he has three adult children) and medical missionary work. His wife Len-Erna—“a great musician and a wonderful writer”, with whom he co-wrote and performed at small, private gigs—died in 2017.

Since then, Jeff has been musically silent. But that’s all about to change. Not only is he releasing his first solo album, work on a second and third album is “70 to 80 per cent complete”.

It’s been a long drought. Why is it breaking now?


There are two explanations for the timing. Technology is one.

“I didn’t get into recording music until about 2005, because I was always a little queasy about digital recording back in those days. To me, it was like a hospital—very clean and no character. When a console that was warm came on the market, I started recording.”

Raising three kids is another.

“A lot of the basic tracks on this first album were done in very little increments. If I had 15 minutes, I’d go down in the studio and lay down a part.  Maybe a couple of hours later, I could come down for a half hour.  After everybody went to sleep at night, I might be able to do two hours.  So it was literally put together in that fashion.

And what about the motivation for making the album? Was Jeff driven by a desire to meet specific creative goals, or was the impetus deeper and more personal?

Jeff Cotton recorded The Fantasy of Reality for “deep and personal” reasons (Image credit: Press)

“It was deeper and more personal.  I have wanted, all my life, to do something that counted for others.  Not so I would just have a notch on my gun, but to do something for others that was positive.  And that’s been my whole motivation.  Now obviously, that’s a thought of a young kid, but as you get older, it takes on a deeper meaning.

“And we need love in this world.  We need to love one another, is what we need now.  We know that.  And we need to do it because every human being on this planet is a genius.  Many just don’t know it yet and they don’t know what their genius is.

“And so, my heart is to, hopefully—because I’m trying to live that life—inspire others to be motivated and then to begin their path and journey, if they haven’t already, to know who they really are, because everybody has a great magic within them. 

“And if people get their fire lit, we can clear this world up.”

Better late than never: the Stranger ‘clarifies’ his thinking

Lizard – where has the time gone? It’s a year since we last corresponded—and, indeed, since anyone wrote anything here. I mentioned this to Simon and he replied with two T. S. Eliot quotes:

“The most important thing for poets to do is to write as little as possible”;

“And they write innumerable books; being too vain and distracted for silence, seeking every one after his own elevation, and dodging his emptiness.”

In other words, if you have nothing to say, say nothing. Now, for no particular reason other than the moment seems to have arrived, I find myself wanting to revisit our last communication (the three posts prior to this).

You were right to point out my muddy thinking. I should have made a clearer distinction between “history” as the version of events accepted by mainstream society to be its own story, and the “Alienation Theory of History”, which posits a broken relationship between that story and certain individuals who feel out of place in mainstream society. Such people look at the past and see no account of themselves there, but may instead see a reflection of their anxiety and sense of displacement. Without the convenience of history to give them an identity, they must try to invent themselves in the moment, and in each succeeding moment. This requires the creative capability I referred to, which can “cut across linear thinking in its search for truth”. “Truth”, here, can stand as an approximation of reality with which such people can feel comfortable.

So, the Alienation History of theory of history is not a version of history; it belongs instead in the broad field of creative thinking. I hope this clears up the confusion I inadvertently caused.



The Stranger cops it sweet

Lizard – you’re right. There’s no logical segue between the two statements, and I’m as puzzled as you are as to why I appeared to think there was. Perhaps I was carried away by the idea that the Alienation Theory is, in its own way, a creative response to the human condition. Either that or some other, similar, subjective lapse. Anyway, I’m duly corrected (and chastened). As I hope to demonstrate in the not too distant future, the Alienation Theory and the creative act of faith are indeed quite distinct elements in the Esse conceptual framework. Before opening my mouth on this or any other topic, however, I will endeavour to ensure that my brain is in gear.



Lizard, somewhat bemused, replies to The Stranger…

Stranger – you’ve completely lost me. You interpret the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection as telling us that we have to think creatively – “That is, look for the truth outside history, or the external pattern of events”. And then you immediately say, “This, to me, seems to be consistent with the Alienation Theory of History, in which we are invited to look back over time to arrive at an understanding…” etc. These are completely contradictory statements. How can one possibly follow the other?

