Dave Clarkson is a gem who has flown under my—far from infallible—radar for about 30 years. There are upwards of 40 releases emanating in his impressive catalog, from the Cavendish House studio, including many of these Guides which have focused on everything from beaches, caves, forests, and lighthouses, with tangents to rain, ghost stories and illness. That another of his albums, For Horselover Fat by Eye In The Sky has a bash at honoring the concerns and creativity of the astonishing Philip K. Dick is right up my alley.
I love everything about A Pocket Guide To Dreamland: the concept and how it sounds of course, but equally the perfect anorak-fetishistic packaging of the physical release with badges, a transparent orange cassette, postcards, and its cover label paying homage to Ordnance Survey maps above images depicting the almost psychedelic childlike thrill of a seaside funfair along with a gritty high rise apartment block tower. I almost expected some recreated cut-out coupons from The Eagle * comic for a day at Butlins Holiday Camp (Admit Family of 4 to unglamorous Skegness location).
The recording is topped and tailed by tracks featuring a wheezing fairground organ (aptly appalling and eerily comforting in equal measure), and it is an album of two halves. The first half could serve as a brash snapshot of these coastal locations in their heyday with the annual influx of pleasure-seeking holidaymakers frantically rushing to disappointment. The title of the brief opening piece, "Organ Donor," clues us to the field-recording aspect of Clarkson's methodology but "Rollercoaster Ghost" soon shows the range of his production techniques, blending clattering rhythms, unbridled screams, and the calm resolution which can only come from the plucked strings of an acoustic guitar. His choices always work, whether sources are untouched, blended together, or processed to the point of virtual obliteration.
On "Spectral Pier Ballroom," Clarkson patches together what sounds like demolition noise and the sound of crashing waves with three musical recordings of his late father and grandparents. A vivid sense is created of something being swept away, part the pathetic cruelty Pinky the pathetically cruel gangster from Brighton Rock and part the doomed unspoken romance of Mr Stevens and Miss Kenton from Remains of The Day, but brutal either way.
The second half of this excellent album starts with "Penny Arcade in the Rain," where he makes something great from thunder, coins dropping into greedy game machines, a breezy, sweeping tempo, and a few mocking caws from seagulls. From that point a softer wave of memory washes gently back and forth. "Tiny Lights (Magic in a Child's Eyes)" is well titled, a sound reminder of why parents dragged themselves annually to these towns in the first place.
Midway through the blissful "Coastal Ghost Towns," I had become an eight year old again, walking with our family friends along the seafront at night between Sutton-on-Sea and Mablethorpe, could literally feel my teeth crunching through the hard shell of a toffee apple and see my sister's mouth chasing the evaporating pink fluff of candy floss, while my father's irrepressibly exuberant voice somehow stands out over the waves crashing violently into the seawall.
[*The Eagle was also home to heroic Dan Dare and his alien nemesis The Mekon, the latter the inspiration for the group originally from Leeds.]