David Cain David CainThe Seasons
It's significant that this record was released for the first time in 1969, on the threshold of a new decade during which the so-called era of post-war consensus, when the foundations of the British welfare state were laid, slowly came to an end. Significant, because the music and poetry on the album are representative of the aspirations of a period in time when people still believed in the government being in service to the citizen, independent of any commercial interests. “The Seasons” was conceived as material to be used in the British lecture rooms as part of the BBC Drama Workshop, meant explicitly to promote corporal and intellectual expression among students. Its musical audacity and the pagan character of its poetry show utopian educational ambitions coinciding with an era of great change in the concept of education.
Sadly, the record failed to sell, frustrating its makers' expectations and thus indirectly becoming the symbol for some social aspirations that had reached their limit. The same aspirations that were about to undergo a radical change towards some new economic policies, the consequences of which are still painfully visible today. In that sense, “The Seasons” is a reminder of an bygone era. Its celebration of the possibilities of the avant-garde and art at the service of education are now especially interesting, because we seem to be living in an historic moment resulting from having taken precisely the opposite standpoint. However, while the album was soon forgotten, some copies started to surface in secondhand stores in the nineties, falling into the right hands (as proved by its influence on all of the bands linked with hauntology: from Broadcast to Belbury Poly, Boards Of Canada and The Advisory Circle), and slowly becoming a collector's item.
“The Seasons” represents, therefore, an effort to use a new form of music, the result of electronic experimentation in circles close to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, as the affirmation of a collective identity and the continuation of the beliefs of ancient communities. Cain, in collaboration with Ronald Duncan, included 17 tracks: one for every month of the year, one for every season and one for the year itself. There's a recurrent, simple and easily recognisable medieval melody which, over the course of the album, changes in texture, timbre and tempo, as the landscapes described by Duncan change with the passing of the seasons.
Ronald Duncan's contribution, a series of poems, is another element that makes this record unique. A collaborator of Benjamin Britten and friend of modernist heavyweights like Ezra Pound and TS Eliot, Duncan provides some trippy verses, with a strong pagan flavour, in which the earth is seen as a living being that changes every month. The poetry and music combined result in an unnervingly ritualistic and visionary feel, as if it were the educational material used at the school in “The Wicker Man”. Indisputably seminal, “The Seasons” completes the family tree of British electronic folk popularised by labels like Ghost Box and Trunk (the latter of which is reissuing this album), which, judging from what we've heard from the imminent new Belbury Poly album, still has a lot to give.