A Lamp Goes Out in Europe,
but Its Legacy Still Remains
An Interview with Andrew King
Andrew King is somewhat of a treasure to the neofolk scene—one of a few modern artists who frequent the Child and Roud ballad listings and do them post-industrial justice. His collaborations are plentiful, but his affection has always been around a devoted few, none more so than the late John Murphy who left a lasting impression and irreplaceable legacy on King. Out of his academic recluse, Andrew sat down and spoke to Malachy O’Brien on all things music, art, and his late friend, John.
Heathen Harvest: Hello Andrew, and thank you for taking some time out to have a chat with us here at Heathen Harvest. I know you and John Murphy were bandmates and close friends. How have you been since his passing?
Andrew King: Well, it hasn’t been easy. The day after Runes & Men, I had intended to travel to Berlin to see him, but alas! By the time I got there he was already gone, so I spent the next few weeks (on and off) in Berlin helping out in whatever ways I could. Even before his death it had been disconcerting to do the set without him; both Hunter (Barr) and I were very aware of his absence at Runes & Men, which was why we decided to include one of his pieces in the set, and I am very glad we did as Nikolas Schreck later pointed out in one of his blogs that there was an awful amount of synchronicity in our performance of ‘Schmerz’ at the time when we did it. Whilst we will never perform it again live, I am glad that it was filmed and we did put together a studio version as my contribution to the All My Sins Remembered tribute set which has just been issued and which I believe goes some way towards celebrating his legacy.
HH: So how has that release been progressing?
AK: Obviously there are lacunae in this release; some acts we couldn’t include due to copyright or licensing issues. A few had to be omitted due to lack of space (hard to believe with a triple-CD set, I realize, but such was the case due to the breadth of his work), so in those cases we tried to restrict the omissions to those with whom John only had the most peripheral of musical relationships, though I realize that some were disappointed by the executive decisions made over inclusion. A couple refused to reply to our overtures, but such is inevitable in such a wide-ranging survey. Regardless, I think it is an important compilation and worthy tribute to his memory. Alan Bamford did some splendid primary research for the Australian section; I gave my anecdotal reminiscence of his second London sojourn and Jon Evans concluded with an essay on the Berlin years. I’m not saying that the release is in any way definitive, but it is a good place from which to start in evaluating John’s legacy.
HH: You have a tour coming up soon. I understand it has been a while. Who are you touring with and what will you be covering?
AK: I’ll be touring with the German band Stein, and my band will consist of Hunter and myself. We did a short set at AD: REM last year, and I specifically tried to concentrate on pieces that were less percussion-heavy so that John’s absence wouldn’t be so painfully apparent to us both. That did work as a set, mainly of traditional pieces.
HH: Where will this be taking you?
AK: We start in Vienna—a city I’ve visited many times but never performed in, so that’s exciting—followed by two German concerts: Fürth and Monheim am Rhein. We’ll end it with a woodland concert near Leuven, courtesy of Char Trues, who put on our World War I set in Leuven last year.
HH: Speaking of World War I, Leipzig Recessional was well-received as a limited vinyl press. Where in production is the much-awaited Proud Tower? I believe you have performed this record but are yet to release it?
AK: Well, my intention had been that it would be issued, at the latest, in time for the Anniversary of the Somme, but that isn’t going to happen now. Essentially, life got in the way, being a combination of a very important academic deadline, ill-health (anyone who saw me in the first half of last year—especially when I did my Occult show with Skullflower in London—can testify to this), and bereavement. In the end, I decided that I would just have to let it come to fruition in its own time.
HH: Where are you at in terms of getting it out?
AK: Much of it has been recorded, but very little is in its final form. There’s still a lot of mixing and mastering to do, and inevitably some of John’s parts weren’t in their final versions, but what can one do? Also, ‘World Recessional’, in which I hope to have representatives of all of the combatant nations in the Great War reciting the names of some of their dead, is still missing a number of reciters, the most glaring omissions being Turkey, Newfoundland, Brazil, India, and Bulgaria, so if any of your readers are from those countries and they would like to contribute please contact me via Facebook.
HH: I can do a splendid impersonation of a New Zealand accent, but that’s my own opinion! Speaking of vinyl, your last release was your Twa Corbies live recording. How did that come about?
