virginia_astley

Here’s to another unheralded and quite forgotten one. In the summer of 1983, a humble, charming bit of pastoral neo-folk music was released. Mixing field recordings, piano, guitar, flute, and, very sparingly, voice, a young woman presented a breathtaking idea of how a certain English feeling can reveal itself to you. Back then, Virginia opened her gate to a garden somewhere nearby and in doing so introduced the world to a new type of folk music.

virginia-rough-trade

You see, the garden depicted on the back of the album played a monumental role in the creation of this album. Filled with cherry blossoms and all sorts of wandering birds, this natural environ seeded all the wonderful melodies you’ll hear here. Back then, no one quite knew how to label this Watford-native’s music. Clearly moved by the little things most other people take for granted, in her case the sound of the actual gate leading her to that beautiful scene, she would diligently take a field recorder and capture all these sounds we tend to push aside in our hurry to some grey life. Many times, other early ambient or new age musicians had drawn on purely bird sounds or specific moods to make music that said: hey this is what you should imagine. Not so, with Virginia.

In From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, Virginia starts to realize that many of the forgotten bits of noise; maybe a stream running by, a church bell ringing in the distance, or wind rustling to and fro, that can be recorded, can also fill the out the rest of our meditative life. In turn these sounds, as she would loop, fade in between, overlay and play back in a studio, would form the bed from which a musical imagination can roam and germinate.

As you hear bird song get accompanied by clarion call, as you hear in “A Summer Long Since Passed”, can you hear how Virginia tries to play a piano melody no longer trying to evoke a mood but one that was trying to blend into its gorgeous pastorale? Rather than step back and musically say, here is an instrument imposing this thought of nature or separating the music from the environment…here’s nature moving the melody. Its something most ambient and new age musics lack, an intrinsic feeling of being an active participant in a genuine world around them.

The album itself is divided into two sides, one for dawn (starting with “With My Eyes Open I’m Dreaming”) and one for afternoon (now with “Out on the Lawn I Lie in Bed). Its nigh impossible to describe the innocence, nostalgia, and freshness pervasive throughout the recording. Few albums evoke memory so beautifully. Played quietly, it can fill your atmosphere with thoughts you forget are always there in the background. Few albums invite you to step in, listen, and engage with these bits of half-forgotten stories. In the end, it all sounds so familiar, right? Could it be our new traditions filling the remainder?

Bonus track, watch Virginia perform “Waiting to Fall” a track from this period at the BBC: