Adam Donen
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Adam Donen

London, England, United Kingdom | INDIE

London, England, United Kingdom | INDIE
Band Alternative Folk




"Track of the Day - Adam Donen"

South African born Adam Donen is about to release his second album. He provides the latest Track Of The Day. Check out all Tracks Of The Day here.

Now based in London, Donen released his debut album Immortality last year. It got him favourable comparisons with the likes of Leonard Cohen, as he explored his own religious and spiritual confusion and crises. Now he continues this process on Vampires, released on October 7. He says:

“I had spent years embracing franticness, and it had not been terribly good for me. This, like much of the classical religious music that I grew up with, and that which influenced me, was an attempt to create order from the chaos of everything around me. The album works its way from desperation through to a peace of sorts.”

Donen is joined on the album by opera singer Sophie Juncker, violinist Yuki Tashiro, viola player Dan Dhondy, and double bass player Francois Moreau.

He launches the album with a show in London on October 7 at King’s Place, performing with a 16-piece orchestra.

Now you can download the song Over Your Cities The Grass Will Grow right here. - Classic Rock magazine

"Adam Donen"

"A deep dreamy darkness refracting through a bloodied prism..."

Photo interview! Check it out. - A Negative Narrative

"Interview with critically acclaimed songwriter Adam Donen"

As the crisp autumn leaves lay to rest on the stony pavements of London, and the distant smell of smoke fills in the air, you know that Halloween can’t be far around the corner… with its magical, bewitching presence providing the perfect backdrop for songwriter Adam Donen to release his second album Vampires.

Originally hailing from Cape Town, Donen is now very much a Londoner, and having met him back in May at a poetry dinner, it was clear to me that he is a man who lives for his art, not only is he a songwriter, but a passionate actor and poet too, fusing genres to create a unique sense of being.

Vampires was launched to a packed hall in King’s Place in London, where Donen, accompanied by a 16-piece orchestra and special guests, played tracks from the forthcoming release.

Taking time out from his busy schedule, (Donen embarks on his European tour later this month,)
Adam kindly answered some questions for Romeo Says So.

What is the thing you love most about London?
The bombardment of brilliant works and people; it ensures my education is constant.

If you were a type of food, what would you be and why?
Chocolate chilli steak. Dark, bloody, meaty and ever so slightly out of the ordinary.

What is your favourite track from Vampires?
At the moment, probably Sickle Moon. I'm very into the superimposition of order at the moment, onto an ever-greater sense of chaos. It's Shakespeare's influence rearing its head again. And I'm proud of the coda of that song.

Who are your favourite Authors?
Russell Hoban, Lawrence Durrell, Dostoevsky, Thomas Mann, Lorca, Eliot. But it changes, of course, from day to day.

Dead or Alive, who would you invite to your 'Ultimate' Dinner Party?
At one end, Christopher Hitchens, Slavoj Zizek, Nietzsche and Camille Paglia can vie to hold court. At the other Tchaikovsky can have Lorca on one side, William Burroughs on the other, both vying for his affections. Leonard Cohen can sit opposite Dickinson, and what will happen will happen - almost certainly nothing, but he'll give it his best shot. *Robert Harder can sit next to him, for when more serious talk is needed - he's always the best dinner party guest. Schiele and Plath would DEFINITELY have things to talk about. Hunter Thompson would be good too, if he turned up. I'd spend my time sparring with Hemingway, Tom Waits and Klaus Kinski. Finally, Lars Von Trier can sit wherever he likes, stirring things up.

'A musical poet. RECOMMENDED!' - Time Out

Vampires is released on 28th October 2011
Produced by *Robert Harder
Released by Dandyland / Songs and Whispers

For CD/Digital Downloads visit

Images - Romeo Says So

"Interview With a Vampire"

South African-born, London-based musician and poet Adam Donen has been around in various incarnations, playing in the art rock outfit Alexandria Quartet before deciding to go it alone. In early 2010, he released his first album Immortality – a poetic, literary adventure through oblique lyricism and swirling strings, politics and crumbled romance.

Often compared to Leonard Cohen, simply for being another poet-turned-songwriter, Donen has returned with a new album, Vampires, which weaves a similar path through winding tales in sparse, atmospheric songs. State caught up with Donen in the days before his album launch in London for a quick chat about religion, the theatrical and of course, his latest album.

Prior to the album’s release, you played an intimate show in London’s Abney Park cemetery. Not having been to many gigs in graveyards, How did that one go?

On the basis of that one, there should be more shows in cemeteries! Abney’s huge, and we were playing in the church ruins in the middle of it, so all around us was completely quiet. It meant we didn’t have to mic anything up too much; it felt… religious, rather than… theatrical… I suppose.

On that point, we’ve also noticed that in this album and in your previous work, there’s much reference to religion. How does your attitude toward religion shape your work?

I need desperately to believe in a power greater than myself. I am painfully unable to do so. It colours much of my work. A couple of the tracks on this record – ‘Sickle Moon’, ‘Sophia’ – nostalgically make use of the sort of hymnal structures with which I grew up. But all of the great certainties of the last centuries – ‘God’, ‘community’, ‘progress’, the romantic conception of love – have been discredited, and grow ever more so.

It feels painfully like everything we were ever taught to believe is falling to pieces around us, and we’re playing the Xbox while Athens burns, and this, I suppose, is one of the main conscious or subconscious subjects of the album. Not that I long for the past, but I do long – hopelessly – for a present different to this one.

Your songs are full of literary references, poetic and intense with a real sense of world you were living in when you wrote them. When did you write Vampires and what were the cultural and environmental aspects influencing you most when you wrote this album?

