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The Lilac Time, “Madresfield”

If there’s a band that I would love to introduce you to, it’s the Lilac Time, and if there’s one song that I think would hook you, it’s “Madresfield.” Unfortunately, there’s a dearth of Lilac Time videos out there. (The band made promo videos for many of their songs, but not always their best.) This clip is the best I can come up with, and it probably doesn’t do much to convey why I think the band is so special. The footage is grainy, the sound isn’t great—still, the song comes through, and it breaks my heart once again. It takes its name from a village in the Malvern Hills of England, where singer Stephen Duffy grew up. The song is about time, memory and death. Soon sleep beneath the snow.

Astronauts, the album this song comes from, came out in 1991. I didn’t see a copy until 1992, on my first visit to London, while shopping at the Tower Records on Oxford Circus. I had bought the first three Lilac Time albums as they came out, and I loved them. They had been picked up by an American record label, but then Astronauts never came out in the United States, and so standing in the London Tower (but not the Tower of London) I thought, eh, maybe it’s not any good. The band had broken up at that point anyway—it was not the era for an English rural folk-pop outfit—and it seemed time for me to move on. So I put the disc back in the bin.

I had a Lilac Time revival for myself some years later, and discovered that Astronauts had been reissued with bonus tracks, and I bought it and found out that, of course, it was the best of all their albums. It is, in fact, unfinished. The basic tracks were assembled, but Stephen couldn’t figure out how the record was supposed to sound, and no one seemed to care anyway, so  he just left it. Thank goodness—it’s quiet and spare, and pretty near perfect.

This live footage was taken in 2007—the band got back together in 1998, and has been together ever since—and the woman on the piano is Claire Worrell, who recently became Claire Duffy. You can download a rare 7” single with an early version of “Madresfield,” backed by a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire,” here. (It’s okay; it’s out of print.)

Written by peterterzian

March 12, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Posted in The Lilac Time


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