Body Down (Live)

What is echoed here? The free-expression poetic spate of Patti Smith, the distracting otherness of Beth Gibbons’ work with Rustin Man and the stilling mood of The Cowboy Junkies’ debut certainly, but Body Down comes from one singer’s heart,… Read on…

From the Margins

Love the new look and the new sounds.

C.C. O’Hanlon

This album is gorgeous… really feel the heart in those songs. So soulful and fierce and strong! Love the rawness too.

Simone Smith

Just checked out your live album on Spotify! It’s incredible! … a great live recording. Sounds so good what you’ve done in that environment… has real human live feel to it… if that makes sense, I feel it!

David J Reed

released December 3, 2021 

In Nina Simone’s Gum (2021), Nick Cave’s partner in crime, fellow Bad Seed and back-turning veteran of The Dirty Three, Warren Ellis, sums up the impulsive and improvisatory spirit of Sam Lou Talbot’s new studio album Body Down (Live):

I wanted the narrative to be in free flight all the time…so you didn’t know what it was exactly, because I didn’t.

Warren Ellis, 2021


Body Down (Live) was recorded in a converted church at St. Mary’s Space, Appin, in April, 2021. What the listener hears are seven songs coming into being, and a range of instruments being broken in. The tumbling song cycle of experiments and intensities on autoharp, mandolin, hand drum, guitar, voice, harmonium, bones & rain shaker imbue the album with a primitive, Southern Gothic feel, echoing the deluge of rain that fell for three days solid.

Eschewing the drum kit in the corner, Talbot keeps time with her Western boot heels, reverberating and ricocheting into a wandering blues tempo. The title track – “Body Down” – done on an old wind-organ dragged out of the back of the church for a drone, holds its own, offering a momentary heated take on men and ‘revolution’, with its title possibly influenced by her one time seeing of the American country blues player, Charlie Parr, deliver a momentous “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down” at the Sheffield Greystones back in 2012. Read on…

All songs written & performed by Sam Lou Talbot. Recorded & Mixed by Jamie Smith at St. Mary’s Space, Appin, April 2021. Remixed by Louise Harris. Mastered by Jake Garrett-Kavanagh. Photography by Simone Smith. Cover design by Sam Lou Talbot.

Photo by Simone Smith

Stream Body Down (Live)

“Do Something New” – a vlog on the making of the album Body Down (Live), 2021.

Autoharp used on Track 1 – “Glow”
Residential recording retreat: 29 March-1 April 2021


“… [w]e are in a situation in which it seems that nothing new can                  ever happen anymore, so what do we do?” ~ Mark Fisher (2014).

“You make a cup once right, but you wash it a thousand times.” ~ David Graeber (2014).

Hold out your iPhone – this “liberator of desire” (Fisher, 2014), and press record. Drag and drop your recording into iMovie. Add a song, and a filter, and you have a whole new world in an instant. Absorb this whole new world in an instant on noise-cancelling headphones. Watch people go by on the screen, and in IRL. Upload your whole new world in an instant to IGTV. Check the analytics. Check exactly when people lost interest in your whole new world in an instant via a currency of dips and grooves and ‘32 views’. Contemplate how many of these ‘views’ are your own views. Accept that there is no way to tell. “Smartphones shouldn’t be thought of as objects, but as portals into cyberspace… We have to make a deliberate effort to step outside of them.” (ibid).

I board a train to Oban, and a taxi to St. Mary’s Church, which is in the middle of nowhere. I’m being funded to come up with a live set of spontaneous songs, chants and improvisations, via a series of unknown instruments. The train window is stained with raindrops running into one another. I tap the YouTube app, and settle upon a lecture on ‘touch’ by the quantum physicist, Karan Barad, in which she concludes that: "even touch is not touch".

Playing an instrument means touch, and all the more so when one can’t play it. I tend to think of play, as the late anthropologist and quite brilliant, yet exiled, academic, David Graeber did, as a theory of social value which counters the apparent unassailability of that which his contemporary Mark Fisher coined “capitalist realism”. When in a state of play, we’re also immune from the failure. As Jack White would have it, "...let the music tell you what to do."

There is a freedom in immunity from failure which makes way for a space in which something can happen. Perhaps many social movements including feminisms are about making space. Improvisation generates a temporary hiatus from both ceaseless growth and the drive towards perpetual 'self-improvement' through our being caught up in eternal cycles of production and consumption. 

I am a solo female artist. I have been a precarious worker. I have moved around a lot with work. I have often  recorded songs in between, and after work, on portable gear from whichever studio flat I happened to be living at the time. I hypothesised that the presence of a (male) engineer would inhibit me. Would I still be able to do what I do? 

