Thanks so much to Trevor Jones for the interview. The Miracle Mile released one fantastic 7″ in the 80s and then came back in the 90s, with a different lineup to release many great albums that deserve to be more known. It’s time for you all to discover them and if you like them, don’t forget to like them on facebook.
++ Thanks so much Trev for the interview. I didn’t know The Miracle Mile were still going, you were saying you are right now finishing a new album! Care to tell me a bit about this new release?
Sure. ‘In Cassidy’s Care’ is the first Miracle Mile CD since Limbo in 2007. In the interim I have recorded 2 solo albums ‘Hopeland’ and ‘Keepers’. The new album’s subtext is interesting; I wrote a short story that then became the songs on the album.
++ I know you thanks to your first release, the “Bless this Ship” 7″ released in 1986. Who were the band back then and how did you know each other?
The band back in 86 was Steve Smith (vocals) Phil Sands (drums) and me on guitar. Old mates from up north, we came down to conquer London (first) and then the world. Things didn’t quite pan out…That line up split shortly after the release of Bless This Ship and I carried the name forward; became the singer and went on to eventually record the debut MM album ‘Bicycle Thieves’ in 1997.
++ Were you involved with other bands before The Miracle Mile?
The usual youth club bands… hopeful no hopers.
++ And where does the name of the band comes from?
Speaking of ‘hopeful no hopers’; the miracle mile is an area near San Francisco. It originates from the old gold rush days when the miners would come back out of the hills with their gold dust. The towns grew up around their wants and needs: there was a bank to change the gold into dollars, there were brothels and bars for the spending of the money, there was a church where the miners could unburden their sins, then there was inevitably the grave yard. All of these along a strip of road that offered hope, sin and retribution: nominally a miracle mile…
++ Who or what would you say inspired you all to make music? And if you would list your five most influential bands, who would they be?
I like my music mournful; you can’t beat a sad song. I’m drawn to unique lyricists who offer poetry; the likes of Tom Waits, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. I love the voices of David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel and Paul Buchanan. I admire the sultry productions of Daniel Lanois, Joe Henry and Mitchell Froom. Favourite bands? The Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout, The Go Betweens, Elbow.
++ This 7″ came out on your own Miracle Records. Were you three doing the label thing?
It was a self financed thing that I think I’m still paying for.
++ How did the creative process work for you guys?
In those days it was a live line up so things were pretty collaborative. Since Slow Fade in 2000 I have worked exclusively with Marcus Cliffe. The MM are essentially a duo who use session musicians when needed.
++ So on this 7″ you included two songs, “Bless This Ship” and “Breaking Down the Barriers”. What’s the story behind these two songs?
‘Bless this ship, it makes me happy when there is love on board’ is a pretty self explanatory line; the ‘b’ side carries on that hoary search for the elusive.
++ And from this period, are there any more recordings?
Plenty of demos but they will remain in my dusty attic until my genius is finally recognized 50 years after my death…
++ What about gigging with this first incarnation of The Miracle Mile? Did you play live a lot? Any particular gigs that you remember? Any fun anecdotes to share?
That original line gigged quite a bit, mainly around London’s usual venues for the ‘up and coming’. We played The Borderline, The Mean Fiddler, The Marquis Café. In those days you virtually had to pay to gig, there was so much competition. I loved it but it was a young man’s folly. I don’t think I could do it anymore; I’d need a changing room, a guest list and a rider now.
++ How do you remember London back then? There were many guitar pop bands at the time. Did you like any of them? Was there a sense of a happening scene? What were your favourite venues, places, to see bands?
We seemed to do a lot of shows with Energy Orchard. It was the time of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions; there was some serious jingle jangle blues going on; all dressed up in lumberjack shirts and turned up jeans.
++ And how come you guys split? And why weren’t there other releases made at the time? Was there any interest from majors at all?
We did many showcases for the Majors but never really got a bite; a familiar tale for many. Steve and Phil split to form their own band ‘Molly and the Moonbeans’ while I kept MM going.
++ After the split you continued with Miracle Mile with Marcus Cliff. Whatever happened to Steve and Phil?
Steve is now living in LA; writes and records as ‘The Delta Boy’. He’s a great writer; reminds me of Stephen Duffy. Phil retreated to Cornwall where he’s probably skinning up with the surfers as we speak.