Awaiting your reply with interest.



The Resurrection and the Alienation Theory of History

Dear Lizard – I’ve just read your post, in which you describe the resurrection of Christ as an anti-climax. I understand that you meant this as being in comparison to the resurrection, through Christ, of the human spirit in life. Even so, your comment prompted me to think about the Resurrection’s symbolic (as distinct from theological) importance and power. It could be said to represent a disruption of space and time. I am intrigued by the possibility that, in literature, the confusion, compression, inversion or any other form of distortion of space and time may stand as a proxy, conscious or otherwise, for the ability of the creative consciousness to cut across linear thinking in its search for truth. On this reading, it’s as though the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection are telling us, “If you want to understand this, you have to think creatively”. That is, look for the truth outside history, or the external pattern of events. This, to me, seems to be consistent with the Alienation Theory of History[1], in which we are invited to look back over time to arrive at an understanding of (or a version of) the human condition in which the inherent instability of the human personality is attributed to the asymmetry between humanity’s sense of primal connection to the land (or natural environment) and its actual, modern relationship to it—an interpretation which, I believe, can be supported by reference to the Eden myth and the Epic of Gilgamesh. According to this line of thinking, our primal connection to the land lives on in our DNA and—either as a result of this, or analogous to it—God is present in our consciousness in a real, evolutionary, sense, rather than as just a ghostly celestial spirit. To my way of thinking, this idea has a redemptive power of its own.

Caveat: Nobody owns the truth, but each of us can lay claim to some version of the truth as we see it, providing we see it to the best of our honesty and ability.



[1] A component of the Esse “world view”.

Handel’s Messiah, a bird and the anti-climax of the Resurrection

On Sunday (28.3.21) went to see an amateur (local church) choir perform Messiah. Let’s just say the music shone through. When I was a child, it left me cold: all those twiddly bits. As I’ve matured, I’ve come to enjoy baroque music, if not fully to understand or appreciate it. Even so, it took an effort of historical imagination, while listening to the choir, to reconcile (to my satisfaction, at least) the exuberance of the music to the weight of the subject matter.

Handel: twiddly bits

I am, as usual, speculating from a position of ignorance, but it seems plausible to me that most 18th century listeners would not have noticed any incongruity. Handel and Jennens were men of faith writing in an age of faith: their composition was not an exploration of the human condition but a celebration of it, as redeemed through Christ. There’s no psychological dimension to the music, no exploration of human existential anxiety, because, in terms of the composer’s and librettist’s own cultural assumptions, such issues had already been resolved. This leaves the music free to explore its own possibilities, its autonomy lending no direct support to the weight or meaning of the words—which, in any case, are carried by a power of their own.

Jennens: weighty subject matter

And yet there is a sense in which the words and music do complement each other, if you can accept the (fanciful, or perhaps baroque?) idea that the music’s autonomy symbolizes the freedom that Christ’s sacrifice bought for humanity. It’s an idea that begs to be synthesized by an image: I think of a bird flying into a temple, darting hither and thither in the incense-infused half-light, singing freely over the sombre ritual below.

No, I don’t take the Bible literally, but I do try to relate to it in human terms. One consequence is that the Resurrection always strikes me as something of an anti-climax: Christ is never more fully alive in the Gospels than when he’s at the point of death. Yes, I understand the theological importance of the Resurrection and the idea that it gives us hope for eternal life. After Christ’s terrible suffering, however, it’s a gift I’m almost embarrassed to accept. More importantly, it eclipses what, for me, is Christ’s true gift: the possibility of resurrection in life. More than once the idea of an infinitely renewable relationship—God’s unconditional love, and our ability to receive it through repentance as a result of Christ’s sacrifice—has pulled me back from the edge.

Keats and Spontaneity: A Message for Our Times

Compared to all the better-written and more erudite articles that mark the bicentenary on February 23 of the death of John Keats (1795-1821), this probably rates as a back-of-the-fag-packet job. No matter. The aim is not to make a big impression on the literary world or the blogosphere, merely to record my personal appreciation of Keats and the pleasure his poems and letters have given me over the years, and continue to give me.