AK: Lloyd James‘ (of Naevus) Wooden Lung label put on a set of concerts in South London, one of which was a solo Rose Rovine e Amanti performance. I had already worked with Damiano (Mercuri) before, both of us having contributed to the split Cold Spring CD A Mythological Prospect of the Citie of Londinium, so Damiano asked me to do guest vocals for a couple of songs. Although it was essentially unrehearsed, it worked out rather well and fortunately was recorded, albeit on smartphone, but in just good enough quality for Hunter to work his production magic on it.
‘Edward’ is, of course, a piece that’s been part of my set for years, whilst ‘The Twa Corbies’, though part of the Sol Invictus set (unlike the related ‘The Three Ravens’, which is part on my own back catalogue) utilized a tune given to it in the post-war (WWII) revival so it can, essentially, be covered by anybody. And although there was a Sol Invictus recording of my doing this piece it was never issued, so putting out the live recording with Damiano—although a one-off performance—gave me the opportunity to publish my take on the piece. Obviously, the original recording was a medley, but splitting the two pieces over a 7″ worked rather well, allowing each piece the chance to be considered in its own right.
Furthermore, a few years earlier I had done a concert with Hunter and Brown Sierra of M. R. James pieces that Extremocidente was going to issue as a one-sided LP with an etched B-side, but the label changed pressing plants and the new one couldn’t do etchings, so that project, though completely finished, had to be shelved. So, in looking for an alternative recording that the label could issue, the little performance with Rose Rovine e Amanti seemed ideal, with a limited edition 7″ of what was very much a spontaneous performance being an eminently suitable way of commemorating what could easily have been overlooked as an ephemeral performance.
HH: I couldn’t help but be distracted by your mentioning A Mythological Prospect of the Citie of Londinium that’s actually a piece of artwork that accompanies a record of yours if I’m correct? Are you still painting?
AK: Not really. The problem is that the more involved my paintings became, the longer they would take. For example, my visual magnum opus, ‘How to Placate Spirits’, took about five years to complete. Obviously, with compositions taking that long there is no possibility of my ever making a living from my visual art, and when one adds my academic research and my music work to the list of things demanding my attention, it is clear that there just isn’t the time for me to do visual art.
If I do a painting, it may be utilized as artwork for a release, but otherwise it is unlikely to be exhibited or sold whereas an album, even if it takes me four or five years, has an audience waiting for it, will sell, and that consequently enables me to devote time to my next projects.
HH: It’s a sad reality for artists in general and the commercial state of play. Unless you’ve had ‘that break’ and you are off your knees, so to speak, the risk and reward won’t add up. With most of your releases being limited print runs, how does one survive?
AK: I don’t. Experience has taught me frugality; why do you think I’ve become such an expert at soups, broths, and peasant food?
But yes, financial survival is difficult. Also, I refuse to do free concerts unless there are very specific additional factors involved. This is particularly problematic in London where the attitude of many promoters is one of ‘we are doing you a favor by letting you play in this city’ (the same also seems to be the case with Berlin). There are a number of concerts that I could have done in London recently that I’ve had to turn down for this reason. Some people seem to think that artists live off aether.
Doing my First World War set at Wave-Gotik-Treffen in 2014 was a great experience, but as I wrote at the time, the uncharitable and mean-spirited merchandise rules in force made making a profit a virtual impossibility. I suppose it is a promoter’s market; they know that if such-and-such an act won’t accept crippling terms, there will always be a newer band who will.
HH: Any plans for Andrew King post-academic research?
AK: I will be rewriting my paper on the folklorist Ella Mary Leather (who made phonographs of traditional singers) as an introduction to a centenary edition of her The Folklore of Herefordshire.
Another chapter of my Thesis, on the 1949-50 survey that Maud Karpeles and Marie Slocombe made of the Folk-Song Society’s phonograph collection, is being prepared for publication—probably for next year—and the bulk of my research will be combined with a friend’s analogous work on Percy Grainger for major publication at a later date as, hopefully, the definitive account of the Folk-Song Society’s phonograph work.
HH: What about your creative work?
AK: As for my creative work … Well, there are a plethora of projects afoot, though when any will see the light of day is anyone’s guess.
Obviously, the priority is The Proud Tower, but as with Deus Ignotus, it looks as though I will just have to let it come together in its own time.
