Serendipity is rare – that’s what makes it special. It’s the moment when you bump into someone you know from a different country - in the middle of London, or find out that a girl from your school knows a blogger friend of yours who lives several hundred miles away. Perhaps serendipity is mostly characterised by place or distance, and the coincidence of personal connections. However, it can also arrive in an email…
This specific email was one from a singer I had taken photos of at the Big Chill in 2010. Her name was Beth Jeans Houghton. I had noticed her glance at me as I raised my camera – standing between two professional, male photographers who were competing with the length of their lenses. The resulting portrait was posted on my blog here (she has knack for always looking extraordinary). I had circled Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves of Destiny in the festival leaflet as sounding interesting – I knew nothing about their music before I watched the set. It was good though, really good. I was impressed. This was an unexpected highlight that led to downloading of their EP a few days later and I listened to it repeatedly during August and the autumn months. At some point over those summer holidays a rather intriguing message arrived in my inbox.
“Are you the girl with the camera in front of the stage during our set at Big Chill?”
I replied that yes, yes I was! It emerged that a friend of hers had sent her a link to my blog, thinking that she may like it, and Beth then saw my mention of her. We’ve stayed in sporadic contact ever since, ranging across subjects from my surgery and GCSE’s to her tours and various features. It’s the nearest I’ve ever crept to having an occasional pen friend. We’ve never met in person, although I’m just waiting for a tour date to come near enough for that to change.
Somewhere along the way she sent me a demo of her album. The album that comes out tomorrow – that has been among the most played on my iPod for the last year and a bit. It’s called “Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose” and Beth’s voice simply soars among the tracks. I have already seen favourable reviews in NME and the Guardian, and am certain that a deluge of critical acclaim will follow.
(photo by me)
The first thing that struck me about the album is how cohesive it is. The songs float and fit smoothly together from start to end - even though individually they're very different. They evoke a sense of escapism, like snapshots or a collection of small narratives. I’m not a music journalist (tried and failed to learn four different instruments) – I can’t tell you what musical techniques she and the band are using, or give an entirely critical opinion. Furthermore, sounds, like smells, often evoke specific memories. This means that my experience of listening to the album will be distinctly different to that of someone playing it for the first time. I received the CD, with a lovely little typed note in December 2010 when I was spending the majority of my time lying on our grey sofa in the living room, following spinal surgery. My back was still heavy and stiff; the purple seam of a raw scar newly sewn. It began snowing that first afternoon of listening, and it fitted perfectly – flakes outside; spangly, beautiful music spiraling in the warm.
Whilst playing it, I was also in the process of reading Owen Sheers’ ‘Resistance’ – a stunning, tangled book about an alternate WWII and the impact on a group of isolated women in the Welsh hills. I am yet to see the film, and I don’t know if it was the influence of the book, or simply Beth’s talent, but the songs on the album appeared to encapsulate a real wildness. They make me want to ride horses and run down hills in the wind. Or at least, take photos of her doing that!
I think my favourite track might be ‘Barely Skinny Bone Tree’. It is incredibly atmospheric and shivery – a truly haunting song. However, others that induce that sense of exhilaration are Humble Digs, Atlas, Night Swimmer and Veins. You can listen to Lilliput here. They are in turn rousing or dreamy - her voice rising and falling like a skylark, accompanied by a multitude of instruments.
The album glitters – and so as a homage, does the outfit I am wearing here. I wanted to try to capture a little of the theatricality of Beth’s - and The Hooves of Destiny's - music, whilst retaining the more untamed element (easy enough living where I do!) So it was on with a metallic sixties zig-zag robe I bought in a vintage shop a little while ago. I felt that gold hotpants (ranking among the best Christmas present received this year!) were also highly appropriate, especially when paired with a purple silk pyjama top. The belt was my grandma's, the array of rings are vintage (many from family) and the shoes are from Next - the heels were appropriately muddy by the time we finished.
Although I already own an early copy of the album, I am so much looking forward to buying the vinyl after tomorrow's release.