++ But it took around 10 years between the 7″ release and the “Bicycle Thieves” album, right? What happened in between those years?
Writing, reimagining, paying off debts…
++ I was listening to the tracks that are streaming in the Miracle Mile website and they are really good. Great pop, a bit different from the first Miracle Mile, more of orchestrated pop music, baroque pop, you could call it. I noticed you released many records. I was wondering, if I was to start with one record of yours, which one would you recommend? and why?
I’d say start with the first ‘Bicycle Thieves’ and follow the development of the band through to the forthcoming 8th album. If you’re short on time the easy reference would be ‘Coffee and Stars’ an oversight of some of the band’s better moments. I’ll send you a copy with the 7”.
++ And among all the songs you’ve written, which are many, which are your favourites? And among your releases, where does the Miracle Mile first 7″ stand?
Excuse the platitude but my songs are like children to me; some are a bit crossed eyed and smelly but it makes me love them more. I’d hate to single one out for special attention. ‘Bless this Ship’ was effectively a different band. I remember those days with affection but feel that my musical progression renders that stuff as nowt but nostalgia.
++ And are you still playing gigs? I would love to check out the Miracle Mile next time I visit London!
There may be something to promote the new album. I’ll keep you posted.
++ Do tell me about London, I visit quite often but I can always do with suggestions, what are your favourite places in town? best restaurant? best pub? best sight for a tourist like me?
Anywhere in Soho is a blast; it’s dirty, smelly, vibrant. My favourite walk is to cross Westminster Bridge going south and turn left, walking eastwards on the southbank. You’ll get the immensity of the City across the Thames and you will pass the London Eye, The Tate Modern, You can cross ‘the wobbly bridge’ to St Pauls, then back on to the South bank to Southwark Cathedral and towards Borough Market, one of the great world food markets. The original band used to rehearse in Clink Street around that area, one of the great historical parts of London, where the old bear pits were.
++ And aside from making music, what other things do you like doing? Any hobbies?
We have a house in Corsica; I like to retreat there to write, read and listen to music. Travel is good for the soul. I play squash to keep fit. Music is still my main passion. Listening, searching for that magical moment. And of course writing. I still believe my next song will be my best…
++ Let’s wrap it here, I promise I will discover the rest of the Miracle Mile music, I really like what I’m hearing. Do tell me though, as I’ve seen many musicians from the 80s move to electronic and the like, how come you always stayed making fantastic pop music? What do you love so much about it?
It’s funny, Miracle Mile are always referred to as a ‘pop band’. I’ve never thought of us as such. ‘Pop’ suggests something fleeting, transient. I’ve always hoped our music would be regarded as more substantial and enduring. Still, as Noel Coward famously said, “there’s nothing quite as potent as cheap music”.
++ Thanks again Trev, anything else you’d like to add?
Maybe just this biog; a bit long winded but it might offer you some insight…
MIRACLE MILE BIOGRAPHY
In the mid 90’s, singer-songwriter Trevor Jones began working with producer Steve Davis on material that was to become Miracle Mile’s debut album ‘Bicycle Thieves’.
“Meticulously orchestrated, careful and complex, this is canny songwriting leavened by bona fide humanity.”
TJ: “Steve and I developed the recording band into a live unit, adding Les Nemes (bass) and Phil Smith (sax/keyboards) plus Trevor Smith on drums. After the release of ‘Bicycle Thieves’ in 1997, Mark Hornby joined the fold for gigs and the recording of the follow up ‘Candids’.”
“A little gem, loaded with nagging guitar hooks and dynamic vocal interplay. Intellectually as well as emotionally engaging.”
TJ: “After ‘Candids’ was released in 1998 I took the decision to stop doing live shows, as I wasn’t sure that the direction of my writing was in line with the gusto and spirit of that live band.”
The songs kept coming and in 1999 Steve and Trevor started work on new material for the third album, ‘Slow Fade’. These recordings were more intimate, less orchestrated with the accent on the songs and the singer. Marcus Cliffe was brought in on Upright Bass, Trevor Smith remained on the drum stool, and the
legend that is BJ Cole was draughted in to add some pedal steel magic.
TJ: “Steve and I parted company mid-stream. Not the usual “musical differences”, just an honest admission from Steve that, with family and a day job to attend to, he simply didn’t have the time. I was blessed with Marcus. Having already struck up a friendship we decided to complete the album together as co-producers and musical partners.”
