Grasscut are uniquely concerned with place, with location, with the physicality of the world around us and how we represent that physicality through stories, poems, maps, myths and, most of all, music. Their debut album, “1 Inch: ½ Mile,” carried this idea in its title (a reference to map scales) and in the fact that its nine tracks were accompanied by a map of the lost Sussex village of Balsdean. Their second album, “Unearth,” continues and deepens this features ten songs, each inspired by a specific location in Britain, from a drowned village at the bottom of a Welsh reservoir to the Yorkshire hotel in which Agatha Christie ‘disappeared’ in the 1920s.
The opening track, “Cut Grass,” is a setting of Philip Larkin’s poem of the same name, inspired by a visit to Hull’s Cottingham Cemetery. “Blink In The Night” began in a New York bookstore, with the chance discovery of the order of service from TS Eliot’s funeral, but ended up in East Coker, the Eliots’ family seat. “We Fold Ourselves” started in Surrey, inspired by the spectral Silent Pool frequented by Alfred Lord Tennyson in the late nineteenth century.
If “1 Inch: ½ Mile” featured a mix of songcraft and electronica, “Unearth” tips the balance towards songs. It’s a more vocal record and both the legendary Robert Wyatt and Gazelle Twin contribute – alongside main vocals from Grasscut composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Phillips. Seb Rochford features on drums; Grasscut’s Marcus O’Dair on double bass.
“Music that isn’t quite like anything you’ve ever heard before. Music that sounds like it could only be made in 2012. Music that’s constantly trying to push the boundaries but at the same time stay accessible… It just keeps your ears refreshed and alive”
— Tom Robinson, BBC 6Music
“In the electro-crossover stakes so favoured by Mercury-watchers, …Grasscut’s Unearth offers a more satisfying expansion of the electro-pop envelope through songs inspired by alliances of people, places and poetry, from Larkin to Tennyson and TS Eliot”
— Andy Gill, The Independent
So far so simple. Ten beautiful, evocative songs. Ten locations. Ten double-exposed pinhole photographs in the album artwork. But the record, too, is double-exposed. There is also a shadow version of “Unearth,” comprising alternative versions of each of the ten tracks. Each currently exists only on a single cassette, which has been concealed (with Walkman!) in the appropriate location around the country.
Grasscut invite those of a curious and/or dogged disposition to locate any or all of the boxes, following clues and directions the group will leave online in the run-up to the album’s release, and to listen to the music in situ. Any one who gets in touch with evidence that they visited one or more of the spots will receive a signed CD copy of the ‘shadow’ album in the post. Anybody who visits all the secret locations will have the opportunity of the band playing in their house for them and their friends. The band’s A&R has even promised to make soup for the assembled throng.
Cut Grass: Cottingham Cemetery, Hull.
Pieces: Gallions Reach, East London.
Blink In the Night: East Coker, Somerset.
Reservoir: Lake Vrynwy, Wales.
Stone Lions: Abney Park Cemetery, London.
A Mysterious Disappearance: Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate.
From Towns And Fields: Beachy Head, East Sussex.
The Lights: Margate.
We Fold Ourselves: The Silent Pool, Surrey.
Richardson Road: Richardson Road, Hove.
Andrew Phillips – Unearth Track Notes
This came together on the train home from Spurn Point, a dramatic thin strip of land stretching out into the estuary near Hull. Marcus had just read that Philip Larkin, the librarian at Hull University, regarded his poem Cut Grass almost as a lyric in need of a song, and suggested we do something with it. Larkin used to visit Spurn Point regularly, as did Vaughan Williams, who wrote a piece of the same name in 1926. I hope Larkin would think the track does his poem justice.
In 2010, we did a gig in a metal container on the fringes of the Olympic site. This song is about the area being remixed, re-skinned, and repackaged, as well as about reinventing ourselves.
Blink In The Night
I was in a bookstore in New York City and came across the Order of Service from TS Eliot’s funeral. He was American but the Eliots were originally from East Coker in Somerset, which is where he’s buried. His voice (from the poem ‘East Coker’, from ‘Four Quartets’) is featured in this track. When I first read his poetry I was listening to a lot of Kraftwerk and Joy Division, which I think really comes out.
I visited a reservoir in Wales called Lake Vrynwy, which has a drowned village at the bottom. Everyone was moved out in the 1880s as a dam was built and the place was flooded. Back in Brighton, I started having dreams about swimming through my local pub and post office. Seb Rochford’s drums strike the perfect note, liquid and crispy all at the same time.
I was wandering through the country outside a village in Surrey and found an abandoned hut full of amazing sculptures. It turned out that the artist who had lived there had recently died, and the place was exactly as he’d left it. I went back a few months later to find a housing estate with little stone lions on the gates. I was living near Abney Park Cemetery in London at the time, which was built on the site of an old country house, and I later noticed a sleeping stone lion there. In 2011, Iain Sinclair published an article in The Guardian about the coade stone lions outside London’s County Hall, which had moved from a brewery to Waterloo Station in the 19th century before settling at County Hall for the 1951 Festival of Britain. That’s when the song came together – once you notice one stone lion, they seem to be everywhere.
A Mysterious Disappearance
I scored a tv drama called Agatha Christie: A Life in Pictures, which really stayed with me. In 1926, she discovered her husband was having an affair; she left her children, abandoned her car, and fled to the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate in Yorkshire, signing in under a false name. After the biggest manhunt in British history, she was recognised after ten days. She never let on whether she had suffered a genuine breakdown or whether she had simply staged it in order to get back at her husband. It felt just right to do an electronic song about celebrity in the 1920s. The track features vocals by Elizabeth (aka Gazelle Twin) who, spookily, is originally from Harrogate.
From Towns & Fields
This is a personal song: I lost someone very close to me a few years ago, and it’s about the need to get together with people in big places to say goodbye, but also to celebrate – so, though it’s reflective, it’s an up tune. David (from Oddfellow’s Casino) and Elizabeth’s vocals give it the big wide feel I really wanted in the chorus.
There are two versions of this song. The album one was inspired by the millions of glittering shells in the mysterious Shell Grotto in the backstreets of Margate in Kent. Well worth a visit. The other version was shaped by a rather different experience: getting there on the M25.
We Fold Ourselves
I found ‘Songs Of The British Isles’, sung by Kathleen Ferrier, a 10” vinyl treasure from 1952, in a junk shop in North Wales. It includes ‘Now Sleeps The Crimson Petal’, a transcendental love poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson arranged as a song by Roger Quilter. We Fold Ourselves is a cyber duet with Kathleen, a song about motorways through ancient hills, housing estates, and lakes. Tennyson used to visit the Silent Pool in Surrey for inspiration – it’s a haunting place, soundtracked by the distant sound of cars, and definitely the spiritual home of this song. The Silent Pool is also the place in which Agatha Christie abandoned her car in 1926.
… is a perfectly nice, but not particularly unusual road in Hove. I found myself walking home past it very early one day, and for a moment the reflection of the early sun in the shop windows lit up the street. A little later, a friend was supposed to be moving nearby, but didn’t, and so the song is about how things might have been – and about how the ordinary is never quite ordinary when you look. It features the wonderful Robert Wyatt on vocals and cornet, and his contribution lifts the song so much more than we could have hoped.