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Twelve Thousand Days - Field's End

Twelve Thousand Days are steeped in the English tradition, its myths, landscapes and eternal themes. Field's End comprises originals and a number of cover versions of songs by Alasdair Clayre, Bob Pegg, Vashti Bunyan and even Black Sabbath. And yet is a less travelled path they follow, ploughing their own unique take on folk music which traverses into psychedelic, ambient and experimental realms. It is the array of instruments that accompany the voice and guitar that fill the space, which makes Twelve Thousand Days so distinctive. It is an album that is mystical, melancholy and autumnal. It doesn't seem so long ago that we reviewed their last album, Insect Silence, a recording which was over 10 years in gestation and eventually released in 2018 but on Field's End the duo of Martyn Bates (Eyeless in Gaza) and Alan Trench (Howling Larsons, Temple Music) return rejuvenated and reinvigorated with a new album, recorded quickly over a 3 month period.

Folk music may be a torch passed down the generations but it is the music of the 60's and 70's that provides the impetus for Twelve Thousand Days. Field's End begins with a rendition of Black Sabbath's 'Planet Caravan' where graceful synths lead into an archaic folk chime infused with psychedelic swirls basking Bates' lilting, extended phrasing. Black Sabbath might seem a surprising choice but in a song littered with references to the sky, moon, stars and planets it falls neatly into the orbit of Twelve Thousand Days. So too does 'Adam And The Beasts' with its biblical references about the fall of man. From a folky beginning of plucked guitars, solemn organ and spartan handrum 'Adam And The Beasts' builds with electronic rhythms, swelling later with shakers and shimmering guitar notes. But with Bates' hushed heartfelt voice, accompanied by Trench's earthy tones, it never loses the folk aspect in this beautiful cover of the Alasdair Clayre song, perhaps better known in its recorded form by Barry Dransfield. As much as Twelve Thousand Days are a delight to listen to they also act as an education in folk music, as most of these renditions are of songs plucked from the archives and mainly unknown to me.

With a wide assortment of instrumentation they have the ability to transform songs into their own inimitable style as they do on 'King Dog', a song taken from a 1973 Bob Pegg and Nick Strutt album rendering its flighty folk strum into tumbling piano chords with effected backward spinning psychedelic guitars. Bates' voice is especially effective here appearing singularly and combined harmonically in another track riddled with imagery of the hills and moon and the rumoured apparition of a beast. On 'If In Winter' a broken hearted seasonal song of Vashti Bunyan, Bates' sorrowful impassioned tones are swept up on ringing dulcimer strums and guitar chime. Even though it's later joined with passages of whispered utters and sprightly low bass tones, it feels starker and more desolate than the lilting original.

Surprisingly, only a few tracks that take on the typical folk strum sound associated with the genre. On 'Dark They Were, And Golden Eyed' which shares a title with a Ray Bradbury short story, Bates' voice is assured and impassioned over vibrant strum laced with intricate ringing guitar notes and the shriek of whistles amidst a bed of synths. On the other two Alan Trench takes lead vocals, his voice earthy and deep. The chiming folk guitar of 'Wolves Upon The Plain' carrying flourishes of autoharp and flute recalls Michael Cashmore era Current 93. "And they shine, the heavens shine" he sings, in a track concerning the passing of time, referencing stone megaliths and the natural beauty of the world. Bates harmonises in the opening moments of 'Black Mountain Side' his voice slipping away replaced by Alan Trench's deeper doleful vocal. In a lyric that speaks of the wind, trees and the moon recalling archaic practices the whole piece meditates on the ephemeral nature of life, while synths unfurl mournfully and bells jangle throughout.

A mystical nature permeates much of Field's End, especially when they operate outside of a traditional song structure. 'Drakestones' opens with something like an invocation, continued with passages of processed voices which surround Bates as his voice almost works against the strum. The "Drakestones still stand" he sings, praising the longevity of the ancient stones. 'More' eschews strum, allowing the beauty of Bates' voice to come to the fore as it bathes in the solemn experimental structure based around synths and mellotron, punctuated by percussive clicks and gongs, lamenting the broken bond between man and nature, shrouded in brooding synth shudders. Meanwhile, the pastoral ambience of the instrumental piece 'I Know You', comprised around shruti box drone and the hammer of dulcimer conjures up images of rural landscapes of wide open spaces as it segues into 'Field's End'.

Opening to a lengthy brooding atmospheric intro 'Field's End' is largely reduced to voice and guitar patterns creating a moment on intimacy as Bates dreams of the seas, sky, stars and sun in what may be the last moments of life's journey. Over an alluring hum, 'Wistman's Wood' returns to droning and chime as Bates' harmonious voice wafts through the oak and beech trees standing tall in the wintry setting in a paean to ancient woodlands.

Field's End is much more immediate than its expansive predecessor, Insect Silence. There's a rugged beauty to the rough-hewn arrangements which contrast with the passion and gentle nature of Bates' vocal. The power of their music comes from their connection with the land, it seasons and rituals. Field's End might just be the best release yet from Twelve Thousand Days. Field's End is released digitally and on CD by Final Muzik in an edition of 500 copies from Final Muzik Bandcamp