EMMA POLLOCK-IN SEARCH OF HARPERFIELD-S.A.Y.A. NOMINEE.
EMMA POLLOCK-IN SEARCH OF HARPERFIELD-S.A.Y.A. NOMINEE.
Most people haven’t heard of Castle Douglas. Why should they? It’s a small market town in Dumfries and Galloway, in south-west Scotland. However, Castle Douglas has been home to some famous faces over the last 224 years. This includes a potter, politician, footballer and two rugby players. However, they’ve been usurped as Castle Douglas’ most famous former resident. Nowadays, former Delgado and singer-songwriter Emma Pollock is regarded as CD’s most famous former resident.
Emma Pollock released her much anticipated third solo album, In Search Of Harperfield on Chemikal Underground earlier this year. When I reviewed In Search Of Harperfield, I remarked that it was an early contender for the 2016 Scottish Album Of The Year Award. I wash’t wrong.
Recently, the long list of twenty albums that had been nominated for Scottish Album Of The Year Award was published. As I forecast, In Search Of Harperfield was one of the twenty albums on the long-list. It richly deserved its place on the long-list and would be a worthy winner of the £20,o00 first prize and the Scottish Album Of The Year Award. In Search Of Harperfield is Emma Pollock’s first solo album since The Law of Large Numbers in 2010. Since then, Emma has been busy, not just making music, but running Chemikal Underground, which in 2015, celebrated its twentieth anniversary. Businesswoman is just another addition to Emma Pollock’s impressive CV.
Her story began back in 1994, when The Delgados were formed. Emma’s partner Paul Savage had been a member of the band Bubblegum. That was until a coup d’état. Suddenly, Paul, Alun Woodward and Stewart Henderson found themselves out in the cold. Their only option was to form a new band.
That’s when The Delgados were born. The three former members of Bubblegum asked Emma to join the nascent band. She became The Delgados vocalist and guitarist. Little did Emma or the rest of the band realise that this was the start of an eleven year journey.
During that journey, The Delgados released a string of singles and E.P.s; not forgetting five albums. However, the first anyone heard of The Delgados was when Liquidation Girl featured on a compilation Skookum Chief Powered Teenage Zit Rock Angst. Those that heard Liquidation Girl realised that The Delgados were rising stars of the Scottish music scene. Surely, record companies would soon be chasing their signature?
That’s not how it worked out. Rather than sign to a record company, The Delgados decided to form their own record label, Chemikal Underground. Two of the new label’s first signings were Mogwai and Arab Strap. Just like The Delgados, they eventually became Scottish music royalty.
Chemikal Underground’s first release came in 1995, when The Delgados debut single Veronica Webster was released. This was the first of a string of singles and E.P.s that Mogwai would release over a ten year period. They would also release five albums. Their debut album was released in 1996.
Just over years after The Delgados were formed, they released their debut album Domestiques in November 1996. By then, The Delgados were combining running a record label with touring and recording. It was like spinning plates. However, The Delgados made it seem easy.
When Domestiques was released. it was to almost overwhelming critical acclaim. Indie rock met pop and even a punk aesthetic on Domestiques, which was hook-laden and melodic. The Delgados hadn’t yet been shorn of their rough edges, had won over even the mist hard bitten gonzo music critic. So was DJ John Peel.
He began championing The Delgados music in 1996. Soon, his The Delgados were a favourite of his listeners. So much so, that when the votes were counted for John Peel’s Festive Fifty, The Delgados Under Canvas, Under Wraps was number three. This was an unexpected Christmas present, as the adventure continued for The Delgados.
In June 1998, The Delgados returned with their sophomore album, Peloton. Just like Domestiques, its title was another reference to cycling. Another similarity was that the critical acclaim accompanied the release of Peloton.
Critics pointed at a more polished album, which showcased The Delgados unique brand of indie rock. Gone were The Delgados rough edges. It was a very different band to the one that featured on Domestiques, and one that were about to enjoy their first hit single.
Pull the Wires From the Wall was released as a single, and reached number sixty-nine in the UK charts. For The Delgados this was definitely another step in the right direction.
The Great Eastern.
As the new millennia dawned, The Delgados returned with what was their Magnus Opus, The Great Eastern. It was produced by American producer Dave Fridmann, who previously, had worked with Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips. Now he turned his attention to The Delgados, and played his part in a career-defining album.
