Over the past decade, Clay Pipe Music has been a reliable imprint, carving out a distinctive niche. While the artists have varied, the tone has remained consistent, centering on a type of British folk music that has one foot in the genteel past and the other in a stylized present. The DIY aesthetic is a rare and valuable thing in the digital age, and the gorgeous art of founder Frances Castle unifies the roster. Stagdale is Castle’s own multi-media project, a flexidisc EP and the opening installment of a graphic novel. The year is 1975, and a 12-year-old girl has just moved to a new village, that holds intriguing mysteries, including that of the Stag Jewel …The music works well as a score, but equally well on its own. The release date ~ Brexit Day ~ is quite fitting, as the local populace is well-served with a reminder of British charm, legend and pluck. While listening, one can imagine a fairy tale land with real problems that can be solved in real time. Outside complexities intrude in manageable fashion. The past becomes the key to understanding the present. Extra points for including a frame (lower right) that includes clay pipes!The Moog synthesizer is the perfect instrument for the time period, producing a sense of nostalgia. “Theme from Stagdale” sounds pastoral despite its electronic base. One imagines open fields and recalls utopian dreams. Reliable drum patterns provide a feeling of safety. Synthesized violins and flutes connote warmth. The chimes of “In the Museum” are reminiscent of church bells. Nothing harmful awaits.
As Ruskin Bond writes, “The past is always with us, for it feeds the present.” Castle’s art – aural and visual – feels like food. Stagdale is a beautiful reminder of where we’ve been, who we are and what we still can be. The flowing water of “After the Rain” implies that some great hurdle has been overcome, some great battle has been won, some great trial has been endured. What better message for this or any age? (Richard Allen)