Dave Clarkson is the Mancunian fellow behind Music For Lighthouses and A Red Guide To The Coastal Quicksands of the British Isles, both released on the UK label Linear Obsessional Recordings and both exhibiting his preoccupation with the shorelines of these fair isles. Not a day goes by but he’s out there in plimsolls and clam-diggers, picking amongst the flotsam washed up on the shore and hoovering around the sands with his metal detector. Said interest continues with A Blue Guide To Shore Ghosts and Sea Mystery (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDINGS LOR099), a release whose titles read like chapters from a young person’s book of maritime lore… ‘Mysterious Island’, ‘The Ghost Whale’ and ‘Galleon & Gunpowder’ contain words fit to stir the heart of any ten year-old who dreams of the Boyhood Of Raleigh and reads a picture book about going down to the sea in ships under the bedclothes with a torch. And I love the idea that Clarkson might be producing a series of fictitious Guide Books disguised as CDs, much like The Observer’s Book of Sea Life or those one-shilling books from the 1960s, such as I-Spy At The Seaside.
Where previously Clarkson has opted for minimal, quiet electronic drones and icy atmospheres (sometimes derived from or accentuated with location recordings), this time he’s going for more sonic richness, melodies, synth tunes, even some beats…he’s aided by Graham Massey on the instrumentation front, said Massey contributing a bunch of percussion on one track and woodwinds elsewhere. There’s also Ruth Davies on the cello on the vaguely haunting tune ‘Mysterious Island’. While some of his melodies feel lightweight and veer towards maudlin easy-listening (‘On Reflection’ is soppy enough to have been used on a BBC documentary about fell-rambling from the 1980s), there’s still enough of the ambiguous murmurs, shadows and whispering effects to engage the imaginative interest, particularly ‘Galleon & Gunpowder’ which is mostly the sounds of sea and wind presented in highly suggestive and enigmatic manner. ‘The Kraken’ pays tribute to everyone’s favourite monster of the deep, that famed giant octopus type, by steadily building four minutes of undersea tension as this tentacled titan rises from the lower depths, chattering eerily the while. Parts of ‘The Ghost Whale’ are also spooky and melodramatic; a nice combination of old-school synth sounds with lapping waves and a tasty smidgeon of reverb. But Massey’s corny sax lines ruin this track for me, transforming it from the chiaroscuro fright-fest it could have been into a cheesy nightclub scenario.
Bit of a patchy album overall; the avant-gardish ideas are sandwiched between a BBC sound effects LP and out-takes from a Ghost Box LP that never was. From 23rd January 2018.