My earliest childhood memory is one where I was in my pushchair. It was a cold rainy day and my mom was walking to a clinic, probably for my benefit, it was quite a walk in the rain, probably a couple of miles (she never learned to drive). I was snug in my pushchair with a see-through plastic cover around me. It was the early 1980s, not sure of the exact year. My poor mom was soaked, but I, oblivious to her discomfort was not only comfortable being chauffeured around in my little bubble, but was actively enjoying seeing the world in this way - low down to the ground, watching the rain running down the plastic cover around me, hearing the crackles of the water hitting my little mobile shelter, but most importantly feeling safe like most small children do in the company of their own mother. At some point during the walk, we passed a row of Lombardy Poplar trees swaying in the wind. The trees, for some reason took on a feminine role to me and appeared somewhat stern, so in my mind I called them ‘the big sisters’.
Many years later but still in my childhood, I was in the upstairs front bedroom of my home and looked out into the distance over the rooftops. There amongst the redbrick houses of suburbia I saw a row of distinctive Lombardy Poplars. The sight of the trees reminded me of the time in my pushchair, a faded memory that had been temporarily locked away in the archives of my mind until this very moment, unlocked by the mere sight of the trees. I felt an overwhelming sensation of melancholy, like nothing I had ever felt before. I felt like I was sad for the loss of that ignorance, the loss of that moment of being a smaller child, seeing the world for the first time in this blissful bubble and that my days of being chauffeured around in that way were over. This was my first ever taste of nostalgia, but nostalgia was a word I was not aware of until many more years later. I had never discussed nostalgia with anyone, as far as I was concerned this feeling was unique to me - I was after all still a child. I kept the experience to myself, not sure whether it was normal to feel that way, it almost became a secret.
In my teenage years, probably around the age of 14, I and two friends went on a fairly long jaunt through various suburbs starting in our own neighbourhood. Halfway on this jaunt we got to that very same row of poplars that I saw from my pushchair in the early 80s, this was now the early 90s. The nostalgia kicked in again, but this time it was nostalgia on top of nostalgia, both childhood memories came back to me like consecutive echoes. I recalled that straight after my first taste of nostalgia that I was convinced that the row of poplars I saw from the bedroom were the same trees in that pushchair experience. But now I was faced with the real deal, the very same trees I saw on that day in the rain. A small part of my memory puzzle had been clarified, my distant childhood memory had somehow opened up simply due to seeing these unique trees again.
At the age of 20 I moved to north London to go to university. In my third year of university I moved into a white 1920s/1930s semi-detached house, complete with front facing balcony in Oakwood, on a road that was lined with Cherry Blossom trees. Oakwood is in the very northern edge of north London, pretty much bordering with a more rural Hertfordshire. The garden backed onto the Piccadilly Line of the London Underground, except this stretch of the line was over ground. The house used to shake slightly as trains approached and passed, in the summer I used to lie on the grass and could feel a train approaching through rumbles in the earth before it was in sight. Dividing the garden from the train tracks was a chain link fence and a row of tall Lombardy Poplars.
During the autumn of 2001, I recorded an improvised piece with an electric guitar and an old digital delay pedal. The piece seemed to feel autumnal, slowly decaying, melancholy. Listening to this piece, accompanied by the sight of the Lombardy Poplars in my garden and the autumnal colours reminded me yet again of the pushchair memory and the secondary and tertiary instances via nostalgia. For quite a while after making this piece I became somewhat obsessed with this memory and the palpable atmosphere it seemed to surround me with. I called the track ‘Poplar Avenue’.
A short walk down the road from my student house was ‘Oakwood Park’. I used to visit the park often, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone with ‘Poplar Avenue’ playing on MiniDisc through my headphones. The original version of the track was over 18 minutes in length.
Oakwood park is sort of rectangular in shape with houses backing onto its perimeter. A path stretches around the outside of the park. Along one stretch of the path is an avenue of Lombardy Poplars. I have a memory of wanting to capture the atmosphere of the place to include in my track ‘Poplar Avenue’. I visited the place several times with my MiniDisc recorder and home-made binaural microphones. On one occasion, on a windy and rainy day with my binaural microphones tucked under my wooly hat, I stood still in the middle of this avenue of tall trees recording the sound of the wind and rain. Over the top of my microphones I wore headphones playing the track ‘Poplar Avenue’ from a personal stereo cassette player so I could capture the sound of the weather and the music simultaneously. I stood there, still, in the wind and rain for the duration of the track, around 18 minutes. When I approached the end of the track the batteries started to run down in my cassette player and the music started to slow down. I was pretty gutted, but I was so determined to get this right I walked back home, got some more batteries and walked back to the avenue of poplars to start all over again.
So I returned to the trees and tried the experiment again. I stood still for another 18+ minutes , admittedly looking rather suspicious to any passers by or maybe people peering from behind their net curtains in the neighbouring houses. Luckily nobody approached me or phoned the police. Nobody could have ever imagined what I was doing, as innocent as it was, it probably looked odd.
After making the recording I went back home and listened back. I decided that I wasn’t satisfied with the technique of playing music through headphones over the top of my binaural in-ear microphones so I went back to the park, on the same day, and stood there for another 18 minutes recording the wind and rain in the poplars but without playing the music over the top through headphones.
Only a small amount of these recordings were used in the finished piece but when the track finally made it to the album ‘Fi’ in 2005 on Mush Records, it was cut down from 18 minutes to 5 minutes and 20 seconds, this was so it fit on the vinyl, and those sound recordings were edited out.
'Poplar Avenue' is still one of my favourite tracks off 'Fi' and still one of my favourite tracks of mine to date. one day I may release the unedited version.
In 2003 I left London and returned to my home town. Shortly after returning I started to record a lot of music with my friend Richard Roberts (now one half of Letherette). We used to record live and sampled guitar jams on various cassette recorders in various locations, indoors and outdoors. We once recorded a multi-tracked guitar piece on a laptop in the woods using an old burnt-out motorbike as a source of percussion, hitting and scraping it with pine branches and tree bark.
One recording we made was in Rich’s garden, again lined with a row of Lombardy Poplars. We sat with two cassette recorders and multi-tracked ourselves by recording to one machine then playing it out of the speakers and jamming over the top and capturing the result to the other machine. I still have a few tracks from this time, one I called ‘Under The Poplars’. I may also release this one day.
Now, in the year 2014, I find myself getting glimpses of nostalgia when I hear certain tracks, but this is not a nostalgia for childhood… this is a nostalgia for that time in my university years, preoccupied with the desire to capture the essence of a moment or a specific memory through simple lo-fi means. The Lombardy Poplar has become this symbol of nostalgia for me, it crops up at intervals throughout my life like echoes or layers of an onion. I feel that these echoes will continue into the future and will manifest into new translations of memories and longing. It feels like an ongoing story that has no meaning yet simultaneously feels strangely significant to me.