Cliffe had played with many fine folk (Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Daniel Lanois, Mark Knopfler) a pedigree apparent in the musical backdrops with which he furnished the songs. Slow Fade received ecstatic reviews and saw the further development of a more intimate direction.
“Gorgeous! A lovely, low key collection of sensitive, enchanting songs.” THE TIMES ****
In the summer of 2001 MM started work on ‘Alaska’ at Marcus’s ‘Norbury Brook’ studio. At the time Jones was asked about the lyrical content of ‘Alaska’:
TJ: “These are hardly original ideas. The grass is always greener. The human condition is invariably in a state of disappointment. Is ‘different’ better? When habit and convention demoralizes and casts us adrift, how do we reset our course? Change? The thought of real change is intimidating; it could save us, yet we fear it, and remain content with cold compromise. Dissatisfied, we crave happiness and, when denied, we look elsewhere for a quick fix. As consumers, we’re so used to instant gratification, that we can only be disappointed. We want to be ‘of substance’’, yet we deny the process that makes the fabric hardy – life. We focus on the horizon, rather than on the small dramas in front of us. We desire to be “anywhere but here”, the possibilities of the ‘other life’ making us resent our real lives even more. Traditionally these ‘other lives’ were just vague unobtainable pipedreams, seen in fuzzy black and white. Now, digital clarity presents a focused and immediate reality that we demand, without investment or preparation. Thus, even if we make the dream reality, we’re unable to appreciate or recognise the gravity of it’s arrival; we just use it and move on to something else; easy come, easy go, there goes Mexico, or Alaska, or Sidcup, or Oz… or God. A lot of these songs focus on the tricks that we use, the games that we play, and the skills we develop, to stop ourselves from becoming unglued.”
MC: “The recording of ‘Alaska’ was a difficult time for us both. I was having problems with my family life, Trev had just lost his sister to suicide. I wouldn’t say that it made for a darker album, but there was an emotional edge that gave it a certain grain.”
‘Alaska’ was released in 2002 to overwhelming acclaim:
“Gentle enchantment. The loveliest melodies you’ve ever heard.”
In 2003 Cliffe was due to tour with Mark Knopfler for the bulk of that year. Unfortunately Knopfler was knocked from his motorcycle on the morning of the first rehearsal, badly breaking his shoulder. The tour was cancelled, and Marcus had time on his hands:
MC: “I didn’t want to twiddle my thumbs, so I spoke with Trev. After clearing the emotional decks with ‘Alaska’ he had songs coming out of his ears! We started in on the recordings that would become ‘Stories We Could Tell’.”
For this album, the duo continued with their ambient use of pedal steel, profiling the differing styles of BJ Cole and Melvin Duffy, but they also coloured the sound with woodwind, brass and other instruments not usually associated with their style of music. Lyrically the album attempted to highlight what Jones called “…the profundity of the mundane. It’s interesting how common our ‘unique’ experiences are. However we choose to present ourselves to the world, we’re all made of the same stuff. I’m intrigued by how distance converts experience into memory, and ultimately, into the stories we tell.”
“Miracle Mile’s obscurity remains unfathomable. Perfect adult pop.” THE SUNDAY TIMES ****
Again, a Miracle Mile release that inspired the critics and a small but dedicated following, but met with commercial indifference. Was this due to a stubborn indifference to what makes music ‘commercial’, or a difficulty to place them in the market?
TJ: “Ah, pigeonholes! As the songs became more and more personal, the focus shifted to me and I became more increasingly referred to as a ‘singer songwriter’. If that lends more substance to what we do then it’s OK, but labels can be a misleading, and I don’t think that label does justice to Marcus’s input. We are a musical partnership. Beyond recognizing that my words are personal, I think that defining our roles is pointless; the focus should be on the end product; the song. I guess that we are bloody minded in the pursuit of that perfect song!”
MC: “We always said that we would make the records we wanted to make, and refuse to manicure our sound for a marketplace; we please ourselves. With our music, self-control is everything. Owning my own studio has allowed us to develop our sound without interference or financial constraint. The danger is that you can over indulge, be too particular. The joy is, that while we’re both emotional and instinctive, I think we remain disciplined and focused on the crux of the music; the song stays centre stage.”
