Reissue Of The Week: Daniel Patrick Quinn & One More Grain

Two odds and sods compilations offer to reveal the singular brilliance of Daniel Quinn, says Richard Foster, despite the stubborn artist not making this revelation easy on anyone, let alone himself

Landscapes, movement and memory; surely these are the musical lodestones of Daniel Patrick Quinn. A restless soul, Quinn currently lives in Jakarta, Indonesia, where he makes a crust working as a creative thinking consultant and teacher. Currently he is a dedicated mapper of obscure Indonesian mountains and volcanoes. Luckily for all of us, he still makes music. New material from his “band of diasporans”, One More Grain, is promised in 2022. For now we can gorge on his latest release, Swirling In The Backyard, a two volume collection of live recordings, rehearsal room offcuts and preliminary sketches from the Daniel Patrick Quinn and One More Grain archives. This charming miscellany covers almost two decades, covering Quinn’s stewardship of the Edinburgh-based Suilven Recordings label and the legendary period where he yomped around the Outer Hebrides blasted on homebrew; one which saw the release of two bona fide classics, his solo I, Sun and One More Grain’s third long player, Grain Fever.

For all his creative multitasking and shuffling around the world like some crazed gleeman in search of a hilltop campfire to sing at, Quinn’s work is often at its most powerful when it indulges in moments of reflection. There are many gloriously sedate tracks on these two releases, such as ‘Nine Standards Rigg’ and ‘Spring Green’ on the first volume, Laos. And all seem to summon up a form of hypnopompic state, the term for those fuzzy moments when we transfer from sleep to waking. Quinn recently told this writer, “I like to think that my stuff does not ‘go somewhere’. It ‘is somewhere’.” Yet for all their stillness many of these tracks still represent journeys, whether physical or mapped out in the mind’s eye. After a few listens to the two volumes of Swirling In The Backyard, I found myself invoking two instances of “creative hypnopompic travel”, weirdly involving old men and cars.

The first is the spellbinding later work of the English watercolourist Edward Burra. Near the end of his life in the very early 1970s, Burra undertook a number of trips around Britain, chauffeured by his long suffering sister, Anne. Burra would spend these car journeys staring out of the window registering the landscape in his subconscious before later creating extraordinary watercolours of what he had seen, works that managed to capture the land’s inner spirit, despite Burra making – if legend is to be believed – no sketches whatsoever.

The second instance is from an early episode of Peter Tinniswood’s radio series, Uncle Mort’s North Country. The episode describes a pleasure trip through the valleys of the industrial north west, “enjoyed” by the redoubtable old soldier and champion grumbler Mort and his phlegmatic nephew, Carter. As Carter swings the car onto the open road, Mort entreats of him, “Wake me up when we’re back home.” This request came careering back into focus whilst listening to tracks like ‘The Dart Line’ or, specifically, ‘On The Saltmarsh’ (a 2007 recording that became ‘Like Where The Starlings On The Telegraph Wires’ from 2014’s Acting The Pig Redux). Here, Quinn turns to his listener and states, “I was thinking about how you can only keep so many memories, all packed into one time.” Mort’s version of Quinn’s philosophising is to dream of factory girls’ knees on trams as Carter’s car winds its way through Pennine mill towns. Both observations are characteristically droll.

It is tempting to ask (especially if we are invoking the dreams of Uncle Mort and the Inner Eye of Edward Burra as comparative studies), how many planes does Daniel Patrick Quinn operate on? The changing points of view in his lyrics and the shifts in styles and attitudes, as well as all the yomping all feels a bit Blakean at times. Luckily, Quinn can’t answer this. “How many planes are there? We think we are the experts about ourselves because ‘we’ are stuck with ourselves more than anyone else. But our conscious mind is just the tip of the iceberg and is often the part that is the last to know, the ignorant victim of the deeper processes. So I operate on more levels that I even know exist, just like everybody else does. My understanding of what I do or who I am is no more important than anybody else’s view of it. Sometimes misheard and mistaken lyrics are better than the originals.”

The individual volume names and covers of Swirling In The BackyardLaos covering his solo work and Sulawesi that of One More Grain – also hint at other, unmapped transitory states of existence that Quinn likes to invoke. Laos and Sulawesi refer to the locations of the mysterious ancient stone jars featured on the sleeves. Doubtless Quinn has mapped them on his travels. Jars, of course, often held grave goods that spoke of “memories, all packed into one time” and offered support in the journeys those departed from this world had yet to negotiate. Other states are suggested to the listener through Quinn’s assertion that he “rarely records without some beer or wine to help multiply the number of illusory choices”. A number of the One More Grain tracks found on both volumes of Swirling In The Backyard suggest this forcibly; especially the live cuts ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Tropical Mother-In-Law’, and the gloriously ragged take of ‘Leg Stomper’ we find on Sulawesi. These are ones where the listener can easily picture the damp fug of whisky and beer seeping into the amp cables and loosening the instrument strings.

