Sunday, 7 June 2009

In Conversation with July Skies...

In Conversation with

July Skies

December 03

(up-dated 6th June 2009)

A little background:

A lot of my love for July Skies actually comes from one mad two
and a bit minute burst. A few years ago (Cannot remember when)
I was getting a lift home from some local concert up where I live
in Manchester, when I heard this incredible little track come on
the radio. I heard the guitar gently strums behind some beautiful
reflectful vocals. The song in question was “The Games
we played” was by July Skies.

It had this sort of effect which looking back now a few years
later is rare with music. It made me want to rush out
and buy the single the track came from. I managed to
get hold off it a few weeks later and I was hooked.

There were four tracks on the single, each a little
beauty in it’s own right. Two instrumental and two with
slight vocals. All contained this rare sort of ambience and beauty
that is all too rare in music nowadays.

Fast-forward in time, and an album followed a few years
later (Beginning of 2002, I think) called “Dreaming… “
which contained a similar amount of heartbreak and hushed
silences that could have only come from a deeply British band.
Much to my surprise then, I discovered
it was only one man, Anthony Harding who had created this music.

The interview in question simply came from contacting
Anthony in person after looking at his website, and discovering
he was recording a second album “The English Cold” which
is hopefully due for release sometime next year and then
e-mailing him to ask was he interested in doing the interview.

The interview has taken a while coming, but from the depth
Anthony has put into the interview – it was certainly worth the

Update 06/06/09

Since then - Ant released 'The English Cold' which remains one of
my favourite albums. He has also released 'Where the days go' in 2006
and last year another album 'The Weather Clock' album and a ep off
the same name.

I've seen Ant in concert twice since and both times were amazing nights
and he was also a incredibally nice guy ontop off it.

More info can be found here:

Cheers, Ant.

Andy N

Setting Sun:

How's things and what's happening at the moment?

July Skies:

Things are fine thanks! It has been quiet on the July Skies
release front since ‘Dreaming of Spires’ came out, but that
doesn’t mean things have been quiet in terms of recording.

The second album ‘The English Cold’ is fully completed and
just needs some kind soul to master and release it.

Lots of other tracks have been recorded that should see the
light of day over the coming year, hopefully along with a split CD
with epic45. The third album is also about 60% complete and
I am trying to progress this as quickly as possible. There will
also be two July Skies tracks on the forthcoming
Make Mine Music CD compilation which also features Portal,
Yellow 6, epic45, Avrocar, Innerise, Schengen and Wayland.

The Skies tracks will be ‘The Days We Played’ and the
new track ‘Royal Observer Corps Amongst the Norfolk Dunes’
which came about after finding an abandoned nuclear
observation bunker in the Norfolk dunes!

There are literally thousands of these underground bunkers
across the country and you are probably within a few miles
of one right now!

The Royal Observer Corps that manned these
stations were disbanded in 1991 but the
majority of these structures still remain in situ and
act as decaying reminders of the Cold War.

Some were recently auctioned on ebay and
went for a fair few thousand pounds!

Would make a superb recording studio out in
the middle of a field though…… I am sure I read
somewhere that Boards of Canada have a bunker
in the countryside where they record, I wonder
if it is one of these????

Setting Sun:

I've been aware off July Skies for quite some
time now, but clearly they are people who wouldn't
have heard off you,so could you introduce
yourself to us, tell us who fired the starting pistol
etc., etc.?

July Skies:

I guess the best way of describing the music is
pretty dreamy, lots of echoes, reverb and space.
Its mostly just guitar with differing effects to
add textures with the occasional vocal.

Setting Sun:

I love the image of July Skies as a name. What's
the idea behind that as a name? Is it reflected
in all of the beautiful images that crop up on
your debut album "Dreaming of Spires”?

July Skies:

I have always had a fascination with the
English countryside and skies especially
during the summer months when you
get massive beautiful ‘stretched horizontal
skies’ late in the evening.

If you have seen most of the Hood album artwork
you will know exactly what I am trying to explain.

For me, the best skies are across East Anglia
as the Region has such a flat landscape and shifting
weather pattern, you really do get awesome skies
there! I like to think the name might also
gives an idea as to how the music might sound.

