Love Letter To A Record: Marlon Williams On Bob Carpenter’s ‘Silent Passage’


Written by Marlon Williams on February 16, 2018

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Here are their love letters to records that forever changed their lives.

Marlon Williams: Bob Carpenter – Silent Passage

I first heard the title track of Bob Carpenter’s Silent Passage on Midlakes’ edition of the Late Night Tales compilation series. The first thing that struck me was the compromised quality of the master. It suffered from a bit of pitch bend and a fair amount of tape hiss. Instead of being put off by this at all, I was compelled. Much like a physical idiosyncrasy in a lover, this blemish became a medal of mysterious distinction.

Then that voice descended upon me; “Before the war I had no need for traveling/ indeed I do not know what made it too important to leave/ And after all this time I found that I’m avoiding thee/ for nothing more or less than fear of what I have to gain from staying in the clear”. Instantly, I knew this protagonist, whoever he was, had suffered, and my heart was given over to his story. I remember getting to the end of that song and the questions burning away within: What war? Who have you been avoiding? The respective answers to these questions are, crucially, “No war you’ve ever heard of” and “thee”.

I listened to the rest of the album. More tales of mysterious and terrible journeys, bound by the common thread of seafaring. I searched out the cover with something kin to lust; Gustav Dorés’ etch of a ship traveling towards an unknown horizon for ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. Of course. Carpenter’s protagonist in Silent Passage was a modern day Mariner. The religious imagery. The metaphor of the “ship of life” on a sea of faith. And yes, the ambiguous mystery of time and place. People have long conjectured over where the Ancient Mariner’s Rime takes place; The presence of icebergs and the albatross itself seem to place it in southern seas somewhere near Antarctica, but it’s all conjecture.

Similarly, there were lyrics across Silent Passage that, no matter how hard I listened, I couldn’t quite discern. In my hunger to know I searched the web. It seemed nobody could say for sure what the lyrics were and through my research I learned that Carpenter had passed away almost twenty years ago, thereby preserving that precious mystery.

This paradox of self-consistent ambiguity, so central to storytelling, is what makes Carpenter’s only record a true work of art in the highest sense. No other album had ever dragged me away to a world so vaguely half-detailed, so achingly dreamlike, and no album has quite done that since.

Marlon Williams’ new album, ‘Make Way For Love’, is out today. Williams will head out on a national tour this May. Head here for dates.


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