And to say why I think he’s still worth reading, particularly today.

John Keats by Charles Brown; copyright National Portrait Gallery

Much of the pleasure I take from Keats arises from his spontaneity, by which I mean the freshness and immediacy with which he engages with people and literature. As these qualities, by definition, don’t grow stale, they have helped to underpin his appeal to successive generations of readers.

They are more than incidental characteristics, however. As Keats matured, certain ideas became integral to the way he wrote and thought about poetry, and all can be linked in one way or another to the notion of spontaneity (not a term he used himself). It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that, for Keats, spontaneity, variously defined, became both a creative and intellectual principle.

This, for my money, is a key reason for reading Keats today. If, like me, you feel suffocated by the post-modern orthodoxies and sterile polarities that prevail in so much our public discourse, you may find his spontaneity to be just the antidote you need—creatively and intellectually.


Keats’ spontaneity was, of course, a natural attribute, but the extent to which it characterised his thought and behaviour may be explained by his background. The circumstances of his early life and education are well known, and I’m not going to rehearse them here, except to note that they marked him as an outsider in the eyes of polite society and inclined him (in a politically turbulent age) towards radical politics. He didn’t attend university but he had an excellent school educaion and was sufficiently familiar with, and inspired by, the classics to translate much of The Aeneid while still a pupil. The tone of his upbringing, however, was set by the world of trade and enterprise, rather than landed gentry or the professions.

He was not, in terms of his home life, the product of a literary culture. To that extent, he came to poetry raw. One of his earliest efforts was Imitation of Spenser, a stylistic impersonation of The Farie Queene by Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser (1552-1599). Keats wrote it in early 1814, when he was still 18. You can access the full poem here; I’m going to quote just one stanza:

There the king-fisher saw his plumage bright
Vying with fish of brilliant dye below;
Whose silken fins, and golden scalès light
Cast upward, through the waves, a ruby glow:
There saw the swan his neck of archèd snow,
And oared himself along with majesty;
Sparkled his jetty eyes; his feet did show
Beneath the waves like Afric’s ebony,
And on his back a fay reclined voluptuously.

Compare this to a similarly early effort by one of Keats’ seniors in the English romantic movement, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). Dura Navis, written as a school assignment when Coleridge was 15, warns against the dangers of a life at sea:

To tempt the dangerous deep, too venturous youth,
Why does thy breast with fondest wishes glow?
No tender parent there thy cares shall sooth,
No much-lov’d Friend shall share thy every woe.
Why does thy mind with hopes delusive burn?
Vain are thy Schemes by heated Fancy plann’d:
Thy promis’d joy thou’lt see to Sorrow turn
Exil’d from Bliss, and from thy native land.

Neither poem repays much critical scrutiny, but each illustrates a particular approach to learning the craft of verse-writing. An obvious difference is that Keats, the progeny of trade, models himself on a particular author while Coleridge, the son of a clergyman-schoolmaster, writes within a tradition. Coleridge’s effort is conventional and (for his age) accomplished while Keats, though imitative (he is channeling other Spenserian poets as well as Spenser himself), produces some vivid effects—notably, in the quoted stanza, the mimetic power of the line describing the swan’s movement and, in the last stanza of the full poem, the description of rose petals as “ruddy tears”. Even more impressive is the energy and engagement that Keats conveys: he has no filters, no literary self-consciousness. Compared to Coleridge he’s naïve, but his naivety results in a sense of excited discovery which is part of his poem’s appeal.

