Mark Northfield
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Mark Northfield

Bracknell, England, United Kingdom | Established. Jan 01, 1999 | SELF

Bracknell, England, United Kingdom | SELF
Established on Jan, 1999
Solo Pop Classical




"Alterations (album) review @ Ringmaster Reviews"

OK let us get the difficult part out of the way first. Alterations the new album from English pianist and singer/songwriter Mark Northfield, is an album of two parts, the almost pop and almost classical. The five songs of the almost classical part are connected to and derived from the five in the almost pop first half whether from a riff, series of notes, or a theme and some may also have a lyrical connection between them too. Ok so far? Alterations is also mirrored at its centre so track 6 is derived from track 5, 7 from 4 and so on…come on keep up. The album is also set up so it can not only to be listened to from start to finish to get the most from and to appreciate the creativity at work. Northfield says it can be looked at also as a collection of five double A-side single’ and listened in that way too. ..phew we got there. The simple part of the whole thing is that Alterations is rather good, an evocative and intriguing venture that might make one work to discover all that is going on but gives ensures full enjoyment trying.

Berkshire born and London based, Northfield is a classically trained pianist, arranger and songwriter who regularly works as an accompanist for ballet and contemporary dance classes at London Contemporary Dance School, Arts Ed, and the Royal Academy Of Dance. These roles make great use of his talent for improvisation and reinterpretation something that is apparent on the album. Alterations follows 2008 album Ascendant, and the two EPs The Death Of Copyright and Nothing Impossible from 2011 and February this year respectively. The new album features a fine array of guest vocalists and musical contributors to bring a distinctly varied and eclectic quality to accompany the equally remarkable compositions.

The album opens with The Death Of Copyright a buoyant pop driven piece of Divine Comedy like grandeur complete with a contrasting rock lined verse and a classical awareness of the truth and beauty of the emotions weaving within the prose. You get the feel Northfield who is the lead vocalist here with the delightful tones of Ellen Jakubiel joining in, is at times having a dig at pop and rock music and their often sense of superiority through the humorous and mischievous wink within the song. The pulsating soul funk melody that saunters throughout is openly 70’s disco sourced with Northfield himself mentioned the song Superstition as inspiration.

In theory we should probably pair up the two mirror images but we would not want to take away the mystery and adventure from you and truthfully it is not always that open what the linking and pairing is.

The wonderful Some Songs… is a mesmeric track with a darkened show tune grace and drama. It wonderfully feels a little off kilter, like a waltz from a slightly discordant parallel song walking a lonely yet soulful path though the track. The following and excellent You Don’t Need Me To Tell You That with the returning Jakubiel in a duet with Matt Crutchlow is a stunning summery song and relatively conventional for the album. It reminds of XTC around the Skylarking time with lyrical composition that is again more show tune than pop song.

The first half is made up with the pop rock anthem Nothing Impossible, a passionate and emotive song dealing with suicide which unleashes its pent up anger and frustration as it builds towards a powerful and forward moving climax, and the electronic hypnotic Headlonging. The track is inspirational with the chorister voice of Jon Payne a wonderful companion to the effect layered delivery from Northfield.

The mirror half of the album is equally as impressive and remarkable in its own emotional and heart clasped classical breath. The lovely song The Up Shit Creek Blues with the darkened distortions behind the fine vocals of Alexandra Howlett adding a disengaging atmosphere to the lyrics and a song one could imagine Edith Piaf within if her time was now, alongside the world/classical Latin elegance of Aurora stand o - Ringmaster Reviews

"Alterations (album) review @ Loudhorizon"

This to me is one heck of an inventive, clever and in many ways incredibly brave album!

Let me firstly just quote from the sleeve notes:

‘‘Alterations’ consists of five almost-pop songs transformed into five almost-classical songs. In each case, I took a riff or theme from a song in the first half and used it for the basis for a song in the second half, forming the new pieces around these musical skeletons. There are also loose lyrical connections to be found in some cases.

The album is mirrored at the centre, so track 6 is derived from track 5, 7 from 4, 8 from 3, 9 from 2 and 10 from 1. Unlike the previous album, ‘Ascendant’ it is not exhaustively designed to be listened to from start to finish, even though the running order works well enough. It could just as easily be considered a set of five double A-side singles and listened to accordingly; the connections might make themselves a little more obvious that way.’

Get it? I didn’t; still don’t!

I just can’t see the relevance of the supposed connections between the tracks. But hey, it really doesn’t matter, for with a few exceptions (which I’ll get to eventually) this is a highly listenable and most importantly ‘different’ album.

