In August last year, Josienne Clarke emerged from the fog that she had lived in for over a decade. In her fight to be recognised for work that she’d written, she’d been labelled a troublemaker. Instead of allowing this to overwhelm her, she ripped everything up and started again. Upping sticks to a small town in the west of Scotland, Clarke made sure she was in charge of everything. Every note written, every melody composed. Clarke even released A Small Unknowable Thing on her own record label, Corduroy Punk. The experience of going through this process has given her a new-found confidence and one that she’s carried forward into this latest release.
Inspiration has come from a conversation at the merchandise table with a fan who loved the style she wrote in but, tearfully, asked Clarke if she could do try and something more positive. “She wanted something with hope, something with a bit of light in it”, Clarke recalls of the situation. This saw the birth of what became I Promised You Light. Over the course of five tracks, Clarke lays a blueprint to a brighter tomorrow. She says that the cathartic nature of her last album, allowed her the space to find more positive threads where she previously would’ve struggled.
The recordings took place over four days in Hackney Road Studios where Clarke and her band – Alec Bowman-Clarke on bass, Matt Robinson on keyboards/piano and Dave Hamblett on drums – were able to gather for the first time since lockdown. Clarke says she enjoyed recording this more than anything else she’s done in her career and it shows throughout the songs. The opener, ‘Where the Light Comes In’, is partly inspired by that merch table encounter, as well as nodding its head towards Leonard Cohen in its title. It’s plaintive, pretty, hopeful, optimistic and catchy. Clarke has never sounded in better voice either.
This is followed by lead single ‘Driving at Night’ – a song that will be gracing many a playlist throughout this year. Clarke says that it’s a song about escaping and it gives me, as a listener, that wanderlust of European motorways and service stations. “When the street lights look like stars in the night sky”. It’s backed by a beautiful crescendo of guitar, bass and drums. The band are tight throughout, aided by the short recording time, though none of it sounds rushed or hurried.
The EP feels like a bridge between A Small Unknowable Thing and whatever is coming next, which Clarke has already started laying down tracks for. This is evidenced best in ‘Workhorse’. A song which marries her folkish past with an electronic beat, insistent and humane. It also nods to the past where she was not acknowledged for her talents. That being herself was enough. That she doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. The fights she didn’t want to fight have all been fought and the future will be allowed to shape itself without interference.
The EP ends too soon with the title track. Beautiful in its brevity, almost nursery rhyme like. “If this is the last time, I leave with you a song”. It’s a gorgeous song about keeping promises and a fitting way to end this part of the journey. We’ll pick up again with Clarke along life’s merry way. As long as there’s songwriters as good as Josienne Clarke in the world, I think we’ll be alright.