As already mentioned, Hostanes Magus, the one-sided M. R. James-themed live album that I did with Hunter and Brown Sierra, was done and dusted a few years ago, but the label couldn’t do the etched B side. So, if anyone out there reading this has the facility to do etched vinyl and would like to issue a limited single-sided ‘warts and all’ Andrew King album, please contact me (the audio side is twenty-six minutes, so it would probably require DMM).
Other things: well, as well as my track on the John Murphy tribute, I have also recorded a fifteenth-century carol in honour of Thomas Becket for a compilation called Communion of Saints that Brave Mysteries will be issuing. I recorded the lead vocals at the Hospital Chapel, Ilford, which is dedicated to Becket, with the other parts being put together by Lloyd James and myself at his Wooden Lung Studios earlier this month.
A few years ago, I did a recitation of Tennyson‘s ‘Ulysses’ with the band Digamma Cottage (we subsequently performed together at the Villa Festival in Perugia) which didn’t get issued at the time. I’m now looking at issuing it as a 7″ on La Esencia with a collaborative track by Aimaproject and Digamma Cottage as the other side.
Speaking of spoken word, and I mention this as, though released, it came out in such a limited edition that it probably flew under the radar, I also contributed spoken word to the Ode Filípica track ‘The Finishing Line’; as the music is dangerously close to electro, it’s a bit of an oddity in my back catalogue, but I’m pleased with the result. It came out on Ventos Acinzentados, issued on cassette by Anti Demos Cracia.
Two other ‘side-step’ albums are in the pipeline, by which I mean that they aren’t major album projects but recordings that have come together by happenstance and which I believe deserve issuing.
As you know, I did my World War I set at Leuven last year (it was our last concert with John) and this set always has to have a site-specific version of ‘Recessional’ wherever it is performed. Consequently, I constructed a version of Leuven Recessional that commemorates those townsfolk killed when the city was sacked, utilizing echoes of Franco-Flemish polyphony as the names are read out (for an instrumental excerpt, please click here).
Working on this piece with Hunter and some of the other numbers, such as ‘The Stripping of the Alters’ and ‘The Call of the Aether’, it became obvious that what we had here was a separate, site-specific side project to The Proud Tower that deserved its own airing, probably as a vinyl release—we’ll see how it progresses. Not surprisingly, I have christened the project Leuven Recessional.
This links it to another project, as the dark ambient ‘The Call of the Aether’ originally started as a backing that I constructed for my recitation of Crowley‘s ‘The Cry of the 4th Aethyr’ when I performed it with Skullflower at Cafe Oto early last year. This was a rather exciting event, and I was so ill at the time that I was totally off my face on painkillers and antibiotics (in other words, the perfect cocktail for magikal recitation)! Fortunately, separate multi-track recordings were made from the mixing desk of that performance, and although we don’t know if the material is strong enough to issue, we do hope to give it all a proper listen at some time with the possibility of releasing something from that night.
Finally, there are two other 7″ recordings in the offing. I had approached John about my remixing/re-recording two Last Dominion Lost tracks that I liked from Towers of Silence. This was all inevitably knocked off-kilter by his death, but Jon and Julian (Percy) have subsequently sent me the multi-tracks of the pieces, and I still hope to do these pieces at some time when I feel up to it, with the Singapore label 4iB issuing it.
Last, but certainly not least, there is a projected 7″ of the two tracks that I have done with David E. Williams: a different mix of the track ‘Relapse’ from Trust No Scaffold Built of this Bone and a version of the Muskets ‘Ballad of the Green Mountain Boys’ with myself on lead vocals, very much as we did last year in London, as attested by this video:
Hopefully I will also be contributing to the next the Muskets release too.
Oh, and I’m also now a member of Foresta di Ferro—my first proper collaboration with the band being on the project’s track on the John tribute.
The label Norton North are also working on a vinyl reissue series of my back catalogue, but I’ve no idea when that will see the light of day. But we did touch base recently, so I know that it’s still on.
HH: Going back to my initial question about the late John Murphy, there are many bands affected by the passing of John, particularly Death in June, Knifeladder, yourself, etc. Are there any worthy candidates for his replacement, that can cross the barriers of the scene?
AK: John was irreplaceable. As I said, Hunter and I have rearranged the live sets so that his absence is less distressingly apparent to us both, but that’s all we can get our heads around at the moment. I can do my traditional sets easily enough, but how we will do the Great War one, I have no idea.