I do agree however that the album is ‘split’ at the centre, with tracks one to five being the strongest and certainly the ones I’d prefer listening to. These are the songs that nicely blend classical music with popular music. But not in the sort of dramatic, almost camp manner of Rhydian, that welsh bloke who placed high in X-Factor or whatever. No, those songs that do have classical leanings seem to stay true to their roots but yet also embrace and indeed marry a more modern influence. It’s hard to say how or why, but it works.

Opening track ‘The Death Of Copyright’ is a bouncy little number, with a deep, background stomp interspersed with sharp little pulls on the violin creating a novel ‘hook.’ The tempo occasionally drops to give hints of the classical influences that will follow, but soon picks up again. Mark’s vocals are warm and clear and while he himself composed and arranged all the songs on the album, the talents of various others were enlisted on just about all the songs. Of note on this particular one are the vocals of Ellen Jakubiel who sings a verse in French, which is then followed by Mark slightly distorting his voice to sing the next in German!

‘Some Songs’ is more downbeat and operatic in its content. It’s dramatic enough; the vocals are bang on, and the backing vocals combining with the violin and general orchestration give it a particularly haunting feel. (But not for me, this one.)

‘You Don’t Need Me To Tell You That’ is a lovely song. Female / male vocals trade off each other over the top of lovely little piano runs. I’ve had a second opinion on this, and it does sound like a classical interpretation of a generic Beautiful South track.

I kind of struggle to describe ‘Nothing Impossible:’ it’s based around a chipper and catchy little piano riff, with clear, concise male vocals. It rocks along nicely, like an upbeat Billy Joel track – only better (I’m not a fan!) – with a bouncy beat and handclaps!

My favourite track on the album is ‘Headlonging.’ A constant piano arpeggio runs throughout, with dark, brooding cello strokes providing the base for a hushed but frantic and troubled-sounding vocal that barely stops for breath. As the track progresses this vocal is somewhat smothered by a loud, choral backing and increased orchestration. You can sense the tension and frustration of one losing control of their mind and disappearing down a vortex of confusion and torment. (The song’s probably nothing to do with this interpretation, but that’s how I see it anyway!)

And so we come to my less-favoured second half.

‘The Up Shit Creek Blues’ deserves to be liked simply because of its title, and in fact it is actually OK. Sultry, bluesy female vocals with violins and piano do however give it the fe - Loudhorizon

"Alterations (album) review @ Rhythm & Booze"

Hmmmm now here’s an interesting one, an album that you can’t quite pin down, a record that incorporates so many ideas, a release that straddles genres and brings to mind a myriad of artists whilst managing to be completely unique.

Alterations by Mark Northfield is a challenging affair whereby the singer-songwriter has composed five “pop” tracks and then altered those tracks to transform them into classical affairs for a further five compositions and then to add to the fun he’s mirrored the track listing so track six is based round track five, seven from four and so on. If you’ve already read that and labelled this album as hard work or worse still pretentious, then you may land up missing out on one of the most unique and compelling affairs released this year (or any other for that matter).

So lets begin with the opening five so-called pop numbers, well first and foremost if you’re expecting chart friendly Euro-pop or throw-away/girl band pap you’re going to be disappointed, you see Mark’s take on pop in a little more oft kilter, in fact, think The Divine Comedy, My Life Story, Magnetic Fields or Rufus Wainwright as reference points, this is widescreen pop complete with wit infused lyrics, piano hooks, male/female vocals, lush strings and the odd hand-clap hook.

Take the opening number, The Death Of Copyright, for example, firstly that’s hardly a typical pop song title, then as the track begins the listener is treated to a flurry of strings, then there’s the trading of vocals between Mark and Ellen Jakubiel, whilst the biting opening couplet “I heard a pop song today, it was grimly efficient” proves beyond doubt that this no mere second-hand novelty. The clever use of instrumentation compliments Mark’s glorious almost nonchalant vocal approach beautifully as the track develops into an orchestral chamber pop masterpiece.

From there Mark continues to deliver a host of stunning melodies, intriguing lyrics, as his widescreen take on pop effortlessly twists and turns into new shapes. Highlights include the hand-clapping, finger clicking Nothing Impossible and the deranged electro/orchestral lyrical spiel of Headlonging, a track that opens with a short classical piece of music before adding operatic backing vocal harmonies to Mark’s scattershot, barely audible spoken word vocals, building to a cacophony of noise before slowly ebbing away to close.