Vampires was written a little over a year ago. Probably about half of it was written in Cape Town, South Africa, a couple of tracks in Saxmundham (a small, grey, gloomy seaside town in the East of England), and a couple of tracks in London.

The sea seeps into at least half the songs on the record. Particularly a view I had in Cape Town, of the Indian and Atlantic oceans, infinite before me. And the sense of powerlessness, of being dwarfed by things one can never hope to understand – that seeps through too.

At the other extreme, the lyrics to ‘The Circle Game, Again’ were written on a mobile telephone while walking through Chelsea, trapped for two hours between angry football fans and angrier cops.

You started off playing in bands – such as The Alexandria Quartet – before eventually breaking off as a solo artist. This is your second solo album. How have you changed since the days of The Alexandria Quartet and how has that influenced your music up to- and including Vampires?

A few years ago I was very comfortable being a drunk, drugged nut-nut, and really quite enjoyed raging, smashing apart anything there was to be smashed. I wrote songs very quickly.

I’ve got a little more morose since then. Perhaps a bit more disciplined, too. I’ve also become a lot surer of myself as a composer and an artist. It takes far longer for me to finish songs, and they’re far more carefully constructed, and use many more and more varied instruments. ‘Vampires’, the title track, was 17 verses at its peak, before being parsed down to its final, slender eight.

In the Alexandria Quartet days, we desperately aspired to have fame thrust upon our studiously unwilling shoulders; I don’t try to please folks anymore. Now I just aim to create works I consider perfect, after their fashion. This is a lot easier in some respects, a lot harder in others.

Adam Donen’s Vampires is out now throughout Europe. Adam and his band will commence a UK tour 7 Oct in London with Irish shows are planned for early 2012. -

"Adam Donen: Immortality"

Donen ist Kind von Anti-Arpatheids-Aktivisten, die nach London geflohen sind.
Seine Musik ist von diesem Dissidententum seiner Eltern stark beeinflusst. Poetisch-kritisch die Texte und pathetisch die Musik. Seine Stärke ist auf jeden Fall die gelebte Lyrik. Da wird notfalls nicht an Streichern gespart, die Gitarre ist aber seine Hauptwaffe und die Musik unterstreicht nur die Aussage. Man könnte die Melange Psychedelischen Folk nennen oder auch nachdenklichen Akustikrock, aber letztlich begrenzt man den guten Mann damit doch zu sehr. Er nimmt sich, was er braucht und will keine Grenzen, um seinen Ausdruck aufbauen. Entsprechend tiefgehend ist seine Musik. Anspieltipps: „Stumble On“ und „Maldoror“.
Erscheint am: 28.1.
- Diabolo Mox

"Adam Donen: Immortality"

Donen ist Kind von Anti-Arpatheids-Aktivisten, die nach London geflohen sind.
Seine Musik ist von diesem Dissidententum seiner Eltern stark beeinflusst. Poetisch-kritisch die Texte und pathetisch die Musik. Seine Stärke ist auf jeden Fall die gelebte Lyrik. Da wird notfalls nicht an Streichern gespart, die Gitarre ist aber seine Hauptwaffe und die Musik unterstreicht nur die Aussage. Man könnte die Melange Psychedelischen Folk nennen oder auch nachdenklichen Akustikrock, aber letztlich begrenzt man den guten Mann damit doch zu sehr. Er nimmt sich, was er braucht und will keine Grenzen, um seinen Ausdruck aufbauen. Entsprechend tiefgehend ist seine Musik. Anspieltipps: „Stumble On“ und „Maldoror“.
Erscheint am: 28.1.
- Diabolo Mox

"Musikalischer Zauberwürfel – Adam Donen"

Manch Album bekomme ich einfach nicht zu fassen. Wie ich es auch drehe und wende, sobald ich Hand anlege, entpuppt es sich als musikalischer Zauberwürfel. Dem aus Südafrika stammenden und in London weilenden Singer-Songwriter Adam Donen ist es mit seinem Werk Immortality gelungen, mich ein wenig kirre zu machen. Nicht etwa, weil es unmöglich in eine Schublade zu verfrachten wäre. Wir haben es hier mit nett ausstaffiertem Folk zu tun, der als Bühne für pittoresk-altmodisch fabulierte, referenzenreiche Poeme dient. Donen zitiert Goethe auf Deutsch(!), fürchtet generell keinerlei Bedeutungsschwere, mengt seinen Dichtungen eine ordentliche Portion Dramatik bei.

Ist der gute Mann nun ein mit viel Aufwand agierender Blender oder doch einer vom Schlage eines Leonard Cohen? Einer, dem mächtige Lyrics einfach so aus dem Füller strömen? Ich mag mich schwer entscheiden. Manchmal glaube ich die manierierte Sprache mit den Händen greifen zu können, dann wiederum will mir die eloquente Inbrunst sehr gefallen. A Century of Stone zum Beispiel offenbart mir den Sinngehalt keine Sekunde lang, aber lechzen Zeilen wie “Where childlike breastless sphinxes/ Rub paws inside their skirts, purring:/One of these is pleasure, love,/ But both of them are work.” bei aller Kryptik nicht geradezu nach Wirkung? Die Theatralik von It’s Over Now wird noch durch einen eindringlichen Vortrag, der durchaus mit Wahnwitz kokettiert, verstärkt. Abermals freilich steht der kleine Rezensent vor dem Text – gleich einem kleinlauten Sünder vor der Himmelspforte – und versucht solch Worten “It was a headache we always saw coming./Cool lights of day done their snake in the grass act;/You foresaw the first shoots of spring:/A confederacy of liars and drunken cunts kissing:/Let it not be said we lacked ambition.” neben Pathos eine Botschaft zu entnehmen – und scheitert doch bereits an der im Booklet dargestellten Interpunktion. Nein, den Gedankengängen Donens vermag ich selten zu folgen. Lullaby for Kaiya als traurig-nüchternes Liebeslied gehört zu den wenigen Momenten, in denen der werte Herr nachvollziehbare Empfindungen präsentiert. Und just hier gerät sein Griffel ungelenk ins Schlingern. Ein Umstand, welchen man ihm verzeiht, weil man mit dem Mitfühlen beschäftigt ist. Letztlich erweist sich für mich der Song Tomorrow’s Gone als gelungenster Titel, da sogar mein simpel angehauchtes Gemüt die Botschaft des Refrains “Tomorrow’s gone and it’s not coming back.” verinnerlichen kann.

