INTERVIEW: St James Infirmary | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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We last chatted to Gary Lang (who for our purposes is St James Infirmary, except when he’s not) back in 2020, when SJI was clearly flourishing, and that still seems to be the case, largely by tapping into a rich vein of understanding labels and musicians to keep the music pouring out of his Ashington base. The fact that there are three fresh albums being released in November tells its own story (although each is actually from the considerable SJI archives).

Much of the focus is on Artefacts, a self-released album that might be his/their strongest yet. As with most SJI music, it was largely unplanned. “Me and my long-time collaborator Mark Oliver decided to just book a couple of days in Blank Studios, invite along musician friends and their families and just see what came out of it,” Lang explains. “The initial idea was for it to be like some 70’s Christian/cult private pressing but it ended up being more structured although – aside from one song and a riff – nothing was pre-planned. It’s down to working with simpatico people like Richard Dawson, Nev Clay, the Tylers and my usual gang that something came out of it. Fun was the main goal, and that at least was achieved.”

It’s very much a ‘let’s see if we can do a (insert genre) style piece’

The stand-out track on Artefacts, Cuddy’s Cave, has taken on a life of its own, an eternally evolving and expanding gem. As ever, it grew out of jamming. “The original piece was Richard [Dawson] and Mark [Oliver] doodling on guitars whilst I played some loops. Then Nev came in on another day, with his words already prepared, I threw on some faux folky sounds and my best Mo Tucker drums and there you go! Though it’s not quite the epic that Nev has since turned it into in his solo work.”

The other two albums, Abandoned and As Well As Can Be Expected, are Americana and ‘motorik/riffy/freakout style’ collections respectively and this is typical of how SJI works, with Lang setting himself a brief – a style or genre, perhaps, as a template. He’s often talked self-deprecatingly about making pastiches. “I still have no claim to any originality in the work we do. It’s very much a ‘let’s see if we can do a (insert genre) style piece’. Whilst the sounds that come out may not be anywhere near the source influence, it’s usually something that’s interesting.”

Much of Lang’s remarkable industry is driven by a sense of guilt, a need to create something every day (he works as an artist, filmmaker and all-round provocateur when he’s not recording). As he admits, “I occasionally have problems with my mental health, and producing something solid and tangible helps to keep me grounded.”

Lang shows no sign of slowing down either. “By releasing a lot of older stuff this year, I’ve built up quite a backlog of stuff I want to get out and release, like a fatberg in a sewer. Unfortunately a few of the labels I’ve released through in the past have closed down for financial or personal problems so I might have to focus more on self-releasing, but at least the slightly bigger profile SJI has developed will help to get the word and the noise out!”

St James Infirmary releases Abandoned (via Cruel Nature) on 24th November, Artefacts (self-released) on 1st December, and As Well As Can Be Expected (via Wormhole World), available now.

 

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