And then we move onto Mark’s “classical” side only once again we discover that it’s a liberal use of the phrase classical as The Up Shit Creek Blues (based on the aforementioned Nothing Impossible) is a stunning jazzy, smokey take on orchestral blues, where strings and piano collide with near Portishead like beats to provide backing to a sensational passionate soaring drawl from Alexandra Howlett. From there Mark continues to serve up his unique vision with a combination of lush instrumentation, stripped down piano laments ,spoken word vocals (the Noel Coward meets Murray Lachlan Young of Reminders, Remind), musical influences (Paradise By Numbers sounds like it could have been lifted from Sweeny Todd) and spiralling odes to the weather (Forecaster).

And so, to try and sum up Alterations, an album that truly defies classification or definition, a unique almost cult like affair, a bewitching perhaps eccentric ten track epic quite unlike no other, full of drama, spills and thrills. Mark Northfield is a maverick genius, that the open-minded among you should hold in great admiration for creating such a daring and inventive release. If you want something truly different yet completely awe inspiring I highly recommend you track down Alterations.

Rhythm & Booze Rating 10 - Rhythm & Booze

"Alterations (album) review @ Get Ready To Rock"

Mark Northfield has taken a novel idea on this ten song album whereby the first five songs have their riffs taken and then used in the final five songs. It has a large musical cast with nine vocalists joining himself along with many fellow musicians. But what of the music? Well it has that touch of English whimsy similar to the Divine Comedy and the use of voices as an instrument on ‘Some Songs…’ reminded me of Godley & Creme. Song of the album has to be the wonderful ‘The Death Of Copywright’ a scathing look at pop songs and one I am sure Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy would love.

‘Headlonging’ mixes piano/keys and vocals for another different but enjoyable tune. But the album does dip in the second half, the spoken word of ‘Reminders, Remind’ soon becomes repetitive. The album does end on a high with a tribute to weather on ‘The Forecaster’, another tune that you could imagine Andy Partrdige (XTC) or Neil Hannon writing and performing.

Worth a listen and lovingly created with some stand out tunes. - Get Ready To Rock

"Alterations (album) review @ Green Man Music"

Mark Northfield has a lot to say, but I can’t for the life of me work out half of what it is. I like that. His way with words is at once poignant and cryptic, sharp and vague, storybookish and metaphysical but always humorous, delivered with a twinkle in the eye just waiting for you to get the joke or at the very least recognise your own life in the situations he describes. And if the words are difficult to pin down stylistically, the music is a similar slippery beast. Sitting at a cross roads where pop and musical theatre bisect and classical flourishes linger nearby you can almost imagine this being the soundtrack to some avant-garde stage production, but it’s cleverer than that.

The songs seem steeped in lyrical allegory, the music created by putting together ideas and instrumentation that have no business pairing up and the result is surprisingly listenable. It’s also in it’s own way a concept album, or more accurately an album of concepts, not in the conventional sense but in the fact that many of the songs share themes, evolve from and refer to each other.

Generically it is impossible to pin down. Reminders, Remind is a nostalgic Peter Skellern style reminisce but Aurora is an eastern vibed gypsy-jazz bop, The Forecaster is a classical aria and Nothing Impossible is an infectious hippy pop-rock out. Any preconceptions you form from one song are immediately shattered by the next, it’s best to forget about sound bites and labels and just accept that it’s an album of continued surprises. - Green Man Music

"Alterations (album) review @ Mudkiss Fanzine"

Mark Northfield - Alterations [Josh Nicol]

Mark Northfield suggests himself “People forget that listening doesn't have to be a passive activity simply to create wallpaper, it can very much be an active experience, almost an art in its own right.” This is certainly his take on Alterations, what can only be described as a rather… interesting… album. And don’t take that in a bad way.

Opening track, ‘The Death of Copyright’ begins so deliberately manufactured, simple keyboard structure imitating the sound of violins, which eventually fades into a beautiful classical composition. A musician like this, who is clear to be exploring different takes on the idea of making music, seems to be seen as marvellous as far as I’m concerned. It is difficult in this current climate of the music industry to do anything new, and anything that will shock, but the sheer contrast of styles in ‘Alterations’ shocks, surprises and lets the listener think, trying to decipher whether the music is actually good or not.

Northfield’s pop structures on the album compliment his strong voice, but when he tries to go a little more vicious, it can’t help but come across a little tame. With his songwriting, he tends to build up something very small into something of stark difference or climactic power.

Mark Northfield has created an album that will provoke thought, an experimental pop album, which tends not to occur in this era. All the way through, he integrates the classical elements in between the pop melody, breaking down the set structure of pop music and building it up as he wishes to construct it, much like the great experimental pop songwriters of the past.