Released in 2000, the title referenced a famous Glasgow landmark, a one-time textile mill that in 2000, was home to the city’s homeless. However, for a generation of music lovers, The Great Western meant The Delgados’ third, and best album. Critics agreed.
When the critics had their say, they hailed The Great Western The Delgado’s finest hour. Elements of folk and indie rock combined on The Great Western, a dreamy, sometimes elegiac, minimalist and thoughtful opus. Everything it seemed, had been leading up to The Great Western. The Delgados were hot property. However, things got even better for The Delgados.
American Trilogy reached sixty-one on the UK charts. Then when the end of year awards were announced, The Great Western won prizes galore. The Spirit Of Scotland Award, the Nordoff-Robbins Best Newcomer Award and Jockrock Tartan Cleft Award. Then The Great Western was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. For Emma Polock and the rest of The Delgados, 2000 had been the most successful year of their six year career.
Following up a career-defining album is never easy for a band. That’s been the case throughout musical history. That was the case for The Delgados. The Great Western was their finest hour, and nowadays, is regarded as one of the greatest Scottish albums. However, The Delgados were determined to produce another award winning album.
The four Delgados returned to the studio with producer Dave Fridmann. Over the next few months, they recorded what became Hate. This time around, Dave Fridmann who had worked with the Flaming Lips, seems to use them as a template. This was noticed by critics.
Unlike previous Delgados albums, Hate was released on the Mantra label in October 2002. Reviews of Hate were mostly positive. A few critics even compared Hate to The Flaming Lips 1999 album The Soft Bulletin. That wasn’t surprising.
Both albums had been produced by Dave Fridmann. His star was in the ascendancy. Despite that, Hate didn’t quite receive the same critical acclaim as The Great Western had. Normally, this would’ve been disappointing. However, that was almost expected. The Great Western had been The Delgados’ Magnus Opus. Most groups never reach the same heights as The Great Western, never mind releasing a quartet of successful albums. Soon, four would become five.
For The Delgados’ fifth album, they decided to change direction. Dave Fridmann didn’t return for a third time. Instead, Tony Doogan, who had worked with Mogwai, co-produced what became Universal Audio with The Delgados.
It was recorded at Chem 19, Chemikal Underground’s own recording studio. Universal Audio was a much more understated album. Gone was the orchestral sound of previous albums. The Delgados seemed to be reinventing their music. The did this with the help of Belle and Sebastian’s Stevie Jackson and Mother and The Addicts. Once Universal Audio was complete, it was released in September 2004.
Reviews of Universal Audio ranged from positive to critically acclaimed. Mostly, critics embraced the new Delagados. So did record buyers, when the album was released. When they bought Universal Audio, little did they realise it would be The Delgados swan-song.
Eight months after the release of Universal Audio, came the shock news that The Delgados were splitting up. Alan Henderson had announced that he was leaving the band. Rather than seek a replacement, The Delgados called time on their career, but continued to run Chemikal Underground. However, two former members of The Delgados embarked on solo careers, Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock.
The Solo Years.
Later in 2005, Emma Pollock signed a record contract with London based independent label 4AD. She was going to combine a solo career with running Chemikal Underground. It was by then, the most successful Scottish record label. Still, Emma was spinning plates. This was no problem for someone with a degree in physics from Strathclyde University.
Two years later, and Emma Pollock returned with her debut solo album, Watch The Fireworks.
Watch The Fireworks.
Watch The Fireworks featured eleven new songs written by Emma Pollock. She had recorded Watch the Fireworks with Australian producer, Victor Van Vugt. He had an impressive track record; and previously, had worked with everyone from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds to Beth Orton, Depeche Mode and Einstürzende Neubauten. With a CV like that, he seemed the ideal person to produce Emma’s debut album, Watch The Fireworks. When it was complete, it was scheduled for release in September 2007.
Before then, Adrenaline was released as the lead single from Watch the Fireworks in May 2007. It was paired with A Glorious Day, a poem by Irish poet Brendan Cleary set to music. Adrenaline was a tantalising taste of what Emma Pollock had in store on Watch The Fireworks.
In the lead up the release of Watch The Fireworks, critics had their say on Emma Pollock’s debut album. For any artist, this is a nerve-wracking moment. It doesn’t matter if it’s their first or tenth album. Emma needn’t have worried. Watch The Fireworks was well received by critics. Most of the reviews were positive. They were won over by an eclectic album from a hugely talented, versatile vocalist.
