Simon Tong takes his band on a voyage of discovery back to his childhood home in order to inspire them
Lancashire’s Skelmersdale was the childhood home of The Magnetic North’s Simon Tong. It also became the official UK centre of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement in the early 1980s. Only built in 1961, the town became a haven for the peaceful messages of the organisation and Tong’s family relocated there to become a part of it. This upbringing is the inspiration behind the trio’s new album, a psychogeographical musical journey through the past.
Opening with Jai Guru Dev – a TM blessing used when entering someone’s house – the record immediately transports the listener to Tong’s Skelmersdale, where the spiritual merges with the commonplace. The sparse orchestration on tracks like Sandy Lane and The Silver Birch, as well as the snippets of old archive used throughout the record, create a slow-burning atmosphere. Rather than a rushed time-lapse, it is a grainy old documentary, slightly warped with the passing of time. A sat-nav leaves the band isolated on Exit; the album’s spectral highlight on which the weight of history inescapable.
A cover of George Harrison’s Run Of The Mill provides a wonderfully fitting closing track. The most famous advocate of TM would no doubt be proud of his place on the album, and impressed by the way Hannah Peel’s fragile voice tackles the song. As it brings everything to a close, it’s the final memory from Tong’s childhood and melts into the Skelmersdale landscape, ineffably tied together and wonderfully captured by The Magnetic North.
Verdict: A town where music meets psychogeography