As I begun ‘Alterations’ is an interesting album and will certainly make you think. - Mudkiss Fanzine

"Alterations (album) review @ ALTSOUNDS.COM"

Ahead of releasing his latest full length Alterations, Mark Northfield took the liberty of composing a detailed track-by-track guide for the album and posting it on his personal website. Detailed could be taken as a slight understatement when you consider (assuming you've read it) the ambitious nature of the page long document: this thing is bursting at the seams.

In some ways it reads like the kind of essay you would expect to find tucked away in the sleeve of some lushly packaged deluxe reissue: the developmental stages of both the album and the songs are generously chronicled, each song is given a lengthy paragraph documenting everything from the inspirations behind them to the chords they were composed of and how some are musically connected. Northfield weaves plenty of humor and wit into each of these paragraphs and naturally, he's careful to not give too much away in terms of meanings, instead, leaving that task up to us.

Where this manifesto differs from your typical set of rock/pop/whatever liner notes is the lack stories about in-fighting between players or producers, rampant drug use in the studio or pointless bickering over tunings and pitches. In other words: this ain't no dramatic rockumentary played out on paper...this isn't Spinal Tap. And despite its ambitious scope, it doesn't exactly scan as a dissertation written by a would-be doctorate candidate either, it's simply a piece to Northfield's musical puzzle.

Of the many details captured in these notes, a couple prove crucial when approaching Alterations because it isn't the sort of album you can listen to top to bottom and expect to grasp easily (I made that mistake myself). As Northfield states,

"The album is mirrored at the centre so that track 6 is derived from track 5, 7 from 4, 8 from 3, 9 from 2, and 10 from 1."

He goes on to point out that

" is not exclusively designed to be listened to from start to finish, even though the running order works well enough. It could just as easily be considered a set of double A-side singles.."

Even if you aren't able to fully grasp the musical lineage binding the songs together, you can always bypass that in favor of treating Alterations as a collection of double A-side singles as Northfield implied. In that case, the album's first half, which consists mainly of 'almost' pop songs, may make for a smoother ride.

Northfield's version of pop is more abstract than it is a direct reference; his lyrics are bursting with wry humor and sharp wit and the arrangements offer a few more complexities. Take for example 'The Death Of Copyright', in which Northfield addresses the current state of pop music, "I heard a pop song today, it was grimly efficient/It brought me to my knees in three terrible minutes" over a bouncy string arrangement, bubbly pianos and a throbbing beat. It's an obvious sentiment but the tones and phrasings make it the sort of punchline you can't help but laugh at (even if you are on the receiving end).

Back to the slightly convoluted musical lineage: 'Some Songs' flows naturally from 'Death Of Copyright' and also parallels its lyrical theme to an extent. Building off of a strings and keyboards that mesh to resemble a harpsichord, Northfield's observations turn to the roles songs play in people's lives and the circumstances under which they are written. His music owes a great deal to his background as a classically trained pianist, which throughout the course of Alterations, he happily augments with not only elements of pop, but indie rock as well. Those combinations, along with the complex arrangements and sharp songwriting make it tempting to fall back on the convenient hyphenate of baroque pop as a cheap way of summing the album up; to do so would be to marginalize not only the broad range of the music itself, but its grand ambition as well.

It seems fitting then that his most overt flirtation with indie comes at one of Alterations' more serious moments, 'Nothing Impossib - ALTSOUNDS.COM

"The Death Of Copyright EP review @ The Bluesbunny"

So, I was thinking about the English eccentric. Not one in particular but the general concept. The template if you like. Vivian Stanshall and even Morrissey (and how it grieves me even to mention that effete musical icon) seem to fit that template while Andrew Lloyd Webber and Mike Oldfield don't really and that takes us on to the case of Mark Northfield.

I remember his previous album "Ascendant" well. A touch theatrical but well presented, it marked him out as a musician who knows that, in the end, quality counts. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that this EP, tellingly called "The Death of Copyright", shows that once more our Mr. Northfield uses precision where others would use brute force. That said, there is more than a touch of grumpy old man syndrome creeping into his lyrics as evidenced by the title track even though he indulges in gloriously pretentious cabaret instead of impersonating Victor Meldrew. He then ploughs a field full of ennui into a cover of Abba's "The Day Before You Came" turning it into the kind of song that La Morrissey would simply adore.

"Headlonging", on the other hand, could easily find itself the subject of a dancefloor remix by a deranged German such is the oblique focus that is to be found in its neo classical style and this EP's closer "The Forecaster" neatly returns Mr. Northfield to his comfort zone of musical theatre as he bids us adieu.

There's always room for another eccentric and Mark Northfield sounds like he is shaping up to be one given the evidence of "The Death Of Copyright" EP.

