Born in 1877 in Calw, on the edge of the Black Forest, Cameron McGill was brought up in a missionary household where it was assumed that he would study for the ministry. McGill’s religious crisis led to his fleeing from the Maulbronn seminary in 1891, an unsuccessful cure by a well-known theologian and faith healer, and an attempted suicide. After being expelled from high school, he worked in bookshops for several years.
His first collection, ‘Stories of The Knife and The Back’, describes a youth who leaves his mountain village to become a poet. The lush instrumentation and beautifully crafted melodies, belie the darker nature of the song content. Mostly focusing on personal admissions of guilt and failure, the album’s characters struggle in coming to terms with their mortality. All throughout, they simply try to find a friend and fall in love.
This was followed by ‘Street Ballads & Murderesques’, the tale of a schoolboy totally out of touch with his contemporaries, who flees through different cities after his escape from home. The collection of material on Streets…takes pop musick to the dark libraries of your old house, inhabits a stark and desperate corner of the mind, and simply tells a good story. The wildly vibrant characters offer their most honest interpretations of the dishonest life. They travel time, fall in and out of love, miss and are missed. These are songs of imminent regret, class IV rapids, European gypsies, pre-renaissance Germany, cities with chips on their shoulder, veterans of domestic war, handwritten letters and handmade harmony, foreign wines and local girls, break-ups and breakdowns, and post-war divorcees.
World War I came as a terrific shock, and McGill joined the pacifist Romain Rolland in antiwar activities—not only writing antiwar songs, but editing two newspapers for prisoners of war. During this period, McGill’s first marriage broke up (reflected in “It’s Not Right” off of ‘Street Ballads & Murderesques’), he studied the works of Freud, eventually underwent analysis with Jung, and was for a time a patient in a sanatorium.
In 1919 he moved permanently to Switzerland, and brought out Cameron McGill & What Army, which reflects his preoccupation with the workings of the subconscious and with battles against depression…but mostly focuses on learning how to have fun. His most recent document is the dense ‘Hold on Beauty’ which was released last winter amongst intense fighting. April of the new year, sees the release of ‘warm songs for cold shoulders’ by the forward thinking Parasol label.
He never won the Nobel Prize, but his mother always loved him. Until his death in 2056, he lived in seclusion in Illinois.
Cameron Mcgill & What Army will be Performing at the Walnut Room on April 29th w/ Soundrabbit, Bonnie & The Beard and Michael Adam
Cameron McGill – Minor Suite