Harold Budd: Still Return

Posted by in Culture, Music

Double Pearls; UK and German on the right.


It’s difficult to pinpoint when Harold Budd came into my musical periphery. I’d imagine sometime in the late eighties or early nineties via The Pearl – his second album with Brian Eno released in 1984. With a cover image by Russell Mills it was also name checked by David Sylvian and since by Neil Tennant and Tim Bowness as a favourite.

This album features several key moments; Lost in the Humming Air, Foreshadowed (an inspiration to my poem of the same name – see below), Their Memories reinterpreted from the earlier song The Chill Air, and Still Return.

I read of his titles The Pavilion of Dreams, Abandoned Cities, The White Arcades, Luxa, and The Room, if Italo Calvino had been a pianist he would have been Harold Budd. He is to piano what Michael Hedges was to acoustic guitar.

Over time it was astonishing just how many of the artists I’ve regarded he ended up collaborating with. (The) Cocteau Twins, Robin Guthrie, John Foxx and even a member of Cock Robin Clive Wright who was near neighbours with Budd in the Joshua Tree desert. I’ll get onto these in due course. 

My next inadvertent appointment with Mr Budd would have been The Moon and the Melodies on a cassette – the cover differed from the vinyl addition. This contained Sea Swallow Me and perhaps the Cocteaus most psychedelic song Eyes are Mosaics where Budd sits behind them almost drowned out by their music. The most notable sign are his two opening notes.  

A ghost house for the gunfighter?


The same year (1986) saw Lovely Thunder. Now that we live in the age of files, I only have two tracks from it; The Gunfighter which reminds me of a photo I took in China called The Ghost House and Olancha Farewell. The latter’s final 30 second refrain is like a warm and final embrace.

Music for Films III is a compilation by Brian Eno and his mix of Budd’s Balthus Bemused by Colour that I mention on the Croydon playlist recalls an evening flight and a definite contender for funeral song. Assuming I qualify for one.

Dawn and Rose of Eventide.

By the Dawn’s Early Light came out in ’91 and I can’t remember now if I was aware of it then or later, but I certainly bought it later (in London on CD). I believe my first sight of it would have been in one of the Album Cover Album books and the original cover art totally got me (it’s since been issued with inferior artwork). 

A damaged polaroid with a glint of light signifying the sunrise and with the type large and centred with the album title running between his first and last names – it’s a simple yet winning design. ‘Dawn’ is notable for its poems (Boy About 10, Aztec Hotel) but also its bucolic loneliness in titles like The Place of Dead Roads. Recorded in New Orleans and named after the book by William S. Burroughs. She Dances by the Light of the Silvery Moon reminds me of the kind of music heard in Welsh craft shops!

A year later, another collaboration this time with Ruben Garcia and Daniel Lentz (don’t know anything about either). But what I do know is Music for Three Pianos presents some soft and musically engaging tunes: Somos Trees, and The Messenger.

Roses everywhere.


Through the Hill with XTC’s Andy Partridge was purchased from Cardiff MVC (long gone as is the arcade it was housed in) soon after its release in the mid-nineties. The cover and booklet, dressed in a handsome burgundy and white, had a cream or pale yellow backing.

The booklet interior has more in common with a museum guide or floor plans than a musical excursion. Add to that the album is divided into three areas: Geography, Structures, and Artifacts. The first part features my two favourites, the title track and Western Island of Apples.

Other tracks were somewhat unnerving for their titles The Place of Odd Glances, Well for the Sweat of the Moon, Mantle of Peacock Bones – it could almost be the media used for a Russell Mills painting and probably is. Also unnerving was – save for my faves – texture and colouration. 

Let me explain… most chart hits are in what might be called A list colours: Red, Orange, Yellow, light Blue, Pink. What you don’t often hear is Olive, Khaki, Burnt Umber so when one does hear those odd tones they appear all the more strange and otherworldly. This album (not the title song) is a good example of that.

It’s around this time I write the poem Foreshadowed which I tried to get to Harold. I think the final time it did reach him but the sad thing is I have no idea what he thought of it. Was it good, bad an honour or an insult? It’s something I will most likely never know. This and FYT named after the This Mortal Coil song feature in Notate but this is not the place to be advertising my wares.  

1995 saw further collaboration with the acclaimed Algerian French musician Hector Zazou (Glyph) and the Italian duo of Nicola Alesini and Pier Luigi Andreoni on their project Marco Polo (which also guests Sylvian and Roger Eno among others). I see Luxa in the same Cardiff store a year later and although it’s perused several times, for whatever reason, is placed back in the rack.

Night in the city


Although recorded in the nineties when John Foxx was still in sabbatical Translucence and Drift Music eventually saw the light of day in 2003. From it I’ve selected Missing Person which begins as an ominous burr only to lift into a pale blue spacious ambient waft hence the term ‘drift music’ and Linger; a three part eclogue reprised a further five times to make a two minute statement.

The second song on Translucence is called Spoken Roses and this gave its influence to Rose of Eventide; another of the shots I took in China (I’ve coupled it with ‘Dawn’ above). Like Guthrie, Foxx would again team up with Budd and Ruben Garcia on 2015’s Nighthawks which featured When the City Stops for Snow – inspired by one of Foxx’s walks in New York’s Central Park.