This combination of literary ingenuousness and keen, responsive intelligence was a constant in Keats’ poetic development. Progress, however, was uneven. He fell under the spell of the darkly charismatic poet and radical journalist Leigh Hunt, who spent two years in jail for libelling the Prince Regent. Hunt was not the best literary model, although he helped to advance Keats’ career. Charles Cowden Clarke, a teacher (and son of the headmaster) at Keats’ school, became a friend and, in many ways, a more positive influence than Hunt. He was responsible for the moment which, famously, became Keats’ literary epiphany:

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

Round many western islands have I been

Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told

That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men

Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Keats wrote this in 1816, the morning after Clarke had introduced him to sections of the Iliad and Odyssey as translated by George Chapman (1559-1634). Here, the sense of excited discovery is an explicit theme. The Elizabethan’s vigorous English and clattering 14-syllable line renders Homer with a freshness and immediacy with which Keats could readily sympathise, and which are not found in the translations that Keats would have known already—those by Virgil and the Augustan poets John Dryden and Alexander Pope. Through Chapman, Keats experienced for the first time the imaginative power of Homer in a language and style which felt more like his own. In a striking example of spontaneity, Keats responded, almost instantly, by internalising some of this power and recreating it in his own poem. The planet swimming into his ken is not just Chapman or Chapman’s version of Homer but a new level of poetic consciousness—one that is fully evident in the structure and execution of his poem, which is rightly regarded as a milestone in Keats’ development and a minor classic of English romantic poetry.

From this point, imagination and various related ideas became significant themes in Keats’ poems and letters. It’s fascinating to trace their development in his poetry, but it’s easier in an article of this length to summarise them from his letters.


Below are passages selected from letters Keats wrote in 1817 and 1818, the years after he read Chapman’s Homer and before he wrote the six odes—to Psyche, on Indolence, to a Nightingale, on a Grecian Urn, on Melancholy and to Autumn—for which he is most famous:

“… Men of Genius are great as certain ethereal Chemicals operating on the Mass of neutral intellect—but they have not any individuality, any determined Character—I would call the top and head of those who have a proper self Men of Power…. I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination—What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth—whether it existed before or not…. The imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream, —he awoke and found it truth.” —to Benjamin Bailey, November 22, 1817

“…several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.”—to George and Thomas Keats, December 21, 1817

“What shocks the virtuous philosop[h}er delights the camelion Poet.” —To Richard Woodhouse, October 27, 1818

Keats’ letters discuss many ideas, but these extracts illustrate two of the most important: the nature of a poet and the relationship between imagination, beauty and truth. Each in its own way ties back to the notion of spontaneity.

In describing the nature of a poet, Keats might have been referring to the kind of poet he considered himself to be (or aspired to be); his comments may also be taken as saying something about the nature of the creative process. The key characteristic, ironically, is a negative one: impersonality (“they have not any individuality, any determined Character”). Poets (and other artists) have the “negative capability” of being able to immerse themselves in the creative moment, to give themselves over to the aesthetic and imaginative imperatives of their art, unperturbed by what their work might “mean” in terms of external, rationally-based appraisal. (The swipe at Coleridge, who became a philosopher, theologian and critic as well as a poet, echoes the contrast I posited earlier when comparing Keats’ and Coleridge’s juvenilia.)

The negatively-capable artist—who can merge chameleon-like into his or her work, without submitting to the kind of accountability typically required by intellectuals or ideologues—is free to follow the dictates of his or her creative conscience. Such freedom facilitates spontaneity, and spontaneity, although not named as such by Keats, appears to be the virtue he identifies as arising from negative capability: “…of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”.

The second idea discussed in the quoted passages is more in the nature of a theory of poetics: “What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth—whether it existed before or not…. The imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream, —he awoke and found it truth.” In our relativistic and post-truth age we might ask, with Pilate, “What is truth?” Keats provides no explanation, probably because he was invoking Platonic concepts of truth and beauty which Bailey, his correspondent, would have recognised: absolutes which are intelligible to the rational mind as ideal forms.

Keats seems to be less concerned, here, with explaining than with describing, and what he describes is a process in which the imagination intermediates between beauty and truth. We might understand the process better if we see it an action; to do this, we need to turn back to the poetry.


