In the mid 90's, singer-songwriter Trevor Jones began working with producer Steve Davis on material that was to become Miracle Mile's debut album 'Bicycle Thieves'.
TJ: "Steve and I developed the recording band into a live unit, adding Les Nemes (bass) and Phil Smith (sax/keyboards) plus Trevor Smith on drums. After the release of 'Bicycle Thieves' in 1997, Mark Hornby joined the fold for gigs and the recording of the follow up 'Candids'."
TJ: "After ‘Candids' was released in 1998 I took the decision to stop doing live shows, as I wasn't sure that the direction of my writing was in line with the gusto and spirit of that live band."
The songs kept coming and in 1999 Steve and Trevor started work on new material for the third album, 'Slow Fade'. These recordings were more intimate, less orchestrated with the accent on the songs and the singer. Marcus Cliffe was brought in on Upright Bass, Trevor Smith remained on the drum stool, and the? legend that is BJ Cole was draughted in to add some pedal steel magic.
TJ: "Steve and I parted company mid-stream. Not the usual "musical differences", just an honest admission from Steve that, with family and a day job to attend to, he simply didn't have the time. I was blessed with Marcus. Having already struck up a friendship we decided to complete the album together as co-producers and musical partners."
Cliffe had played with many fine folk (Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Daniel Lanois, Mark Knopfler) a pedigree apparent in the musical backdrops with which he furnished the songs. Slow Fade received ecstatic reviews and saw the further development of a more intimate direction.
In the summer of 2001 MM started work on 'Alaska' at Marcus's ‘Norbury Brook' studio. At the time Jones was asked about the lyrical content of ‘Alaska':
TJ: "These are hardly original ideas. The grass is always greener. The human condition is invariably in a state of disappointment. Is ‘different' better? When habit and convention demoralizes and casts us adrift, how do we reset our course? A lot of these songs focus on the tricks that we use, the games that we play, and the skills we develop, to stop ourselves from becoming unglued."
MC: "The recording of ‘Alaska' was a difficult time for us both. I was having problems with my family life, Trev had just lost his sister to suicide. I wouldn't say that it made for a darker album, but there was an emotional edge that gave it a certain grain."
‘Alaska' was released in 2002 to overwhelming acclaim:
In 2003 Cliffe was due to tour with Mark Knopfler for the bulk of that year. Unfortunately Knopfler was knocked from his motorcycle on the morning of the first rehearsal, badly breaking his shoulder. The tour was cancelled, and Marcus had time on his hands:
MC: "I didn't want to twiddle my thumbs, so I spoke with Trev. After clearing the emotional decks with ‘Alaska' he had songs coming out of his ears! We started in on the recordings that would become ‘Stories We Could Tell'."
For this album, the duo continued with their ambient use of pedal steel, profiling the differing styles of BJ Cole and Melvin Duffy, but they also coloured the sound with woodwind, brass and other instruments not usually associated with their style of music. Lyrically the album attempted to highlight what Jones called "...the profundity of the mundane. It's interesting how common our ‘unique' experiences are. However we choose to present ourselves to the world, we're all made of the same stuff. I'm intrigued by how distance converts experience into memory, and ultimately, into the stories we tell."
Again, a Miracle Mile release that inspired the critics and a small but dedicated following, but met with commercial indifference. Was this due to a stubborn indifference to what makes music ‘commercial', or a difficulty to place them in the market?
TJ: "Ah, pigeonholes! As the songs became more and more personal, the focus shifted to me and I became more increasingly referred to as a 'singer songwriter'. If that lends more substance to what we do then it's OK, but labels can be a misleading, and I don't think that label does justice to Marcus's input. We are a musical partnership. Beyond recognizing that my words are personal, I think that defining our roles is pointless; the focus should be on the end product; the song. I guess that we are bloody minded in the pursuit of that perfect song!"
MC: "We always said that we would make the records we wanted to make, and refuse to manicure our sound for a marketplace; we please ourselves. With our music, self-control is everything. Owning my own studio has allowed us to develop our sound without interference or financial constraint. The danger is that you can over indulge, be too particular. The joy is, that while we're both emotional and instinctive, I think we remain disciplined and focused on the crux of the music; the song stays centre stage."
Recording for the next album ‘Glow' started in November of 2004 and were completed by May of 2005. On release Trevor offered:
"Whether half remembered or best forgotten, memories are filtered, the haze of a childhood that can never be reclaimed is where we all start and end."
