Harp

The former Midlake man’s solo direction looks to medieval England and 80s music production for inspiration.

The lone figure in a cloak holding an acoustic guitar on the cover of //Albion// might seem familiar. That’s because it’s Tim Smith, co-founder of popular Texas alternative folk-rockers Midlake, and the artwork for his debut LP as Harp is inspired by ancient English history, some recognisable prog-folk sleeve art such as John and Beverley Martyn’s //Stormbringer// and John Boorman’s 1981 medieval fantasy flick //Excalibur//.

The image was taken on an iPad while out with his wife Kathi Zung “pretty close to our house in Durham, North Carolina, on a snowy day,” Smith tells us on a Zoom call. “We thought, ‘Let’s just go take an example that could possibly be the cover. We really liked it, but it was poor quality, so we went back the next year but the snow and grass never looked the same, and I just couldn’t stand the same way.”

The image works in conveying the mystery of //Albion//, an album that took Smith over 10 years to complete following his departure from Midlake in 2012. Part folk, part electronica, Smith’s aim was “an experiment to see if I could make something that I was really pleased with,” he says. “I didn’t quite feel that with Midlake stuff. I’m grateful for that music but I felt I could do better.”

Smith was, and continues to be, on a quest, then. Looking for a musical Holy Grail, perhaps? “I thought ‘I’ll just be just solo do now and I’ll make the album that I want to make.’ And that took forever [laughs]!”

Admitting that lyric-writing comes last for him, Smith details his songwriting method: “While I’m trying to formulate melodies, I usually just open a book of poetry and read along so I’m creating melodies using someone else’s words. Sometimes the words are so good, they just stick and can’t be topped, so I ended up using some William Blake for //Throne Of Amber//.”

The challenge on //Albion// was melding the warmth of the 70s music Smith loved – a flute player since sixth grade, Jethro Tull has been a longtime favourite alongside Fairport Convention and Nick Drake – with the influence of 80s music such as Clannad (especially //Legend//, the //Robin Of Sherwood// soundtrack//), The Smiths, Roxy Music and The Sundays. Utilising Chorus on guitar helped, and the warmth of the Korg PolySix and Roland JX-3P – “that’s the bell bottoms-style meets trench coats and grey skies,” Smith says. The final touch was programmed drums courtesy of Zung, a successful stop-motion animator. “Ninety per cent of the album was made with her by my side,” Smith states. “I trust her, and it’s good to have the second set of ears… producing is the hardest aspect for me, and in 10 years I’ve learned a lot.”

Led Zeppelin were also an influence for //Albion//, and their mucker Roy Harper, who inspired the act’s name. “I was into Roy Harper at the time – I still am! And my parents lived off Harper Road, so ‘Harp’ sounded good, and sounded right.”

Meanwhile, with another record expected within a year, Harp’s quest continues.

PROGFILE

Line-up: Tim Smith (keyboards, guitars, vocals), Kathi Zung (vocals, drums)

Sounds like: Atmospheric, autumnal folk hymns, where Sandy Denny meets Cocteau Twins

Current release: //Albion//, out now via Bella Union

Website: harpband.com

— Jo Kendall

From "Limelight - Harp" Prog Reprinted with permission.

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