Ode on a Grecian Urn, written in 1819, is one of the six odes, mentioned earlier, which are widely regarded as the peak of Keats’ achievement. All are, in different ways, reflections on the human condition (one of Keats’ brothers had died the previous year of tuberculosis, the same disease that would kill Keats when he was just 25). In Ode on a Grecian Urn, Keats contemplates a scene depicted on an ancient artefact and contrasts the permanence of art to the fleetingness of life. It’s a very fine and intricate poem which is a pleasure to analyse in detail; it’s also an interesting guide as to how imagination, truth and beauty interact in Keats’ poetry. (If you’re not familiar with the poem, I suggest you read it here first, uninterrupted by my comments.)

The first stanza is a simple act of observation, in which Keats describes the urn’s physical characteristics. These are of sufficient appeal (beauty) to engage the poet’s interest, as evidenced by the succession of questions from the fifth line to the end of the stanza:

Thou still unravished bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

The questions stimulate the imagination, which effectively takes over in the second stanza, where the poet moves from observation to revery (“heard melodies”) and the deeper reflections that begin at the fifth line—”Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave/Thy song…”. These reflections dominate the rest of the stanza and the whole of the third:

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal — yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
Forever piping songs forever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
Forever warm and still to be enjoyed,
Forever panting, and forever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

They contrast the imagined permanence of the moment favourably with the transience of life lived through the senses, although they never lose sight of the fact that the urn, and the figures depicted on it, are inert (“Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss…”). The tone changes in the fourth stanza, in which the poet’s perspective reverts to prosaic observation…

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands dressed?

…and makes a curious imaginative leap:

What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

The town is not shown on the urn and Keats “imagines” it, not in direct response to what he sees, but as a matter of speculative logic—i.e. these people must have come from somewhere, and that place must now be deserted. This development, if it can be called such, feels contrived (the poem seems at this point to lose sight of what T.S. Eliot, in another context, called the “objective correlative”), but the sense of discontinuity prepares us for the jolt back to reality that follows in the final stanza:

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Keats returns to the mode of simple observation with which the poem began but with the experience, this time, of having been “teased out of thought” by the urn’s beauty (“Fair attitude!”) into a moment of imaginative immersion comparable to the mental effects of contemplating eternity. The poet recognises that the urn will outlive successive generations, providing to each of them, through its aesthetic power, a means of imaginative release or transcendent inspiration. The full meaning of the experience, however, appears to be compressed in the two famous last lines, supposedly spoken by the urn:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

The “irritable reaching after fact & reason” among critics as to what these lines mean is extensive and interesting. Much of it focuses on “beauty” and “truth”. Let’s accept that Keats uses these words in the Platonic sense referred to earlier[1] and move on to the rest of the passage, the force of which is sometimes overlooked: “…that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”. This statement about the limitations of our knowledge is at least as emphatic, in my view, as the axiom that precedes it, and suggests that we should be content with meaning that is conveyed by inference or intuition. Such a reading is, I believe, consistent with Keats’ thoughts on negative capability and the differences between poets and philosophers.

In Ode on a Grecian Urn—as in his letter to Bailey on imagination, beauty and truth discussed earlier—Keats’ method is to describe rather than explain, demonstrate rather than expound. The movement of the verse shows the poet’s imagination seizing upon the beauty of the urn and elaborating it into a meditation, and the meaning of that meditation—the permanence of art, brevity of life etc.—is the “truth” of the poem. Internally, that is.

There’s another possibility: that the process also applies externally. That is, the interaction between imagination and beauty in the poet’s mind leads to the creation of the poem itself—the objective reality, or truth, on the page in front of our eyes. This idea seems less fanciful when we recall Keats’ comparison of the imagination to Adam’s dream, the outcome of which was also objectively real—the creation of Eve: “…he awoke and found it truth”.

In summary, Keats appears to be saying that truth is revealed through a creative process initiated by the imagination’s response to beauty—a process in which beauty acquires the force of truth and truth appears to be inherently beautiful.

If that’s too vague and inconclusive for the modern, materialistic philisophical mind—the kind that unweaves rainbows[2] (and, I would add, manufactures fashionable ideologies)—so be it. The meaning is in the process: the commitment to engage imaginatively with our reality to deepen and enrich our humanity, our sense of beauty and our feeling for truth. It’s anti-philosophy but not unphilosophical: it is, I believe, a profound statement about the value of creativity and, implicit in that, the need for spontaneity.


