Robert Paul Corless ‘Audio Recordings 001 review & interview
“An Audio Journey through Manchester’s Piccadilly”
By Andrew James Barclay
Robert Paul Corless is back, constructing works that in terms of genre, vary from Zappa-esque style synth exploration to recordings that could sit easily as soundtrack pieces to the phenomenally popular ‘Stranger Things’ streaming series. Audio Recordings 001 is a musical score to the goings on of Manchester’s ‘Piccadilly’ area. It’s a location than runs the gambit of humanities many faces.
The mundane. The haunted. The addicted. The repressed, and occasionally, the observer. So, it is with this landscape in mind, that Robert Paul Corless explores sonically, the feast of muted chaos and that his eyes and ears have surveyed in Manchester’s Piccadilly. Whilst the threat of violence may well hang in the air, the warm embrace of a stranger’s smile is usually never far away. It’s a place of complicated contrast.
“In The Beginning Was”, starts Robert’s new album, with its repeating trance style signature notes, it builds throughout its near 3-minute duration, into an accessible opening track.
I make mention of it being accessible because, Robert’s work very often doesn’t offer the listener breadcrumbs for the ears. So, if accessible happens to be your thing, Robert has offered access, an easily opened gateway into the album with “In the Beginning Was”, without conceding an own goal in the process.
“Piccadilly Gardens Circus” deals with the participants of clown world’s perpetual cycle of ‘the’ moron. A personality trait that’s on display for all to see, though most look away, for fear that these faceless entities may engage with them as they wander around Piccadilly Gardens.
Robert, the observer, sees that even these sad people doomed to never escape the approach of the slow decline are not one-dimensional personalities. Robert’s composition veers into more complex musical structures to express this truth.
“Goose Step Girl”, jerks from one bass synth note to the next. I enjoy this one, it’s like a good friend who has had one too many drinks, you may think know them, but they’ll be unpredictable, nevertheless.
“He wears Hyena Eyes” delivers the sonic threat that its title suggests. The hunter, looking for a weakness. Piccadilly’s food chain is well and truly clocked by Robert in this track.
“A Special Day Chapter One” leans far more to a conventional direction. With the rich melody creating an optimistic atmosphere. It’s a moment of relief. It reminded me of another of Robert’s elegant compositions, ‘Mary’s Stone’, to be found on the much-recommended Volume 16 album. “A Special Day Chapter One” isn’t simply a retred though, Robert wouldn’t short-change the listener like that.
“Sleeping Spice Shells” begins with ominous bass synth notes, before falling into a ‘spaced out’ lull, and then repeating the pattern, much like the cycle the lives of the unfortunate souls the track is about are stuck in. Get all fucked up. Sober up and get all fucked up again.
I wonder who they’re hiding from? A past they cannot re-write or a horrific future they’re scared to peer into. They know only the ‘moment’. Spice offers that ‘in the moment’ haze, that release from reality. Robert traces this journey in “Sleeping Spice Shells”.
The hunt for relief and the spaced-out false promise that everything will be okay for these addicts. Passers by walk past these corpse-like victims, who are often lay motionless on the ground. Robert isn’t pointing the finger. That ‘spaced out’ moment in the track offers an insight, an understanding of these peoples struggle.
“Return to the Outer City” is the calm after the storm. It’s surreal, and you may fall off the edge any second, but if you do, you’ll land back into the arms of this ambient album closer.
I sat down and spoke with Robert, about the new album, and it was perhaps the most insightful, spiritual, and honest interview I’ve ever had the pleasure of being involved with.
Andrew: Robert, before we get into the new album, I wanted to ask you some questions about your “Volume” series of work. When you began recording solo material, were you at that very early stage aware that you’d be releasing the works, or was it more a case of, “I’ll record some material and see where it leads me”?
