Truth be told, the first I heard of The Hedge Schools was via a recommendation by another music enthusiast two weeks ago. This came mid conversation about 80s group Talk Talk. Whipped up by the warmth with which she spoke of this wonderful new find, I looked up their website and listened to some of the tracks on their latest production.
It was no sooner listened to, than ordered, and now here we are, CD turning out some of the loveliest music I’ve heard produced by a group of Irish musicians for a long time.
Playing the eponymous opening track, ‘At The End of a Winding Day’ for the first time, I was flat-footed by it’s “Hollis-ness”. The track has all the hallmarks of the opening ambient sequence of ‘The Rainbow’, spaciousness of ‘Myrrhman’ and soul of ‘Taphead’ – that is not to say it is a replication, far from it – but it (and the arrangement/production of the album as whole) harks back to Talk Talk’s latter day stark, minimalist sound, filled with silences, the voids plugged with string and brass sequences, in this case, the trumpet of Donagh Molloy, resonant of the uncompromising Miles Davis.
In fact, it melds the essence of Mark Hollis from “Spirit of Eden” through to his own solo production in 1998. Sparse, stripped back piano playing, delicately props up direct, crystalline trumpet playing. Definitely the most interesting track on here.
Talk Talk aside, Hedge Schools are about much more than space and brass.
Take the song ‘Home’ for instance, a ballad with acoustic guitars, simple, soft melody and harmony. Nothing fancy, yet very effective.
“Feel awakened in the morning like the early dawn of summer,
You are light, you are home”.
The more than divine ‘Winter Coats’ features all four HS musicians and combines the subtle cello playing of Kevin Murphy with some suitably muted trumpet. The vocal hangs above the instrumental, the arrangement is exquisitely balanced, bringing out the sentiment of the lyric without being gushing.
“This is all there is” … the haunting words of ‘Halo’ … slow, spiritual, almost hymnal.
“All you want to do is breathe, all you have to do is breathe” – pared back vocal, piano, guitar – nothing more, nothing less and yet for all it’s simplicity, it is one of the stand out tracks on the album.
The ninth and final track, the quirkily titled ‘A Song for JM Barrie’, is four minutes of sonic melancholia, beautifully stitched together, the instrumental hums like an electronic power line under the dusky vocal.
“Fly me through the window, off to Neverland,
Take me home, my soul is weary …
To live would be an awfully great adventure”
“At The End Of The Winding Day” is an album that lives up to the definition of minimalism – “stripped back to the most basic component”. It is stark but strangely alluring, doleful and yet uplifting. It is technically stripped back resulting in a beautiful and mesmeric production.
It was no small feat, and a testament to it’s worthiness, that this album set a forum of some long standing, and, very well connected Talk Talk aficionados alight! The Hedge Schools are now preaching (or singing) to the converted.
Two weeks ago, I’d never heard of the band or this album, now it has left me needing to find out, and listen to, more.
And then, all I’ll need to do, is find out if they, like me, are Hollis fans, and if they ever did in fact, listen to “Spirit of Eden” et al, or it might just be me, that ends up being the “Laughing Stock”.
The Hedge Schools are made up of :
Patrick M Barrett, Voice, Guitars, Piano
Joe Chester, Voice, Guitars, Piano
Donagh Molloy, Trumpet
Kevin Murphy, Cello
The new album “At The End Of A Winding Day” is currently on release and can be purchased via their website
Photo copyright of Ruth Medjber