Je länger ich meine Stirnfalten der Akrobatik des Grüblens aussetze, desto eher bin ich zu einer positiven Einschätzungen von Immortality bereit. Adam Donen trotzt dem Zeitgeist, streicht diesen Anachronismus nicht bloß hervor, sondern stellt ihn mit der ihm eigenen Poesie Zeile für Zeile unter Beweis. Zusammen mit dem kammermusikalischen, von Akustik-Gitarre und Streichern dominierten Sound ergibt dies eine schwer zugängliche Platte, deren Reiz eben in jener vorherrschenden Unnahbarkeit begründet liegt. Fortgeschrittenen Musikhörern sei die Platte daher ans Ohr gelegt. - Lie In the Sound

"Adam Donen - Immortality"

This artist doesn't come form England and you can hear that other country feel in his music. He uses a variety of instruments throughout all of his songs and has a range of effects with these instruments. The piano takes subtle melodies often but then other times sits comfortably into the backing. His lyrics are very clever and inspirational: 'Speak of freedom and freedom is not free of words' and also deals with modern issues: 'your facebook page?'

He uses a variety of techniques in his songs although his songs are very similar - that is his style. Scales in the bassline, guitar on the off beats, repetative verses and choruses, varying in tempos and moods - these all create an original compilation for his album. - Tasty Fanzine

"Adam Donen at The Adelphi"

On Tuesday 2nd November 2010 at the Adelphi Club, a gig was organised which celebrated the launch of three new albums created by three very different music artists.

The nights line up was as follows; Adam Donen, The Woodwards and Signe Tollefsen.

Adam Donen's performance was bewitching. The tracks sung from his soon to be released album Immortality were remarkable. As his lyrics melted into the notes of his he spoke personally to the crowd explaining the meaning of each song and the reasons why he had created them.

The Audience loved certain tracks such as Tomorrow's Gone and Sofia among others. Anyone watching Adam Donen's performance could tell it was coming straight from his heart.

His presence on stage seemed to liven up more and more as he performed more of his music.

Overall, Adam Donen produced a great performance at the Adelphi Club.

* - * - *

His album is gritty yet poetic. A remarkable piece of work and well worth buying.
Michael: Why did you decide to become a musician?

Adam: Well it was sort of an accident. I was six years old watching TV when I saw an ACDC music video on MTV and since then I wanted to be a musician - until I joined the wrong crowd which convinced me that my future career would involve being a novelist. However the calling for music grew too strong and I decided to chase my dream.

Michael: Who are your inspiring idols when it comes to poetry and music?
Adam: As far as music goes I tend to use styles from the early 1940's. But poetry wise I enjoy reading T.S. Elliot, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and I have to say that I think Shakespeare is fucking brilliant!
Michael: My sources tell me that you stayed in South Africa - Cape Town since a child and left age 18. What is your fondest memory?

Adam: Probably about five years ago, I went back to Cape Town at Christmas and I remember that my father and my friends, Louis and Tom had a barbecue outside whilst it was 35 degrees, listening to my old man tell an aborigine tale of how the moon would go behind the mountains and never be the same moon again.

Michael: Is there any particular reason for making the album Immortality? What made you decide to create it?
Adam: I actually didn't plan the album, I used the same principals as an artist would use. Anyone would tell you that any reasoning behind art would not make it good art - good poetry comes to the idea in the process. I think most of the songs I have written, I wrote when I was feeling a general emotion like depression or excitement...
Michael: Do any of your songs relate to your loved ones?

Adam: Yes. I wrote 'As Your Parents Turn To Clay' for my parents (obviously). I respect them very much especially when you consider the fact that they were activists against what has been going on in South Africa. Another song I based on someone I loved at the time and wrote 'Lullaby For Kiaya' at the end of our relationship..." - ThisIsUll

"Adam Donen – Immortality"

Secondo album solista per Adam Donen, scrittore, poeta, bruciante talento inglese che cattura l’odore di un’era come pochi. Romantica, decadente, autodistruttiva e disperata, la penna di Donen viaggia come un sonnambulo a piedi nudi dentro la tradizione cantautoriale british. Folk e canzoni intime che a volte sono pura poesia messa in musica.

Disco non facile: lungo, leggermente monocorde a volte eppure nero, magistralmente curato negli arrangiamenti. Bello e con un’anima che urla qualcosa di importante. Violini, strumenti a fiato e chitarre acustiche per un sentiero scuro eppure invitante. Aprire le orecchie qui potrebbe rivelarsi la scoperta più piacevole della settimana.

So cry try fly or flee
Or stumble on in the dust with me
But when you don’t
I’ll stumble on alone - Indie for Bunnies

"Adam Donen - Immortality"

The songs of this self-styled poet and songwriter immediately call to mind Simon & Garfunkel’s more traditional folk arrangements, both in tone and quality. Those with more of a background in folk could probably bring many more comparisons to the table, but it does bear mentioning that these are more songs than poems; less ‘Desolation Row’, more ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ to call upon my Dylan records.

