(Draft Sleeve Note)
On a summer’s day in the Rhodope mountains (Bulgaria) - on my back, half-dozing, half-gazing at the ocean above me, the wisps and curlicues of cloud in the blue expanse, elemental flotsam, paused in motion, set against the steady tick of life - here a tune came to me, largely-formed, easily-named: Flotsam Cumulus ... dedicated to my friend of many years and walking companion that day, Milena Katsarska.
Alongside a couple of newer pieces, it’s mainly older pieces in the flotsam of this album, tunes that came to me, and came to be, in a new century burst after life eased in the ‘00s. They share a mood, a palette, a frame, an ethos ... memories distilled through a contented eye. They may sometimes capture the shadows of loss, but, as viewed from here and now, they voice a deep contentment. I remember the birth of each piece: particular places, special people, isolated memories each paused, floating on waves of experience, musical regeneration of the transitory. Flotsam. Fixing memories musically is a habit of mine. Others compose for occasions, commissioned perhaps, or, they write for shows, the dramatic momentum shaping the sonic. I work from occasions, trying to note/notate the experience before it's swamped by the expanse of living.
Frustratingly, I’ve lost a few tunes over the years. These captured, seemingly unforgettably, a specific moment only for it to dissolve into the flow of subsequent moments, the name being all that’s left. But once a tune is established, and has been named and noted down, it’s as if it’d always been, something pre-existent. We are shaped by what we experience, and my music bears traces of other musics, but not derivative, or appropriative I hope. It gives me pleasure that listeners often have favourites, but it used to niggle me when they’d comment, “This one reminds me of x”. Or y or z. The soundscape I wish to be idiomatic clearly reminds them of other soundworlds. But the ‘other’ which my tunes invoke is also without consensus. I have come to accept the flotsam for what it is: the musical bibs and bobs of those parts of my experience which I manage to remember. Where once I was shy about it, I am now reassured of its potential to touch diverse listeners.
The irregular wisps and curlicues of Flotsam Cumulus (2007) are interspersed across the album, each iteration voiced differently (for brass, woodwind, and strings). The gentle brass opening continues with Rondo de Pomeleuc (2014), written in a Breton village on a steamy summer's day, the nearby canal locks idyllic now but previously a working artery for this Celtic land across the sea. St Cecilia's Day (2007) was written for the Feast Day (November 22nd) of this Patron Saint of Artists. It was also the day of my mother's funeral, herself an artist. May you rest in peace Doreen Mary Fay (née Simpson), 1926-2007. She introduced me to the village of Trefor (in Gwynedd in North Wales) where the old road (Yr Hen Lôn) (2023) passes by the ancient Celtic ‘rainforest’ of Coed Elernion. Closing the first set of flotsam, a pair of tunes closely associated with my long-time friend, John Gibson, a fine recorder, whistle, and flute player. The first (from 2011) celebrates his and Helen’s Winter Wedding. It's followed by Interesting Times (2006), written also with John in mind.
 Ruby - aka Reubenstein - our musical cat - was fascinated by musicians playing all manner of instruments from helicons to fiddles, flutes to lutes, bones to boxes. He was abruptly lost but his energy is retained in Reubenstein the Magnificent (2012). Although its origins are hard perhaps to detect, a visit to the New Century primary school in Beijing prompted the next tune (written in 2011). It came to me as I watched the children's massed morning exercise in the school yard on a day when their usual routine was changed by Jacqueline - Chinese youngsters stepping out in pairs for part of the Siege of Ennis from the Irish tradition.
Leaping forward, Ar Ben Y Clogwyn (2022, jointly arranged with Sam Gee) captures the experience of going along the cliffs by the sea near Trefor, a daily walk for me in my home-from-home, some days storms brewed in the Irish Sea batter in; on others, serenity mantles this edge of the land and the luminescent sea beyond; every day, different. Then, a new recording of Helix McGough (2017) - this has much the same DNA as the previous recording (on the 2019 album Helix). As with all descendants, it also carries new elements, a reworking, but the familiar mix is still easily recognisable, a variant in the making.
After the final flotsam is sounded (by strings), Equilibrium (2006) is a lively statement of preference and belief that life runs much better when the elements are balanced, a lesson learned over many years. The album closes with a bonus: Bowling Along. A sketched fragment of this tune (2006) lay as unfinished jetsam in my collection, but here it's been re-arranged, extended, and transformed by Sam Gee (and his wonderful playing of all the saxes) and by the drive of George Bingham's percussion. Sam’s many, many musical, artistic, and technical skills bring my music to life. Without him, it'd still be rattling around my head, wisps of melodic potential in the vast expanse of life. I can’t overstate my appreciation for all that he brings to this album and to the ones that preceded it, Helix (2019), Hamosity (2021), and Magu Hiraeth (2023). His touch is also evident in the arrangement of Ar Ben Y Clogwyn (as described above).