Remembering the time Patti Smith read poetry while Kevin Shields improvised on guitar

If you haven’t heard The Coral Sea, a collaboration between Patti Smith and My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, it’s sure to blow your mind.

Have you ever stumbled across a collaboration between two of your favourite artists that you never knew about? It’s a weird experience: part manic excitement to listen to it, and part disbelief that you’d never heard it before. Yesterday I was looking through the catalogue of works by Patti Smith and came across The Coral Sea, a stunning collection of prose poems written in memory of her lifelong friend and soulmate, artist Robert Mapplethorpe.

I’d heard of it before, though I’d never read it. What I didn’t realise is that it’s actually an album too – an album co-credited to Kevin Shields. That’s where shit got exciting. After some scrounging, I confirmed that yes, it was the Kevin Shields, frontman and mastermind of My Bloody Valentine, and yes, he played on the album.

The Coral Sea (the album) is actually live recording of performances by Patti Smith and Kevin Shields. Captured across two different nights at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, one in 2005 and one in 2006, the recordings are, in a way, a eulogy for Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in 1989.

Over two hour-long performances, Smith reads The Coral Sea – an epic mythical tale of Mapplethorpe’s mystic voyage to see the stars of the Southern Cross before he dies – while Shields improvises in the background, modulating his spectral guitar like some kind of hymnal beast.

If you’re a fan of either Smith or Shield’s work, then The Coral Sea will speak to you. They compliment each other wonderfully: Smith’s dramatic verses are saturated by Shield’s guitar, but never drowned by it, and any My Bloody Valentine fan will enjoy the way Smith’s words permeate the subtle psychedelic wash of Shield’s guitar.

If you – like me – are a fan of both, it will blow your fucking mind. Listen below.