On the whole, this album is a satisfying set of dark, downtempo acoustic balladry that finds its principal components, voice and guitar, taking centre stage even when a thick orchestral texture is used. Indeed, the production is very ably executed, and even the biggest and most sweeping orchestral moments do not drown out the core components of Adam’s sound.

On tracks like ‘It’s Over Now’ there are even echoes of New Adventures in Hi-Fi-era R.E.M., and my only criticism of the album in general would be the huge variance in song lengths. The openers are very long, and drag somewhat, while others feel like they end before they hit their stride. All in all, a very accomplished album and definitely worth a listen.

4/5 - High Voltage

"Adam Donen - Immortality"

Adam Donen grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, the eldest child of prominent anti-apartheid activists. He delivered his first poetry performance at age six, reciting works by William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to ANC freedom fighters inside Polsmoor Maximum Security Prison. Much as everyone who heard the Sex Pistols’ Manchester Free Trade Hall gig is said to have started a band, so everyone who heard Adam would later become a cabinet minister: audience members included Tony and Lumka Yengeni and Jennifer Schreiner. Adam began playing guitar a year later.

He moved to London at eighteen, read English and started a band. His first major project, garage artrockers Alexandria Quartet, toured the UK for much of 2006 and 2007, playing six shows a week in grotty ketamine dives. Their music was violent and political, and they channeled Old Testament-style hellfire at apathetic Blair babies. After sixteen months of raging, burn-out set in. A spell of depression and agoraphobia left Adam in an underground hovel in Hackney, disinclined to leave the house or take visitors. There he set to work on new poems and songs. He developed an obsession with the 60s band Love; upon discovering that they based their string arrangements on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration, he duly devoured the textbook.

Around this time, a mutual friend brought Adam to the attention of producer Robert Harder (whose other credits include Herbie Hancock, Brian Eno and Pete Doherty). This led to 2008’s album and poetry book ‘As Our Parents Slowly Turn to Clay’, recorded in Harder’s 2-Noise Studios. Virtuouso jazz sax player Pete Wareham (of Acoustic Ladyland and Mercury Prize winners Polar Bear) guested on many of the tracks. Jo Silverston (Rachel Unthank, Emily Barker) provided cello.

By 2009, after the dissolution of a long-term relationship with his violinist, he decided that he had tired of rock music. He took time out to study the Old Poets with whom he had spent his youth, and worked his way through the Lomax field recordings. Gradually, he set about composing a new album. It was to be called Immortality, and was to be, he wrote, ‘the mausoleum of my childhood’. The songs were quiet dirges set against the backdrop of a declining civilisation. In August, Donen returned to Harder’s studio to lay down the tracks, joined by a string quartet, flautist, horn section and an array of guest backing vocalists. Mixing was finished by October.

On playing the opening track, ‘Immortality’, I was struck by superb production quality that characterises the album. Clarity and separation are superb and provide the opening guitar and string passages with a three-dimensional quality. Donen’s vocal has a youthful, detached quality and with poetry such an important feature of his makeup, lyrics are crystal clear. So, sound quality is excellent but I had some difficulty in understanding the meaning of lyrics. For example, “You carved out my name on a steel cigarette case/I carved out my head on an old double bed/What truths and what hopes and what memories bled/Through the charge sheets that long passed for songs.” At a guess ‘Immortality’ is about the past and not altogether happy memories. That said, there’s much to like about this strong album introduction, which ticks most of the boxes, including a double-tick in the melody one. ‘Fragment (I Had A Deam)’ is all the above but at a glacial pace and with lyrics that are short, simple and comprehensible (”I had a dream/I bought her drinks/I kissed her in the pub/We called it love/We took some pills to get ourselves to sleep”).

‘It’s Over Now’ verges on the epic as it unfurls a relentless vitrolic tirade on conflict and the making of sham heroes. ‘A Century Of Stone’ is an altogether more contemplative, gentle affair with one of the strongest melodies on the abum, and some of the most beautiful string passages.

This is essentially poetry attired in the most sumptious music, firmly in the contemporary folk style (’Stumble On’ and ”Lullaby For Kaiya’ are supreme examples of this), with sound of the highest quality. It’s also a distinctive album that demands listening attention, and deserves to be heard.

- Shakenstir

"Adam Donen & The Drought - As Our Parents Slowly Turn to Clay"

Adam Donen is clearly not given to understatement. A limited edition run of this debut album with the musically multi-skilled The Drought comes inside a 32 page booklet with the lyrics set out as poetry, complete with two pages of acknowledgements and seven of biographical introduction, the story the latter paints seeming to take up the cudgels on behalf of a Samuel Taylor Coleridge or Thomas de Quincey classical writing lineage. In precis: Donen previously led the Alexandria Quartet, whose The Daydreams of Youth EP Rich Hughes gave 80% to on here last December. By this time Donen had suffered a breakdown at which the band “dissolved by accident”, embarking instead on a feverish period of self-medication and prolific automatic writing for what he saw as his epitath. “The line between life and literature is blurred if not entirely nonexistent” the text nonchalantly states, followed soon after by an assertion that in time the lyrics will be seen as “at least as good as any poems produced by our generation”.

