Where do you go when you don’t quite know how to continue onward? You start to deconstruct your own past and footsteps. In 1972, an artist like Mark Fry must have been asking himself these questions. His influences Donovan, and Marc Bolan had started to go glam, and he himself wasn’t quite ready to leave his folk homestead. You could say his sound was resampling neo-folk, the cover art was clearly a sendup on Donovan’s Barabajagal and Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story, while the sound inside harkened to some kind of oscillating form of folk that kept reconfiguring itself until it was rendered in abstract terms.
Born and raised in Essex, but taking a brief sojourn in Italy, Mark was a 20-year old painter who was influenced by Futurist thoughts of deconstructing the present to deduce future art and processes. Somehow, his very unique folk sensibilities brought him to the attention of an experimental Italian record label Dischi Recordi (home of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Lucio Battisti and more surrealist musicians). This label offered him a 10-year contract, a contract he was naive enough to sign. Upon heading to record his debut he saw that the recording studio wasn’t conducive at all to recording a proper studio album. The producer would much rather read his fishing books and roll tape than bother instruct him on how to actually mic up his guitar or get a certain sound.
No matter, Rather than give up his dream he recorded his album in a basement studio of some Scottish musicians who had signed the same kind of contract. Acting like a precursor to many lo-fi artists, he proceeded to outline his unique take on folk during the span of four weekends. Using a jerry rigged dual 4-track machine he’d mess around with flanger, reversing tapes, flutes, and any odd assorted way to get his songs down. The studio was so decidedly low brow that they had to forget about using any drums since the walls were so porous. In the end, the workarounds shined brightest since had no one telling him that this style of folk wasn’t correct. The uniqueness of his laissez-faire attitude towards experimentation is found in the spirited sound of one magnificent track, the title track itself “Dreaming with Alice”.
the first snippet can be heard here as well:
Over the course of the whole album you’ll hear snippets and sections of this song, a verse here, then the song “The Witch“, three or more verses there, then a proper song “Song for the Wild“, another verse and bridge up yonder, then “Roses for Columbus“, and so on until it ends with a song played in reverse…all so wonderfully abstract and having more in common with our cut and paste, sampling world than with the traditional folk world his peers had started with. Was he ever a true folkie? did he much care for tradition? it doesn’t matter, he realized it was more about a feeling than a sound that could keep English folk music evolving. Unfortunately, this youthful naivety also became the nail that shut down any attempts to make him a star. After the record was released to pitiful sales, numbering in the single digit thousands, he joined Italian Lucio Dalla‘s band and called it a day, only singing “Lute and Flute” live on occasions that Lucio wanted to celebrate his friend. At this present day, Mark regrets forsaking his own career for painting and other deviations, ruminating about what could have been if he followed Alice a bit further down the rabbit hole, but that’s in his past, tomorrow we go further down the English neo-folk rabbit hole tomorrow…
Listen to Dreaming with Alice, in its more interesting, album form at (my favorite bit being around the 24 minute mark, with the folkgaze song “Down Narrow Streets” showing hints of Spacemen 3/Spiritualized’s future sound) Youtube:
or on Spotify by clicking here.