Nov 13, 2016

Sundaze 1646


Today's artist is an English singer-songwriter most active during the 1980s and 1990s. Her songwriting career started in 1980. Her classical training influenced her as did a desire to be experimental with her music. Although more popular in the Far East, most notably Japan, she remains a cult artist in her native England...... N'Joy

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Virginia Astley emerged as one of the UK’s unique singer/songwriter talents throughout a productive career covering the 1980s onwards. From her many collaborations with a variety of notable names in the music industry, through to her own solo career, Virginia has managed to carve out her own particular niche. Having developed an interest in music from an early age, it was somewhat inevitable that Virginia would embark on a musical career. Taking up piano at the age of 6 and flute at 14, Virginia also had the bonus of having composer and musician Edwin Astley (whose successes included the theme music for cult 1960s TV shows such as The Saint and Danger Man) as a father. Post-school, Virginia enrolled in the Guildhall School Of Music in London – a location that also exposed her to the vibrant post-punk music scene of the time. Keen to broaden her musical palette, Virginia initially took on keyboard duties for pop outfit Victims Of Pleasure.

She also linked up with former Skids frontman Richard Jobson for contributions to his album The Ballad Of Etiquette. This collaboration brought Virginia into the orbit of Belgian record label Les Disques Du Crépuscule, which in turn led to contributions to various Crépuscule releases (some of these melodies and ideas would later feature on her UK debut EP A Bao A Qu). Virginia also became part of an ensemble called The Dream Makers (in collaboration with filmmaker Jean Paul Goude). The results of this collaboration provided an early opportunity for Virginia to display her unique vocal charms for a cover version of ‘La Chanson d’Helene’ (‘Helen’s Song’) – a song originally sung by Romy Schneider in the 1970 French film Les Choses De La Vie.

During this crucial 1980s period that Virginia started to give serious consideration to writing and releasing her own material, signing to independent label Why-Fi in 1981. It was through fellow Why-Fi artist Troy Tate that Virginia was asked to support psychedelic pop outfit The Teardrop Explodes. Initially sceptical, Virginia overcame her doubts about performing live by recruiting old friends Nicky Holland and Kate St John. Adopting the title of The Ravishing Beauties, the trio whisked off to Liverpool in 1981 to join the Teardrops for a brief series of gigs.

Meanwhile, Why-Fi capitalised on the high profile of Virginia’s Teardrop activities by releasing the 10″ EP A Bao A Qu, which became Virginia’s debut solo release. The evocative melodies of this material were reflected in the choice of songs that The Ravishing Beauties were performing at the time on tour. Following the end of the Teardrop Explodes tour, The Ravishing Beauties continued with a few standalone gigs, but internal problems resulted in the trio parting ways in the summer of 1982. Keeping herself busy, Virginia had embarked on a new direction, which culminated in the instrumental album From Gardens Where We Feel Secure. Although the album had initially been scheduled for release on Liverpool’s Zoo Records label, plans fell through and the album was shelved throughout 1982.

1983 proved to be a complex year for Virginia. She scored some mainstream success via a new single release – the choral pop charm of ‘Love’s A Lonely Place To Be’. But despite enjoying more exposure as a result of this single, cracks had begun to appear in her relationship with Why-Fi. Unhappy with the level of support the label was giving her, Virginia left and founded her own label – Happy Valley.

Joining forces with the Rough Trade label, Virginia finally managed to get From Gardens Where We Feel Secure released in the summer of 1983. Her debut album won her fresh acclaim from the music press, although Virginia was keen to return to more traditional music composition for future releases.The same year, Why-Fi released Promise Nothing – a compilation album of the songs that Virginia had recorded while on the label. Meanwhile, Virginia had been working on new material and assembled a loose working band around her. This included Anne Stephenson, Jo Wells and Audrey Riley.

Among the many songs to emerge during this period were ‘I Live In Dreams’ and ‘Tree Top Club’ as well as the haunting ‘Waiting To Fall’ – later to feature on the Some Bizarre compilation If You Can’t Please Yourself You Can’t Please Your Soul. In 1985, Virginia released the Melt The Snow EP, which included tracks originally conceived as a winter alternative to Virginia’s 1983 album From Gardens Where We Feel Secure. The delicate strings-driven pop of the title track attracted the interest of the Elektra label, which resulted in the release in 1985 of euphoric pop tune ‘Tender’. A follow-up single, ‘Darkness Has Reached Its End’, saw Virginia switch to parent label WEA when it was released in November the same year.