Lesser men would spy the glib spectre of Johnny Borrell at this point and flee. Luckily, that previous band’s wide ranging ragged folk-rock has not only been refined but been added to by judicious strings and a better idea of where to extract the best dynamic from in this homespun grandiose set-up. They can do the the Fatima Mansions recalling, intensely cathartic howl at society of ‘Five Minute Zeitgeist’, which survives from the Alexandria Quartet along with its agenda setting central line “I’m here tonight ‘cos the zeitgeist couldn’t be bothered”, and they can also pull off more intimate songs like ‘Ketamine’, ‘Bridges And Crags’ (dedicated to Joanna Newsom in the booklet) and the acoustic guitar picking and subtle violin-backed ‘Marlborough Avenue Elegy’, which teeter on the edge and broods over love and personal depravity. ‘Shoreditch Shuffle’ whirls like the Waterboys, but it’s virtually ground to dust by ‘Ganesh Whose Trunk Wipes Away Trubba (Plays Dice in the Abyss of Infinity)’, which overcomes both its cumbersome title and a female chorus of “trunkedy trunkedy trunkedy trunk!” as it furiously evokes a showdown between the Hindu deity and John the Revelator, the traditional author of the Book of Revelation evoked in a commonly covered American folk song, as an allegory for religion, right wing politics and commodification. What’s particularly impressive in this context is how it doesn’t sound like a random jigsaw of styles at all but all of one piece and voice.

The immediate comparison that comes to mind is that of Nick Cave, similarly a troubled and often darkly poetic preacher who could rail against the world or try to take it into his arms, while musically there’s echoes of the Bad Seeds, but also the pissed off ambition of the much undervalued 90s Irish band Whipping Boy and latter day British Sea Power’s offbeat wide scope. Perhaps the more telling comparison, especially apparent on the likes of ‘Nostalgia (Camden Road)’, would be with Leonard Cohen’s often introspective, ambiguous and occasionally black humoured monologues. It’s Cohen, a well regarded poet for nearly a decade before moving to America to follow his singer-songwriter ambitions, who Donen more succinctly takes after, an irked poet dealing with big themes of love, society, religion, politics who found a musical form to express himself better and possibly to a bigger audience, forming the inventive arrangements around him without losing sight of putting the words in the centre but not overwhelmingly so. In its own way, As Our Parents Slowly Turn To Clay is a remarkably assured achievement.
- TheLineOfBestFit

"Adam Donen - Immortality"

Adam Donen doesn’t do things by halves. Having praised his first band Alexandria Quartet a year earlier, in 2008 TLOBF put the then Adam Donen and the Drought on at Ill Fit supporting Loney Dear off the back of their fire and brimstone part-orchestral dynamism As Our Parents Slowly Turn To Clay. As things tend to do in Donen’s world, they soon fell apart, at which he took up with the classical poets and away from lit-art-rock cliche.

On that last album, Donen took on the road broadly travelled by fellow poet turned songwriter Leonard Cohen. Making the political personal and vice versa with a cracked vocal and a similarly distorted worldview. Here vocal and acoustic guitar are very much central even as strings swell around it, lyrically an insistent unfolding, occasionally semi-cryptic spiel that passes the six minute threshold a couple of times. The title track is one such swirling epic. Elegant strings and woodwind curl around a break-up entanglement, Donen darkly speaking of “a thorn for your side” and “our hopes though all realised were never enough to escape from the cusp of the heaven we thought that we sought”. The other, ‘A Century Of Stone’, is the album’s lyrical epic, a contemplative view of the attempt to find a course in life and love and its plausible consequences.

If this, as some sources suggest, is a break-up album it’s one that attempts to find the middle ground between regret and remorse. Occasionally it’s confessional and the close miked recording indulging the listener in the guiltiest secrets, as on the memory and loss of ‘Fragment (I Had A Dream…)’. At other times, the reflecting quiet anger of ‘It’s Over Now’ seems directed at modern mores and manners with its suggestion of how “you can preside over the decline of a civilisation”. The music often follows suit, ‘Tomorrow’s Gone’ is shrouded in sumptuous arrangements around a strong melody underneath, the album’s most Dylanesque moment.

If it doesn’t sound like an easy, throwaway listen… well, it isn’t. True, it cloaks most of its big message for and about humanity in layers of metaphor and allusion, elliptical references and fragmentary phrasing, making more sense of earlier Coleridge comparisons. Yet it often comes with a spiritually informed belief that suggests a British, more literary and less post-rock howling contemporary to Josh T Pearson. Despite being all of a musical piece it’s never allowed to settle into an elegaic torpor. It may require the listener’s careful attention but only insomuch as it’s steeped in ideas. Swapping Donen’s previous hell for leather preacher’s instinct for something more classically attuned, as something that doesn’t take the listener for granted, it delivers in spades. - TheLineOfBestFit

"Adam Donen"

There is an air of intellectual authority to Adam Donen. One is left with the impression after talking to him that if he had not decided to cut a joint career for himself instead as both a musician and a poet, he would be a superb university academic. In an half an hour conversation with Pennyblackmusic, his sentences are peppered with references to S.T Coleridge, T.S. Eliot and elements of Nietzschean philosophy. With a lot of other twenty somethings, this might come across as somewhat forced and pretentious. 25 year old Cape Town-born Donen, however, is both slyly self-deprecating and dryly humorous. He also clearly knows what he is talking about. It is a reflection simply of who he is.

Literature is in Donen’s bloodstream. The eldest child of anti-apartheid activists, he made his first public performance at the age of six reciting poems by William Blake and Coleridge to ANC freedom fighters inside a South African maximum security prison. He took up playing guitar a year later.
Adam Donen moved to London at eighteen to study English and form a band. His first group, the Alexandria Quartet, which Donen named after a set of fifties-written philosophical novels by Lawrence Durrell, were violent and turbulent in sound and heavily political. The Alexandria Quartet were praised by critics and toured relentlessly in 2006 and 2007, but burnt out weeks after releasing their five song debut EP, ‘The Daydreams of Youth’ and after just sixteen months together.

