The word “collective” conjures up an image of a free-wheeling community – the sort of place where you can buy some wicker sandals for a handful of shells and a back rub. But for Kaprekar’s Constant, it’s a term that has taken on a more practical tilt, with the group free to engage in other projects while still contributing to the “creative entity” that is the band.
“We’re trying to work out what we are in a way,” explains Al Nicholson, one of Kaprekar’s Constant’s founding members. “Most of us have got other projects or things that we do. We wanted them to continue to have the space and time to do that.”
Kaprekar’s Constant are a folk prog band that formed in Kent in 2015, and they have a touch of identity-hopping about them. Their name references an obscure mathematical discovery made in the 40s, but their seven-piece aesthetic and freeform musical style speak to more ethereal pursuits.
This sense of chaos and control is writ large across their debut album, Fate Outsmarts Desire – due in no small part to the playing of VdGG saxophonist David Jackson. “We are massive Van der Graaf Generator fans and fans of David’s maverick sax playing he is famous for,” says Nick Jefferson, the other founding member. “I said to Al that I’d see if David Jackson wanted to play on our track. After he stopped laughing long enough to say I was wasting my time, I sent [Jackson] Hallsands.”
Jackson, as a former maths teacher, was drawn by the band’s name and the outline of their initial songs. It was the thought of working with his daughter, who offers vocals across the LP, that really sealed the deal.
“The best treat of all has been to work on a project with Dorie again,” Jackson explains. “She is always my trusty sounding board, but working together is a special delight.”
Underpinning the album’s virtuoso musicianship – propelled by Jackson’s sax – is a rich narrative based on Jefferson’s own experiences. Hallsands is named after the ghostly Devon village that sits abandoned thanks to the overreaching dredging by Plymouth council in the early twentieth century. Jefferson expands: “That has needed writing for 20 years. It needed a vehicle. It stemmed from a family holiday where we stumbled across the ruins completely by chance on the way to somewhere else. It was just the image of my son walking through the ruin of Hallsands that wound up getting into the song.”
This passion and attention to detail is also evident in the album’s centrepiece Bluebird, Jefferson’s celebration of Malcolm Campbell and the triumph and tragedy of early motor racing. “That period of motoring history was so outrageous – they basically just strapped themselves behind an aircraft engine. They thought, ‘If we come back, all well and good, if not, that’s the way it goes.’”
Nicholson laughs: “This sums us up as a band – we strap ourselves to David’s engine. David said he imagined his car crashing down the sands while playing his double sax – sections that are pure Van der Graaf. “When we heard it back it was just outrageous.”
Line-up: Al Nicholson (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, classical guitar, mandolin, keyboards), Nick Jefferson (bass, fretless bass, electric guitar, keyboards ), Mike Westergaard (keyboards, piano, backing vocals), Dorie Jackson (vocals), Phil Gould (drums), Bill Jefferson (vocals), David Jackson (saxophones, flutes, whistles and G# Bell)
Sounds like: English Pastoral strapped to the back of an aircraft engine
Current release: Fate Outsmarts Desire is out now on Uranium Club