Keen to keep busy, Virginia focused on writing material for a new album. Ryuichi Sakamoto (founder-member of Japanese electropop outfit Yellow Magic Orchestra) had been a fan of Virginia’s work for some time and came onboard as producer. Virginia worked with Sakamoto on the potential tracks for the album, which included a new arrangement of ‘Tree Top Club’ as well as new songs such as ‘Some Small Hope’ – which included a duet with former Japan frontman David Sylvian.

Lyrically, many of the songs for the new album had a darker edge than Virginia’s earlier material. The title, Hope In A Darkened Heart, however, hinted at optimism. Hope In A Darkened Heart received good reviews and a Japanese release of the album would be successful enough to persuade Japanese label Nippon Columbia to reissue From Gardens Where We Feel Secure in 1989. Virginia, meanwhile, had spent the post-Hope years focused on raising her daughter Florence, although she returned to songwriting in the 1990s with the release of the All Shall Be Well album in 1992. This album saw a more mature approach to songwriting and composition, although Virginia’s distinctive vocal style was present and correct. She had also continued to recruit from her immediate circle for collaborators, including Kate St John – as well as young daughter Florence on guest vocals. Meanwhile, Virginia was also attracting the interest of Japanese artists, including electronic trip-hop duo Silent Poets, for whom she contributed guest vocals on a few tracks, notably 1997’s ‘Don’t Break The Silence’.

During this period, Virginia had also been keen to divide her time between both music and writing. One of the projects she was exploring at the time was a musical based on the Thomas Hardy novel The Woodlanders. Some of these ideas later surfaced in song form on Virginia’s 1996 album Had I The Heavens. Meanwhile, Virginia has kept busy on a number of writing projects over the years, including plans for a novel set in Dorset and a multimedia project titled The Stories Of The Fields (which explores the tradition of how fields were given specific names). Virginia has also worked on self-produced CD releases with her daughter, combining spoken narrative pieces by Virginia and harp performances by Florence.

More recently, Virginia has released her first award-winning book of poetry, The Curative Harp. Virginia is currently working on Keeping The River – a non-fiction book that explores the River Thames and the lives of those who work and live on the river. Since then, Astley has guested on albums by both Hideaki Matsuoka and the Silent Poets. From Gardens Where We Feel Secure was re-issued with a new cover in 2003, and in 2006 she released her first album of new material in ten years, entitled The Words Between Our Words. This mini album features Astley reciting her own poetry to a backing of harp music. In 2007, she premiered a long poem "Ecliptic", with flute, harp and birdsong

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Virginia Astley's solo debut (she had previously been a member of the short-lived Ravishing Beauties with Kate St. John and Nicky Holland, and played piano on her brother-in-law Pete Townshend's single "Slit Skirts") is a magical piece of instrumental pop. It's too melodic to be Brian Eno-style ambient music, too involving to be new age mush, too simple and casual to fit in comfortably with the post-minimalist school of Michael Nyman, Andrew Poppy, or Wim Mertens, and too restrained to truly be pop music. Almost entirely instrumental, save for a few wordless vocals on "A Summer Long Since Past," and featuring little instrumentation besides Astley's piano and some subtle woodwinds, the album is a lovely 35-minute meditation built around field recordings Astley made of the ambient sounds of the rural English countryside. This description makes the album sound much more twee and insubstantial than it actually is; however, Astley is no mere ambient noodler. These nine songs are melodically rich and varied; mood pieces in the truest sense of the term. Specifically designed to mirror the moods of an indolent summer day (the sides of the original LP were even marked "morning" and "afternoon"), From Gardens Where We Feel Secure is a dreamy, involving, and occasionally even fascinating listen.

Virginia Astley - From Gardens Where We Feel Secure    (flac  243mb)

01 With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming 5:43
02 A Summer Long Since Past 4:35
03 From Gardens Where We Feel Secure 3:59
04 Hiding In The Ha-Ha 3:56
05 Out On The Lawn I Lie In Bed 5:09
06 Too Bright For Peacocks 2:29
07 Summer Of Their Dreams 3:22
08 When The Fields Were On Fire 3:15
09 It's Too Hot To Sleep 5:21
10 Sanctus 2:00
11 Melt The Snow 3:49
12 Melt The Snow (Instrumental) 4:30
13 Melt The Snow (Instrumental 2) 5:38

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Tuneful, delicate, often charming, occasionally cutesy songs, mostly produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also plays keyboards). The swirling synthesizers and spare classical touches paint a dreamy canvas at their best, making one regret that Astley has not had a chance to build upon this effort in the nearly ten years that have passed without a follow-up. The opening track of 'Some small hope' is absolutely stunningly beautiful. It's a duet with David Sylvian and his voice melts with Virginia's in one unitone chorus of bliss.