Robert: I just wanted to record; I was sick of being around a load of cunts (laughs) having to do what you have to do (working with other musicians) I had the choice, so I decided to move forward with solo work. I didn’t know where it was going, didn’t even know where it was starting, so it’s continued from there onwards really, and it will continue until I lay down and die (laughs)
Andrew: As the Volume albums began to come out, after the first few, there was a structure, a sound, that was identifiable with each new release. How much of that was planned, and how much of it was left in the hands of fate?
Robert: Yeah, it was probably in the hands of fate, and probably structured in some form or way, but it was very much ‘of’ the moment. I wanted to explore the higher self, and the lower self, the whole dynamics of human consciousness. To quote William Blake “seeing the world in a grain of sand”, that’s what captures me. To convey that through the medium that I work with, audio.
Andrew: The 50 Volumes are distinctive, each in their own way, and more so as the Volumes continued. The albums you released with Poets were especially interesting, what authors, or speakers have influenced your work, throughout your recording career?
Robert: Working with poets, authors, speakers, writers, whatever they wanna be, words are not ‘things’ (laughs) it’s hard to express. I think with that kinda stuff the people who were influencing me, who have always influenced me, people like Blake, Steiner, Jung, Fraud, C.S Lewis, Velikovsky, y’know where does one stop Andrew with influences, I don’t actually bring them (the writers works) to the table when I record, it’s just something that I’m open to. It literally could be anybody, who’s written a book, that interest me, even if it’s the most vile cunt to have walked the earth I wanna know how that most evil, vile cunts mind works, it interests me, but I don’t wanna stand at a pulpit and tell everyone what I’m reading, like Bill Hicks says (laughing) “We’ve got a reader here” (more laughter) oh, I mustn’t forget ‘Razzle’ was well (Laughs)
Andrew: Your new album it titled Audio Recordings 001. Are we to take from that, that the Volumes albums are now concluded?
Robert: Yeah, the Volume releases are finished, over, line in the sand, door closed, locked in a vault, tied up in the wardrobe (laughs). Yeah, they’re finished, I’m very proud of those, I had some wonderful people working with me helping me get to where I wanted to get (musically). With Tim’s passing (Tim Walsh), the closure of Butterfly music, it felt like the right time to move on. I don’t think I’ve spiritually or mentally moved on yet, but sometimes things have to be left behind. Working on the ‘Audio Recordings’ is something new, the releases will be titled by number, until I decide to stop doing that and move on again to something else, maybe I’ll do door work (laughs) y’know, following people around and shouting at ‘em (laughing).
Andrew: Does this mean that your next releases are going to be under the ‘Audio Recordings’ release names, and what, if any significance will that bring to the music itself?
Robert: Yes, all the albums being released for a while will be under ‘Audio Recordings’. There will be some Sampler releases coming out on the solstices of each year, which I’m working on at the moment, I’m getting there slowly, I’ve already recorded two, and I’m trying to get enough of them together along with the 18 ‘Audio Recordings’ albums that I’ve already done. So yes, they will be released under the ‘Audio Recordings’, just like the albums that were released under the ‘Volumes’ titles, because they suggest something. Although as I said before, words aren’t ‘things’
Andrew: Audio Recordings 001 is about the Piccadilly area in Manchester city centre. What is it about that location in particular that’s motivated you to want to compose music about it?
Robert: Yes, the new album, it’s all about Piccadilly. It’s come from being there and observing the human condition, including myself in that, y’know, what’s above so below, what’s going on externally is going on internally. Picking up on this, horrible energy that’s going on around the (Piccadilly) Gardens. So many people walking around looking self-murdered. The people scowling, addicts lay on the floor, after smoking that shit (the street drug ‘Spice’). Too much of fuckin’ everything and not earned, by that I mean spiritually not earned, everything’s there for the taking. The whole album came from being sat at the feet of Victoria on the plinth. There’s a wealth of information just sat on the plinth or the alter.
