Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Skeletons: Miracle Mile's Bloated Biography

I suppose that this should feature in the 'Skeletons' section as it shows how unsavy MM have been when it comes to courting the press.
As you can see we didn't read 'Biog' rules number one and two:
1. Sure, pat yourself on the back but keep it snappy.
2. No bullshit; on no account should you talk about 'your feelings'.
It does give shape to MM's story and there is much kindness here in the reviews; I particularly like Johnny Black's lovely liner notes for Coffee and Stars towards the end (see you in half an hour) but boy, should someone have thrown a blanket over my cage ("the profundity of the mundane" for christ's sake.)
Brace yourselves...


In the mid 90's, singer-songwriter Trevor Jones began working with producer Steve Davis on material that was to become Miracle Mile’s debut album 'Bicycle Thieves'.

"Meticulously orchestrated, careful and complex, this is canny songwriting leavened by bona fide humanity."
Q ****

TJ: “Steve and I developed the recording band into a live unit, adding Les Nemes (bass) and Phil Smith (sax/keyboards) plus Trevor Smith on drums. After the release of 'Bicycle Thieves' in 1997, Mark Hornby joined the fold for gigs and the recording of the follow up 'Candids'.”

"A little gem, loaded with nagging guitar hooks and dynamic vocal interplay. Intellectually as well as emotionally engaging."

TJ: “After ‘Candids’ was released in 1998 I took the decision to stop doing live shows, as I wasn’t sure that the direction of my writing was in line with the gusto and spirit of that live band.”

The songs kept coming and in 1999 Steve and Trevor started work on new material for the third album, 'Slow Fade'. These recordings were more intimate, less orchestrated with the accent on the songs and the singer. Marcus Cliffe was brought in on Upright Bass, Trevor Smith remained on the drum stool, and the
 legend that is BJ Cole was draughted in to add some pedal steel magic.

TJ:Steve and I parted company mid-stream. Not the usual "musical differences", just an honest admission from Steve that, with family and a day job to attend to, he simply didn't have the time. I was blessed with Marcus. Having already struck up a friendship we decided to complete the album together as co-producers and musical partners.”
Cliffe had played with many fine folk (Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Daniel Lanois, Mark Knopfler) a pedigree apparent in the musical backdrops with which he furnished the songs. Slow Fade received ecstatic reviews and saw the further development of a more intimate direction.
"Gorgeous! A lovely, low key collection of sensitive, enchanting songs." THE TIMES ****

In the summer of 2001 MM started work on 'Alaska' at Marcus’s ‘Norbury Brook’ studio. At the time Jones was asked about the lyrical content of ‘Alaska’:
TJ: “These are hardly original ideas. The grass is always greener. The human condition is invariably in a state of disappointment. Is ‘different’ better? When habit and convention demoralizes and casts us adrift, how do we reset our course? Change? The thought of real change is intimidating; it could save us, yet we fear it, and remain content with cold compromise. Dissatisfied, we crave happiness and, when denied, we look elsewhere for a quick fix. As consumers, we’re so used to instant gratification, that we can only be disappointed. We want to be ‘of substance’’, yet we deny the process that makes the fabric hardy - life. We focus on the horizon, rather than on the small dramas in front of us. We desire to be “anywhere but here”, the possibilities of the ‘other life’ making us resent our real lives even more. Traditionally these ‘other lives’ were just vague unobtainable pipedreams, seen in fuzzy black and white. Now, digital clarity presents a focused and immediate reality that we demand, without investment or preparation. Thus, even if we make the dream reality, we’re unable to appreciate or recognise the gravity of it’s arrival; we just use it and move on to something else; easy come, easy go, there goes Mexico, or Alaska, or Sidcup, or Oz… or God. A lot of these songs focus on the tricks that we use, the games that we play, and the skills we develop, to stop ourselves from becoming unglued.”
MC: “The recording of ‘Alaska’ was a difficult time for us both. I was having problems with my family life, Trev had just lost his sister to suicide. I wouldn’t say that it made for a darker album, but there was an emotional edge that gave it a certain grain.”
‘Alaska’ was released in 2002 to overwhelming acclaim:

 "Gentle enchantment. The loveliest melodies you've ever heard."
In 2003 Cliffe was due to tour with Mark Knopfler for the bulk of that year. Unfortunately Knopfler was knocked from his motorcycle on the morning of the first rehearsal, badly breaking his shoulder. The tour was cancelled, and Marcus had time on his hands:
MC: “I didn’t want to twiddle my thumbs, so I spoke with Trev. After clearing the emotional decks with ‘Alaska’ he had songs coming out of his ears! We started in on the recordings that would become ‘Stories We Could Tell’.”

