STATE RIVER WIDENING

 

Named after the title of a Chinese propaganda photo, London-based trio State River Widening comprises multi-instrumentalists David Sheppard and Keiron Phelan, along with drummer/percussionist Jon Steele.

Sheppard is the former guitarist with ‘90s baroque pop group Balloon while Phelan played with ex-The Sound frontman, the late Adrian Borland.

Friends from school (in south London) Sheppard and Phelan began experimental recordings in 1996, soon hooking up with drummer Steele to leaven their intertwining, Nick Drake-like acoustic guitars with vigorous-yet-dexterous drum work. Thus, in May 1998, was State River Widening born.

A debut single, Unsung Couples, was released on the Gold Hole label in November 1998 to the delight of journalists still in thrall to all thinks post-rock. SRW’s s hypnotic cycles of avant-rock melody seemed to chime with an audience then thrilling to similarly inclined practitioners such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Tortoise – though SRW’s sound was immediately identified as being very much their own.

Further singles and compilation tracks appeared before the November 1999 release of SRW’s eponymous debut (on fast rising independent imprint Rocket Girl), which drew plaudits from the likes of Delusions of Adequacy, who remarked that the band's "intoxicating back-to-nature acoustic explorations supplied the Anglo-agrarian answer to Chicago's urbanite post-rock crowd" . A clutch of rare live dates followed with the band treading the boards with the likes of Low and Piano Magic.

Summer 2000 saw the release of a new SRW single Desertesque (For Hessen)/Radio Valkyrie, on the German label Beau Rivage. Eighteen months of work then followed on the second album, Early Music which expanded SRW’s palette using a vivid miscellany of instruments. Released in spring 2003, the album proved another critical success, with several Early Music tracks finding their way onto TV documentary and advertising soundtracks.

Recorded between late 2003 and spring ‘04, the album, Cottonhead,was released at the end of October ’04 on a new label, Vertical Form. With strings, additional percussion and, on one track, the voice of reclusive ‘60s folk legend Anne Briggs, Cottonhead was SRW’s most artistically ambitious and sophisticated record to date.

In 2005 Messrs Phelan and Sheppard signed (under their own names) to The Leaf Label and at the end of the year began work on a new album, with ex-Laika mainstay Guy Fixsen assisting. That album, Harps Old Master, was released in September 2006.