4/5 -

"Ascendant (album) review @ Cerulean's Love Of Music"

Ascendant is Mark Northfield's second album; an accomplished accompanist for organizations such as London Contemporary Dance School and the Royal Academy of Dance, he turned to creating and recording his own compositions in the early part of this decade. His first album Anachronisms remains unreleased (that brings perfectionist to a whole new level); however, mp3s for both of his albums are available at his website.

Mark Northfield's compositions on Ascendant glide, gracefully transitioning from the utterly betwitching and transcendent ("Waiting For Green", "Zero") to a restrained, uncluttered piece of chamber music ("Our Father") with crisp, unadorned vocals, then on to an understated piano piece with jazzy vocals similar to Brendan Perry's of Dead Can Dance ("Resistance"). Moments of the album soar with the bombast (in a good way) of an Andrew Lloyd Webber song ("Sleeping Beauty") and one piece hops with an undisguised cabaret vibe ("Decidedly Dumb"). In "Calm" voices soar, intone and implore in a magnificent and electrifying madrigal that fades into a solo male vocal perfomance, calm and at odds with the fervor of the crowd. This tumultuous tumbling between moods within the songs is very indicative of the album as a whole. It is a culmination of many styles, all threaded throughout the composition: an album that's different at each interval, but blends effortlessly to form a cohesive album of music.

The songs are threaded together with bits of music reminiscent of the interludes placed throughout the three This Mortal Coil albums of the late 80's and early 90's. As his website states, Ascendant "is also designed to be heard (in a shuffle-free world) from start to finish". I would recommend listening to it this way; much of the artistry of the composition is in the placement of songs in relation to other songs. The interludes certainly wouldn't be as effective if they lead into your secret Abba collection. -

"Ascendant (album) review @ Overplay"

“Remember, shuffling is wrong and will be punished.” So say the rather bossy sleevenotes on this nine-tracker from London-based Mark Northfield. And, true to his word, Mark’s stirring reinvention of classical music does nothing as meek as shuffle. From swaggering like a drunken estate agent to wooing with the soft, subtle romance of a shy airline pilot, it’s all pretty strident stuff. ELO and Chic aside, It’s not often you hear strings this big on a pop record, let alone at the heart of a pop record. But Mark, along with his eight guest vocalists, certainly knows his octave from his elbow.

Mark cites Rufus Wainwright as a big influence and you can certainly it on the prancing piano and drifting chords of opener “Waiting For Green”. Although, here, matters take a more intriguing turn with spooky ecclesiastical organs and obscure lyrics about “three Chinese women on bikes, waiting at the traffic lights.” Things are even more obtuse on “Resistance” and “The Calm”, as bleak choral touches mix with a spooky show tune feel that nods at early Genesis. The mood lightens with the acoustic guitar and chamber music vibe of “Sleeping Beauty”, before we ease into the slippery Pink Floyd-esque blues of “Decidedly Dumb”. It’s sassy, it’s trippy, it’s too much sherry and no sleep.

“Weight” is a highly-strung, but bone-china-beautiful ballad in the style of Lionheart-era Kate Bush. However, the sound gets more wholesome with the gentle folk of “Zero” and the woozy, swaggering strings of “Our Father”. It’s the lush, yet disjointed, “Luco” that ushers proceedings to a grand, slightly unsettling finish. And even though it uses the most traditional of styles, you’re left feeling like you’ve heard something dramatic and original. ‘Ascendant’ is, in turns, loving, clever, surprising and just plain weird. But it’s always worth a listen. Punk has long become part of the mainstream, so maybe now it takes a Stradivarius to do something different.

by overplay -

"Ascendant (album) review @ Music Musings and Miscellany"

Mark Northfield is a pianist and composer and occasional singer. Ascendant, his debut CD, is a collection of collaborations with guest singers, arranged predominantly for piano with additional colour provided by strings and occasional saxophone, guitar and drums. Its mood is resolutely of late night melancholy, at times touching on Chet Baker-like smooth jazz, classical romanticism, show tunes and even polyphonic chant on “The Calm”.

Northfield’s piano playing can be florid, but generally he gets the tone right. It would be easy to slip into Richard Clayderman style schlock when doing this kind of romantic piano, but it’s a pitfall he manages to avoid. The singing can be a bit mannered, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Sleeping Beauty”, for example, is a comic waltz that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Sondheim musical (except that it has a tune): a surreal satire that imagines a nation governed by Tesco and smiling penguins gradually being engulfed by rising sea levels. It benefits from the amused detachment that singer Paul Cozens gives it.