Thinking, who’s the slave and who is the master here, you know what goes on at Alters. You’ve got Victoria holding the Orb and the sceptre, and just looking out into the (Piccadilly) Gardens, man and woman, walking around looking so unhappy. And everyone’s on the black mirror, everyone wants more, more partners, more sex, more drugs, more ale, more texting, more emailing (laughs) it’s just fucking endless. But you can see it, in peoples body language in people’s eyes, they’re literally dead. A bit like that film ‘They Live’, there’s a lot of that going on.
(Editorial note ‘They Live’ was a satire Science fiction film about Conservatism and on consumerism by John Carpenter)
It’s not just that, I’m critiquing myself because it’s really important to be able to do that, to hold the mirror up to myself, and basically Andrew, to take the piss out of that, out of myself, because I think that’s really very important. I don’t mean that everything has to be serious, but Fraud said that a man will do anything rather than look at the dark side of his soul. I think that’s a lot of what I saw around me, that avoidance, and the energy of the history of Piccadilly Gardens. Apart from that, it was a right laugh to do (laughs).
Andrew: Your solo material has covered many genres and sounds.
Some of your albums have featured many different musicians and instruments. This time you’ve opted for a Lo-fi synth sound with ‘Audio Recordings 001’. What if anything, has influenced you in that direction, and, does working this way give you more freedom, or isn’t that a factor?
Robert: There’s definitely a certain kind of energy in the new recordings, I’m recording using 20-year-old VSTs, the Lo-fi thing … and I’m proud of this new work that’s coming out.
Andrew: You haven’t played live yet as a solo artist will you be performing ‘Audio Recordings 001’ and/or your “Volume” material live anytime in the near future?
Robert: No, I haven’t played live with any of my solo material. The last time I played live was with Gabrielles Wish doing the remembrance concert for Cath the land lady, which was many moons ago. I’ve not really thought about going out and playing live for many a year. I’ve just not felt like doing that yet, I’ve just been writing non-stop, but maybe next year sometime. I’m hopefully going to be doing some live shows. I’m just working that out at the moment, to be sure it’s something that I wanna do, something I can be arsed with. There is interest in me playing live but it’s not at the top of my list, the top of my list is to keep writing, and we’ll see about live shows in the new year.
Andrew: Will there be more albums to come in the ‘Audio Recordings’ series, and if so, will those releases have a central theme the way Audio Recordings 001 does, it being about Manchester’s Piccadilly area?
Robert: They’ll all be named ‘Audio Recordings’, and yes there will be all kinds of different themes. They’ll be about ‘seeing’, in my time, in my space, in the moment, then expressing myself.
Andrew: You are very much recognised as a vocalist as well as a composer. You have, albeit sparsely, sang on some of your previous solo albums. Have you retired your vocal cords or is it possible you’ll bring the vocalist side of yourself to any upcoming releases?
Robert: Yeah, I’m the vocalist in Gabrielles Wish, well, I am Gabrielles Wish and I was the vocalist of The Evil Poor. I’ve only sang on one album; it was the last album Tim played on (guitarist Tim Walsh passed away on August 19th, 2019) and that was the last time I did any vocals. That album (Volume 34) was originally demos for The Evil Poor, I wrote all that album away in Europe, over four days. I came back (to the UK) and Tim said “there’s something interesting Lo-Fi things going on here, and suggested could he put some guitars on it, and I mean, who’s going to refuse Tim Jnr (Tim Walsh) to play guitar on your music, so he did and put some bass on it, and there you go I got this wonderful album. It’s got acoustic songs, some band songs, a mixture, but all done very lo-fi and that was the last time I sang on anything. I haven’t got any plans for any vocals whatsoever on the ‘Audio Recordings’. I feel, with words, that I’m in a gilded cage, people who write, and create stuff, I gotta take my hat off to them because it’s wonderful but at the moment I think I’m a wishing well (laughs) … running dry. I suppose I could push myself into doing, but hand on heart, it doesn’t interest me in the slightest doing vocals with anything at the moment, but never say never.
Photography by Chinese Francis
Audio Recordings 001 is out now.
Andrew’s album picks:
01. “Goose Step Girl” 02. “A Special Day (Chapter One)”