At the end of a short mainland UK tour; four dates in as many nights from Hackney to Glasgow, it would be tempting to finish on an upbeat number then take the party to the Hug and Pint bar upstairs. But having built up an immersive atmosphere for the previous ten or eleven tracks, Arborist (Mark McCambridge) wasn’t going to break that spell. He closed with the wry, longing ballad ‘Dewdrop, Cherry Oak’, the track that gave new his album, ‘An Endless Sequence of Dead Zeros’ its title. For the encore McCambridge didn’t leave stage but moved to the left taking to the keyboard for ‘Alabaster Skin’, his hypnotic piano riff a backdrop to a vocal that addressed riots in Belfast 2021.
Ireland’s past and present had been common ground in the working relationship with the team in Matthew E White’s Spacebomb Studios, Richmond, Virginia, where the album was recorded. White himself, poring over a pocketbook of Irish history that Arborist had bought in the airport, and the studio band immediately (and wrongly) assuming that Arborist would arrive with inside gossip from the set of ‘Derry Girls’.
The new album that has received 4-star reviews in Mojo and Uncut was the cornerstone of this show: the guitar drone of ‘Dreaming in Another Language’, minimalist snare and bass drum kicking things off and providing the counterpoint for McCambridge’s vocal delivered, open-handed, in a blue shirt, black jeans and hair reminiscent of Van Morrrison circa 1970. He clearly revelled in the opportunity to perform these timeless pieces live – more album cuts, the organ driven ‘Black Halo ‘, the Neil Young-ish ‘The Weeping Rot’ and the haunting ‘One Morning Mid November’ all of which have been peppered with freewheeling, rolling, quirky Spacebomb treatment.
Later he lightens for a bit with a rendition of an unexpected crowd favourite, ‘Taxi’, the story of Uncle Henry McQuillan. It follows the long tradition of spoken word over layered and spooky instrumental as used by Lou Reed, John Cale, Arab Strap and Gil Scott Heron. Rather than spoil the ending I won’t repeat it here, if you don’t know it have a listen to the second album ‘A Northern View’.
Tonight’s band are old friends who recorded the first two albums with him. The drums, bass, guitar and keyboard players make an inspired interpretation of the studio band arrangements that include strings, horns and woodwind. McCambridge indeed had earlier paid tribute to the roles of Matthew E White and Trey Pollard in producing and arranging an LP that is, start to finish, awash with haunting soundscapes and evocative mystery, certainly one of the albums of the year.