The album is essentially all about the summer
months and on certain tracks, exploring the
hidden bits of England that have survived
from the past. I hope there is enough texture
and space for people to explore these places
in their own mind.

A few people have frighteningly picked up on the
fact that the music isn’t just about now but
maybe how things may have been 20 or even 50
years ago.

It is really hard to describe, but there is definitely
some sort of nostalgia running through the whole album.

There are so many good bits of this country that get overlooked
or are not fully appreciated, follies, old-field systems,abandoned
places and buildings that just don’t get visited and I love finding
things that have survived from past decades that really
shouldn’t have… old country road signs or
advertisements……I recently spotted a faded advert
fixed to a Norfolk village shop wall that had the old 70/80’s
‘Walls Ice Cream’ kids on it…….they were very faded but it
was wonderful to see the familiar retro faces, clothes and
bowl haircuts once more.

I hope this kind of thing comes across in the music
and I guess the clearest historical reference
on the album is the track ‘The Ruined and Disused
Churches of Norfolk’.

That one came about after exploring the subject of
the title for a couple of summers.

There are literally hundreds of these ruined and
disused churches all across Norfolk in varying
degrees of decay. Many were abandoned when
whole villages were wiped out by the plague and some
were lost to the sea.

The amazing thing with many of these ruins is that
they are in the middle of nowhere with loads of overgrown
forgotten gravestones and artefacts……just left
abandoned waiting for travellers to stumble upon
them once more or to disappear completely.

You can tell some of these places have not been visited
for a long, long time and some of the ruins and graveyards
had really weird odd atmospheres where it feels like it is
best not to hang around.

I also have this 1960’s children’s book, which I grew up
with in the 1980’s called ‘The Open Road’ by
H J Deverson.

It captures the images of the album perfectly through the
most amazing artwork of a journey through the English
countryside and towns in the 1960’s. The illustrator was
Ronald Lampitt who also created artwork for ladybird
books in the 1960’s.

The book definitely reflects the sound of the album
and I would love to know whether either the
author or illustrator are still alive today.

Setting Sun:

What stuff (tunes wise) have you been listening to
recently and what are your influences for July Skies?
I originally thought among the lines of The Durutti Column
in places, as I think you use silence in your songs in a
very similar way in places, but listening to your
vocal songs, it goes in a completely different way.

July Skies:

I have recently been listening to a tape copy of
the Slowdive Pygmalion demos and their soundtrack
to the film ‘I Am The Elephant, You Are The Mouse’.
Both are superb and it is criminal that they
have not been officially released.

I think Slowdive are still vastly underrated but it
good to see them some recognition from
certain quarters of late.

I do hope someone has the initiative to put
out a box set of their ep’s, soundtrack
and unreleased songs soon.

I believe Neil Halstead has recently hinted at
this on a webzine interview, fingers crossed!

I have also recently picked up an album
called ‘From Gardens Where We Feel Secure’
by Virginia Astley which is a reissue from 1983.

The album i s split into two parts, morning and
afternoon and charts a day in the Oxfordshire
countryside in the early 1980’s. The music conjures
up a long lost innocent summer, early
morning mists across apple orchards,
morning shadows moving across cottage
gardens, country lanes with distant churchbells
peeling, there is a creaky gate (possible a
church?) that has been sampled which
provides the rhythm to one track, the sound
of oars on the Thames provide a backdrop
for a pretty track called ‘Summer of
Their Dreams……but there is a really
uneasy element that underpins the innocence
of the album, a few reverse bass notes during ‘
a Summer Long Since Passed’ hint at something
lurking, maybe watching you play in the
fields from afar……

the track ‘When the Fields Were On Fire’ also
adds a further strange atmosphere to the proceedings
with reversed sounds and what sounds like very
odd children’s voices underneath…..this track
paves the way for Boards of Canada to
follow over a decade later.

Actually, do you remember when farmers set
light to their fields to remove the stubble? The
countryside appeared to be burning through
September, amazing sights now consigned
to memory.

I have also been listening to The Tornados
2*CD Anthology. Lovely dreamy instrumentals
and of course, their big hit ‘Telstar’ which is
such a sad delicate piece of music. It just
reminds me of wet Autumn Saturday
afternoons in northern towns in the 60’s.