“Weight”, with vocals by Bryony Lang, is an exceptionally strong ballad that builds into an almost angelic climax of voice, piano and cello. Northfield himself sings “Zero”, a song that reminds me of the richly arranged pastoral pieces on Nick Drake’s Bryter Later until it builds into a transcendent chorus. Closing track “Luco” sees the strings come into their own on a Nyman-esque, minimalistic piece that is underpinned by a repeated two note theme. Each of the tracks on the album are linked with ghostly fragments of other songs that give the whole thing the feeling of an interlinked suite rather than a set of standalone pieces.

Ascendant may be a little too rich for some. It comes firmly from the classical tradition rather than the pop one. This is emphasized by “Decidedly Dumb” whose soft-rock arrangement feels decidedly out of place. It’s an intelligent and literate album, but accessible too. I’d recommend it to fans of neo-classical acts like Max Richter and Clogs, but also to open-minded aficionados of torch songs and even stage musicals. It’s an album that straddles genres, but seems to suffer no discomfort in doing so. A fine debut. -

"Ascendant (album) review @ The Bluesbunny"

At Bluesbunny Towers we appreciate a sense of humour. When Mark Northfield contacted us about getting his new album reviewed, he went out of his way to apologise for going the way of the jazz on one of the tracks. A different approach to marketing surely as he completely failed to mention the rest of this fine album.

"Waiting for Green" opens the album sounding overly polite and more than a bit like a musical offcut. Then the sales pitch starts properly. "The Calm", driven by a simple piano figure, develops into an entrancing song featuring some truly immaculate harmonies. Elegant and sophisticated is definitely the way to go and this album features many a classy performance. Things take an ethereal turn with "Decidedly Dumb". Ellen Jakubiel takes lead vocals on this track and sings like the whole world is her stage. The song twists and turns as the spotlight fades on her metaphorical sequins. There is an underlying surreal feel to the lyrics throughout as well with "Sleeping Beauty" transporting you off into some sugar coated fantasy land. "Our Father" is likewise an enchantment making your head swim with images of bejewelled dancing nuns. Our Mr Northfield has a way with words.

Preconceived notions are dangerous things, especially to the reviewer. By the end of the first track, Bluesbunny had resigned himself to a selection of Andrew Lloyd Webber meets Peter Gabriel background tunes. Fortunately, the inspiration was soon upon us and, as we listened, we grew steadily more enamoured with this album. A great deal of care has gone into its preparation and that is perhaps its best quality. It has all that subtlety that you only begin to appreciate when you listen to it again and there is its true value. It is like a Tim Burton movie for the ears - quirky, detailed, immaculately produced but perhaps lacking instantaneous appeal. Do not doubt however that this album is good and that's a fact! It will win you over.

Review by: Bluesbunny -

"Ascendant (album) review in Progression magazine, Winter/Spring 09"

Ascendant finds pianist/composer Mark Northfield joined by various vocalists and string players to render his compositions in the self-described "alt-classical" style. Alternative classical really is a good description, as these songs equally embrace elements of classical composition and sound along with the introspective modern singer/songwriter approach.
"Waiting For Green" and "Resistance" set the tone, predominantly driven by classical piano and vocals, and augmented by strings and smoky jazz sax on the latter piece. "The Calm" makes use of a choir to deliver the lead vocals, gving the piece a hymn-like quality.
Ellen Jakubiel delivers lead vocals in the bluesy "Decidedly Dumb," while Bryony Lang's classically pure voice is a highlight of the delicte and distant "Weight". "Our Father" and closer "Luco" returnto the formula of lilting classicism and melancholy vocals that opened the album.
In all, this is an album that achieves what it sets out to do in uniting seemingly disparate styles, effectively highlighting te emotion in the lyrics with a poignant musical backdrop. BILL NOLAND Total rating 13/16 - Progression magazine

"Ascendant (album) review @ Wildy's World"

Mark Northfield is a London based composer who writes alternative classical or Chamber Rock songs (as you prefer) with other vocalists in mind. Northfield had the revelation a few years back that he loved performing but perhaps didn’t have the front line voice required, and so resolved to write and record his songs with other vocalists out front. His most recent offering, Ascendant, takes full advantage of the vocal talents of no less than 9 vocalists (including himself) and one vocal ensemble.

Northfield takes art-pop Chamber music to a new level. Opening with Waiting For Green, Northfield paints a bleak and beautiful landscape in orchestration to counter an almost droningly depressed vocal line. This sounds like an off-off-Broadway piece. Resistance is another highly dramatic, melancholic piece that turns hopeful and back throughout. Highly melodic in dark and minor tones, the orchestration colors the vocal line. Northfield next offers an inspired Chamber Choral piece called The Calm, featuring Bryony Lang an The Pearsall Consort. It's a neo-classical exploration of melancholy bursting into expressions of beauty and stillness with an Anglican Church choir bent. This is the highlight of the CD and one of the most hauntingly beautiful choral pieces I've heard in some time.