Virginia Astley - Hope In A Darkened Heart  (flac  230mb)

01 Some Small Hope 4:10
02 A Father 3:51
03 So Like Dorian 4:32
04 I'm Sorry 5:45
05 Tree Top Club 3:49
06 Charm 5:01
07 Love's A Lonely Place To Be 3:27
08 A Summer Long Since Passed 4:37
09 Darkness Has Reached Its End 3:47

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Virginia Astley's outstanding flair for melody puts her in the front ranks of all composers and All Shall Be Well is the proof.Eight brand new songs and a couple of instrumentals,this is the first new work from Virginia since Hope In A Darkened Heart in I986 and represents her comeback since her self imposed retirement to raise her daughter.In I989 her career began to take off in Japan where the singer is worshipped as a "perfect woman".Possibly her daughter inspired the comeback as the song "My smallest friend" is clearly about her:she joins her mother towards the end in a series of "la la las"."All shall be well",the title song,began life on the sessions for her brother in law Pete Townshend's album "The Iron Man" where she was used as a "technical advisor" and drew his attention to the mediaeval religious poem from "Revelations of Divine Love".Townshend sung the actual words whilst Virginia simplu used the title. "You take me away" is more upbeat than the average Virginia song and "Love's Eloquence" shows a Dylan influence in the words. "Martin",which should really be called "Where have those days gone"? is,like many of her songs,intensley sad. Joining Virginia on "Blue sky white sky" is Kate St.John,her former partner from the Ravishing Beauties of 1982:the music is by Mozart and a first for the artiste as she tended to set other people's words on many an occasion.

Virginia Astley - All Shall Be Well  (flac  196mb)

01 GL - Groundloop 5:10
02 AL - Allegory 5:40
03 DI - Displaced 4:45
04 HN - Hymn Noir 4:36
05 IM - Imparator 5:19
06 CH - Chronicle 5:59
07 SY - Synature  6:31
08 QM - Qui Mal 5:07

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Virginia Astley has the voice of an angel and the songwriting talent of the Beatles. There was never a more worthy (or more ludicrously overlooked) talent since the advent of ethereal popular music. If you wonder where Enya got her ideas, just listen to Virginia.....she was there first! An absolute visionary....every note of her songs sounds fresh and wonderful; like it could have been produced last week, not twenty years ago. Breathtaking and heavenly in every respect, Virginia Astley is a call from lost summers, her harmonies are gentle and her intensions feels like they come from an unspoiled heart. All Shall Be Well.

Virginia Astley - Had I The Heavens  (flac  224mb)

01 It's Over Now 3:38
02 Over The Edge Of The World 3:38
03 Nothing Is As It Seems 4:10
04 Broken 4:47
05 Where I Belong (A Thousand Nights) 5:00
06 I Can't Say Goodbye 4:11
07 Had I The Heavens 2:52
08 Another Road 3:24
09 How Can I Do This To You 3:07
10 I Know A Tune We Could Sing 4:24
11 A Long Long Year 2:43.

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Anonymous said...

The download is thankfully fine, but it appears you had a little oopsie on the track info for All Shall Be Well. Also, your HIADH includes the (unlisted) Japanese bonus track, which is nice.

VanceMan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

>It's too melodic to be Brian Eno-style ambient music

Goodness! A veritable slur coupled with an untruth!


FRANCK said...

very weel even if i had already vinyl and cd but missing two rarities cd.
For future issue ?

Cass said...

Very happy to find the links still active on these albums! However, the links (both flac and ogg) to 'Had I The Heavens' appear to be taking me to a 'deceptive site' :(

Is there any chance of uploading just that one title to another host please, Rho?

Rho said...

Hello Cass, sure... deceptive sites apparently trick the not so clever triggering google to nanny us all, meanwhile the 'Heavens' sing again

willow)O(moon said...

Wonderful! :) Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rho

Is it possible to re-up the Virginia Astley albums? Many thanks.

Megan D said...

Any chance you have the full "If You Can't Please Yourself, You Can't Please Your Soul" comp to upload as well?

Anonymous said...

Hi Rho,

As always you do an amazing job.
Can i ask for a reup of 'Had I the heavens'?
A victim of the cloudyfiles situation i think.

Thank you

Anonymous said...

Hello... could you reup, rho, the virginia astley albums, please? Thanks in advance.