Avalon Sutra rescued by David Sylvian and unveiled in 2004 finds him in fine artistic form even with titles as fey as L’Enfant Perdu and Chrysalis Nu! Both are among the shorter of his repertoire (a couple of minutes per piece) and lovely, as is Little Heart even if its meditative chime does meander a bit. The theme of Arabesque runs through the album from the soothing opener to its nocturnal conclusion.

Music for Fragments from the Inside is a live recording with another Italian Eraldo Bernocchi. Only seven songs with a duration of over an hour! The first piece is Harold left to meander the more contemplative section of his ivories and ebonies, Bernocchi’s electronics rounding off the first part and entering the second. 

Budd joins in for the latter half but it’s unusual to hear his piano against a strong back beat and tabla. The third and fourth parts are the most boring and the fourth utilises the pentatonic scales in the way that Ryuichi Sakamoto occasionally dives into. 

Then we hit payday – the fifth is really where this recording comes into its own. A more brooding evening soundscape with a two note motif (not sure if Bernocchi or Budd is playing it) but its ambience is then married to beats from whence Budd adds the palette of sonic daydream to this particular pavilion of dreams.

Fragments Six and Seven are the longest, together they form half an hour of music! Six is pleasant, Seven too much. It would however make for a nice concert and the audience applause would suggest they felt the same. Bernocchi and Budd add Robin Guthrie for 2011’s Winter Garden.

After the Night Falls and Before the Day Breaks (again with Guthrie) are companion albums that complement each other; great for the night and insomniacs alike. Both exude standard tropes, echo guitar, drift piano and great title-smithing ‘Inside a Golden Echo,’ ‘Outside, Silence,’ some are almost comical ‘I Returned Her Glance.’

Lost in the Humming Air


In Oxford (2008-2010) during an evening promenade I take a photo which I think better suits The Plateaux of Mirror and works will with its companion piece The Pearl. The original Plateaux forms part of Eno’s ambient series and hence has the map design which doesn’t really suit it (in my humble opinion). 

The album like The Pearl is bookended by First Light and Failing Light. The title track feels like a desert island disc waiting to be chosen, Above Chiang Mai the same, foreshadowing the album is the eerie Wind in Lonely Fences which I first heard on an ambient compilation.

It’s in Oxford that I finally get to hear some of the work with Clive Wright, a trilogy of albums released over that same period. The 32 minute Pensive Aphrodite is good to work to but too long to focus on. Of Many Mirrors shimmers like a desert monolith and the Pat Metheny styled pastoral footfall of Beautiful Intruder on Candylion is also worth investigation. 

And it’s also in Oxford that U2 release No Line on the Horizon which samples Budd’s keyboard line from Against the Sky for their song Cedars of Lebanon. There is still a wealth of material I’ve yet to hear; some great titles waiting to be discovered; 2012’s Bandits of Stature begins with The Dream of the Girl at the Lonely Desert Cafe. 

The news on the ninth of December caught everyone by surprise, it was both shocking and shattering for many of the artists who worked with him over the years including both Foxx and Guthrie.

“Shattered by the news. Harold was a real-life hero. Some of the most illuminating moments working with any musician came about when recording with Harold. Everyone fortunate enough to work with him will say the same. He brought the best out of us. A great man and a great loss.” – John Foxx writing on Twitter

“feeling empty, shattered lost and unprepared for this.” – Robin Guthrie.

“It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Harold Budd. Rest in peace, poet of the piano.” – Cocteau Twins

Bill Nelson – who toured with Harold in Portugal and Japan – delivers a sprawling eulogy while Clive Wright is almost blasé in his off the cuff Goodbye Friend!

As Long as I Can Hold My Breath is perhaps the cruelest title in the cruelest of years, at 84, Harold Budd succumbed to the virus that has claimed so many this year. I’ve yet to visit Chiang Mai but when I do you can be sure of the song I’ll be playing. It may not be the only one.  


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Lost in the Humming Air – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Foreshadowed – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Their Memories – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Still Return – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
The Place of Dead Roads – Harold Budd (with Bill Nelson)
Somos Trees – Harold Budd/Ruben Garcia/Daniel Lentz
The Messenger – Harold Budd/Ruben Garcia/Daniel Lentz
Through the Hill – Andy Partridge/Harold Budd
Missing Person – John Foxx & Harold Budd
Linger – John Foxx & Harold Budd
Down a Windy Street – John Foxx/Harold Budd/Ruben Garcia
When the City Stops for Snow – John Foxx/Harold Budd/Ruben Garcia
Arabesque 3 – Harold Budd
Little Heart – Harold Budd
Fragment Five – Eraldo Bernocchi and Harold Budd
Fragment Six – Eraldo Bernocchi and Harold Budd
Mysterious Skin – Robin Guthrie/Harold Budd
Halloween – Robin Guthrie/Harold Budd
Outside, Silence – Robin Guthrie/Harold Budd
The Plateaux of Mirror – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Above Chiang Mai – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Wind in Lonely Fences – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Ribbons Everywhere – Harold Budd/Clive Wright
Beautiful Intruder – Harold Budd/Clive Wright
Of Many Mirrors – Harold Budd/Clive Wright
Balthus Bemused by Colour – Harold Budd
Olancha Farewell – Harold Budd

Photo Credits:
Discogs except The Plateaux of Mirror by KH