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Here is the essay printed on the insert that comes with the Deluxe 2xLP edition of Suspended Second.

So, what’s a “suspended second” when it’s at home? Well, it’s a kind of chord I use a lot, as do Prince, Joni Mitchell and Bryan Maclean, amongst others, but the title was chosen for offering a variety of connotations. To a large extent what any record is about is up to the listener; indeed received wisdom has always been that artists should never attempt explication, though I’m not convinced that still holds true. The protagonist of the first song on this album claims, perhaps disingenuously, “all I ever did was write words to sing”, although personally I like to think I put a little more effort into my lyrics than that… Then again, if I were ever to write an autobiography I probably wouldn’t choose the medium of song.

I began writing the record during that prelapsarian golden age, the spring of 2016. How innocent we were…. More to the point how complacent. In my innocence, I planned to write about anxiety, a subject then gaining a degree of media traction and which, in my mind, had become entwined with reactions to the deaths of certain celebrities. The British have not historically been a nation much given to public displays of emotion so I found this odd. I’m a huge admirer of Prince’s work, and he was a mere four years my senior, yet the shock and sadness I felt at his passing that April was in a John Donne “Any man's death diminishes me […] therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” vein; my relationship was with his work and that will outlive me.

Then overnight - the night of 23rd-24th June - there really was something to worry about. It was as though the whole country had succumbed to a national anxiety episode involving colossal self-harm. I don’t want to make this about me, but suffice to say this was an assault on every aspect of my personal and professional life. I was deeply shocked because I’d always assumed that, for all our many faults, not to mention a sizeable quota of arseholes in the population, we British were fundamentally a fairly decent bunch and had learned history’s lessons on the perils of isolationism. Indeed, before last June it’d felt as though we might’ve started to become more tolerant and outward-looking… I even wondered whether those expressions of grief meant that, as a nation, we’d finally got in touch with our feelings. All of which goes to show how wrong - and, as I say, how complacent - you can be.

It felt as though the country had split into two factions and the twain appeared never to have met, still less understand one another. Geographically there were huge majorities for Leave in some areas, Remain in others. None of my friends voted Leave as, by definition, anyone who did is against the community to which I belong, our lives built on outward-facing foundations, with freedom of movement a cornerstone; many of us have lived, studied, worked and/or fallen in love in other countries and/or have children with enriched cultural backgrounds. So who in the name of blue blazes were these people who’d voted for the destruction of everything we are and why did they hate us so much that they were prepared to wreck the country? We didn’t even know them! This was how it felt in the immediate aftermath, though hindsight hints at how simplistic this was, how little we’d grasped the nettle that stung us to the core.

The anxiety episode analogy holds up remarkably well. The sense of disconnection from reality, acute focus on insignificant details, time running in dizzying, disorienting circles and the world weighing upon you. Your head fills with a cacophony of voices, chattering and shrieking their disparate agendas, leaving you vulnerable to believing the loudest of them. Worse, you know that all these voices are your own, paralysing all sense of self. You want to cry but cannot. If only tears would come surely the dam would burst and time be regained? Once the attack passes - as it does, after an incalculable, irredeemable time - you’re left with burning shame and equally hot anger. You want to lash out, only there’s nobody there but your own cowering self. Still you cannot cry.

With the immediate onslaught over, shame and anger burned first white-hot, then ice-cold: “a new kind of rage”. All of a sudden everything I’d always thought I knew about who we were was in doubt - not an agreeable sensation past the midway point along life’s path. There was only one avenue open to me. I wrote some pop songs.

I already had a few sketches but began redrafting them. The one exception was So it begins, as I felt that would set the scene and place the remainder of the record within the anxiety framework. At least two other songs (Someone else and I suppose so) are also built on earlier anxiety-related lyrics that lent themselves to expansion into the despicable new world in which we suddenly found ourselves. The easiest to write was The Performance of a Lifetime. I’d been listening to a BBC radio production of Hamlet and, during the long climatic scene (Act 5, Scene ii), I found myself immersed in a 400-year-old present as the Danish Prince accepted he would not live to hear the news from England. Our other Prince too seemed aware something was both rotten and forever broken.

I finished the songs and quickly recorded rough frameworks to give to the band. We had two and a half days in the studio in early September 2016 then I spent what time I could find over the following months shaping the record. Early this year I began to suspect it needed something written not in the heat of the bitter momentum but with some degree of hindsight. Commodities is based on the end of another of Shakespeare’s plays, King John and, once again, it came easily, in spite of the way the melody drifts over a slightly unorthodox time signature.

Although Occultation has always identified as an English label, I hope we’ve never been parochial. As well as English, I speak French, Catalan and Spanish fluently and my Italian’s not too bad. I’ve always read widely in all of those languages plus others in translation. I listen to a lot of music from Europe and elsewhere. More than this, like so many people of my own and subsequent generations, my whole life has been built upon freedom of movement. Immigration is not something to be curbed, it is our life’s blood; even the most cursory look at the history of this country reveals that it is what our strength has always been built upon. Its effect upon my own life has been entirely positive as, without it, I wouldn’t have what’s most precious in all the world to me. Occultation has always set out to be a kind of family and we have members from across the world.

Let’s give the final word to Dr Donne, writing at the dawn of what was to become the United Kingdom: “No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Nick Halliwell, August 2017