Cormorant Sleeve Notes
Updated: Jan 30
In this digital age, sleeve notes are rarely available to those streaming on Spotify or Apple Music. The context is important for any album but for an instrumental album that can't 'speak for itself', withholding sleeve notes does the music a great disservice. These notes can shed light, open doorways and often allow for greater appreciation of the music. Sometimes a short phrase is all that is needed to show the listener a gateway into the music.
The most memorable time this has happened to me was with Stravinsky's Rites of Spring, which I utterly detested. It's a ballet and I thought the music was obnoxious, tasteless and lacking any refinement. Luckily, I saw a video of Leonard Bernstein rehearsing it with a youth orchestra where he described it as 'Elephantine Jazz'. That phrase acted as key and I have to admit that I now think Rites of Spring is glorious.
Not only are sleeve notes hard to come by when streaming music or even when you've ripped an album onto your laptop or you're listening on an mp3 player or iPod (does anyone do that anymore?) but even when you have the CD case in your hand (and I'm really grateful that those plastic jewel cases are mostly a thing of the past) you either get a case that you need to open out like an OS map or a little booklet that you (and I'm speaking for myself here) immediately loose.
So my solution is to provide the sleeve notes here, in full, for all to peruse.
(please excuse my nauseatingly flowery language!)
Before I went to university, I wanted to compose music for film and television. During my time studying in York, my enthusiasm for folk music became passion and my interest in music for dance was sparked.
I still like film music and western classical music. I love the way that whole sections of instruments can fire competing tunes and countermelodies into the air like the cannons of opposing war ships.
What I love most about folk music is the vitality and musicality that is innate when musicians wake up dusty old tunes and breathe new life into the melodies and forms of the past and yet there is so much space for evolution and transformation and a ravenous necessity for that music to serve people now.
I suppose that unlike Ralph Vaughan Williams, Hubert Parry, Percy Grainger, Gerald Finzi or the countless other classical composers who drew from folk music for classical works, in Cormorant I have drawn from classical music to create folk music. Whilst my forces are not orchestral, in these arrangements, it is still the calculated, entangled interplay between instruments supporting, challenging and occasionally even undermining or subverting the imperative, crucial, vital tune that is key.
I have wanted to make an album for years, but it took a long while before I knew what sound world I wanted the album to inhabit. Luckily, finding the right musicians to bring it to life was much easier. Joining me are Deb Chalmers on fiddles, Sam Partridge on flute and Tom Evans on guitar and bass. Working with them was a privilege and a joy. The album was masterfully recorded and mixed by Josh Clark, whose expertise, calm manner and can-do attitude were all invaluable in the studio. Finally the album was skillfully mastered by Nick Cooke.
I went to Elly Lucas with the idea for the album cover, as I’d admired her work for several years. The excellent photos she took and her hard work on the design of the album attest to her skill and I find it hard to express what a fabulous feeling it is looking at the finished album. Elly was patient, thoughtful and generous and made me look and feel fantastic.
I am so grateful to have worked with such kind, passionate and skilled musicians and professionals.
01: Mushroom Vent and Cormorant were written on the same day. With Ultra Breath, they are the newest tunes on the album. I love that when a cormorant dives you never know where they’ll resurface and the tune mimics that.
02: Painted Cuboracle is named after a hard case that I made for a previous accordion that I joked could be used as a cuboid coracle. Bicycle Hunt was named after the antics of my parents’ unruly Golden Retriever.
03: Sometimes naming tunes is hard. I originally envisaged Nat's Groovy Tune much faster, but at this speed it laps like waves at a beach.
04: Spring At Last was written in celebration of the arrival of a very late Spring several years ago.
05: I composed The Abbey whilst in Waltham Abbey and it precedes Jon Swayne’s gorgeous and beloved tune, Motorway Mazurka.
06: Slipped between the mazurkas is a schottische but I don’t recall how it got its name. It is possibly (in fact probably) cake related…
07: I love playing and dancing Mazurkas, and I love them just as they are, however Bootleg Mazurka is a new creation. It sneaks a couple of extra quavers into the first two beats of every two bars creating an undulating pulse that lends a strangely satisfying heaviness to the dance, almost as if dancing in weighted boots.
08: Mushroom Interval is certainly about mushrooms, this is possibly my most joyous jig. It got its name after I forgot to serve the mushrooms with our cooked breakfast, so we had them for elevenses as a mushroom interval. The B part of The Round Jig goes round and round... Together they are an exuberant and jubilant revelry.
09: The Good Old Way mixes the tune of the song made legendary in 1975 by The Watersons and a more danceable adaptation from John of the Green popularised by Leveret, with a rambunctious viola part thrown in for good measure. The track and the album itself finish with a second three-two hornpipe, Ultra Breath. I had already started arranging it for Cormorant before the tune had got its name, so it was finally named Ultra Breath due to the break, the last time through the B music.
Tracks and Credits
1 Mushroom Vent | Cormorant
2 Painted Cuboracle | Bicycle Hunt
3 Nat’s Groovy Tune
4 Spring at Last | Ten Penny Bit
5 The Abbey | Motorway Mazurka
6 Steam Powered Sponge
7 Bootleg Mazurka
8 Mushroom Interval | The Round Jig
9 The Good Old Way | Ultra Breath
Motorway Mazurka Jon Swayne
The Good Old Way Manx trad. Adapted latterly by John Offord
Ten Penny Bit Irish Trad
All Other Tunes and All Arrangements by Nat Brookes
Accordion and Piano Nat Brookes
Violin and Viola Deb Chalmers
Flute Sam Partridge
Guitar and Bass Tom Evans
Arrangements Nat Brookes
Recording and Mixing Josh Clark
Mastering Nick Cooke
Photography and Design Elly Lucas
Thanks so much to everyone who worked on this album. It has been so incredible to hear my tunes played by such superb musicians and I am so proud of Cormorant, in every possible sense.