LILITH!: An Album

by Stefan Smith

Aldwych Music, Lincolnshire

“Off, Lilith!”

-the kabala

The Conception: Part One

Photo of the York city screen cinema

Photo of the York city screen cinema

During the great floods of 2012, we were sat in the bar of a cinema in the northern city of York. John was hosting an art exhibition of a series of cinema portraits he had lovingly crafted over the years, but in the middle of the busy bar we sat in the corner. We were talking about past art projects and future ones, just hoping for bigger, maybe brighter or shinier, things in our collective futures. Then the conversation came to a stop when I turned to John and said “we should do an album! and it should be about George Macdonald’s Lilith“[1895].

The Seed
Now this is an idea that I had had for a while. During one of many bad/strange film viewing weekends at mine, John would usually bring with him an equally strange/bad book, introducing me into the weird and wonderful world of charity shop books. But on this occasion he had hold of a form of creative golden fuel. At first, I half glimpsed a lot of purple on the cover and thought it was a novelisation of “Purple Rain” but as he handed it to me, I saw the most Metal-and-Prog Rock-looking book cover I had yet gazed upon. A mountain stretched out to the sky adorned with a city made of crystal with a haunted forest of foreboding at the base; a moon with a look of annoyance floated among the hills covered in stars; odd creatures and midgets adorning a Victorian frame bejewelled with a hawk, a half-bird, half man in top hat and tails whispering secrets in a smartly dressed Victorian gentleman’s ear; and to top it off, the title logo was an ancient scroll with LILITH blazed across, naturally in purple, like a 1980s fantasy adventure film.

Picture of the Lilith book cover

Picture of the Lilith book cover

It was love at first sight.

The Conception: Part Two
Now I had this image in my mind for a very long time and upon getting round to reading the novel itself, I was more surprised than ever. George MacDonald is a writer of many styles; he seems to change in his approach like the tide lapping against the beach, but there is always a constant in all his writings. For me, the constant (especially in this story) is a questioning or inquisitive spirit. The imaginative, strange and alien imagery, which is brought to life with almost a playful writing style, is always being questioned and it gives a beautiful duality to the story. But you’re not reading for a review, are you? So let’s cut to the chase: Lilith is the story of a rich orphan called Mr Vane who is back from his studies in Oxford. He spends most of his life in the library of his estate in almost constant study but then he is beckoned by a vision to a room upstairs that he never knew existed, in which sits a large mirror. The mirror serves as a gateway to another world and because he saw the mirror he meets the ghost of butler who haunts the library — who turns out to be a raven who can talk! Then it gets progressively stranger and more wonderful from there . . .

What Album?

John Chamberlain's LILITH! cover in black and white

John Chamberlain’s LILITH! cover in black and white

After the conversation at the exhibition, we both met frequently to discuss what style/genres of music we should use and how we would tell the story. From my view I wanted to use more of the imagery conjured up by the story and do a loose telling through music but after some discussion John came up with the great idea that we should maybe try to tell the story through music and lyrics, leaving it up to a bit of interpretation on the listeners part.

Genre-wise, I am the child of a Progressive Rock fanatic and grew up listening to Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and King Crimson; I was used to seeing the floating landscapes of ‘YES’ albums covers dotted about on the family music shelves. So what immediately jumped to mind from the beginning was a Prog. Rock album like Rick Wakeman’s excellent “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” (though not as loose with the subject matter) — but we loved the idea of a narrator!

“Journey to the Centre of the Earth” vinyl cover

“Journey to the Centre of the Earth” vinyl cover

And then came the question:  should we play it straight and be serious, or make it more of a joke?  When you think about it, prog rock is very overtly pompous and theatrical, so sometimes a less serious approach is wisest.  Maybe we should add a touch of deconstruction of the genre too? But that is a discussion for another time. Anyhow, I shall wrap up here before I get carried away but:

Next time, we’ll discuss narration, and the growth of the musical influences for LILITH! , exploring film soundtracks, experimental music, and how hauntology finally came into this — and maybe even what hauntology is, if you’re lucky. . . .

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One response to “LILITH!: An Album

  1. Love it! Prog Rock seems like such a rich genre for exploring this bizarre and haunting story from a variety of angles. Your description of the Eerdmans edition cover art is spot on! (The illustrator Jim Lamb [http://www.jimlambstudio.com/HOME.html] is a California-based, plein air landscape painter. No sign of monstrous tape worms, frolicking children, or decapitated leopard-women in any of his other works. That must be all MacDonald.)
    Looking forward… 🙂

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