There was everything from waltz, ballads, indie pop and indie rock on Watch The Fireworks. Some critics drew comparisons with The Degados. That wasn’t surprising. Paul Savage played on Watch The Fireworks, and watched as Emma made the transition from band member to solo artist seem ridiculously easy. Effortlessly, Emma changed direction on Watch The Firework as the music veered between atmospheric, emotive, melodic, mesmeric, playful, urgent and wistful. The result was a triumphant debut album from the former Delgado. Now all Emma Pollock had to do, was do it all again.
The Law Of Large Numbers.
And so she did. Three years later, and Emma Pollock returned with her sophomore album The Law Of Large Numbers in 2010. Emma had written twelve new tracks, and recorded them with a tight, talented band of Scottish musicians. This included her partner Paul Savage, who by then, had established a reputation as one of the top Scottish producers. He replaced Victor Van Vugt, and produced The Law Of Large Numbers. It was more than a fitting followup to Watch The Fireworks.
Critics agreed. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of The Law Of Large Numbers. Just like Watch The Firework, The Law Of Large Numbers showcased a talented songwriter. Emma Pollock was a skilled wordsmith, capable of writing clever, catchy songs that didn’t lack in hooks. She was also able to adapt her delivery to suit the song.
Seamlessly, Emma could deliver a vocal with emotion, anger, frustration, joy or even with a weariness. On Chemistry Will Find Me and The Loop, Emma’s thoughtful and introspective. The Child in Me and House on the Hill finds Emma transformed into a folk singer. She handles the role with aplomb, before changing direction again. Then on Hug the Harbour and Confessions are delicious slices of perfect pop. By the end of The Law Of Large Numbers, Emma Pollock had come of age as a solo artist. Surely a third album would follow soon?
In Search Of Harperfield.
That proved not to be the same. Nearly six years have passed since Emma released The Law Of Large Numbers. Since then, a lot has happened.
Chemikal Underground, the label Emma Pollock cofounded, has grown into the most successful Scottish record label. Nowadays, it has an enviable roster. Helping run Chemikal Underground understandably, takes up a lot of Emma’s time. Sadly, for a while, so did family matters.
At one point, both of Emma’s parents were ill at the same time. Her father who still lived in Castle Douglas, was in hospital there. Emma’s mother, who lived in Glasgow, was in one of the city’s hospitals. So Emma, who is an only child, found herself journeying up and down the motorway, visiting her parents in different hospitals. Sadly, things took a turn for the worst in February 2015, when Emma’s mother passed away. This must have been devastating for Emma. Part of the grieving process for Emma was writing what became her third album, In Search Of Harperfield.
It’s an incredibly personal and powerful album. Harperfield Lodge was the first home Emma’s parents, Guy and Kathleen Pollock bought. They eventually bought and sold thirty houses during their marriage. This includes the five Emma lived in, in Castle Douglas alone. However, it’s Harperfield Lodge that has a special place in Emma’s heart. She remembers it vividly. So much so, that she can remember how the light shawn, the sense of space and being surrounded by nature. Harperfield Lodge sounds like a rural idyll that will forever, be imprinted on Emma’s memory. So will her parents.
Maybe that’s why a photograph of a young Guy Pollock dawns the album cover of In Search Of Harperfield? He’s pictured tending his animals on the hillside, on his land at Blair Atholl. That’s not the only time Guy or Kathleen Pollock feature on In Search Of Harperfield. They’re forever in the shadows on what’s the most personal and intense album of Emma Pollock’s career, In Search Of Harperfield.
It’s almost an autobiographical album. Emma looks back at her youth, which was spent growing up in the beautiful Galloway countryside. Other times, Emma introduces a series of characters. They play walk-on parts as Emma deals with a variety of subjects, including some many people would’ve chosen to forget. This includes bullying on Parks and Recreation. It’s one of the eleven songs on In Search Of Harperfield. The making of the album was a family affair.
Producing In Search Of Harperfield, was Emma’s husband, Paul Savage. He’s aided and abetted by Malcolm Lindsay. They provide the perfect backdrops to Emma’s vocals. They frame her vocals beautifully, and are like yin to Emma’s yang. on her much anticipated third album In Search Of Harperfield.