For this album, the duo continued with their ambient use of pedal steel, profiling the differing styles of BJ Cole and Melvin Duffy, but they also coloured the sound with woodwind, brass and other instruments not usually associated with their style of music. Lyrically the album attempted to highlight what Jones called “...the profundity of the mundane. It’s interesting how common our ‘unique’ experiences are. However we choose to present ourselves to the world, we’re all made of the same stuff. I’m intrigued by how distance converts experience into memory, and ultimately, into the stories we tell.”
“Miracle Mile’s obscurity remains unfathomable. Perfect adult pop.” THE SUNDAY TIMES ****

Again, a Miracle Mile release that inspired the critics and a small but dedicated following, but met with commercial indifference. Was this due to a stubborn indifference to what makes music ‘commercial’, or a difficulty to place them in the market?
TJ: “Ah, pigeonholes! As the songs became more and more personal, the focus shifted to me and I became more increasingly referred to as a 'singer songwriter'. If that lends more substance to what we do then it's OK, but labels can be a misleading, and I don’t think that label does justice to Marcus’s input. We are a musical partnership. Beyond recognizing that my words are personal, I think that defining our roles is pointless; the focus should be on the end product; the song. I guess that we are bloody minded in the pursuit of that perfect song!”
MC: “We always said that we would make the records we wanted to make, and refuse to manicure our sound for a marketplace; we please ourselves. With our music, self-control is everything. Owning my own studio has allowed us to develop our sound without interference or financial constraint. The danger is that you can over indulge, be too particular. The joy is, that while we’re both emotional and instinctive, I think we remain disciplined and focused on the crux of the music; the song stays centre stage.”
Recording for the next album ‘Glow’ started in November of 2004.

TJ: “The first day of recording is always a happy time for me. There’s
nothing more exciting than a blank piece of paper, the possibilities are endless.  I get to articulate all the stu that I’ve been storing up.”

Recordings were completed by May of 2005 and on release Trevor offered:

"Whether half remembered or best forgotten, memories are filtered, the haze of a childhood that can never be reclaimed is where we all start and end."

This gives a fair impression of the lyrical scope and compelling, emotive power of the songwriting. Added to that were Marcus Cliffe's excellent playing and multi-instrumental skills, plus his ear for sublime arrangements; ‘Glow’ was an album to cherish.

MC: 'Sonically it blends traditional elements; acoustic guitar, piano, double bass, with the ambient pedal steel of BJ Cole and Melvin Duffy. These, mixed with some unlikely woodwind and brass arrangements, make for (we hope) a quietly beguiling concoction'.

It's almost impossible to explain how such simple, natural song craft can weave such a complex web of feelings, lingering images and possibilities, but weave it does. Once you're caught up there is no getting away either. This is a record to last the rest of your life.

Praise for ‘Glow’:

“Gorgeous melodies, hooks galore, intelligent lyrics that demand and repay careful listening, beautifully produced instrumentation, and an overall effect that combines poignancy and joy in equal measure. The result is as close to a pop masterpiece as you’re likely to hear this or indeed any other year. ‘Glow’ is one of those rare albums where music and words come together in a state as close to perfection as makes no difference, and leaves you with a delicious ache that makes you hug yourself with the sheer overwhelming joy of hearing such wonderful music. An indispensable album.”
Americana UK 9/10

“”MM are pop’s most consistently excellent cottage industry”
The Sunday Times ****

“A little oasis illuminated by musical creativity, glimpsed like a lovely mirage. Intelligent tunefulness that doesn’t kowtow to passing trends has always been as rare as fish fingernails, but it’s here.” Mojo ****

“Little miracles of pop perfection” Rockstar ****

 “This British duo’s hazy, cerebral sixth release is an acoustic pop gem. Records like ‘Glow’ will never grow old, which is a good thing indeed.” Minor 7th

“How to write ‘Perfect Pop’ and still remain unknown. They are magic, charming, almost naïve in their perception of beauty”
La Repubblica (Italy) ****

“The intimate songs on this album are like a necklace hung with precious jewels. With deceptively fine melodic structures, this is music to exercise your temporal lobes and promote thought upon the minutiae of life. Discover their back catalogue for even more treasures”
69 Magazine *****

“A treat from start to finish. One day large numbers will look back and call this a lost classic.”
Back on the Tracks ****

In January of 2006 Trevor and Marcus began the recordings for what would become ‘Limbo’.

TJ: “I really believed that the 'Glow' sessions would be the last time we recorded at Norbury Brook, so this comes as a happy bonus; amazing what you can come to take for granted; people and places. Same cracked mugs, same mad cat, one new guitar (a battered but lovely old Gibson) and Marcus (also battered but lovely) burning incense rather than spraying that inner nose stripping air freshener! He'll be wearing a kaftan next...look our for a sitar solo!
We always look for a working title. I'm struck by the word 'Limbo' for 3 reasons: firstly it kind of sums up the Miracle Mile's position in the music world, secondly it relates to Marcus's emotional and domestic circumstance, and thirdly because I’ve just driven past some orange boxes with ‘Limbo' written on the side! Friday the 13th seems a fateful date to start our recordings; maybe it'll bring us luck...so there's a title; 'Lucky Limbo'?