Donen’s next release, ‘As Our Parents Slowly Turned to Clay’ (2008), which he recorded with a backing band he entitled The Drought, was a limited edition orchestral-tinged rock CD and poetry book that he confined to selling at gigs. His latest album, ‘Immortality’, and debut album proper, builds on the orchestration of its predecessor and maintains Donen’s characteristic sensual prose. Inspired in part by the break-up of Donen’s long-term relationship with his violinist, but also an elegy to the last decade, it, however, is a radically different record to ‘As Our Parents Turned Slowly to Clay’. While the strings and female backing vocals of the previous album remain, all drums and electric guitars have been removed. Its arrangements are also on a grander scale with new instruments being added including a flute and some brass.

‘Immortality’ was released by UK label, Walker and Orfing, in March and will be followed by a European release on a German label in November. Adam Donen will be spending much of the autumn and winter touring. He will be playing at the Pennyblackmusic Bands Night at the Half Moon in Herne Hill in South London on October 29th with the Willard Grant Conspiracy, the Monroe Transfer and Altai Rockets.

PB: Why did you decide to call this new album, ‘Immortality’? You concern yourself on it not just with romantic issues, but also the sort of political issues which occur through history time and time again. Was that a factor in you giving you that name as well?

AD: I don’t think that it was a conscious factor, but it is certainly something that I have since seen in it. When I am creating, I don’t look closely at anything. I will edit ten times to death, but I edit by feeling rather than an absolute sense of where I am going with it. A former bassist of mine, who was a terrible driver and who had a worse sense of direction than me (which in itself is quite astonishing), had a system of cornering whereby if she knew where a place was that she wanted to get to she would drive in a square and then a smaller square and a smaller square still until finally she got there. That is kind of what I feel I do with words.

PB: Do you see yourself primarily as a poet or as a musician?

AD: I see myself as both. When I was very young and in fact by the time I was six years old, my grandmother had introduced me to Coleridge. An accident of the television being left on at the wrong time introduced me to AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’. Then another accident of a video shop opening next door to me, and the kindness of the person in the shop in introducing me to vampires, meant that I knew by the age of six that I was either going to be a musician or a poet or a vampire. The vampire thing dropped away for obvious reasons, but the others have stuck with me.

At some point in the future I would love to write a novel. I have tried twice previously and they were both absolutely abysmal, but I’d like to think that I am able to work in both music and poetry without one being my primary one.

PB: Is it words or music that comes first with you when you’re writing music or is it both?

AS: It changes from song to song. With the title track on ‘Immortality’ the words came to me first. The chorus-“So cling to the kerb/For not even the birds”- came to me first, but then it took me two and a half years to flesh out the lyrics. On another song on that album, ‘It’s Over Now’, the music and most of the words were all, however, written inside an hour. I always write my string parts afterwards, but I tend to write a main vocal and guitar melody along with the words.

PB: When you’re writing initially do you know if something is going to be a song or if it is going to be a poem?

AD: No. When I first start work on something, generally just a feeling will come over me that I need to be working on something and that I need to get rid of whoever is in the room with me. I will then settle down and flesh through whatever needs to be fleshed through and then after that I’ll figure out what that is.

PB: The Alexandria Quartet broke up fairly quickly after releasing ‘The Daydreams of Youth’ EP. You have said in previous interviews that you “dissolved by accident.” What did you mean by that?

AD: We were all very young at the time. The idea that we were rock musicians took over from the making of music. The result was a lot of heavily medicated touring that wasn’t particularly healthy. The combination of us lacking focus and me in particular ending up in a very, very bad place at the end of touring meant that once we stopped for the first time we didn’t really have the impetus to keep going again. I was also starting to get interested in string arrangements and other things that didn’t fit into the fairly simplistic and angry idea of what we were doing.

PB: The Alexandria Quartet was a very violent band musically. Both ‘As Our Parents Turned Slowly to Clay’ and ‘Immortality’ are much more orchestral in tone. Your voice has also changed on these two albums in the sense that it has become less shouty and more semi-spoken. Do you see both these albums a reaction against the Alexandria Quartet and that stage in your career?

AD: I don’t know if they are a reaction against that stage in that career. I think that each new record is a reaction to where I find myself at a given point in my life. I listened for the first time to ‘The Daydreams of Youth’ just a couple of days ago and I was absolutely blown away by how angry I was. ‘The Daydreams of Youth’ was, however, one particular form of trauma for a particular type of time and ‘Immortality’s is a very different one.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up doing another electric guitar album at some point in my life. I think that what happened was I started getting interested in composition at the same time as I was starting to develop more tender and romantic sorts of feelings as opposed to the heavier, angsty stuff that I was coming up with earlier on.

PB: Why did you give ‘As Our Parents Turn Slowly to Clay’ such a limited release? You just made it available at gigs. That must have been commercial suicide.

AD: Yes, it was (Laughs). When I released it, commercial success was , however, the last thing that I wanted. I was widely inspired by a William Burroughs book, ‘Ah Pook is Here’. It is now available widely once more, but he did an original release of just one thousand copies and with the most beautiful illustrations inside. I loved the idea of something that had had masses of time spent on its creation, just being slowly dispersed from person to person and ultimately probably disappearing. I thought that would be a lovely thing to happen to it, but then of course MySpace came along (Laughs).

PB: ‘Immortality’ is much more acoustic-based than ‘As Our Parents Turned Slowly to Clay’. Was that also a conscious decision?