Weight sounds like it could have been an alternate song or outtake from the Off-Broadway production The Last Five Years. You can almost hear shades of Sherrie Renee Scott in vocalist Bryony Laing (also featured on The Calm) who gives a gorgeous vocal performance. Zero lost me a bit lyrically but offers perhaps the most intricate and delicate arrangement on the disc. You'll also want to check out the faux-peppiness of Decidedly Dumb and the melancholy waltz, Luco.

Ascendant is a prickly CD. It's not easy to get to know; not an easy listen. You have to work for this one and that will turn a lot of the more casual listeners off. The effort becomes its own reward, however, as Mark Northfield has offered up several moment-stopping compositions mixed in on Ascendant. There are a couple of pieces here that get mired down in themselves, but on the whole Ascendant is a very strong listening experience. This one's for fans of Chamber music, The Cure, The Smiths and any other melancholic pop band of the last twenty years.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

"Ascendant (album) review @ Sputnik Music"

Ever wondered what a Sondheim musical from his darker years would sound like if it was recorded by an indie pianist and some buds? Well, wait no longer! An album that’s almost unsettling in its classical bend, Ascendant features some terrific vocal performances from a variety of singers and some marvelously crafted tunes, with arguably the most beautiful of the year in “Zero.” This albums stark, sparse, and a little flat, but Northfield’s gift for composition makes it all work in the end. At its conclusion, Ascendant leaves a distinct feeling of “…what?” But figuring out that confusion makes it worth the while. ADAM DOWNER - SPUTNIK STAFF REVIEWER (Featured album in Adam's Top 20 of 2008 and Top 100 of the decade.) -

"Feature @ Music Zeitgeist"

Writing these artist profiles can be laborious - when you are not being sent music by the labels - pre-digested and regurgitated one-sheets wrapped in mesmerizing pretense - that involves sifting through and researching dozens and dozens of unfiltered lists of untested artists, most of whom haven’t even had to commit (due to the near instantaneous broadcasting medium that is the internet) to even mastering or pressing a CD or vinyl. The process can be akin to that cliche of looking for a needle in a haystack.

So when we find something special, it feels really special, because likely we are actually FINDING it. That is not to say that the artists we choose are necessarily ascetics living in caves - certainly they have their own followings and small array of accolades, but generally, they are not known by the general public. And so it is with great pleasure that we introduce the work of Mark Northfield to our audience.

Mark’s dreamy piano-based music has a tinge of theatricality to it in the same vein as XTC. It flutters between Beatles-grade melody and esoteric dissonance. It introduces choir-like vocals or string ensembles without warning before just as easily returning to unnervingly intimate whispering vocals and beautifully played piano passages that use the entire panorama of keys, unlike so many droney dance tracks. This is the work of a higher mind that deserves its place in the same pantheon as Aqualung, Antony and the Johnsons, Damien Rice or anything by Andy Partridge. We are happy to add Mark’s song The Calm to MusicZeitgeist’s free indie playlist.

MusicZeitgeist had the opportunity to ask Mark some questions about the source of his output:

MusicZeitgeist: Who?

A pianist, songwriter, arranger and occasional singer from the UK known as Mark Northfield.

MZ: What?

His album Ascendant is a collaboration with nine other vocalists, carefully chosen to suit each song and paid in wine. It’s a near continuous soundtrack of piano/string dominated romanticism and melancholy; dark, lush and a little bit cinematic. The Divine Comedy vs This Mortal Coil refereed by Pink Martini.

MZ: Why?

It’s the pursuit of truth by the most beautiful scenic detour available.

MZ: Until When?

Until he dies, probably. A new album is due to be recorded in the summer of 2009, with some choreographic/film collaborations planned in the meantime for YouTubing purposes. Dying has not been penciled in as yet.

MZ: Where?

Everywhere and nowhere, thanks to the variable joys of modern technology. The album is available at Rough Trade, CD Baby, emusic and iTunes. -

"Feature @ Fingertips music"

