Maybe Magic: Rediscovering The Wonder of Michael Hedges
In 1985, at the age of ten, I had recently moved from London to a remote village in the Andalusian mountains of Spain with my mother. This dramatic move came after several years travelling around Europe with her in a VW Camper van, as she gigged from club to club performing her cabaret show. I got used to the musician-come-gipsy lifestyle, as she would park up the van in camping sites and car parks all over France and Northern Spain, as I watched her and her partner performing every night.
By the time we settled to live in Spain, music had already gripped all of my childhood attention and became the only connection I had to England. My older brother would visit us and bring me mixtapes of music he was listening to at the time. Every visit he made meant new music for me. Music that would become the path back to England, and my hope of becoming a musician.
Multi-tracking in the Mountains
By ’86, I had already learnt out how to multitrack my own recordings by using an old Panasonic dual cassette deck that my mother donated to me after she’d upgraded to a better sound system for her own gigs.
It was that Summer that my brother gave me a cassette that would become the soundtrack of my life in Spain until I returned to England. Side A was Michael Hedges’ Aerial Boundaries and Side B was his first vocal album Watching my Life Go By.
Aerial Boundaries by Michael Hedges
Listen to Aerial Boundaries by Michael Hedges on Apple Music. Stream songs including "Aerial Boundaries", "Bensusan"…
I’d already been listening to a lot of Mike Oldfield, so diverse guitar sounds were a daily staple of my musical diet. But Aerial Boundaries was different.
Michael Hedges’ music propelled me into a world of sound that soothed an adventurous, but complicated childhood.
I simply wanted to go home. But understood my mother’s happiness came from being in Spain.
Druids To The Rescue
I had enrolled in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids — a Druid order in England who sent me literature each month. This connected me back to the island I wanted to return to. I would devour their magical texts of the ‘Bardic Grade’ and even perform rituals alone in the large converted doghouse that became the annexe where I lived. I was learning to be a Bard. By postal order.
Away from the house underneath the bushes of Spanish Jasmine, I learnt everything I know about music. I would play Aerial Boundaries, light incense and meditate on an intention that the universe would find a way to bring me back to England. So I could meet other people my age to make music with.
The harmonic tapping fingerstyle droplets of mesmeric notes felt like the swirling stars moving around the earth, as I would cleanse the crystal my brother had given me and set my intention. Once through fire, once through water, once under the earth on a full moon and back to the air to breathe in the world again. I prayed to be back in England to pursue a life in music.
At age 13, by my own choice, I began homeschooling, declaring to my mother that my Spanish school couldn’t give me the qualifications I needed when I eventually returned to England. Friends in England sent me all the books I needed to teach myself. I set my own curriculum and followed an English timetable five days a week. Whilst my mother gave me the precious gift of time by myself to create, she’d unwittingly turned me into a culture vulture whose thirst for knowledge would never be quenched on The Costa Del Sol.
Flying The Nest
Eventually, she realised that I was not going to change my somewhat stubborn and tenacious obsession about returning to England. All I talked about was English history, Paganism, Glastonbury, The Holy Grail, Greenpeace and everything else that our beautiful but remote area of Spain could not provide at that time. My older brother helped persuade my mother to let me return to England when I was 14.
The great gift in this for me was, finally being able to make music with other musicians. It wasn’t long before I started my first band with my best friend at the new school. Five years later we signed a worldwide record deal with Sony.
Watching My Life Go By
Somehow, in the excitement of my dreams finally being realised, my Michael Hedges cassette was nudged to the side as I discovered The Beatles, Hendrix, Kate Bush and The Pixies. Until this year.
In the year the pandemic began, I was once again drawn to ritual, and a deeper longing for the natural wonders of the earth. The lockdowns have been tough on musicians and I soon realised that without the gift of travel, a journey inward might be the next best thing.
I began to revisit the 13-year-old child that had cast spells alone in his room to the sounds of Michael Hedges.
So I went hunting for him. I listened to the records as memories of a child’s hope came flooding back. I was excited. And I wanted to connect to him.
Magic and Loss
Maybe I could write to Michael Hedges? I wondered what records had he made since? Maybe he’s still doing concerts? You see, when I listened to Hedges, I never even knew what he looked like. I just had his music. Without the internet or even television in Spain, music was all that was real to me. I don’t remember ever feeling the need to know the life behind the music.
YouTube was my first visit, and for the first time, I watched him perform. My first thought was “That’s how those sounds were made!?”. I couldn’t believe it. With most artists that I have studied over the years, it was always easy to spot where the human ended and the musician began. Not with Hedges.
There was no visible separation between his persona, his musicianship and his artistic intention.
I was struck that there was still another level in our relationship to music that we can aspire to. My relationship with music is incredibly deep, but watching Michael perform made me realise, I could go deeper.
I immediately felt like reaching out to him to say how important his music had been to me as a child. A quick search that led me to Wikipedia told me that this would not be possible. At least not in this realm. I learnt that he died in 1997.
As I read the words about his departure from this world, I felt the loss. I read every article I could find, eulogy after eulogy. I could not believe that during the time I went professional in my early twenties, I could have seen him live.
I yearned to make the connection to the soul that had made the music that soundtracked my childhood dreams and helped me to achieve them.
“Make up a story when you go to sleep tonight
Wake up in the morning
And hold it down deep inside
And you can be a dreamer
You can be your dreams come true
Let imagination lead, reality will follow through”
— ‘Follow Through’ by Michael Hedges
So, in honour and tribute to Michael Hedges, I decided to learn (as best I could), some of his techniques for new songs that I had been working on.
It would be the closest I could get to the life force that flowed through him.
I’m not the most proficient guitarist. I broke one of my fingers in 2013 and have never been able to play with precise fluidity since. But I am pretty thorough in my compositions, so the songs are manifestations of the whole picture of the song, rather than the virtuosi perfection of Michael Hedges.
After receiving Rhythm, Sonority, Silence from John Stropes, I produced the album in my home studio in the first three weeks of 2021, whilst painting the album cover between takes of each song.
It was the first album I’ve made for many years when I wasn’t thinking about an audience. Where usually I have an audience in my mind when I make an album, I just had the music and me this time. Maybe Magic was a personal time-travelling journey. But, even with some glaring imperfections in the production, it marks a period of my life that is very special, and after 9 months of it resting quietly inside my studio, I decided to release it.
If you’re already a fan of Michael Hedges’ work, Maybe Magic doesn’t sound anything like Michael Hedges’ songs. I’m predominantly indie rock . That’s my background. My albums are energy-driven as a performer rather than technically driven as a musician. But it’s important to acknowledge Michael’s influence on this album. Without him, I would not have written these songs.
I am a self-taught musician, so I put my hands up now to all the phenomenal guitarists who have continued to preserve and develop Michael’s playing style. I am in awe of all of them. Maybe Magic is in no way a tutorial in his style of playing; I am simply not a contender in that respect.
My new album explores how a singer-songwriter might use a guitar differently, thanks to Michael’s unique approach.
It’s also the completion of a ritual I began thirty years ago, made with gratitude to the man who opened my ears to a wider universe and changed my life forever. From a converted dog house in Spain to a Buddhist monastery in Thailand and back to the UK where I have been making music ever since.
Thank you, Michael. For an ignition of limitless inspiration.
Tim Arnold, January 2022
Since this article was written, a forthcoming documentary film about Michael Hedge’s has been announced. You can find out more here.
Maybe Magic is out now and can be heard on Tim’s Bandcamp page.