Recording for the next album ‘Glow’ started in November of 2004.
TJ: “The ﬁrst day of recording is always a happy time for me. There’s
nothing more exciting than a blank piece of paper, the possibilities are endless. I get to articulate all the stuﬀ that I’ve been storing up.”
Recordings were completed by May of 2005 and on release Trevor offered:
“Whether half remembered or best forgotten, memories are filtered, the haze of a childhood that can never be reclaimed is where we all start and end.”
This gives a fair impression of the lyrical scope and compelling, emotive power of the songwriting. Added to that were Marcus Cliffe’s excellent playing and multi-instrumental skills, plus his ear for sublime arrangements; ‘Glow’ was an album to cherish.
MC: ‘Sonically it blends traditional elements; acoustic guitar, piano, double bass, with the ambient pedal steel of BJ Cole and Melvin Duffy. These, mixed with some unlikely woodwind and brass arrangements, make for (we hope) a quietly beguiling concoction’.
It’s almost impossible to explain how such simple, natural song craft can weave such a complex web of feelings, lingering images and possibilities, but weave it does. Once you’re caught up there is no getting away either. This is a record to last the rest of your life.
Praise for ‘Glow’:
“Gorgeous melodies, hooks galore, intelligent lyrics that demand and repay careful listening, beautifully produced instrumentation, and an overall effect that combines poignancy and joy in equal measure. The result is as close to a pop masterpiece as you’re likely to hear this or indeed any other year. ‘Glow’ is one of those rare albums where music and words come together in a state as close to perfection as makes no difference, and leaves you with a delicious ache that makes you hug yourself with the sheer overwhelming joy of hearing such wonderful music. An indispensable album.”
Americana UK 9/10
“”MM are pop’s most consistently excellent cottage industry”
The Sunday Times ****
“A little oasis illuminated by musical creativity, glimpsed like a lovely mirage. Intelligent tunefulness that doesn’t kowtow to passing trends has always been as rare as fish fingernails, but it’s here.” Mojo ****
“Little miracles of pop perfection” Rockstar ****
“This British duo’s hazy, cerebral sixth release is an acoustic pop gem. Records like ‘Glow’ will never grow old, which is a good thing indeed.” Minor 7th
“How to write ‘Perfect Pop’ and still remain unknown. They are magic, charming, almost naïve in their perception of beauty”
La Repubblica (Italy) ****
“The intimate songs on this album are like a necklace hung with precious jewels. With deceptively fine melodic structures, this is music to exercise your temporal lobes and promote thought upon the minutiae of life. Discover their back catalogue for even more treasures”
69 Magazine *****
“A treat from start to finish. One day large numbers will look back and call this a lost classic.”
Back on the Tracks ****
In January of 2006 Trevor and Marcus began the recordings for what would become ‘Limbo’.
TJ: “I really believed that the ‘Glow’ sessions would be the last time we recorded at Norbury Brook, so this comes as a happy bonus; amazing what you can come to take for granted; people and places. Same cracked mugs, same mad cat, one new guitar (a battered but lovely old Gibson) and Marcus (also battered but lovely) burning incense rather than spraying that inner nose stripping air freshener! He’ll be wearing a kaftan next…look our for a sitar solo!
We always look for a working title. I’m struck by the word ‘Limbo’ for 3 reasons: firstly it kind of sums up the Miracle Mile’s position in the music world, secondly it relates to Marcus’s emotional and domestic circumstance, and thirdly because I’ve just driven past some orange boxes with ‘Limbo’ written on the side! Friday the 13th seems a fateful date to start our recordings; maybe it’ll bring us luck…so there’s a title; ‘Lucky Limbo’?
When recording was completed in the autumn of 2006 Trevor was asked to introduce the album:
“We all rest where compromise leaves us. We could try to be elsewhere, but that wouldn’t have produced this album. It’s the best we could do, for where we were. ‘Limbo’? It’s sorrow’s way; like the unravelling of a lost kite, a gentle rise or fall towards oblivion. We say, “don’t be afraid to forget.” You will not. It will become the palest thought, and one day, when your gaze has drifted, the sadness will buck and buckle and be gone.
Meanwhile, abandoned and liberated, silence stands as failure and threatens everything. So we fill it with music and search for the perfect song. How do you live the perfect life? How do you write the perfect joke? Start with the punch line and work backwards.