Cannot Keep A Secret opens In Search Of Harperfield. It deals with what Emma describes as “patriarchal machinations of Irish gender politics.” From the opening bars the listener is captivated, and the story unfolds. A distant piano plays, before pensive cooing harmonies usher in Emma’s heartfelt, thoughtful vocal. It’s accompanied by just the bass and harmonies before the piano and drums enter. They augmented by occasional finger clicks, and later as what’s an enchanting and beautiful song literally waltzes along, clicking hi-hats. Later, the arrangement becomes dramatic, elegiac and cinematic. By then the listener is spellbound, as they wonder what every happened to the characters in the song? Did: “they eddy and they flow and bring your sisters home?”
Pizzicato strings and a strident muted guitar combine on Don’t Make Me Wait. As the strings sweep, Emma is transformed into a sixties siren, as she delivers a slice of perfect pop. The hooks haven’t been spared, as Emma accompanied by choppy guitars, lush strings and a tinkling piano. She delivers a needy, but frustrated vocal. Soon, she’s delivering an ultimatum, “Don’t Make Me Wait.” She then rubs salt into wound when she tells her errant love he’ll: “never make it on your own.” What a way to round off a gorgeous slice of perfect pop, with the perfect pay off.
Alabaster opens with the sound of a Tube announcement. “The next stop is Strawberry Hill” signals an arrangement that slowly, plods, lysergically along. Meanwhile, Emma’s vocal is rueful and tinged with sadness and regret. She remembers better days, when: “like king and queen we ruled it all.” Not any more. As the arrangement and drama builds, this tale of betrayal unfolds. Soon, dramatic becomes melancholy, as Emma’s sings: “these little secrets do betray you see.” It’s a four minute soap opera with a pay off that packs a punch.
Quivering, shivering strings join a piano and guitar on Clemency. They set the scene for Emma’s folk-tinged vocal, on what’s another song about betrayal and an errant partner. Anger and frustration are omnipresent. She won’t forgive him in a hurry. He’s looking for clemency. However, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. “If you confess all, you really think you still won’t face the fire?” Emma is determined to make him suffer, and has revenge on her mind. No ordinary revenge. Instead, it’s Old Testament revenge. As shimmering strings and piano, combines Emma’s mind turns to revenge: “pushed down, fell down..,from every point of view you’ve tumbled.” The woman scorned has been avenged.
Intermission is a truly powerful song. It’s impossible not to be moved by a Intermission. A violin plays, and is joined by a cello. Soon, they’re reaching a dramatic crescendo. It’s then that Emma’s vocal enters. It’s a mixture a sadness, despair and panic. She’s having to watch her parents grow old, and become ill. Suddenly, she’s caring for the people who cared for her. They’re “the man I know best” and ‘“the woman who made me.” Now they’re dependant on Emma. Accompanied by swells of strings, Emma delivers what’s a heart-wrenching song, that many people will be able to relate to, and find solace in, knowing someone else has travelled the road they’re on.
As Parks and Recreation unfolds, there’s a rocky, sometimes post punk sound. Emma sounds like one time Pretender Chriss Hynde. As drums pound and guitars are sprayed across the arrangement, By then, memories come flooding back for Emma. She remembers the bullies who tormented her growing up. “I came down for a game of basketball, but you threw me a punch instead.” By then, the arrangement is rocky, rowdy and features call and response vocals. Mostly, Emma’s vocal is rueful. However, she’s had the last laugh. What are the bullies doing now? They’re certainly not making records, touring the world and running a record company.
Background chatter gives way to a motorbike, percussion and machine gun guitars on Vacant Stare. Soon, Emma’s delivering a questioning, rueful vocal. “How can I dive from over 15 metres high, when I can’t even swim?” Behind her, Paul is responsible for a stomping, rocky arrangement. It’s complete with chiming guitar, bubbling bass and harmonies. Emma’s vocal has been multi-tracked and they fit hand in glove with her vocal. It delivers what are clever, witty vocals. They become part of another hook laden song from Galloway’s finest singer-songwriter.
As In The Company Of The Damned unfolds, it sounds as it’s been recorded by a sixties girl group. The rhythm section and chumming guitars accompany Emma and her younger self. The older and wiser Emma, asks “do you really want to stay here, In the company of the damned, as they prepare to take your hanshd, torment with true ambition?” Like a seer, Emma can see if she had, there wouldn’t be a happy ending. Luckily, she had the courage and foresight to get out, and should be a shining light to a new generation, not just in CD, but small towns across Scotland.
Emma is accompanied by an acoustic guitar and the lushest of strings on Dark Skies. She’s in a thoughtful mood. Meanwhile occasional rolls of timpani and pizzicato strings punctuate the arrangement. All the time, Emma strums her guitar as she delivers a tender, pensive vocal, as the arrangement grows, becoming dramatic. Still there’s a sense of wonderment in Emma’s vocal as she delivers lyrics that are poetic and cerebral.
