Will Burns and Hannah Peel - Chalk Hill Blue
Will Burns and Hannah Peel - Chalk Hill Blue

Will Burns and Hannah Peel - Chalk Hill Blue

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Deluxe Edition LP with extra 'Pale Tussock' 7" featuring two brand-new tracks; 'Moth Book' & 'Wendover, Bucks'.

We were so hyped on this one and it didn't disappoint. Will Burns and Hannah Peel collaborate on a record of electronic ruralism, channeling lives threaded through the chalk landscapes of Southern England. Produced by Erland Cooper. 

Will Burns & Hannah Peel played live at our Sea Change 2019 festival.

'Chalk Hill Blue' is the first album by poet Will Burns and musician and composer Hannah Peel: a record of electronic ruralism channeling lives threaded through the chalk landscapes of Southern England. 

As part of their collaboration, Will Burns, Hannah Peel and producer Erland Cooper walked the landscapes around Burns’s Wendover house together: their chalk-heeled boots tracing shared routes through the rhythms and repetitions of the place. What emerges in Chalk Hill Blue is a site-specific-non-specific record of creative place portraiture; an album that traces elements of a living landscape, and reworks them into something that is as sensitive and finely-observed as it is visionary.

Peel’s subtle use of analogue synthesisers and drum machines seems at times directly divined from the landscape, like crackling seismographs taking the pulse of the place. On opener ‘Out of Doors’, a tape loop fluctuates and flakes away with each pass, before the pace picks up on ‘The Night Life’ where sine waves crunch like snow underfoot, as a synthesiser swoops above. The granular dipslope drops of album centrepiece ‘Change’ tumble like electric storm clouds, before opening out into ascending trills of breathy woodwind and synth. On ‘May 9th’, Burns’s tale of rural regret is underpinned by the click of a drum machine gently crackling in the damp spring (reverb) air, slowly taking a semblance of shape before evaporating as quickly as it came. Later on, the soft tread of sustained piano notes on ‘Summer Blues’ slowly unfurl, opening spaces for Burns’s words to resonate.

Burns is softly spoken and gently deferent; his poems a modest exchange between world and word, and the smudged cultural geologies of our lives. He narrates quiet everyday moments in which romance, heartbreak, ambition and failure course through porous bodies. His words evoke landscapes tensed between presence and absence, and between stasis and change, through which the strange attraction of uncertain memory gently tugs. Stories half-caught and half-cut.

Burns’s words and Peel’s sounds – deftly fused by Cooper’s sympathetic production – channel the minute shifts in the air and atmosphere of a place, and their resulting emotional effects. The spoken words and sound worlds on Chalk Hill Blue often seem to emerge from subliminal processes of call and answer; a fertile blurring of collective inspiration and intention circling this abstracted chalk landscape.

Perhaps if Delia Derbyshire’s later years in Cumbria had been happier then a record like this might have emerged from the fells, or alternatively if Virginia Astley’s gardens had contained a modular synth or two. Other triangulation points might include Hans Joachim Roedelius’s bucolic kosmiche reveries, Joanna Brouk’s new age minimalism, or James Yorkston’s ambient spoken word experiments. Like the butterfly with which it shares its name, Chalk Hill Blue is a rare thing: a glorious electric pastoral shimmer

Standard version track list:
1 Out Of Doors
2 The Night Life
3 Afterwards
4 Spring Dawn On Mad Mile
5 Change
6 Chalk Hill Blue
7 May 9th
8 Swallowing
9 Ridgeway
10 Summer Blues
11 February

"Along the hills that cradle this village, that throw their shadow on us, that hold themselves above the houses (on a day like today half-wreathed in fog) there is a path. Some people say it is the oldest path there is, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it is an old path. Worn out of the scarp in places, in others cut deliberately to mark the way. The way where, though? One answer is that once, it was the way across the country from East to West, from farm to market. The way of the drover. Another is that now, it is the way across a line of hills that run through what people call the ‘home’ counties.

As if there are counties that are not home. Sometimes these places that rub up against the hills and its path are strangely dull. The towns and villages can look alike, they have been predated on by the high street chains and the supermarkets and they have suffered the decay of pubs and the reluctance of themselves to demand more from the changes that come with time, which is, after all, inevitable and which should, in the end, be progressive. But if we look beyond the intensive farms, the lookalike market towns, the money, the golf courses and the expensive four-wheel drive cars, there is, still, a real place to see. A place with its own tang, as a wise man I know once described it.

There are fishermen and builders and window cleaners who get round their drink-driving bans by going to work on a horse and cart. There are Italian farmers whose legendary boys run the football club, there are old gypsy families that own garden centres, feuding tree surgeons, ex-hedonist-local- playboys who you wouldn’t believe did what they did when they owned a pub just outside of the village where they thought they could get away with anything (and for a while did), tiny cricket clubs where the treasurer ran off with the money and last anyone heard was running a burger van in Northamptonshire. There are still a few good pubs too, where people rub along like they do.

More decently than it sometimes feels we’re capable of anymore. All that as well as affairs and heartbreak, death, illness, love. Of course, love.

And beyond the people, there is that other life. Not as much as there should be, no, we must say that. Not enough butterflies, not enough lizards or water voles or fish, certainly not enough birds. But what there is is. And if you take that path out of the village, and up into the hills it is there. It’s broken in many ways, and it’s changed and it’s changing. And we’re causing the changes. But what’s sad about the degradation of our times is that we can still see the potential nature of real places when we come up against them.

These old paths, these old stories, these old buildings. We don’t need them for nostalgia, or for some artificial sentimental reverie, we need them to function as engines for our own epochal story-making. That’s what the blandness of a global market economy will put a stop to. The real tang of each person, as well as each place. All deserving of their stories. Here’s some fragments of some I heard along the path."

- Will Burns 2018

Artist: Will Burns and Hannah Peel
Label: Rivertones
Catalogue: Rivertone10CD
Barcode: 5400863003920
Format: CD & LP
Release Date: 22nd March 2019

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