There are so many great tracks on this CD set,
favourites are ‘Globetrotter’, ‘Dreaming on
a Cloud’ and ‘The Ice Cream Man’.

I must also mention an album by The Caretaker
called ‘A Stairway to the Stars’
which uses old 78rpm dancehall records
to form new music by treating a effecting the sounds.
At times this really is beautiful music that has
a real sad haunting quality.

Other recent music worth a mention:

Mojave 3 - Spoon & Rafter

Interpol - Turn on The Bright Lights

Bent – The Everlasting Blink

Portal - Promise

British Sea Power - The Decline of British Sea Power

Different - Come on and Bring Back the Broken Sound
of Yore!

Prefab Sprout - Jordan The Comeback

The inspiration behind July Skies was not the
Durutti Column as I only became aware of
Vini Reilly’s music at a gig in late 1999 after
the first 7” and many other tracks had
been recorded. The sound engineer at the gig
was playing the Durutti Column album
‘Vini Reilly’ and I was mesmerised by the gorgeous
sounds, the music was so melancholy and
ached with sadness

……luckily the sound guy told me who the music
was by and I guess I have been a fan since!

I was definitely listening to loads of bands
like Quigley, Hydroplane, Flying Saucer Attack,
AMP, Red House Painters, Sweet Trip, Blueboy,
Secret Shine, Hood, Orange Cake Mix, Aphex Twin,
Piano Magic, Aberdeen around the time though.

The big influence for the inception of July Skies was
finding the music of Slowdive in 1995 and
realising that such beautiful sounds could be made
using guitars.

I think it was towards the end of 1997 I decided
to buy a second hand electric guitar and delay
effects pedal and learn a few chords.

After recording tracks at home in 1999, I saw a
review of a Portal 7” on Roisin Recordings in
Record Collector magazine and thought it would be
worth sending a CDR off to the label address.

I guess I was lucky that Stuart Newman
wanted to do a July Skies 7” ep.

Getting the first box of 7”s back from
Stuart was pure magic and a dream come true!!

The same goes for Vinita at Rocket Girl
for putting out the album on her label, which I
really admired prior to getting the 7”
released. It is all down to luck and timing!

The really great things that has occurred over the
past few years has been all of the connections
and relationships formed with other likeminded
bands such as Portal, Innerise, Yellow6, epic45,
Schengan etc…… a friendly voice or
musical help is only a phone call away!

Setting Sun:

I normally ask what releases / tours do you
have planned for the future, but I know
already that you are currently working
on a new album " The English Cold".

How does this compare to "Dreaming of Spires"?
What developments do you think you have
made from the previous album and
how does it feel working with additional
people on this album, e.g. some of
the guys from epic 45 when on
"Dreaming.." it was just you really?

July Skies:

Yes indeed, The English Cold
is finished. The overall dreamy feel
remains on the album but I think
it is less carefree than Dreaming
of Spires.

The inspiration behind
The English Cold came from finding an
old WWII airfield and its abandoned
buildings out in the countryside
in 2002 at Chedworth. I hope the
album manages to capture the
feelings of the people and
communities that were involved
and lived around these enigmatic places
during WWII …….the endless grey
British skies, the persistent heavy
rainfall and mud, the welcoming
village people……the feeling of
getting up night after night with fear
in your stomach knowing that tonight’s flight
might well be your last, just like
the guy that used to sleep in the
next bed to you …….the sub zero
temperatures for hours on end up in the
sky with the deafening sound of the engines
and the nauseous smell of cordite and
in some cases blood …… waiting in the watch
office for the first radio signals of returning planes
across the countryside…….counting the planes
home in the night sky…… the surrounding
countryside which lay beside all this
upheaval……..the harvest fields at dusk
on the other side of the hedgerow to
the airfields which would offer respite.

I have since been to many of these old
abandoned airfields……. they are amazing
places that are falling by the wayside due to
neglect, demolition and redevelopment……. all
of these deserted old buildings that were
once used by todays fading generation.
Some even still have the old murals and
artwork that pilots and crew during WWII
painted on the walls! Some are seriously
spooky places as well!!

