Martyn Bates

Martyn Bates – Biography



Ambivalent Scale offers the following biography on Martyn Bates – entitled:

Martyn Bates: An Often Errant, Incomplete & Wayward Chronology of Solo Songs & Musics

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Other older comments/announcements

About Martyn Bates song settings of James Joyce’s poems Chamber Music A-Scale writes this:

1994 sees the release of Martyn Bates settings of James Joyce’s poems Chamber Music, Vol. 1 on Sub Rosa. Born simply out of love of Joyce’s work, Bates one aim in setting tunes to the text was “to bring out in notes and music all the musicality that was already written there on the printed page … .” Inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnets and the airs of John Dowland, Joyce’s richly musical texts lent themselves readily to the mellifluous style of Bates song writing … with Bates envisioning the pieces as being “created about and around Celtic/English folk idioms … in a stark setting, almost a kind of essence of simplicity, like the very best folk tunes.” Virtually an a cappella work for solo voice, and air utilised, allowing Joyce’s exceptionally beautiful poems to truly breath.

Written whilst a young man in his early twenties,Chamber Music was Joyce’s first published work and is essentially the story of “first love” passing from illumination to disillusionment – it’s a much neglected and maligned work, often over-shadowed by the colossal heights that Joyce’s later works achieved. These later works (Portrait, Dubliners, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake) are reverently treated as high art by scholars, a feast for arduous intellectual wrangling and dissection. Often coldly cerebral, this misguided approach must surely contradict the true spirit of Joyce, whose actual work is often ribald, lusty, deeply compassionate and humane – hence Bates use of warm, loosely “folk” idioms in his settings of Joyce’s texts, providing a musical context that facilitate Joyce’s subject.

Martyn Bates Cd release sees the first complete cycle of song settings of Chamber Music’s entire canon of thirty-six poems since it was written in 1902.

Chamber Music Vol.2 by Martyn Bates was released in November 1995 on Sub Rosa.


Mystery Seas (Letters Written #2) (A-Scale 018, 1995, Cd)
You, Looking to Me for a Sign/Shorepoem/Calm of Dark/Imagination Feels Like Poison/Trade Winds/Over the Waters/Everywhere There’s Rain/Empty Pages/Midday Coming Misty/On the Beach of Fontana/Sky After All/Fragment (Little Star #1)/If I Could See in Everyone/Of Night/Gift

About this Cd released by A-Scale in 1995 they told us:

1995 sees Martyn Bates exploring further the seeds of ideas contained within his first solo work of some thirteen years ago, the criminally lost, legendary ‘Letters Written’ collection. Comprising songs composed during that period (circa 1982) together with brand new songs in the idiom, this new collection of highly personal “letters” – organ-based songs and performances – is entitled ‘Mystery Seas (Letters Written #2)’. Haunted, richly melodic and lyrical these new recordings are most emphatically songs, and as such they veer away from the more “experimental” areas that Martyn has been working in of late. Recorded at Ambivalent Scale in March thru’ May 1995 (by Eyeless In Gaza’s Peter Becker), this music is drenched in the myriad resonances of “folk”, whilst simultaneously circumnavigating any rigid and limiting definition. (“Folk” = the “folk soul”, the “collective unconscious”.) With voice/lyrics to the fore, and with a (for the most part) skeletal, simplistic instrumentation, Mystery Seas evokes a music of creaking ships, echoes, of distant sea-shanty, light thru’ broken stained glass windows, blighted misfortune, morning light, searching glances, of each story running thru’ them of salt water, clear rhyme and reason, of each mask, of a night sky – tall wall of no more, of floods of thought/unsettling fetters, of “tears or words seeming to rip the surface, alerting and dumbfounding at one and the same time”: – songs of a beautiful secret to own ……


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Peter Becker