I can see for miles and miles.
I can see for miles and miles.
I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles.
(The Who, I Can see for Miles (1967))
Having spent a week in Abertillery (in my head), I now had to return home. I’m prone to spend too long in my past (or, at least, a revisionist version of it). Roger Cecil’s work has made me aware of the sensuality of the Ebbw Fach, which he conceived in terms of the metaphor of a naked female, Angharad. The gentle undulations of the mountains and valleys have, for me, a maternal evocation too: my mother’s smooth caress, when I was a child; a hand laid softly upon my ear; her soothing whisper and cushioned lap, into which I’d bury my face when seeking sleep or solace. The valley, like a woman, is a place of homecoming:
Approaching Home (1991) watercolour and gouache on paper on board, 32 × 29.7 cm
I’ve a sliver of the Arael Mountain at home in Aberystwyth. It’s my relic; a sacred remembrancer:
9.30 am: Studiology. I reacquainted myself with the outcomes of yesterday’s work at the mixing desk. The ‘end’ files needed reduction. Processing such a large batch took time. Folders which may, eventually, represent ‘songs’, lined up on my screen. This was reassuring. Presently, I’ve lots of bits of sound. Soon, some will coalesce — like the mercurial remains of the molten liquid T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) — into more substantial units of composition. The Book of Leviticus was on the deck. On one flyleaf, I read the inscription: ‘1Sid of a Reckord = 10 pages and 26Min’.
After lunch, I recomposed the percussive track using the ‘end’ samples, which I’d abandoned yesterday because the files proved too large to be processed in parallel. Sometimes a second attempt is a better attempt. This proved to be the case. The beat developed feet. (‘You can dance to this one, Caro!’);
I took one of the ‘end’ samples and lowered its pitch by 12 semitones. ‘Woah!’ What a difference a octave makes; 24 little quarter tones. Ideas and processes are now beginning to yield. It takes me an age to get into a new project. (I reckon on that.) Rather like arriving in a city that you’ve never before visited, there’s an initial period of disorientation: ‘Where am I? How big is this place? What’re its major landmarks? How do I get to them? Where is there a high enough vantage point from which to survey the whole?’
At the top of the Arael Mountain I was sufficiently elevated to see pretty much everywhere that was significant to me. In the catalogue to my exhibition Abertillery; Aberystwyth: Landscape; Languages (1996), I wrote:
Abertillery sits at the junction of the Tillery and Ebbw Fach valleys on the north-eastern corner of what were the south Wales coalfields. The town is situated mainly on the east side of the Ebbw Fach valley. The valley’s west side is formed by the precipitous slope of the Arael mountain, a towering curtain running the length of the valley. Above the mountain the evening sky once turned an intense crimson-orange as the blast furnaces at the Ebbw Vale steelworks in the next valley were opened. My family lived in an end-of-terrace house at the bottom of a steep hill near the base of the Ebbw Fach. On our walks to the top of the Arael, my father would point out the pitched pine-end of the house, the aspect which most clearly distinguished it among the sprawling trains of rows, streets, and terraces that were the town. From the summit, Abertillery looked like a giant relief map on which familiar landmarks and paths could be traced. The view up the valley took in the long road north that passed the coal-tip below Rose Heyworth colliery and disappeared into the smoky haze obscuring Blaina and Nantyglo. To the south could be seen the colliery at Six Bells, and the constant traffic of buses to and from Newport and Ebbw Vale, the pull and grind of their engines reverberating throughout the length of the valley. This has been my enduring vision of the town.
At the top of the mountain, the town appeared small enough to embrace between outstretched arms. In later life, painting and drawing became another way of taking the town unto myself, and a means of returning, in spirit, to the place that was once my home and, to a great extent, my whole world. Abertillery, or more specifically the visual impressions, intensities of feeling, and emotional memory that I associate with it, still largely defines the boundaries and horizons of my interests as an artist.
When I turned my back to the town, I saw the mildly arched back of mountain’s plane stretching westward. This was the one place on earth where solitude could be guaranteed:
Arael Top (1991) pencil and Conté crayon on paper, 25 × 25 cm
5.20 pm: I ceased from my labours. 6.30 pm: An evening with my family.