I haven’t said much about the beauty of Keats’ poetry; enough has been said by others and will, I’m sure, continue to be said while people are free to read what they enjoy. In these troubled times, however, it seems to me worth emphasising his spontaneity for two reasons.

First, it reminds us that how we think is as important as what we think. This matters, because a perennially fresh and creative approach to interpreting our reality may help us maintain our intellectual independence and integrity, so that we can effectively challenge arguments and ideas before we accept or reject them (always helpful, for example, in sniffing out “fake news”).

Second, his conviction that men (and women) of genius lack character should be nailed to the forehead of every politician who, and above the lintel of every institution that, espouses identity politics, a pernicious ideology which is designed to oppress and imprison, not liberate. The idea that impersonality is integral to the creative process has the potential to challenge such orthodoxy.

There are many other, probably better, reasons for reading Keats but his spontaneity, to my mind, seems particularly relevant now.

[1] See Kellie Martin, Pepperdine University, April 1997.

[2] See Keats, Lamia, ll 229-238.

Epitaph for a generation: Nigel Philip Davies’ second album

Four years ago, when reviewing Nigel Philip Davies’ first album, Songs from a River, I tried to put my finger on what it meant, culturally (pretentious, I know, but I can’t help myself). More as a result of desperation than inspiration, I invented a genre for it, Old Wave music, and opined that it reflected “the reality of the ageing of the boomer generation: the generation that invented youth culture, now coming to terms with its own mortality”.

Having just listened to the Welsh singer/songwriter’s second album, Reflections, I’m allowing myself to feel that I wasn’t so wide of the mark after all.

Nigel Philip Davies: a moment in time

In fact, this collection of songs inclines me to double down on my original assertion. The more you listen to it, it feels less like an album and more like a moment in time: a generation (mine/ours) looking back on its era and putting its emotional affairs in order in preparation for what we know we’re all going to face in the not too distant future.

Not that this is album is all doom and gloom—far from it—and I stress that this interpretation is very much my own, no doubt coloured by our current reality of coronavirus lockdowns, social unrest and rising geopolitical tensions. I don’t know if Davies would agree with my take on the album, and I’m not even sure that he had an over-arching theme in mind when putting it together. But the songs, while covering a variety of styles and themes, have certain elements in common that point (in my mind, at least) to a sense of cohesion.

These elements are an historical perspective—both in a formal sense (one of the highlights is a song about the holocaust) and a personal one (the passage of time and its effect on relationships)—and a lightly-worn awareness on Davies’s part of where he and his songs fit into the traditions of post-war popular music. It’s this combination of the themes of ephemerality and cultural exceptionalism which makes me think of this album as a sort of living epitaph for one of history’s most privileged, wayward and creative generations.

All of which probably means nothing more than that I’m feeling my age. So, what about the songs?


The opener, “I’ve Been to Berlin”, is one of two jazz-influenced numbers which are a throwback to a phase of Davies’ career that pre-dates his formation of (now dormant) folk-rock band Moongazer. The song celebrates Berlin’s glory as a bohemian metropolis but does so in a style reminiscent of the 1966 musical (and 1972 film) Cabaret, based on writer Christopher Isherwood’s pre-war experiences of the city. Whether or not the association is intentional, it does point up the fact that there’s a direct line of historical continuity between Berlin’s pre-war decadence and its post-modern edginess.

Liza Minelli in ‘Cabaret’

There’s a risk with this style of criticism (i.e. trying to see songs, albums etc. in a cultural/historical context) of reading too much into things. Having made that caveat, I’m now going to say that, for me, the song traces a perfect historical arc for both the baby-boomer generation and Berlin itself: the boomers, born out of the rubble of World War II, came of age in the late 1960s when Berlin, rebuilt on the ruins of Hitler’s bunker, began to experience a cultural renaissance (the contemporary-music component of which, for example, was led by Tangerine Dream, formed there in 1967). When a boomer writes a song about today’s Berlin, and does so in a way that evokes the city in the 1930s and 1940s, such inferences are hard to resist.