This gives a fair impression of the lyrical scope and compelling, emotive power of the songwriting. Added to that were Cliffe's excellent playing and multi-instrumental skills, plus his ear for sublime arrangements; ‘Glow' was an album to cherish.
MC: 'Sonically it blends traditional elements; acoustic guitar, piano, double bass, with the ambient pedal steel of BJ Cole and Melvin Duffy. These, mixed with some unlikely woodwind and brass arrangements, make for (we hope) a quietly beguiling concoction'.
It's almost impossible to explain how such simple, natural song craft can weave such a complex web of feelings, lingering images and possibilities, but weave it does. Once you're caught up there is no getting away either. This is a record to last the rest of your life.
In January of 2006 Trevor and Marcus began the recordings for what would become ‘Limbo'.
TJ: "I really believed that the 'Glow' sessions would be the last time we recorded at Norbury Brook, so this comes as a happy bonus; amazing what you can come to take for granted; people and places. Same cracked mugs, same mad cat, one new guitar (a battered but lovely old Gibson) and Marcus (also battered but lovely) burning incense rather than spraying that inner nose stripping air freshener! He'll be wearing a kaftan next...look our for a sitar solo!
We always look for a working title. I'm struck by the word 'Limbo' for 3 reasons: firstly it kind of sums up the Miracle Mile's position in the music world, secondly it relates to Marcus's emotional and domestic circumstance, and thirdly because I've just driven past some orange boxes with ‘Limbo' written on the side! Friday the 13th seems a fateful date to start our recordings; maybe it'll bring us luck...so there's a title; 'Lucky Limbo'?
Limbo was released to critical acclaim with The Sunday Times nominating it their ‘CD of the Week'. During a lull in new recording, in 2008 MM released ‘Coffee and Stars' a compilation of songs taken from their 7 albums.
TJ: "‘Coffee and Stars' seems an appropriate title, as caffeine and wonderment have been our prime stimulants for the past decade, during which these songs were written and recorded. Choosing the tracks for this collection was challenging. Marcus and I had different favorites and, like children I guess, we seemed to favour the slightly wonky, cross-eyed ones. We've included a couple of those here (can you see them?) alongside the more obvious favourites that aunty always kisses first.
So, this is like a family photo, with most of the family still locked in the attic. Let's hope that ‘Coffee and Stars' compels you to visit those neglected children in situ, on their original albums. We hope, like us, that you'll come to love them all."
The liner notes to ‘Coffee and Stars' were written by a much respected music journalist, Johnny Black. Maybe they are the perfect words to conclude this particular part of the Miracle Mile story:
"For the truly creative artist, perfection can never be achieved for more than a fleeting moment. Painting the ultimate landscape or writing the definitive song inevitably redefines perfection, pushes the standard of what might be possible next time a little higher, a little closer to what was once considered impossible."
Every Miracle Mile album since their debut offering, ‘Bicycle Thieves' in 1997, has included songs, which, at the time, redefined the limits of what the perfect song might be. This compilation includes eighteen of them. The cuts were selected not so much to provide a simple ‘Best Of', as to create a sustained listening experience in which each track flows naturally into the next. It would be easy to quibble with the ommisions, but only a fool would deny that the tracks chosen fit together like pieces of a much-loved jigsaw, depicting an aspect of Miracle Mile that none of the seven individual albums could hope to deliver.
On most Miracle Mile songs, the primary elements - melody and lyrics - are provided by songwriter and singer Trevor Jones. For the past seven years, however, Jones has worked so closely with multi-instrumentalist and co-composer Marcus Cliffe that his contributions have become integral to the sound and shape of the music they make. Whether it's the yearning regret of ‘Yuri's Dream', or the playful lyricism of ‘Sunburst Finish', the Jones-Cliffe partnership transforms each song into much more than the sum of its parts. When Jones captures the bottled lightning of everyday existence with a beautiful turn of phrase like, "Paper planes and pony tails lead me back to you", Cliffe colours in the word pictures with unfailingly apposite textures and melodic filigrees.
Best of all though, Miracle Mile will never sink a fang into the jugular when they can plant a whisper of a kiss on that sensitive spot at the nape of the neck and set off a tiny ripple that will, in the fullness of time, explode in the heart."