And now for something completely different. Mark Northfield is a British pianist, composer, arranger, and sometime singer who has here taken his classical training and focused it on the production of something almost but not quite resembling a pop song. Beginning quietly, with voice and piano, "Zero" adds guitar, strings, and, eventually, a choir-like array of backing vocals; the piece evolves gently but determinedly towards two climaxes, the first string-driven, contained, and unresolved (roughly 3:08 through 3:25), the second louder, more fervent, and choral (beginning around 5:06).
Pay attention throughout to the string arrangements, which are expressive but never pushy; the song is half over before he puts the strings center stage, and some of the nicest work comes after their "solo," when the violins, with restraint, offer high fills between lyrical phrases.
"Zero" is a song from the CD Ascendant, which Northfield released on his own Substantive Recordings label earlier this year. On eight of the songs, Northfield doesn't sing himself, employing an assortment of guest vocalists, but on "Zero," it's him. An important aspect of the CD is that the nine songs are presented in an uninterrupted flow--as Northfield notes on his web site, the album is "designed to be heard (in a shuffle-free world) from start to finish, with introductions to each track lifting re-arranged fragments from elsewhere on the album to create a more or less continuous soundtrack." And yet Northfield is of course not unaware of how most people listen to their music in the 21st century; he is kind enough to offer seven of the songs in so-called "chopped" mode on his web site, including "Zero." Thanks to Owen Duff, himself a Fingertips-featured artist, for the head's up. -

"Feature @ Mainstream Isn't So Bad... Is It?"

So after chatting about Jon Regen yesterday, I have another piano driven album for you, albeit one quiet different than Let It Go. Tonight's ebony and ivory album comes from Londoneer Mark Northfield and it's titled Ascendant. While the album is presented under Mark's name, its composition is somewhat unique in that although all the songs are written and arranged by him, all but one track are sung by nine other vocalists (the one track you can hear Mark's voice on, Zero, is below).

Mark labels his music Alt Classical, and while all of the compositions primarily balance around his piano and strings, I wouldn't pigeon-hole it under that genric title. The album starts with Waiting for Green, which although is sung by a man, very much reminds me of Tori Amos with its playful interplay between the piano and strings and its echoing flitting about. Following this is Resistance, which starts as if a slower tempo continuation of the first track (with a different vocalist), but quickly veers into new territory with the infusion of a saxophone punctuating and accentuating interludes about a third of the way through. From there, once again the scene shifts with The Calm, which opens with what sounds like monks or a choir, as if you had stepped from a jazz club into a cathedral.

And those are only the first three of nine tracks on the album. The unifying aspect which weaves itself through from beginning to end is the piano playing of Mark Northfield. Overall, the album paints a somewhat dark, melancholic, introspective picture (think a piano-hued version of This Mortal Coil's softer work) perhaps best enjoyed late at night with a fine glass of red wine (preferably not from a box). It's complexity and intricacies belie its use of few instruments, and Mark's choice of employing a diverse range of vocalists help add touches of uniqueness to each track.


Ascendant (2008)
Alterations (2012)
Anachronisms (2003, belated Bandcamp release in 2013)
Beguiling Transmissions (forthcoming spring 2014, classical project under the name of Cherry Mint Koala)

The Death Of Copyright (2011)
Nothing Impossible (2012)
Let The Body Go (forthcoming spring 2014)



Mark Northfield is a pianist, singer, composer and arranger from Berkshire, UK. He specializes in thoughtful, poetic and beautifully orchestrated pop/classical crossover music. He is inspired by other crossover mavericks such as Kate Bush, The Divine Comedy and Rufus Wainwright, and his songs often feature guest vocalists drawn from various genres.

He also records and performs classically, usually with cellist Tony Woollard and violinist Charlie Brown under the name of Cherry Mint Koala.

In Oct 2013 BBC Radio 2 used Mark's cover of Robyn's 'Dancing On My Own' for various trails promoting their 'Faith In The Word' week (on the theme of living alone).

Mark has often created inventive videos for his songs, featuring animation, hand puppets and zombie-drag. He has also collaborated with several choreographers on dance projects. These can be seen on his own website, YouTube and Vimeo.

Critical acclaim for 'Alterations' (album 2012):

'complex arrangements and sharp songwriting... Northfield is an excellent composer with a firm grasp on what he wants to accomplish' ALTSOUNDS

'poignant and cryptic' GREEN MAN MUSIC

'bursts with finely orchestrated beauty' SKOPEMAG

'like the great experimental pop songwriters of the past' MUDKISS FANZINE

'a maverick genius' RHYTHM & BOOZE

For his previous album 'Ascendant' (album 2008):

'Ever wondered what a Sondheim musical from his darker years would sound like if it was recorded by an indie pianist and some buds? Well, wait no longer!'  SPUTNIK MUSIC
(Featured in Staff reviewer Adam Downer's Top 100 of the decade.)

'like a Tim Burton movie for the ears - quirky, detailed, immaculately produced...'4/5 BLUESBUNNY

'flutters between Beatles-grade melody and esoteric dissonance. MUSIC ZEITGEIST

'takes art-pop chamber music to a new level' WILDY'S WORLD

Band Members