AD: Very much so. It was also a conscious decision not to use any drums on it. Another of the things that I was reacting against with ‘Immortality’ in comparison to Alexandria Quartet days, but also to some extent ‘As Our Parents Turned Slowly to Clay’, was the fact that we would be playing a lot of clubs with a lot of people off their face jumping up and down and dancing. The louder the music and the more inaudible what I was saying the more people would seem to enjoy it.

I found that very frustrating and had a bunch of things that I very particularly wanted to say and to be heard. I wanted the music on ‘Immortality’ to be almost an overspill of the words rather than to have any sort of rhythmic or percussive backing.

PB: There is, however, having said that, a real undercurrent of tension to some of the tracks on ‘Immortality’. On the title track in particular you feel that things might erupt at any moment, but it all remains very restrained and controlled and things build up gradually instead. Was that something that you were again aiming for rather than a more sudden sledgehammer effect?

AD: To go slightly philosophical I was very into Nietzsche at a fairly early age and he wrote about the Dionysian, the Dionysian being the mad, crazy state of mind where anything could happen and the Apollonian being a systematic, ordered thing where everything is planned and which has its own controlled beauty.

The lack of eruption on ‘Immortality’ was because every single note was scored in advance and very carefully written. That kind of effect does tend to turn everything back and force one to take a closer listen rather than allowing oneself to be swept away.

PB: ‘Immortality’ is a curiously old-fashioned CD in terms of its packaging as well as some of its themes. It uses an old-style font and text. Was that a deliberate attempt to go back to the past?

AD: I don’t think that I feel negative towards modern times. I feel more frustrated by it more than anything else, but I wanted the whole feel of the album to be not so much old, but that of an artefact. The packaging was one way that I figured it could feel like something ancient, although of course it is not yet (Laughs).

I was lucky because I worked with a very talented designer called Tom Dewey on both ‘Immortality’ and ‘As Our Parents Turn Slowly to Clay’. Our inspiration came from old Faber poetry books. That is a frustrated ambition on my part. I would love to have my work published by Faber, but that’s the next big thing (Laughs).

More seriously though, when I was growing up in South Africa, we were fairly backwards when it came to literature, but we did, have a lot of the old Faber books and that was what I grew up on. The first time that I read T.S. Eliot I read it in one of those editions and that was probably the biggest influence on my writing. We used an Electra font on ‘Immortality’. That’s the one they use in most of the old Fabers and all the editions with the intertwined ff’s on the front cover. The editions Tom and I used for reference were a ‘Collected’ Eliot, a ‘Collected’ Sylvia Plath and a ‘Selected’ Emily Dickinson, the latter of which was edited by Ted Hughes.

PB: What are you working on at the moment?
AD: The next disc, which is called ‘Vampires’, is in fact just finished , but before then ‘Immortality’ has just been picked up by a nice German label called Dandyland and they are giving it a European release in November. I am going to be doing a lot of touring around that.

‘Vampires’ will be out around May or June and so as far as the direction it has gone in I think that it is a far calmer album than anything I have done so far, but at the same time it’s infinitely larger. It moves at a slower place than any of the other discs, but it still at some points has as much violence as anything that I have done before.

PB: Finally what can we expect from you when you play the Pennyblackmusic Bands Night on the 29th October?

AD: You can expect a very intense performance. You can expect as well some string players and even a mini choir. I am really looking forward to that gig. The re-release party for ‘Immortality’ is happening in London three weeks after that, so I think we are probably going to be playing with the same line-up on both of those nights.

PB : Thank you.

A Century of Stone

The Riviera’s quiet now:
No more weeping for
The clay hands of an idiot coupling
That stabbed itself in the stone of its back.

The latest stab at love dissolves
To grainy pictures on a mobile phone
And a second pair of coloured eyes
That positively glowed.

And the world is built on glass and gold
That the brave alone may see,
But he who summons fire
Should beware of what he dreams.

I fell upon my satellites -
You have yours, I know.
Does our princess loll her tongue around
A century of stone?

* - * - *

Harpies rose beneath the cafe lights:
Magnolias and belladonnas
Writhing and coiling:
Your Ulysses walked among them.

Where childlike breastless sphinxes
Rubbed their paws inside their skirts, purring:
“One of these is pleasure, love,
But both of them are work.”

And the world is built on glass and gold
That the brave alone may see,
But he who summons fire
Should beware of what he dreams.

Now aerials puncture heavens
Where your heroes thought they’d roam
As gods scale down the deal
To a century of stone.

* - * - *

And the sweet girls fleet of Cleopatra gestures retreats:
You reverted to type at the turn of the tide, ever politic.
Your surrogates in pillowtalk expound upon the cause;
Moans of hotel memories sail on into the dark

Where drunken desert fumbles find
A pair of trunkless legs.
I know you too have looked upon them:
Tell me what they meant to you

And then decide if there's too little or much
To do as the empire falls:
The desert keeps its own accounts:
A century of stone.

* - * - *

Now the night turns white and the stars go black
On the checkerboard of nights and days
And all the scores will be erased,
But this stage too is play.

Kiln and charnel-house converge
As other things have and are,
Though the royalty of this holiday town
Didn't hear that there was a war.

But the matter is now soft enough -
Let the Sculptor start anew!
Your hero give himself to fire
As once he did to you.

Und so lang du das nicht hast,
Dieses: stirb und werde!
Bist du nur ein trüber Gast
Auf der dunken Erde.

(Whoever has not
This dying and becoming,
Is just a sad guest
On this dark earth.)

The lyrics for ‘A Century of Stone’, which appears on 'Immortality', have been reproduced with the kind permission of Adam Donen. More information about Adam can be found at - PennyBlack

"An interview with... Adam Donen"

Talented South African songwriter and poet, Adam Donen is set to release his new album ‘Immortality’ on 18th November. Adam talks to soundfreak about the new album.

