Review Summary: all these regrets are unnecessary
If you were given a choice between living the life you are living now, the one hampered with all its hurt and heartbreak, and a life free of all that negativity, free of pain and turmoil, suffering and sorrow, which would you choose? Now I’m no masochist, but I know that some things are best left unchanged. I also know that I wouldn’t be alone in my choosing. Isolation and misery have always been somewhat of a pseudo-drug for me and many others. But why? What is it about emotional anguish that makes it so… essential? So addictive. So immediately human. This is not something that can be easily explained away with a simple scientific equation or logical procession. It is something I still fail to understand. But it is something I think about when listening to The House of St. Colme Burnt Down, late at night when the house is empty and I couldn’t want to be more alone. This album seems to pose the questions that I continually fail to answer. The questions which cause new types of suffering to leak from me like water from a dried up well. I couldn’t be happier, or sadder when listening to Pablo Clark mumble his beautiful poetry while mournful melodies naturally tumble from his acoustic guitar. Isolation takes a new form when listening to this record. The pain of being lonely becomes the rapture of being alone. This is the company you need when you’d rather have no company at all.
I first heard this record over a year ago. All these months later and I’m more affected by The House of St Colme Burnt Down than ever before. It’s that sort of album. Not necessarily a grower, as I enjoyed it on first listen, but more of a flower which takes its time to bloom, but when it does, it will take your breath away with every shudder in the wind. Each repeated listen revealed another image, another secret, another lonesome reflection. Its bare boned style, so intimate, so isolated, but somehow so full of life, resonated within me an image of a broken man pleading to be heard yet begging to be alone. An image of myself. Opener ‘The Lord of Rosyth’ paints this paradoxical picture perfectly. “All I bring to the table is my youth / All you bring are your years”. The secluded walks on the misty moors of Fife have given this young man an understanding of the world far beyond his years, a painfully accurate perception of the futility and the beauty of life. It is exactly this which gives the outward beauty of the lyrics their hardened, bitter, but ultimately shattering core. It makes more sense when you hear the words being spoken for yourself as it is Clark’s voice which gives the record it’s unmistakable character. Quiet but achingly intense, trembling but thunderously brave, for himself but to an audience of millions. The way the record has been produced means that every saliva-soaked tongue roll, every feeble sigh and every vocal imperfection can be heard, acknowledged and appreciated. The choice not to paper over the cracks has added magnificently to the singer’s wonderfully exposed, honest performance.
Each song on the The House of St Colme is a gem, with not a single piece of filler to be found. I’d like to talk about each one in intricate detail, mulling over every note change, every fumbled strum, every last piece of wondrous, wistful poetry but that would be pointless. The record relies on the sum of its parts, the puzzle completed. In each song there is a new tale to be told about Clark’s youth, and in each there is a new slew of strummed melodies, beautifully bucolic melodies which seem to come to the songwriter as easy as the words rolling gently off his tongue. Such a sense on nostalgia is tangled up in these songs that you may think this is yet another overly-trite, self-indulgent piece of folk wankery. When you listen, you’ll realize this is not the case. Clark lines up his failures, disappointments and sufferings against his achievements, elations and delights, his good and his bad memories tied to his days from Fife, and transmits them to the listener with devastating sincerity and dazzlingly warm reminiscence. For the listener, this allows a deeply personal connection with the album and artist. Despite the stories revolving around Clark himself, we can all relate to the young loves and the innocent shames that take centre stage in his songs. Again, it is Clark’s unique, Glaswegian voice and immaculate guitar-playing, though, that make the songs all the more emotionally resonant. His whispered, skeletal approach is ironically what makes the history buried within his songs come to life, and pour forth such poignancy.
The majority of the record is more instrumental than lyrical. This is no bad thing. Clark has a way of strumming his guitar which is certainly his own, and it is an intriguing, occasionally intense thing to hear. Within these long, rustic passages you get a sense of the isolated environment which Clark inhabits. The organic rising and falling of notes evoke images of a jagged set of hills, and some of the more bleak and bare passages had me picturing dusty, forgotten roads, swallowed whole by fog and witnessing nothing but the possessed swirl of leaves by the pavement. It is clear that connection between singer and scenery is a strong one, and the influence is not masked one bit. The lyrics are also heavily laden with references to the landscape. “When the coal pits sigh / and cranes in the wind are like young girls dancing / when we tongue our ulcers and pick the prickled flowers from the lawn.” This beautiful extract from 'Fleeting Like Etain', my personal favourite from the album, showcases this love for the countryside, but there are also lyrics which show Clark’s profound comprehension of the more philosophical and abstract aspects of the world.
And she says “We are not born of the stars above, we are but fleeting moments in the sun. And there is no higher glory, just a quiet, human, end.”
Nothing short of stunning. That is all there is to say about one of the greatest lyrics I have ever heard sung. 'A Night Full of Reverse Birds' is the record’s other major player. An achingly sombre Clark belts out the line “all this hate is unnecessary / all this shame is unnecessary / all this guilt is unnecessary / and all these regrets are unnecessary” with such intensity that it is impossible not to rally along with his war cry. The record ends with 'The Dour Festival', and it is this song which culminates all that has come before. Beginning with the lines “the whole village is sleeping / in some hushed lullaby / From the faltered steps of dreaming / the speechless sons arise”, every word on this song is so perfectly placed that I want to quote the whole thing. If your voice ever withers Pablo Clark, and you lose all your fingers, please take up poetry. I’ll purchase every piece of writing you put your fingerless hand to. But seriously, this song conjures up such strong images of Clark’s adolescence, him and his “hunched pack-rats” who “laugh in the face of the stars / believing them to be jealous of our youth”, that it would be impossible not to trace your own childhood onto the young singer’s template, and reminisce over your first awkward kiss behind the park shed, your first rebellious cigarette at the park gates, your first all nighter drinking cheap cider with the lads. The fact that this record ends with such optimism is a testament to all of our youths. We’ve ridden the hard waves and crashed on the rocks more times than we care to remember, but despite the hard times we’ve come out on top.
More than anything else, though, this record evokes a heart-warming, bleary-eyed image of Pablo playing in a dark, dingy pub to a small handful of locals, all of them putting their drinks down and their conversations on hold, craning their necks forward in an effort to absorb every hushed word and every sorrow-soaked note that leaks from his naked heart which is sprawled out across the stage. There is something magic floating in the lungs of My Kappa Roots, something which defies description. Maybe that magic itself is floating in the winds of Fife, blowing up the autumn leaves and veiling the distant moors. The only way to catch it is to hear it for yourself. The House of St. Colme Burnt Down
is a special record. Don’t let yourself pass it by.