The Caretaker – Everywhere at The End of Time (Stage 2)

As my editor rightfully suggests, James Leyland Kirby doesn’t need any of our publicity to sell out his boutique records from Krakow. So I’m going into this on a slightly personal tip. I’m taking it that anyone reading this will already know the Caretaker oeuvre in some way. But if you’ve been hiding under an experimental musical shroud the last year – this is “Stage 2” of 6 of The Caretaker’s swansong suite of releases as we delve deep into a conceptual suite of worsening dementia as sound art.

Right now, it’s art alright, especially if you buy the LPs with amazing beautiful covers by Ivan Seal, which it has to be said, are now so associated with the music that each LP feels like a sound and visual art collaboration.

On this release, Kirby is messing with the curated content just enough to let it be itself and also an object that so clearly has passed through the hands of an artist. But how will it progress? We shall have to wait till September for part three, so here’s part two. I’m now opening a bottle of Claret. I’ve waited for this record for some time and the 12” cover art of four wilting flowers in an expressionistic vase. I’ve already sunk a glass looking at this picture. I’m just warming up. It’s a kind of sickly colour Seal presents here. There’s a malady present. But what of the melodies? (massive apologies for that).

Onward Christian Soldiers refrain perhaps? sustained glows of reverb, clarinet (and claret), beginning to haze… have I heard this before? I’ve now had half a bottle of wine and the alcohol and the orchestration compliment each other a little too well… if it’s not Onward Christian Soldiers then what the hell is it… When was the last time I sang that? I remember going to Sunday school “by choice” and I remember a pretty mumsy teacher putting me on her knee for a cuddle. It felt great. She pushed me into her bosom. I was never breast-fed by my own, see. Slightly inappropriate but I wasn’t complaining.

I’ve worked with a few very elderly friends in arts projects, and like most, had a few family members die and these inappropriate memories come out when the ‘veil is removed’ by age or Bordeaux… Ask any nurse, they have better stories. But like the Tibetan rascal Sogyal Rinpoche once told me on VHS “If you are worried about dying – don’t!!! You’ll die perfectly successfully!” and so in proximity to the neurons fading, I’m expecting my already ineffective memory to get lost.

Who knows if we get lost in a sea of comfort or terror? As I was working on a dementia project, a health professional told me a couple of years ago sagely reminded me that the ward being built was for “patients who aren’t Terry Pratchett”.

I muse on this, and worry of the stuff that will leach out during my own mortal future as we are entering a slight hauntology phase next, classic Gold Room stuff, only through syrup and molasses, trumpets with mutes, full ornamentation, a little more widescreen here, plinky plonk, more wine please.

I open up Gmail and read an email from Leyland at this point, looking back through the V/VM years, an old Shaking Stevens remix and as I return my mind to the soundtrack, the strings are back in, a far cry from the V/Vm Christmas Pudding and Nat Pig Cole…

TRACK THREE I KNOW THIS! and that’s the point I think. But it’s different – different speed? Different source? This is from An Empty Bliss? Now we are in mystery territory. I’m all Gene Wilder in the tunnel sequence from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. I have no idea which spout we’ll leave from…More muted cornets, slow stabs, and greying romance freezing over like a frosted lake when such places become ice rinks like the old pictures. Echoes, familiarity, a little danger, a little Persistent Repetition of Phrases. The next track could be found in the shop where Bagpuss resides, I can see Oliver Postgate using this in the afterlife for a soundtrack about valium. Bagpuss and professor Yaffle floating through a funk – no more arguing, just zoned out and pacified.

The 78rpm tear in the shellac is flapping past as the needle is blunting. One of the great thing about Caretaker records if you buy them on vinyl is that there’s a little subtle interactivity with them if they become accidentally scratched – it’s hard to tell which scratches have been added by the physics of my studio. But Kirby’s fans would never scratch them surely? every limited edition colour edition that emerges is rightly revered – but I’m buying them all on black vinyl this time as Part One of this sextetology was bought black and if I end up with a coloured one in part three, I’ll throw a hissy fit. Back to the record.

Through foxtrots in deep underground caves, there’s only a slight hint that this is a phase “2 out of 6” – but I’ve been pretty reliably informed to buckle up as it’s going to get very shaky ahead. But as the album is closing through the last three well curated and augmented sequences, it’s a beautiful addition to the canon of Caretaker works.