I recently spoke to Thula Borah’s Lloyd and Matt about a range of things relating to the band’s name, album title, music and artwork. During that discussion I noted that I had been listening to ‘Qualia’ whilst driving – in fact much of my music listening now is done whilst driving about, and if not that, then when travelling, making good use of my i-pod when cycling, or on bus journeys etc. It strikes me that there are many similarities between their music and a long journey. Driving along a road can often seem rather repetitive, yet under closer inspection there are many differences to notice – road signs, junctions, other vehicles, roadside buildings and changing speeds to name just a few; the important thing is to maintain concentration.
The individual tracks may initially appear to be a bit repetitive but closer and repeated listening reveals a wonderfully layered palette of ethereal, swirling, wistful, climactic, orgasmic, intertwining, hypnotic sounds with subtle nuanced progressions. As an alternative to simply aiming to critique the music I have dipped into my memory banks and selected some journeys that might have been particularly enhanced by being accompanied by each of the tracks from this album.
1/ ‘MIDNIGHT MORNING’ – gentle swirling guitars and layered percussion gradually building in intensity and hinting at more to come – after an overnight drive from Scotland travelling on a fairly deserted A1 / A1(M) and M11, the traffic on the clockwise M25 increases as dawn approaches but is still freely moving with nothing to slow my progress. The approach to the Dartford Crossing coincides with the first signs of the morning ‘rush hour’ to come. Crossing the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge as the sun rises I get a brief opportunity to glimpse the ships docked by The Thames at Purfleet before the journey’s first queue as I take my turn to pass through the toll lanes before the final few miles of motorway and then into suburban south east London for a rest before a busy day using my trusty Oyster Card to travel into central London ahead of the evening’s gig in Camden. So good to be able to find an empty parking space right outside my destination.
2/ ‘SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY’ – the first vocals on the album enigmatically ask “tell me when”, a more upbeat tempo than track #1 – with the long hard, relentless ascent from the car park behind me, it is now possible to enjoy a relaxing approach to some of the more challenging descending sections of the ‘Black Route’ at the Glentress mountain bike centre. With so many ‘false’ crests, I’m not always entirely sure just when the next main downhill descent will begin. The more gentle forest track sections are followed by an increased tempo down the rocky steeper sections. The variety of emotions that accompany a circuit of one of the ‘Seven Stanes’ routes is mirrored by the way this track develops from opening chords to final phrases.
3/ ‘NO SIGNAL’ – very quiet start with dreamy guitar motifs that have me recalling times spent immersed listening to albums in the 1970s, Dave Crosby’s ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’ / if only I could be sure which tracks are being prodded in my memory – en-route to another gig – this time the early evening traffic on the M8 into Glasgow has resulted in a crawl – absolutely no danger of exceeding the temporary 40mph maximum speed limit displayed on the overhead gantries! When faced with such traffic I find myself thinking how lucky I am that such driving conditions don’t form part of my daily routine, if they did I might find it harder to remain calm and enjoy the swirling and atmospheric music playing out on the car stereo. There is a contrast between the slow moving traffic and the way in which some vehicles switch lanes – the section of the motorway that goes through the heart of this great city never ceases to keep me on full alert as traffic joins and leaves the main drag on both left and right. So thankful to be off and have negotiated the bewildering grid street layout to finally park directly outside the legendary ‘King Tut’s’.
4/ ‘BASS RIFF SONG’ – a discordant intro followed by incessant rythms, setting me up for a rocking night – this journey started off around nine hours earlier, well before sunrise at a virtually deserted bus station in Galashiels when the Megabus pulled in to enable me as the single waiting passenger to board and select a seat from the many empty ones. In mid afternoon the scene outside the now almost full coach (mainly filled at the Manchester stop) was anything but deserted as it progressed through north London – Cricklewood reminds me of a Ten Years After album, Swiss Cottage triggers a memory of an Al Stewart song, Lords Cricket Ground has Booker T & The MGs ‘Soul Limbo’ playing in my head (I still haven’t quite got used to cricket not being covered by the BBC); as we get nearer to Victoria Coach Station, traffic continues to build, past Hyde Park Corner then finally there’s hardly a square metre of tarmac that isn’t covered by coach, double decker bus or black cab. Eccleston Place is provides brief and unexpected calm before the coach turns into the arrivals stance. With only hand luggage, and having opted for a seat directly behind the driver I’m soon off, and after a quick ‘comfort break’ and stop to top up my Oyster Card I’m soon on my way anticipating the excitement of the gig to come at the legendary ‘100 Club’.
5/ ‘HYPHEN’ – another highly charged atmospheric opening, initially just guitars prior to full band adding further complexity – such a good feeling to know that I am into the second half of the journey from Scottish Borders to the Isle Of Skye. The relatively depressing central belt is now well behind me as I make my way through Glencoe marvelling at the towering Buachaille Etive Mòr on the left with Aonach Eagach ahead on the right. These massive rock formations appear almost sentient as they flank the route towards Ballachulish and beyond, reminding me of the pleasures ahead climbing in The Cuillin! This track seems particularly appropriate for a trip to the Inner Hebrides as it manages to incorporate hints of celtic folk rock before culminating in a marvellous sense of achievement, akin to reaching one of The Cuillin peaks – and then the exhilaration of descent.
6/ ‘ZERO PROGRESSION’ – a slightly ‘spacy’ opening to the final track on the album, rather dreamy guitars continue the development, accompanied by some cymbal work that has me reliving Pink Floyd circa Umagumma, building to some equally ‘trippy’ vocals – after almost half a day in the air, the flight across The Atlantic nears completion – looking out of the cabin window the peaks of The Andes become clearer as the plane begins its descent towards Lima as we fly over the snow capped mountains on approach to Lima – then landing and progress through airport arrivals before the coach negotiates the hectic city traffic as we head for the overnight accommodation. Then some sleep before waking – music morphs into noise patterns – I’m on a park bench by the River Tay on Dundee’s riverside within sight of the Magdalen Green Bandstand where Thula Borah are playing as part of a video shoot – maybe the whole thing was a dream – did I really undertake all these wonderful journeys whilst listening to ‘Qualia’? Spend some time immersed in this album and see where you are transported to!
1/ Midnight Morning
2/ Sleeping With The Enemy
3/ No Signal
4/ Bass Riff Song
6/ Zero Progression
Thula Borah are:
Lloyd Fay – vocals & guitar
Kevin Heimann – guitars
Matthew Williams – bass & vocals
Michael O’Rourke – drums