So the opening track, whether by accident or design, anchors the listener’s expectations in historical and cultural references that can resonate fairly strongly with the post-war generation.

“I Live Alone” reverts to Davies’ more familiar folk style with some nicely picked acoustic backed by ambient strings and piano, its melancholy standing in marked contrast to the man-of-the-world bravura of the first track. The theme is love and loss, but something else too: “I live alone with this heart of stone, since I laid down this traitor’s throne…for my sins I must atone.” There’s a sense of emotional and moral exhaustion, an old order giving way, self-doubt, guilt and an uneasy reckoning with destiny. Not the sort of song you want to listen to last thing before going to bed, unless you’re a very sound sleeper not given to pangs of conscience.

The title of the next track, “Good Times”, immediately brings to mind the 1967 song of the same name by The Animals and there are similarities, especially the idea of a pub sing-along chorus (the British beat band placed theirs in the middle of their song while Davies uses his as the outro). While The Animals’ number has a regretful tone (young man laments his life of sinning when he could have been winning etc.), Davies’ is a more positive exercise in nostalgia, the sense of lost youth redeemed, to some extent, by the power of memory to make far-away and long-ago friends seem present here and now. The song is carried along by electric piano but solos from a surging Hammond-style organ and distorted electric guitar—Davies plays everything—add a keen edge.

Dylan is the next musical influence to get a nod, on “A Lifetime Ago (Or Maybe Two)” and “Better in the Morning”, both of which feature the master’s tinny, dissonant harmonica style and some of his vocal phrasing and lyrical feel. In “Lifetime” the hommage is secondary to the sense of Davies’ own life experience, captured vividly in the opening lines: “A lifetime ago or maybe two, the first time I set eyes on you,/pushing through the party crowd, head held high and oh so proud;/ I was laid out in a daze but through the haze I felt amazed by you.” This sets the scene nicely for a tale about socially mismatched love (“Lady and the tramp, they said—you so slim, me just underfed”) but the song ends in something of an anti-climax as the relationship’s (inevitable) failure is dealt with in a vague and almost offhand way.

The great man is more to the fore in “Better in the Morning”—a phrase, according to the album notes, often used by Davies’ mother when he was young to encourage him to take a more optimistic view of life. It didn’t work, judging by the ironic contrast between the title and the song’s dystopian social commentary: “The rich are getting richer as the huddled mass looks on/and dances in tiny circles to a politician’s song,/and every step is choreographed from the selection box of life,/while in a cold apartment another valued voter dies,/another hopeless, hapless martyr to the god of free enterprise.” The song has all the characteristic bite of Davies’ satirical pieces but, in the final analysis, it struggles to rise above the depressing realisation that, since Dylan brought the protest genre to perfection in the 1960s, things haven’t changed much; indeed, they’re probably worse.

“Always on Your Side” is a more personal form of self-expression, with Davies himself rather than his influences centre-stage. This is a moving song about lost love and well executed: the emotion in Davies’ voice is complemented by the intimate vocal ambience achieved by the mix, and the instruments—two acoustic guitars, bass, synth strings and piano—work together seamlessly. He’s a deft lyricist, too. The last line of the chorus, the first couple of times he sings it, is: “If you know how hard I tried to save you from the pain that comes when two worlds collide.” The final time he sings it, “collide” is replaced by “divide”. It packs a subtle, but effective, emotional punch.

At first listen, “Won’t You Be Mine,” is pure throw-away pop: the upbeat tone and annoyingly infectious hooks recall the bubble gum music targeted at pre-teens during the late 1960s (“Mony Mony” by Tommy James and The Shondells and “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies spring immediately to mind). Hell, the lyrics even include the phrase, “I wanna be your man”! It seems to be nothing more than a sugar-coated invitation to have sex, but there’s more going on beneath the surface. In fact, Davies turns the subgenre on its head, replacing the sense of optimistic young love with a poignant awareness of mortality: “Life passes by in the blink of an eye, look away and your dreams fall behind…Life is a game that we won’t play again”. The goofy synth solo completes the inversion. It’s as though Davies travels back in time, abducts the musically formative years of a generation, then brings them back to the present, condensed into four minutes and 20 seconds of satire, irony, and sobering reality.

