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Things We Like: “From Gardens Were We Feel Secure”

From Gardens Where We Feel Secure is the title of the first Virginia Astley album issued on her own Happy Valley label and distributed by Rough Trade Records. (The original, and my preferred, album cover is shown. Astley switched out the cover art on subsequent releases.)  Virginia Astley is an English singer-songwriter most active during the 1980s and 1990s. From the start of her song-writing career in 1980, Astley took her inspiration from many sources. Her classical training influenced her as did a desire to be experimental with her music. Although more popular in the Far East, most notably Japan, she remains a cult artist in her native England.

The album was released in July 1983 and peaked at number 4 in the UK Indie Chart. The album was trailed by a couple of its tracks A Summer Long Since Past and It’s Too Hot to Sleep, my Haitian theme song, which were included on the 12″ of the earlier single Love’s a lonely place to be.

The album is an instrumental collection of tone poems that describe the cycle and mirror the moods of at summer day in the English countryside. It’s a bucolic and sincere collection of aural sketches, which totally captivated me around the time I was deep into D.C.’s harDCore scene.

The album began life as a series of demos produced by John Foxx at the Crépuscule studios, where he was working at the time. The album is notable for its structure, moving from dawn to dusk, and its use of natural, sound effects. In 1986, Astley and Ryuichi Sakamoto re-recorded “A Summer Long Since Passed” and included it in her 1986 album Hope in a Darkened Heart. “From Gardens…” was re-mastered and re-released by Rough Trade as a CD in 2003.

The album was praised by critics. Stewart Mason, writing for Allmusic, stated: Almost entirely instrumental, save for a few wordless vocals on “A Summer Long Since Past,” and featuring little instrumentation besides Astley’s piano and some subtle woodwinds, the album is a lovely 35-minute meditation built around field recordings Astley made of the ambient sounds of the rural English countryside. This description makes the album sound much more twee and insubstantial than it actually is; however, Astley is no mere ambient noodler. These nine songs are melodically rich and varied; mood pieces in the truest sense of the term.

It’s a gorgeous collection of music, possibly harder to find, but richly rewarding. In addition to a sample of music from “From Gardens…”, I’ve included a song from a subsequent release,  Astley’s rather scarce 1986 album Hope in a Darkened Heart, which features David Sylvian in a duet.