Monster In The Pack is another guitar lead track. Emma plays the guitar, before scrubbing at in. This adds an element of drama, before dark strings sweep in adding the perfect accompaniment to the cinematic lyrics. Desperation and loneliness in Emma’s voice. She’s also lost her faith. That’s apparent as she sings: “and I only go to church cause my friends are out today.” When Emma sings: “my head is full of noise, won’t you listen it’s so loud in here, my heart and my silence break,” despair and loneliness become a cry for help. That becomes apparent as she sings of the “Monster In The Pack,” in this emotive, cinematic, folk-tinged track.
Closing In Search Of Harperfield is Old Ghosts. What sounds like an eighties drum machine rings out. It’s joined by a poignant sounding piano. As the drum machine shuffles along, Emma who sounds like Karen Carpenter, is having a conversation with her mother. She’s older and wiser, and is speaking with the benefit of maturity. “I’m not sorry that you’re gone, the hell we raised was always fun, but I’m not sorry that you’re gone” is an acknowledgement that the pain and suffering is over, but the love Emma has for her mother isn’t. Soon, Emma is walking through her parents house, reminiscing, talking to them. Like so many adult Emma who’ve argued with their parents, she struggles to understand: “why so reasonable now?” As the song draws to a close, Emma realises she’s alone; and how am I supposed to speak to, those I ridiculed but still looked up to?” Poignant and moving describes what’s a truly beautiful way to end In Search Of Harperfield.
It’s the long-awaited, and much-anticipated, followup to Emma Pollock’s sophomore album In Search Of Large Numbers. It was released in 2010. Since then, a lot has happened in Emma Pollock’s life. At one point, both her parents were ill, and in hospital. Suddenly, Emma was no longer singer, songwriter or businesswoman. Instead, she was a loving and dutiful daughter, who was caring for “the man I know best” and ‘“the woman who made me.” Then in February 2015, Emma’s mother passed away. This must have left a massive void, and been a lot for Emma to cope with. She began to grieve, and part of the grieving process was writing and recording.
Hopefully, writing and recording Search Of Harperfield was cathartic. It’s certainly an album that many people will be able to relate to. Many of the songs are beautiful, moving and poignant. Especially Intermission and Old Ghosts, which is one of the most moving, emotive and beautiful songs I’ve heard in a long time. That’s testament to Emma Pollock’s skills as a singer and songwriter.
From the opening bars of Cannot Keep A Secret, right through to the closing notes of Old Ghosts, Emma Pollock tells a series of stories. Often, her lyrics are cinematic. That’s the case on Cannot Keep A Secret, where harmonies and an orchestral arrangement accompany and augment Emma’s vocal. The arrangement comes courtesy of Paul Savage. He provides a backdrop for Emma, as she sings of betrayal and revenge on Alabaster and Clemency. Very different is Don’t Make Me Wait, a delicious hook-laden slice of perfect pop. Hooks certainly have’t been rationed on In Search Of Harperfield. That’s the case on Cannot Keep A Secret, and Parks and Recreation where Emma remembers the bullies who tormented her younger self. Emma however, has the last laugh. Later, on In The Company Of The Damned an older, wiser Emma advises her younger self on her future. It has a happy ending, with Emma fulfilling her early potential.
That’s almost an understatement. Emma Pollock is the small town girl who headed to the city, and graduated with a degree in physics. She joined a band, they toured the world and released five albums. Then when the band broke up, Emma Pollock embarked on a solo career, and somewhere along the way, married the drummer. Now Emma has just released her third and best solo album, In Search Of Harperfield, on Chemikal Underground.
In Search Of Harperfield is a career defining, autobiographical album from Emma Pollock. Hopefully, writing and recording In Search Of Harperfield has been cathartic for Emma Pollock. The last few years have been tough for her. However, the future looks bright for Castle Douglas’ most famous famous former resident. Especially if she continues to release albums of the quality of In Search Of Harperfield. It would be a worthy winner of the 2016 Scottish Album Of The Year Award. So when the time comes to vote for the winner of 2016 Scottish Album Of The Year Award, Emma Pollock’s career defining album In Search Of Harperfield is worthy of your vote.
EMMA POLLOCK-IN SEARCH OF HARPERFIELD-S.A.Y.A. NOMINEE.