The artwork for the album features photos
taken around Thorpe Abbots airfield in
Norfolk during WWII….you can see trees,
Nissen huts above a hedge, a road and crew
standing about in the distance . I visited the
same site in the summer to see if I could
find the exact place of the artwork to see
how things have changed. A volunteer at
the local airfield museum took me across
the decaying runways amongst the wheat
fields to the access road which features on
the artwork and found the remains of
old huts and pathways on the photo
amongst woodland.

The really amazing thing was finding lumps
of coke all over the floor which was left over
from the stoves in the huts, which was
used to keep the crews, warm.

Ben and Rob from epic45 have played
on parts of the album and when we were
recording together we spent time up on
the old deserted airfield at Wheaton
Aston in the evenings, watching nightfall
across the freezing cold fields as we explored
the old structures.

We found the old Watch Office, Hangers,
underground ‘Battle HQ’ bunker and also
this massive firing wall that still stands
sixty years on.

Working with Ben and Rob from epic45
was a real pleasure as they have so
many ideas, songs and sounds and
are both really into capturing the countryside
in sound. In return for their efforts I recorded some
clarinet on their forthcoming album ‘Against
the Pull of Autumn’ which should be out in 2004.

Setting Sun:

How do your live shows compare to your
more studio-based stuff? Considering I think Dreaming...
is generally such a private, almost naked album to
listen to in places, I could imagine it being
very difficult in places?

July Skies:

There have only been two July Skies live gigs both
of which were in London, I would love to do more
but it is all about finding time. I like to think that our
last gig offered a contrast between the quieter songs
such as ‘Swallows and Swifts’ and
‘The Countryside of 1939’ with
‘Coastal Stations’ and ‘The English Cold’
which sound much larger than the recordings
as we applied massive washes of reverb.
Someone mentioned that it was sounding pretty
glacial at times. I wish there was more time to hook
up with Ben and Rob, who knows, maybe next year
there will be a few more gigs.

Setting Sun:

What's the story behind "Coastlines and Laughter”,
track 5 from Dreaming... That is probably my favourite
track from the album, in the way the loop comes in and
then after you have finished singing, you then finish
off with some beautiful strummed guitar work.

July Skies:

Glad you like it! There is a sort of loop on that track
through the distorted guitar in the background,
but it is all hand stitched together as I don’t have
a looping facility……I remember that well
as it took ages!

The actual song is about a moment on Hunstanton
Beach in Norfolk on a cold June afternoon a few
years ago looking out to sea underneath the
lighthouse as storms raged overhead.

Setting Sun:

In a lot of ways, what I love about the first
album like I mentioned before is the way
you use silence to make quite some beautiful points.
Take for example, your first track on “Dreaming.. “
– Coastal Stations,where we hear a radio
announcement announcing the weather report.
I found that incredibly touching when I first
heard it. What was the inspiration behind
that etc, etc?

July Skies:

Yes silence can sometimes make as stronger
point than actual noise, think about the music
by Low and The Red House Painters, both
masters of silence.

Like many of the songs the inspiration
for Coastal Stations came from a geographical
location. In this instance the starting point was a visit
at dusk to Beachy Head and Birling Gap on the
Sussex coast….I remember lying in the grass
watching the car headlights pass by on the coast
road into the night.

The use of the Shipping Forecast just seemed to
fit the dusky nature of the track.

There is just something so enigmatic
about the Shipping Forecast,

I love listening to it late at night and wondering
who else at sea might also be listening in to
it for serious shipping reasons.

Setting Sun:

What's the local live scene like you where
you live? Have you seen any good gigs lately?

July Skies:

The last gig I saw was British Sea Power in
Birmingham and Warwick, they were amazing
and I love their 1940’s/50’s ethos….

They are a refreshing change, the support band
The Killers were also great!

I also saw epic45 at the Flapper and Firkin
In Birmingham…… an awesome set of
new material. They finished on this really
dark version of ‘When the Cold Weather Comes’
which was immense. Catch them live if
they play near you.

Setting Sun:

When you are not in July Skies, what do
you do?

July Skies:

As you have probably guessed exploring the landscape,
ancient monuments, abandoned places etc. I also love
taking photos with really cheap cameras. I picked up an
old Polaroid Landcam 103 (early 70’s) from a car boot for
£8 last year. This is the most magical camera which I
have ever come across as with a bit of experimentation
with the focusing you can take really dreamy
landscape shots! The lens for such a cheap
camera is magnificent!!

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