Brighton finally won a game this afternoon, beating Leeds 1-0 and I have received messages of congratulation from a couple of mates. However, they are seriously worried that I chose to celebrate with a Diet Coke and not a beer. I do have beer in the house but I rarely drink at home. It would be very easy to start drinking again but, instead, I am fighting my addiction to food. I’ve had 2 huge bacon sandwiches today and it’s very tempting to celebrate a rare win with a pot of ice cream. Food addiction is quite a worry for me and my habit caused me to balloon to 17 stone a few years ago. There doesn’t seem to be any in between now – a day is either a good day, with maybe 1100 calories, or it’s a bad day with over 3000 calories. This all started many years ago when I reflected on a day’s teaching. Either I had a good day in which case there was cause to celebrate or I had a bad day in which I needed something to take my mind off things. Either way resulted in 2 scotch eggs, a bag of crisps and 6 Mr Kipling bakewell slices. Although I have lost nearly 5 stone since my 17 stone highpoint at the start of 2014, my addiction hasn’t disappeared. I still dwell on what I am eating for too long every day – either in a good way or a bad way. The need to celebrate a Brighton win by eating crap or drinking a pint of Harvey’s is quite strong. If I were to start, I’d only stop when I began to feel sick.
Instead, focusing on the present, I have decided to listen to a blissful modern album celebrating the intricacy of the English countryside. This is not a folk album, it’s not a female singer with beautiful restrained acoustic accompaniment, it’s a modern sounding, blissed out laid back electronic album, slightly reminiscent of Talk Talk but without the despair.
Jack Cooper has been a member of Manchester psychedelic indie-pop band The Beep Seals, Manchester indie band The Mazes, London alternative rock band Ultimate Painting and now pastoral rock band Modern Nature. He has been involved in 14 albums over the past 12 years.
“How To Live” is an attempt to reflect the diversity of the British countryside in sound without playing folk music. Hinterlands and hedgerows are more important than mountains, waterfalls and stunning vistas. The band were named from the diaries of filmmaker Derek Jarman which were written in his cottage near the Dungeness power station and included reflections on the look of open grasslands next to a huge futuristic building.
In 2017, Mark Cooper made a solo album called “Sandgrown” and the focus of the album was Blackpool, the town where he had lived as a child. He said “When I started thinking about a new project, going back to making an album of unconnected songs seemed as strange as making a movie with completely unconnected scenes.” He had previously worked with Will Young (not that one!) and they decided to “have a very defined narrative, re-occurring themes and chord progressions, field recordings and a set palette of instruments and sounds.” In the introductory video, Mark Cooper explains that he wanted to make an album that processed different questions such as “how to live“, “how to stop yourself going mad”, how to find joy and optimism when you see things around you that are falling apart“. He wanted to address the feeling of being alone while surrounded by millions of people. He explains that whereas at the start of the album, we may be feeling tense and nervous, by the end of the album we would feel that there was more space. Exactly like watching Brighton take a lead after 17 minutes, watching them eke out a rare win and finally feeling relaxed and calm as the referee’s final whistle blows.
The opening track “Bloom” is a 90 second piece played by a plaintive cello and this contrasts well with the motorik beat of “Footsteps” which it segues into. The vocals are low key and restrict themselves to a couple of notes. A saxophone honks underneath the vocals and then takes over completely for a solo at the end of the song before fading away to sampled sounds of distant conversations. This is a remarkable video.
As one track merges into the next, there’s a uniform sound and mood permeating the whole album. This may or may not be perceived as a good thing but for me, after the trauma of watching a tense football match, switching off by immersing myself in the warmth and solitude of this music is wonderful.
The final track “Devotee” is over 7 minutes long and begins with a similar low key feel to the rest of the album before finishing with an insistent repetitive keyboard riff which conjures up (to me) images of a sunset over a deserted industrial wasteland. As it fades away we are left with just the sounds of a distant city. Just perfect.
Time to celebrate now. Ice cream or toast? How to live.