We continue on the road with Jonathan Day for a series of guest posts written during his Atlantic Drifter (album review here) launch tour. We join him as leaves China and heads for the Hebrides (read earlier entires here).
For a while now I’ve thought that the path I follow has two faces. They are mutually reliant, symbiotic. Actually of course they are the same – indivisible – but this is a fun way to describe them – like ancient Janus or Shiva looking to the past and the future – one and two together. There is Zen on one hand with its quiet equilibrium, dwelling in an endless yet instantaneous moment of pure joy and bliss – stepping outside of the imagined and many coloured rush of being and watching it with compassion leavened by equanimity. Then there is the Beat, a loosely formulated concatenation of poetry, music and images by Ginsberg, Kerouac, Robert Frank, Willem de Kooning, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. All of their works point more or less to the ‘experiential transcendent’, those moments when experience is so intense, so captivating that time and death are nullified and (temporarily) forgotten. These two ideas overlap (Kerouac was also fascinated by the Buddhist Dharma), but they are mostly antagonistic and exclusive. It’s a conundrum – two apparently opposing ideas forming a harmony. Lao Tzu describes this tension at the beginning of his Tao te Ching – reject the many coloured world because it is surface, a passing illusion, but celebrate and explore it to know its manifold and miraculous forms (a very loose translation!). Chasing wild experience like the Beats – intensity, immersion, absorption, can only go so far, I think, and for so long – Kerouac drank himself to a lonely death, Neil Cassady was lost somewhere sometime in Mexico, no one knows how, Charlie Parker died a destitute addict at 34, Dylan Thomas at 39. I love the thrills and the wild ride, I breath deep of new places and love to ride the edge of things, but I always return often and with energy to the quiet still place at the centre, to remind myself of the transience and to stay in the calm. And when my stillness has returned or perhaps better to say when I have found my way back to it, I’m ready again for another day.
So it was I found myself heading for the Sea of the Hebrides – the bit of Atlantic pictured on the album. I drove up overnight – crossed the border at 3:00 and slept in a lay-by near Gretna, crossed the tectonic plate boundary on the Corran ferry at 1:00 am and drove the tiny roads of the Ardnamurchan peninsula – ‘the hill of the big seas’. I chatted to an old man in Kilchoan where once as a youngster I won a race in the Regatta : )
I slept on the green machair between a burn and the Atlantic, cosseted by my duvet as rain hammered the roof of the van. A strange cry punctuated the night – like a bull seal, a dog or a deer. Up early I sang for the seals and in these teeming waters it took a minute for me to have an audience. The Grey Atlantics are fascinated by music and bob just off shore listening for as long as I wanted to sing. They’ll slowly move closer for a better view. Interspecies communication – truly magical. I remember a time across the sound on Eigg – walking in the very last of the light along the singing sand, singing softly into the evening. Out in the darkness of the water a whistle came in reply. As we walked it followed just outside the breakers. It was a sea otter keeping pace with us all our walk back, answering in his own language the soft sung words of ours.
I took a guitar to the point – the furthest our big island pokes into the Atlantic. I painted the old instrument when I was young with a scene half remembered, half imagined – sehnsucht for the hills of the big sea. It was early and I the only human around. As I played the squalls painted their chiaroscuro across the Minch while brilliant gannets stalled as they flew and missiled the water – down, down chasing the fish. A seal porpoised right out on the rocks below while nonchalant cormorants fluttered their dark and oil less wings. I sang to Rhum and far away Skye, the gabbro Cuilin and the place of clouds. The eternally strange Sguir of Eigg, a volcanic glass ridge that plugs a now eroded volcano, rose from the blue green water into the solid air. In this little concert for the elements I felt pure exuberant joy for a time – yelling my songs into the air sending the sounds as a sweeping hat genuflection for the far mountains beyond and grounding them with the wood and wire in my hands.
Trance like, reverential, transported I was roused from reverie by early morning fisherman out for mackeral and bass. Like TS Eliot when he wrote in his J Alfred Prufrock ‘till human voices wake us and we drown’.
Hoping not to drown, it was over the sea, finally, in a force 6 to Rhum for the perhaps the most essential launch gig of the tour. The island on the album cover is a place of dreams – towering Gabbro mountians, home of sea eagles, otters and wildcats. We sailed there over Orca, Minke, basking sharks and shoals of silver herring. I played in the community hall and later on a home made stage. With my album on the shelves of Rum Crafts, amidst wool and bloodstone bangles, Atlantic Drifter was launched x
Atlantic Drifter is out now via Niimiika
Click here to order direct via Jonathan’s website
10/10 – Carlybury Festival, Hereford
17-22/10 – China
24/10 – Lickey Poetry Festival, Rednal
25/10 – Live session, BBC Sunday Folk
16/11 – Live session, The Quiet Revolution
4/2/16 Shrewsbury Poetry, Milk Street
8-9/3/16 – More Than Folk festival, Hong Kong Folk Club
1/4/16 – Helsinki, Finland
22-24/4/16 – Wenlock Poetry Festival, The Edge, Much Wenlock