That’s not to say Daniel Patrick Quinn is a man who summons Cecilia through dreams of arcady and stout. Like the actions of Mort, Carter and Burra, Quinn’s music sweats and carves out the shapes, rhythms and undulations of the land. The titles found on Sulawesi, (‘Leg Stomper’, ‘Walking Of The Map’, ‘A Shout In The Street’, ‘A Town Is What You Make It’ and ‘Figure Of Eight’), all express and document a primal form of restlessness. A man who thinks on his feet. Indeed: Quinn is a slave to physical activity; hill climbing, wherever he may be in the world, is an obsession of his.

“Along with Andy Dean I came up with the concept and initial list of Ribus back in 2009, mountains with a topographic prominence of a thousand metres or more. This is currently being extended from Indonesia and Malaysia to cover the entire world, with an estimated 7000 peaks that need researching to check the name, elevation, prominence and so on. Ultimately it’s a proxy religion, an arbitrary set of rules that I hope brings meaning to my consciousness.”

Another element that informs this creative mapping work is the sea. Quinn, again.

“I don’t like being too far from the ocean, whether it be Morecambe Bay or the Sunda Strait. In Bali, Hindus construct their daily existences with reference to the holy volcano Gunung Agung, with temples and buildings all oriented towards the peak. Perhaps we also construct our daily lives, to some extent, with reference to our location in relation to the nearest coastline. The underlying drone [in my music] is perhaps what makes you think of water.”

But is Quinn such a singular oddity as his work and experiences suggest? Despite his role as shaman-explorer, a lot of Quinn’s music practice seems to nod to the wider tradition of solitary, slightly offbeat men doing creative things in the landscape. In these islands alone we can think of Richards Long and Skelton, Spike Hawkins and Geoff Nuttall, Sea Power’s Hamilton, John Clare, Julian Cope and Bill Drummond, John Aubrey and Alfred Watkins.

By contrast to all of these though, Quinn’s work has a naturally slippery quality. He is damned hard to pin down, to patronise, venerate or to catalogue. This may be down to his interest in drawing ideas from many places all at once. Where ‘The Meteor Impact Site’ is, is anyone’s guess. What swamp did ‘The Alligator’ waddle from? And ‘A Sailor’s Life’ may sound like a sketch for a traditional seaman’s lament but is a sailor’s dream sans patrie, the universal experience of the sea is summoned here with the help of samples from the Montebello Gamelan Sound library.

Quinn’s singularity could be down to the fact that his modus operandi seems – from the outside looking in – genuinely wild and unconcerned with an “artistic legacy” in the traditional sense. The way he documents his work seems to be different too, pithy, throwaway, obtuse, unlike some of the aforementioned names who carefully pick(ed) their path through their work, stopping to reassess now and again in light of public appraisal. Quinn’s relentless tramps in the wake of his Muse seem incoherent, like Alan Warner’s The Man Who Walks. Maybe Quinn’s roundhead relentlessness finally reminds us of a name often mentioned in relation to his, that of Mark E Smith. Though the only link I can see is that they share the same star sign, Pisces.

Maybe trying to understand what makes Daniel Patrick Quinn tick is just to create further muddle. This piece has, to a certain extent, acted like Quinn himself; namely, walked around the estate, thrown out a few gnomic utterances and tantalising connections and moved on before the matter in hand can be fully grasped. What does Swirling In The Backyard give the first time listener? I would suggest these recordings offer a rich carousel of rough, often ad-hoc sounds; all drunk on life in some way, but all wholly original, in that they are genuinely engaged with the moment. After all, eccentricity, real or cultivated, is no bar to making good, well marshalled music. And a lot of Quinn’s music – even in such preliminary or transient states – has intent and precision in the making; evoking the necessary mood in a succinct and representative manner. Take ‘Clock House’, where the wheeze of the fiddle somehow picks up on the inevitable passing of time. Or the truly beautiful ‘Nine Standards Rigg’, which is very suggestive of Hans Joachim Rodelius’s tape recordings in his studio in Först, Saxony. Such jewel-like moments are common on this extremely enjoyable release.

The music of Daniel Patrick Quinn and One More Grain is available from Bandcamp

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