John Metcalfe - Tree
Available 22nd September 2023.
Tree is eight immersive compositions that take the listener through twenty-four hours in the life of one of nature’s most majestic creations
The Durutti Column viola-playing master - a composer and arranger for the likes of U2, Coldplay, Peter Gabriel and Blur, as well as co-founder with Tony Wilson of the Factory Classical label – had been composing music spontaneously, instinctively, when the idea of Tree arrived. The album came from a desire in John Metcalfe to write at scale – perhaps a natural reaction for a composer writing out of the silences and solitude of our recent pandemic years.
“The pieces I was writing were big and trying to be bigger, so I knew they had to be to do with something – and then I thought about one of the most profound experiences of my life.” He is referring to seeing Tāne Mahuta as an adult, the largest known living kauri tree in the world. Set in an ancient subtropical rainforest on the North Island of Aoreatoa / New Zealand, John had spent his early childhood living in that part of the world after his British father had "escaped there as a ten-pound Pom".
Having emigrated to England as a child, he went back to New Zealand with his wife when he was 26. He explains, “…we thought we’d tick something off the tourist list, and I thought we're going to see trees, which is great – but we weren’t prepared for what happened.”. They both cried when they found Tãne Mahuta, and Metcalfe is still amazed at the reaction he had: “… as an atheist, it was the closest I’ve ever got to a spiritual moment… there was something extraordinary about the atmosphere in the forest and the size of this tree, and the sense that it had been there a long time. It was about the protection it gave, and the sense of connection we had with that protection.”
Written for live players and recorded in Abbey Road Studios to convey human connection at scale, Tree imagines what it would be like to be sat completely still under a tree that you love, being alive to the ever-shifting interplay of light, colour, weather and sound. Shimmering pulsating layered tracks take the listener on a voyage that takes in the dawn chorus, depicted by conversations between chirruping woodwind and staccato strings, through to the solemnity of dusk and into the playful night. The album at times summons up the folkloric power of ancient forests through an emotional crescendo in emotion and sound, before bringing us back to sunrise, and a reflection on the journey we’ve taken.
Tree isn’t just about Tãne Mahuta, explains Metcalfe: “It could be about any tree – they’re all very magical.” This record isn’t a political statement, but it's clear to him that as science progresses, and as climate breakdown progresses, people are trying to find deeper ways to understand and cherish nature. "It’s about the music that people are trying to create to connect with things that are huge and beautiful and inexplicable around them."
Tree is John's beautiful, emotional attempt. "My album's about describing our relationship with something as every-day and extraordinary as a tree, and how it can be an incredibly important part of who we are.”