Q: Your impressive new album ‘Immortality’ is released 18th November, how long did it take to produce and was it an enjoyable process for you?

A: It wasn’t enjoyable at all. It was awful. I was not in the best space at the time, psychologically and spiritually.

I’d spent months in solitude, not sleeping an awful lot, scoring every note of the album, generally being melodramatic. The arrangements are all a lot bigger than anything I’d used before, and I knew exactly how I wanted each part to sound, and was relying on the goodwill of a bunch of very talented classical musicians with many things going on in their lives other than The Revelations of Adam, and it was all very tight time-wise in the studio. The album was recorded and mixed in eight days… all quite frantic. On the flipside, I was working with wonderful, wonderful people, which was a joy and an incredible honour… Robert Harder, with whom I’d collaborated previously on As Our Parents Slowly Turn to Clay, is brilliantly unflappable and held everything together. To my mind there’s no better engineer on the planet. We’re working on a number of new things at the moment.

Q: What’s your favourite track on the album?

A: It varies, but at the moment, probably the title track [‘Immortality’]. It had been traveling with me a lot longer than the other songs… it took 30 months to finish, and was sixteen verses long at one point… now it’s done, I’m very glad to be rid of it, but even happier with how well it stands up. We shot a video of it a few days ago: [].

Q: How would you describe your sound?

A: I wouldn’t… I lack the self-awareness. I don’t mean to be difficult… I just genuinely don’t know that I’m qualified to answer. It’s how it was meant to sound.

Q: As a poet, do you find songwriting comes easy to you?

A: No. Or, at least, no more than poetry. But ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ isn’t the most useful way to go about describing it… it’s something that happens when it needs to happen. If I’ve got a piece that wants to come out, I’ll go mad if I don’t write it, and I’m insufferable until it’s done.

I find not-writing far, far harder than writing.

Q: What inspires you to write?

A: Women? Umm… blind existential terror? Occasionally other things, but primarily those. And probably in reverse order.

Q: Who are your influences?

A: I suppose most of the biggest influences on this album were poets. T.S. Eliot had a massive role to play; Lorca too. ‘A Century of Stone’ draws heavily on Shelley’s Ozymandias, ‘Maldoror’’s obviously named after the book by de Lautreamont. Musically, Scott Walker, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Jacques Brel, Tom Waits, Dylan, Arthur Lee…

More generally, David Lynch’s work has coloured everything I’ve done for many years… that there exists an associative, dream-like sort of which makes more sense than traditional linear narrative is always something I’ve intuitively felt. But his work was, and continues to be, a revelation.

Other than that… there was a girl…

Q: You are in the midst of a UK tour at the moment, how is it going?

A: Very well, I think.

There’s a physical theatre performer I met a little while ago who covered my face in mime makeup and performed the dance of a murder victim as I played. It reminded me how free one can be on a stage. Everything’s been a lot more fun since then.

I haven’t toured in 18 months, and the lifestyle takes some getting used to, but I’m enjoying people, and live performance, more than I have in a long, long time. Which is just as well, because there’s a lot of it coming up. [a month-long tour of Germany in December / January, another UK tour in February].

Q: What’s been your best gig to date?

A: A couple of weeks ago, we played a London show with all the instruments off the Immortality album. I’m very lucky to have some incredibly talented folk playing with me, and that was the first time we’d got them all together for a live performance. Hopefully there’ll be some video footage of it appearing soon. That was the most fun I’ve had in a long long time.

Q: What’s on the cards for 2011?

A: I’ll be releasing another album in the middle of next year. It’s going to be called Vampires… we finished recording it a little while ago. Touring Europe a fair bit, hopefully much of it with a backing band.

Going down to Cape Town with Robert to record an album in the house in which I grew up. Also possibly recording a lengthy instrumental piece. I’ve been lazy and self-indulgent for much of the last couple of years, and I’m very keen to make up for lost time. - Soundfreak


Vampires (4 May 2012) - Songs & Whispers (EU) / Cargo

Vampires (7 October 2011, UK limited edition release)

Immortality (28 Jan 2011, rerelease) - Dandyland / Songs & Whispers (Europe), Cargo Records (UK)

Immortality (2010) - Walker & Orfing, UK

As Our Parents Slowly Turn to Clay (2008) [poetry book and album] - Walker & Orfing, UK

The Daydreams of Youth - Alexandria Quartet (2007) - self-released


Radio play on:


BBC6 Music
BBC Norwich (incl. session)
BBC Humberside (incl. session on BBC Introducing)
CRMK (Session - The Garden of Earthly Delights)
Resonance FM
Phonic FM (incl. session)
PrestonFM (playlisted)
Radio Lancashire (playlisted)
Xstreameast (playlisted + session)


Center TV
Radio Weser TV
Radio Bremen
Radio Jade



Adam Donen is a songwriter, poet, composer, librettist and actor. Born in Cape Town, he now divides his time between London and Berlin.

Critically fêted across Europe, his songs have been compared to those of Leonard Cohen and Jacques Brel, yet his style is all his own. He has garnered much praise for his performances and transcendental music that takes you “through terror and heartbreak and out the other side.”

?His new album, Vampires, is a unique fusion of folk, rock, classical, hymnal and performance poetry, engineered by Grammy-nominated producer Robert Harder (Brian Eno, Kylie Minogue).

Recent other works include a secular Requiem for Christopher Hitchens (co-written with The Cure’s Roger O’Donnell), and The Open Cage, a libretto based on the Icarus myth. He has recently starred in a cinematic adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, due for release in the Autumn.

He is signed to Songs & Whispers (Germany), and distributed in the UK by Cargo Records.