“1941” is the holocaust song referred to earlier. This, say the album notes, was part of a 27-minute magnum opus Davies performed with another pre-Moongazer project, prog-rock band The Vacant Chair. It would be interesting to hear the full cut, as the monumental theme and stadium-rock cadence of the chorus seem well-suited to a large-scale production. But this stripped-down version works well. The lyrics are a little stiff and formal as if, like pall bearers, they are conscious of the weight they bear, but they stay this side of bathos. Much of their emotional power comes from the way that the meaning of the chorus—“I’m still standing”—changes over the course of the song. When the first verse refers to the loading of the trains and the “flame of hope” being extinguished, the chorus sounds like survivor guilt; when the last verse alludes to the flame being rekindled by the fight for freedom, the chorus becomes a forceful testament of witness and memory.

“True to Yourself” is another strong track which sounds as though it would go down well with a big, live audience, based on the emotional warmth of the piano and synth cello arrangement, the rising chord progression and the lyrics’ potential to inspire. It strays a bit close at times to the kind of motivational messaging that pops up in your Facebook feed every day, but it has a big heart in the right place. One can imagine Davies singing it to his kids (and grandkids, too!) and, in the context of this album, there’s an engaging pathos in the idea of an older generation singing to a younger one. It’s basically Davies doing what his mother did when she told him that it would be “Better in The Morning”. What goes around comes around.

“Why Don’t You (Close Your Eyes When We Kiss)” takes us back to the relationships theme and the sinking feeling that the one you love no longer loves you. The song lands easily on the ear with a light, wistful melody and simple, understated lyrics. The simplicity is deceptive, however, as the overall impression—helped by the sparse, chiming instrumentation of piano and acoustic guitars—is that the song is as delicate and fragile as the relationship it describes. There’s also an unexpected chord change between the verse and the chorus which, while musically pleasant, leaves you feeling slightly off balance and conveys perfectly the singer-protagonist’s own mood and perspective.

Davies’s jazz past resurfaces in “Smile”, a jaunty singalong driven by piano and a nicely tripping (in the light-fantastic sense) bass which might be guitar or synth but sounds just like double bass (you can almost see the armbands and silk waistcoat).

This is meant to be a pick-you-up-when-you’re-feeling-down number, like the song of the same name first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1954 (based on a tune written by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 movie Modern Times) and covered by innumerable others since. Coles’ song (and the scenes in Chaplin’s film that the music sound-tracked) offered an antidote to the general vicissitudes of life; Davies’ song, however, is about growing old—“The tide of doubt is rising, you think you’ve had your day, all the tunes you used to love now no-one seems to play…”—and is another example of what I consider to be the album’s demise-of-the-baby-boomer theme. (The song also echoes, in wit and spirit, “Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Monty Python’s Life of Brian movie—a more ‘boomerish’ cultural reference than Cole.)

And so to the final track, “Going Home”, a folk song in the “Wild Rover” tradition but more melancholic and reflective. It’s the perfect sign-off for this album, looking back on a full but not entirely satisfactory life and turning towards a horizon where home is not some romantic illusion or escape (no “green, green grass” here) but something more final, symbolized by the “western skies”. It’s been a long road and, as so often happens, the journey has turned out to be the destination: “I have sought salvation in a thousand bars where all men look the same and everyone is a friend of mine, no one knows my name…/ All the things I looked for, I thought would set me free, they were there the whole time through, lost inside of me.”

The song ends quietly, quickly, with no fuss, leaving the silence to echo in the listener’s mind.


Like its predecessor, this album stands proud in the DIY indie-music tradition. Its modest production values give the sound a raw edge which add to the sense, reflected in each song, of a man responding as honestly as he can to the curve-balls that life throws at him (and, by extension, us). In many other comparable recording artists, these factors might be limitations, but that’s not the case with Davies, whose range of interests as a songwriter and skills as a musician combine to make this album much, much more than the sum of its parts.