"Watching You Fade" by Sophie HadlumReview
The new Sophie Hadlum single "Watching You Fade" will be out on 15th May (though you may already have had a listen to it being played on BBC Introducing for Coventry & Warwickshire): her first since "Winter Came Around Too Fast" in December 2019. (I hope you remember her "Land of the Long White Cloud" too from ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Two'?)
In my opinion, everything I've heard from Sophie seems to have a personal basis, though none have been so overt as this new one which she tells me "…is about the most Italian grandfather imaginable, our Nonno, a tour de force fading to silence.." and how many writers could bring themselves even to attempt to cover such a story? It cannot have been at all easy & I think she has done a terrific job which will pull at the heartstrings of all those who have had similar experiences and those dreading having them too.
To make matters worse in terms of emotional demands on the artist, although Sophie has in the past, created some atmospheric instrumentals which tell their story without needing words, this one has lyrics & hence vocals: it can't have been easy for her to approach actually singing the affecting words.
It's at once, paradoxically, an easy listen & yet a very difficult listen.
Hauntingly beautiful in a skeletal & classical way, the mood & content will play havoc with your emotions: not least because in her grief & processing of it, Sophie delves down into the deep agonising details (clearly her senses of observation were stimulated by the emotion of the process) of her vigil as her grandfather gradually faded from his previous vigorous self (though utterly without over-idealising him: his faults are outlined too) until he was departed from this world for good. With such minutiae, the dangers of trotting out the conventional clichés of loss are transcended & we plunge far deeper.
The song is directly addressed to its subject but as it was (I understand) composed after he had gone, one can only hope that its message reaches him wherever he may be: it's a wonderful, tender & intimate articulation of love.
Sophie suggests that the song is a little different from her "usual" music and while that certainly holds good for say her work with Shanghai Hostage and as a deeply & specifically personal piece within the context of her solo work, sonically at least it does bear similarities with its sparse atmospherics and "less is more" aesthetics: mood pieces are very much her forte.
For those who've seen Sophie with Shanghai Hostage, the MINTAKAA Collective or on her own, you'll be aware that the clarinet gets deployed regularly and "Watching You Fade" is no exception. It tells several stories possibly: her playing is generally very classical in style, complementing & dancing around the piano (there are so many spaces for it to do so) yet given the Italian dimension, one cannot help but draw comparisons with its role in Italian folk song and also (though it's probably that this is my ear and not Sophie's intention) with that of Ukraine too. Its plangent wail carries its song of pain & loss from one single room across the world to touch on many, amplified by the tasteful recording by Ian Todd which makes as good a use of the spaces between the sounds as the sounds themselves.
That is another matter of course & cuts to the heart of the matter when artists create something so obviously specific to a single individual subject (and the lyrics here can only refer to one person): does the celebration or lament become so narrow in focus that it excludes all the rest of us, or does it offer us the specificity of a single case which we can then apply to our own experiences by looking past the precise descriptions to a more universal emotional landscape? Well I am certain it does: why else would it move me in the way it has & why else would I have struggled to find the right words for this review? This is raw, emotional stuff and intended to be so. Yet it's not exclusionary in its subjectivity: the decision by BBC Introducing for Coventry & Warwickshire to play it prior to release indicates that they feel it isn't too strong for a mainstream audience.
Few of us go onwards on our journeys accompanied by such an elegy & Sophie's Grandad is fortunate to do so. If parts are emotionally challenging to listen to, then out of respect we should nevertheless do so. This is a cry of pain & regret, with Sophie explicitly admitting "caving" herself but it's also an offering of love: less of a paradox than two sides of a coin & almost certainly a form of catharsis too.