My Inspiration: The Palps | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Newcastle’s lo-fi prog-rockers The Palps are a band whose sound is too massive and expansive and expansive for most speakers, with notes of Sabbath, Sonic Youth and The Mars Volta. 128 is the first instalment of the serialised album, And The Ground Grew Cold… which they’re releasing over the next couple of months. It’s based on an interesting concept that takes in regional history which the band have kindly elaborated on in below.

Lyrical Themes
The song is kind of an elliptical account of the monks of Lindisfarne who carried the body of St. Cuthbert through Northumbria for seven years when the Danes invaded. I [Tom] have always been really interested in local history, and the Northumberland coast around Holy Island is one of my favourite places in the world. I really wanted to write a song that was placed in the North East (which the majority of our songs are) but that was in a totally different North East, a place that existed before ‘our’ place. 

Earlier drafts of the lyrics were a bit more cynical, actually. Thinking about the futility of carrying around a massive oak coffin, with someone who had been dead for two hundred years, whilst you were fleeing for your life. It was then more about the dangers of fixating on symbols of identity, and how they might drag you down (literally).

But, then in the context of the album, which we were already settling on the idea of being about different ‘ends’ of different worlds, looking at it more from the perspective of seeing these monks as refugees in their own country. How they were running through a landscape that had been home, that had been this bucolic home, but was now enemy territory. And the thought of what you would bring with you to symbolise your continued presence in a place became a bit more poignant, a bit more pertinent. 

So it’s also about the idea of a moment that, for the people involved, represents – in a very real, traumatic, and lived way – the end of their world: invasion, displacement, death. But in the long historical timeline, it wasn’t the end of anything. And as with the rest of the album, part of the idea is to have a sense that the ‘end of the world’ might be a shift in perspective, a need to have a new way of being, trying to find a positive, because at the moment, we seem to be walking into another of these moments where the ‘end of the world’ is being talked about a lot. Not to dismiss that, or to diminish it, but to try and imagine what might be on the other side of any of those ends might be a healthy thing to try and do. 

The Context of the Album
The album has a broad concept of ‘The End of Different Worlds’ connecting the songs together. In the earliest ideas we had for it, it was going to be more like a classic prog. concept album, with the songs acting as chapters telling one single story. But the further we got with developing the songs, the more old-fashioned (and pointless) this felt. Writing lyrics particularly, thinking of the album as more like a series of short stories around a broad theme, rather than one single novel, was really exciting. And it sort of makes more sense for how people listen to music now as well. The days of working for a long time on an album, releasing it, and having people absorb it over a long period of time seem to be over, really. It makes more sense to have more of a ‘little-and-often’ approach, which is why we decided to serialise the album, releasing it track-by-track over a few months, rather than in one go, allowing people to listen to each song on its own, then have the context of each song changed a little bit by what comes after it.

Title
The actual title of the song – 128 – is totally meaningless. It was always intended to be a placeholder until we came up with a proper title, but it just stuck. Most of the songs that I [Tom] write, I start with a chord pattern, which I almost always record with at least a first draft of the lyrics, so I have something to give it a title. But this tune started with that opening riff – which I’ve had for a pretty long time – which I recorded without any words, without any idea what the lyrics were going to be about. It happened to be the 128th track on the SD card, so I called it 128.

When we got to recording the tune, I was going to discuss possible ‘proper’ titles with the band [‘Lauderdale’, ‘Seven Years’, ‘Belle Skies’] but the church where we recorded had up a list of the psalms they had sung the day before, and one of them was psalm 128. Sam took the photo for the single artwork, and so the name had to stay.

End section
The end part of the tune is a long instrumental section that represents that wandering in the cold of Northumberland, a dream-like, cyclical soundscape. There are a few moments on the album that represent how we have come to write music as a band, and this is one of the best. The original idea recorded on the demo just ended… or more precisely it didn’t really end, it didn’t really go anywhere. And through jamming it out together, we came up with this really organic end part that felt like it tied up the concept of the song without having to over-explain it with words. Having this really atmospheric end part meant that I could go back and change the lyrics, and have the confidence to make them a bit more obscure, not have to give a history lesson to get the point across.

Recording
We recorded 128, and the whole album, over two long weekends in August at Martin Luther Kirche in Shieldfield. It’s a German-language church that’s sort of hidden away behind the Holy Biscuit. When it came to recording an album, we really wanted to do it ourselves, rather than go to a studio. We’ve recorded in studios before, but what we’ve gained in sound quality, we sometimes feel we lose in time to experiment. It was really important to us with this concept album that we felt like we had the time to try stuff out, to be a bit silly, and to give ourselves space. The church were fantastically accommodating of us, and we felt like we had the time and space to stretch out a bit. And 128 particularly benefitted from that. We recorded some church bell for the end of the song, took ages over guitar tone, and shouting the vocals from the altar was one of my favourite moments making music.

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