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Music to Live With
By John Light
The music of Mike Simmons can be purchased direct from:
Music from the Mountains, 4 Veldt Barns, Much Marcle, Herefordshire, HR8 2ND
Tel: 01531 660465
Tapes £7.50; CDs £10.50, both inc UK postage, cheques payable to Music from the Mountains.
The View from Anelog - Tape
Website/email address: http://www.musicmtn.-demon.co.uk/
I first heard Mike Simmons' music while on holiday at Rhoshirwaun on the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales. I'd gone into a shop in the small port of Aberdaron and was immediately aware of the music being played - not the usual muzak that pollutes so many establishments, designed to anaesthetise one's critical faculties - but something refreshingly different. The album was called Footsteps to Bardsey, Bardsey being Bardsey Island although I prefer the Welsh name for the island, Ynys Enlli.
Since then I have bought each of Mike's albums as they have appeared without first hearing them and I have yet to be disappointed.
Footsteps to Bardsey is an evocation of the fifteen centuries old pilgrim trail to Bardsey Island. Mike describes the island as "a place of haunting beauty" - this is true. My wife and I spent hours sitting on the cropped turf of the steeply curved headland of Mynydd Mawr looking out across a silver sea to the island; seldom has peace been so perfect.
The View from Anelog continues the theme, Anelog being a small mountain with a view across Mynydd Mawr to Bardsey Island. The titles of the tracks include Night Sky from Mynydd Mawr, Our Footprints on the Sands, Footsteps on the Mountain, and Gulls' Flight: Early Evening. The music is electronically performed as well as written by Mike Simmons and some of it was actually recorded on Mount Anelog. Additional percussion is by Paul White. The sound of the sea, of streams and of birds is incorporated in the music and plays an important but natural part. Mike himself describes his intent: "I write music to dream to - warm, atmospheric music in which layers of natural and artificial sounds are used to create a pattern of slowly interweaving textures." This reads like a description of 'new age music' but that is not a label I feel is appropriate. The music is often soothing and relaxing but it has an underlying strength too; it speaks of the unknown, especially the unknown past as it can influence our lives today if we become aware of it: at least that is how it sounds to me. The tempo throughout is measured: this is music for contemplation.
The album Portmeirion is the sunniest and most melodic of his compositions but my own favourite is A Green Lane to Ledbury, more evocative of the past, voices and the sounding of a great bell being particularly haunting. Dreams of Avalon was inspired by the Arthurian mythos (although the cover picture is of Ynys Enlli - clearly a place from which Mike cannot escape, and probably doesn't wish to). His latest production is Compositions of Stone, a terser and less immediately accessible collection but one which repays acquaintance.
I called this article 'Music to Live With' because I have listened to the music frequently over a period of years. It isn't throwaway sound; it bears continual rehearing and rarely fails to bring calm and a recollection that life is an inexhaustible mystery.