The Beat poet Neil Cassidy reckoned with spontaneity as the process of undisciplined thought. Similarly, brain scans on jazz improvisers, when in the flow state, show the hippocampus in the pre-frontal cortex (the area responsible for lack of self-censorship and heightened self-expression) to be glowing red. This red resembles the dreaming state. Yet even the dreaming state is symptomatic of privilege, oppression and power. 
It occurs to me (again) that in order to get funding to make work, artists must claim to know what they will make, before they make it, before being given the time, and money, to make it. 

At the time of writing, the current establishment in England have announced catastrophic plans to cut Stage 3 provision for Music and the Arts by 50%, whilst insinuating that further cuts are likely. The independent feminist scholar, Sara Ahmed, has spoken controversially on the utility of words such as “equality” and “diversity”. I pass yet another black security guard looking at his phone in Sainsbury's and I wonder "But does it really exist?". Meritocracy is the guise of neoliberalism. I flick back to when I was given free violin, then flute, tuition at school. Here we have a case of a words being used, and overused, precisely because these words are not being used. Moreover, class, arguably never goes away; it just gets squeezed out into other forms. 

Main Body

I enter the church. Before me are instruments in a circle. I lean into the microphone, which captures my breathing, intimacies, wrong notes, and hesitancies. 

I reach for the autoharp. I cannot play the autoharp. (I’m being paid to do this.) 

a.	Autoharp

PJ Harvey played one on Let England Shake (2011). In order to open the body up, I need to strum all the way down the fretboard. Autoharp – autoethnography? 

I cannot remember the rest of the session, nor what I sang about.   

b.	Mandolin, Bones and Rain Shaker 

I move over to the mandolin. The word lingers on my mouth. Man-do-lin. It is like eating cherries under the midnight sun by a lake in Sweden. I pick up the bones shining white in the low light. I hang them on the microphone stand. Georgia O’Keeffe would pick up bones on her daily walks around Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, placing them deep into her pockets.

There are bones and feathers on the kitchen windowsill of my cabin, or the cabin. Last night, I went around as dusk fell arranging the bones and feathers into tiny compositions on my iPhone. These photographs look more like paintings than photographs. (When I think of composition, I still tend to think of it as a painter, more than a musician.)

I shake the bones to create a click.    

c.	Vocal a cappella 

“Double-tracking” doubles the voice, and, by extension, the self. One literally grows louder: “I am heard, therefore I exist as a political subject.” Maria Tamboukou (2020a).

d.	Drum chant

“Are you ready?” asks the engineer. I tap my foot. But my tapping is too “muddy”. 

I fetch my cowboy boots. 

The heel works. 

I chant. 

My mouth contorts into variations of ‘O’. My lips taunt the strange hinterlands of my face.   

I am not thinking about being recorded. 

I am not thinking.  

e.	Guitar/Harmonium

The Yamaha dreadnought is a heavy and loaded accomplice. I tinker about in DADGAD, whilst the engineer goes out back, to drag out an old harmonium. He shows me how to pump it properly to accomplish the desired drone effect. 

Outside, the wind. 

Inside, the wind, through the organ. 

Inside my mouth, wind.

Perhaps this is what John Berger meant by “the mouth of a song” (Confabulations, 2016). 

f.	Harmonium 

“It’s a man’s world that we’re living in”, I sing. I’ve sung this before. And I’ll sing it again, I’m sure. 

I peddle on, a feral woman, caffeine, rosacea.

g.	Guitar 

I stumble over the lyrics. Forget the mnemonic. I am lost in the forest scene, and I can’t find my way out.

Whereas we used to have drum solos, jazz spirituals, and Beat poetry that went on forever; nowadays, we have less than two seconds to capture the listener. We are at the mercy of the algorithm. And no one has any time anymore. Listen to the experts, flogging their courses:

“You have to instantly engage them in the song and hook them in, or else you stand the chance of losing them.” Says David Penn. If you want to be a hit songwriter, “You only have 60 seconds to get me.” says Ralph Murphy.

Intros are out. Hooks are in. Choruses are brought forward, or exiled. The problem is not the making of music, but the speed and distribution of it. 

In the moment of production, the song could fall apart at any moment. Somehow, it doesn’t. Renowned jazz players lost in eternal solos have confessed they grew in need of an exit door.

As spiritual activist, and thinker, Stephen Jenkinson, of the unconventional and unscripted, ceremonial tour Nights of Grief And Mystery reckons: "we are not in control". These are constellations of practice. We spot the how of the methods, which leads us to the why of the methodology. 

Twitter: @talbot_sl
Instagram: @samloutalbotmusic


#songwriting #singing #practice-basedresearch #performance #improvisation #latecapitalism #PhD #musicscholarship #album #newmusic #womeninmusic #recording #fieldrecording #musicandgender #nomadism #scotland

%d bloggers like this: