“Take care. It’s a desert out there…”

Clips and pops fill a grand theatre whilst two armchairs sit empty centre stage. A hat stand, bare, can be seen towards the back of stage left. The whole scene is bathed in a thick blue fog.

I’m waiting for The Caretaker to “perform” at the Barbican, as the middle filling for Unsound Dislocation. Whilst the main attraction for me was – and always will be – whatever project Liz Harris has lent her skills to, it seemed that for most The Caretaker was the primary draw. Was this the first live performance of music from this moniker? The pair of them on the same bill is surely a dream come true and both evoke so many memories for me.

I’ve been lucky enough never to see Grouper play anywhere ordinary – two churches and a swimming pool to date – and when Dragging a Dead Deer Up A Hill came out in 2008 I proceeded to fall asleep to it every night for the next three and a half years. My girlfriend can attest to this – it kept her up at night and our meeting occasioned the end of my habit. We met in 2011, the same year that An Empty Bliss Beyond This World came out and she also had to put up with me falling asleep to that for the first few months of our relationship.

I remember particularly well how that album somehow worked when played back to back with Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica and whenever I hear one now I also, in my mind’s ear, hear the other. Together they were on a constant rotation for days and days at a time.


Just before the house lights went down inside the Barbican, I had been handed a CD by an usher. Featuring an instantly recognisable painting by Ivan Seal, I turned it over to find the following dedication:

“Take care. It’s a desert out there…”
in memory of and for Mark Fisher
remembered by The Caretaker

Whilst Mark had written much on the music of The Caretaker, he was not a musician I readily associated with him. I had a wealth of my own memories already, with Fisher’s infectious rememberings unable to penetrate and transpose themselves over my own. As I was thinking of Mark then, however, and as the familiar sound of The Caretaker filled the auditorium, something happened:

Two middle-aged, greying gentlemen walked across the stage, pitching themselves in the previously empty armchairs and sharing a small bottle of (what I presumed to be) whiskey.

One of the men, I was fairly certain, was Leyland ‘The Caretaker’ Kirby himself. The other man I couldn’t place. From my vantage point, high up in the stalls, he could have been anyone and yet I couldn’t shake the odd sensation that he looked like Mark from way up here.

As the music played, probably-Leyland would, on occasion, rise from his low armchair and mime along to some of the more memorable vocal tracks featured on his most famous album. Then he would sit down again and, whilst a hazy hallucination of a half-remembered life poured over the enormous screen behind them, they would chat amongst themselves. As the performance progressed, the periods of inanimate silence between the two grew shorter and shorter until they seemed to be two people lost in conversation at a bar, oblivious to their surroundings yet nonetheless inaudible over them.

Whilst not to divert attention from the video behind them – by Weirdcore, which was incredible – it is their image that has stayed with me more than any other part of the night’s performances.

Since Mark’s death in January 2017, music has undoubtedly played a major role in many remembrances: Kode9 playing Delia Derbyshire in Corsica Studios, prior to the frenzied shouts of “KATAK IS COMING!”, was the first, followed by listening to the entirety of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ A Kiss in the Dreamhouse in a Goldsmiths classroom, just because, followed by various public listening sessions with Mark’s mixes and audio essays – and, of course, not forgetting so, so many tearful renditions of Ghosts.

The sounds of The Caretaker now round out a year of painful listening experiences with something far more bittersweet.

Tonight, I felt like I had watched Leyland Kirby have one last spirited conversation with Mark, and it was a pleasure to have done so.

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UPDATE:

Thanks to @mcbpete for pointing out that Kirby’s lounge buddy was the painter Ivan Seal.

This is one of those moments in which, despite the illusion being impossible, it’s hard to let it go.

Bye, Mark.

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