When recording was completed in the autumn of 2006 Trevor was asked to introduce the album:

“We all rest where compromise leaves us. We could try to be elsewhere, but that wouldn’t have produced this album. It’s the best we could do, for where we were. ‘Limbo’? It's sorrow's way; like the unravelling of a lost kite, a gentle rise or fall towards oblivion. We say, “don't be afraid to forget.” You will not. It will become the palest thought, and one day, when your gaze has drifted, the sadness will buck and buckle and be gone.
Meanwhile, abandoned and liberated, silence stands as failure and threatens everything. So we fill it with music and search for the perfect song. How do you live the perfect life? How do you write the perfect joke? Start with the punch line and work backwards.
We’re all connected by our unravellings. We don’t always feel the tug, but as the line tightens, leaves a mark, then relaxes, you realise that things can never come to rest and you learn to trust the rhythm of chance.
And the perfect joke? A man falling from a great height whispering “so far, so good.”

Limbo was released to critical acclaim with The Sunday Times nominating it their ‘CD of the Week’
“Classic pop songwriting, gorgeously realised”

Indeed, ‘Lights of Home’ went on to be named a Sunday Times ‘Song of the Year’ 2007:
“Trevor Jones finds the poetry in real life; Marcus Cliffe anchors it in the sweetest pop. Gorgeous as ever. You may cry”

During a lull in new recording, in 2008 MM released ‘Coffee and Stars’ a compilation of songs taken from their 7 albums.

TJ: “‘Coffee and Stars’ seems an appropriate title, as caffeine and wonderment have been our prime stimulants for the past decade, during which these songs were written and recorded. Choosing the tracks for this collection was challenging. Marcus and I had different favorites and, like children I guess, we seemed to favour the slightly wonky, cross-eyed ones. We’ve included a couple of those here (can you see them?) alongside the more obvious favourites that aunty always kisses first.
So, this is like a family photo, with most of the family still locked in the attic. Let’s hope that ‘Coffee and Stars’ compels you to visit those neglected children in situ, on their original albums. We hope, like us, that you’ll come to love them all.”

The liner notes to ‘Coffee and Stars’ were written by a much respected music journalist, Johnny Black. Maybe they are the perfect words to conclude this particular part of the Miracle Mile story:

“For the truly creative artist, perfection can never be achieved for more than a fleeting moment. Painting the ultimate landscape or writing the definitive song inevitably redefines perfection, pushes the standard of what might be possible next time a little higher, a little closer to what was once considered impossible.
Every Miracle Mile album since their debut offering, ‘Bicycle Thieves’ in 1997, has included songs, which, at the time, redefined the limits of what the perfect song might be. This compilation includes eighteen of them.
The cuts were selected not so much to provide a simple ‘Best Of’, as to create a sustained listening experience in which each track flows naturally into the next. It would be easy to quibble with the ommisions, but only a fool would deny that the tracks chosen fit together like pieces of a much-loved jigsaw, depicting an aspect of Miracle Mile that none of the seven individual albums could hope to deliver.
On most Miracle Mile songs, the primary elements – melody and lyrics - are provided by songwriter and singer Trevor Jones. For the past seven years, however, Jones has worked so closely with multi-instrumentalist and co-composer Marcus Cliffe that his contributions have become integral to the sound and shape of the music they make. Whether it’s the yearning regret of ‘Yuri’s Dream’, or the playful lyricism of ‘Sunburst Finish’, the Jones-Cliffe partnership transforms each song into much more than the sum of its parts. When Jones captures the bottled lightning of everyday existence with a beautiful turn of phrase like, “Paper planes and pony tails lead me back to you”, Cliffe colours in the word pictures with unfailingly apposite textures and melodic filigrees.
Best of all though, Miracle Mile will never sink a fang into the jugular when they can plant a whisper of a kiss on that sensitive spot at the nape of the neck and set off a tiny ripple that will, in the fullness of time, explode in the heart.”

Johnny Black 
Spring, 2008

Trevor Jones has since gone on to produce two critically acclaimed solo albums ‘Hopeland’ and ‘Keepers’.

Praise for ‘Hopeland’:

“Moves you to tears and refreshes the soul. Scintillating.”
*****  Maverick

“The beauty on offer here is enough to make you weep. It did me.”
9/10  Americana UK

The title track must simply be the most beautiful ballad anyone has written this year.” **** SUNDAY TIMES

Praise for ‘Keepers’:

“A tender sadness. Songs that have universal resonance.”

“A lush swoon of gorgeous pop. Genuinely life enhancing and life changing” 9/10  Americana Uk

“A melancholic ocean of poetry and sublime song-craft. Life is indeed worth living and all the richer for hearing this.”  Properganda ‘Album of the Week’

‘Trevor Jones has produced a gorgeous pop album that few will hear — unless there’s justice in the world.’  The Wall Street Journal
“Jones has compiled possibly the finest catalogue of adult pop. Gently beautiful and genuinely moving”  The Sunday Times ****

1 comment:

  1. It would be easy to quibble with the ommisions, but only a fool would deny that the tracks chosen fit together like pieces of a much-loved jigsaw, depicting steel profiler an aspect of Miracle Mile that none of the seven individual albums could hope to deliver.