We’re all connected by our unravellings. We don’t always feel the tug, but as the line tightens, leaves a mark, then relaxes, you realise that things can never come to rest and you learn to trust the rhythm of chance.
And the perfect joke? A man falling from a great height whispering “so far, so good.”
Limbo was released to critical acclaim with The Sunday Times nominating it their ‘CD of the Week’
“Classic pop songwriting, gorgeously realised”
Indeed, ‘Lights of Home’ went on to be named a Sunday Times ‘Song of the Year’ 2007:
“Trevor Jones finds the poetry in real life; Marcus Cliffe anchors it in the sweetest pop. Gorgeous as ever. You may cry”
During a lull in new recording, in 2008 MM released ‘Coffee and Stars’ a compilation of songs taken from their 7 albums.
TJ: “‘Coffee and Stars’ seems an appropriate title, as caffeine and wonderment have been our prime stimulants for the past decade, during which these songs were written and recorded. Choosing the tracks for this collection was challenging. Marcus and I had different favorites and, like children I guess, we seemed to favour the slightly wonky, cross-eyed ones. We’ve included a couple of those here (can you see them?) alongside the more obvious favourites that aunty always kisses first.
So, this is like a family photo, with most of the family still locked in the attic. Let’s hope that ‘Coffee and Stars’ compels you to visit those neglected children in situ, on their original albums. We hope, like us, that you’ll come to love them all.”
The liner notes to ‘Coffee and Stars’ were written by a much respected music journalist, Johnny Black. Maybe they are the perfect words to conclude this particular part of the Miracle Mile story:
“For the truly creative artist, perfection can never be achieved for more than a fleeting moment. Painting the ultimate landscape or writing the definitive song inevitably redefines perfection, pushes the standard of what might be possible next time a little higher, a little closer to what was once considered impossible.
Every Miracle Mile album since their debut offering, ‘Bicycle Thieves’ in 1997, has included songs, which, at the time, redefined the limits of what the perfect song might be. This compilation includes eighteen of them.
The cuts were selected not so much to provide a simple ‘Best Of’, as to create a sustained listening experience in which each track flows naturally into the next. It would be easy to quibble with the ommisions, but only a fool would deny that the tracks chosen fit together like pieces of a much-loved jigsaw, depicting an aspect of Miracle Mile that none of the seven individual albums could hope to deliver.
On most Miracle Mile songs, the primary elements – melody and lyrics – are provided by songwriter and singer Trevor Jones. For the past seven years, however, Jones has worked so closely with multi-instrumentalist and co-composer Marcus Cliffe that his contributions have become integral to the sound and shape of the music they make. Whether it’s the yearning regret of ‘Yuri’s Dream’, or the playful lyricism of ‘Sunburst Finish’, the Jones-Cliffe partnership transforms each song into much more than the sum of its parts. When Jones captures the bottled lightning of everyday existence with a beautiful turn of phrase like, “Paper planes and pony tails lead me back to you”, Cliffe colours in the word pictures with unfailingly apposite textures and melodic filigrees.
Best of all though, Miracle Mile will never sink a fang into the jugular when they can plant a whisper of a kiss on that sensitive spot at the nape of the neck and set off a tiny ripple that will, in the fullness of time, explode in the heart.”
Trevor Jones has since gone on to produce two critically acclaimed solo albums ‘Hopeland’ and ‘Keepers’.
Praise for ‘Hopeland’:
“Moves you to tears and refreshes the soul. Scintillating.”
“The beauty on offer here is enough to make you weep. It did me.”
9/10 Americana UK
“The title track must simply be the most beautiful ballad anyone has written this year.” **** SUNDAY TIMES
Praise for ‘Keepers’:
“A tender sadness. Songs that have universal resonance.”
“A lush swoon of gorgeous pop. Genuinely life enhancing and life changing” 9/10 Americana Uk
“A melancholic ocean of poetry and sublime song-craft.
Life is indeed worth living and all the richer for hearing this.”
Properganda ‘Album of the Week’
‘Trevor Jones has produced a gorgeous pop album that few will hear — unless there’s justice in the world.’ The Wall Street Journal
“Jones has compiled possibly the finest catalogue of adult pop. Gently beautiful and genuinely moving”
The Sunday Times ****
The Miracle Mile – Breaking the Barriers