“Lost at Sea” is the follow-up to The Reads 2011 debut “Stories from the Border”. Although three years is a relatively long time between albums, it pales into insignificance beside the eleven years between their formation and the release of the first album. The line-up of the band is: Marcel Delrue (keyboards and programming), Jamie Russell (lead guitar, harmonica and backing vocals), Stuart Bennett (vocals and rhythm guitar), Clare Goddard (bass guitar and lyricist), Matty Goddard (drums) and Chris Goddard (percussion, mandolin, lap-steel and backing vocals) and they are located, geographically and spiritually, in the rugged area where North Wales meets the North-West of England. They’ve already had some support from BBC Radio Wales, XFM and Radio 2 and if you listen to this album that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
I hesitate to use the dreaded phase “concept album” to describe “Lost at Sea”, but there’s an unusual cohesion across the album in the musical and lyrical themes and, with some songs segueing into the next, it’s clearly meant to be heard as an album and not just as a bunch of songs. It took a while to persuade my media player to play the tracks in the right order, but it was worth it. Of the album’s ten tracks half are over five minutes long and only one clocks in at less than four minutes, allowing plenty of time to build up a mood before the vocal comes in.
The opening track, “Drowned” is a perfect example of this, fading in for forty-five seconds before the lead guitar cuts in to push the song along in a fairly traditional arrangement (ok, with a mandolin as well) before a long fade-out featuring a montage of seaside sounds. If you’re looking for lyrical themes, here’s your first one; the sea, or more accurately, the place where land and sea meet. The seaside montage fades in to “Lost at Sea” with sparse beats and some nice lap steel creating a backdrop for a vignette of two strangers looking out to sea. “Scarlet” is a wistfully reminiscent folk-styled piece which, unusually, slows down for the chorus. The instrumental tone poem “High Taid” follows, again building up layers over a percussion heartbeat which continues through the next track, “Haunted”, with its cascading keyboards and synth washes and the great line ‘Feeling spoiled like a painting in the rain’.
“Love or Be Loved” kicks off with a six-note sequencer intro which runs on through the song. There’s plenty of wah-wah guitar and a lyric which presents a series of bipolar, or black and white, choices, so it’s interesting that the next track is “Counting your Greys”, a mainly acoustic song about people growing old together. The atmospheric “Schnitzler” is unlike anything else on the album with its beats, trip-hop feel and Clare Goddard vocal which creates an almost hypnotic feel by repeating lines and part-lines throughout the song. The gentle “Shifting Sands” hints, instrumentally at mid-70s Pink Floyd with a relatively simple lyrical message that you can’t build anything without a solid foundation.
The closer, “Spitting Feathers”, (references to a local brewery and Thom Yorke there, and that’s just the title) is the busiest production on the album building up to the rising melody of the chorus, before breaking down after about four minutes to an evocative sequencer and synth-dominated closing sequence. The melancholy musical textures and the lyrical rhythms of the album combine to create a sadness that’s strangely ethereal and uplifting, while the north-western accents keep the whole thing grounded. Not one for the playlist generation, but if they don’t want melodic and lyrical invention, interesting blends of traditional instruments and technology and ten songs/pieces which form a cohesive work, that’s their problem.
Out now on iTunes.
There’s a part of me that wants to always see The Kennedys (and a lot of other very talented artists) playing in small intimate venues like Green Note where the atmosphere is friendly, intimate and respectful and both performers and audience both have a good time. There’s a larger part which wonders why they aren’t playing to much bigger audiences and achieving wider recognition. I guess it’s about fashion rather than talent, but so many people are missing out on a wonderful music experience. It’s not about turning everything up to eleven and relying on lots of technology; you can get that at The Dublin Castle, and it’s closer to the Tube station. It’s about beautiful voices, gifted playing and a rapport between performers and audience.
This is the second time I’ve seen The Kennedys and this time they’re approaching the end of a tour celebrating the work of their good friend and collaborator, Nanci Griffith; Edwina Hayes is also there to add another guitar and another layer of harmony but before that, there’s the support band – The Kennedys, playing a set of their own material (all chosen by the audience) including “Breathe”, “Half a Million Miles”, “I’ll Come Over”, “9th Street Billy” and Pete’s awe-inspiring ukulele rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue”; I mean, Gershwin on a uke, what more could you want? As ever, Maura’s vocals are perfect with even a hint of Joni Mitchell that I’d never noticed before and Pete’s harmonies are spot on. It’s amazing the kind of stew you can cook up with two guitars and two voices, when you know the recipe.
For the Nanci Griffith set, Pete and Maura are joined by Edwina Hayes who helps to produce some stunning three-part harmonies which, at times, are hairs-standing-on-the-back-of-the-neck good. Edwina has also toured with Nanci, who covered “Pour Me a Drink”, the title track of Edwina’s second album. The next hour passes in what seems like five minutes as the trio rattle through a set which includes “Pour Me a Drink” (of course), “Trouble in the Fields”, “Across the Great Divide”, “I’m Not Driving these Wheels”, “From a Distance” and “There’s a Light Beyond the Woods (Mary Margaret)”. The three voices work perfectly together throughout the set and the audience is spellbound; no-one’s talking about their terrible journey of the Tube or checking their phone and I even feel a bit guilty about the noise of my camera shutter in a couple of the quieter moments. It’s a superb set from three gifted musicians who obviously love the songs they’re playing; I don’t think you can ask for anything more.
You can still see The Kennedys on Friday June 13 at The Quay Theatre in Sudbury, Saturday June 14 at The Grayshott Folk Club and Sunday June 15 at The Kitchen Garden Café in Birmingham. You can also get Pete or Maura to sell you “Tone, Twang and Taste” (Pete’s solo instrumental CD) and “Dance a Little Closer”, a live recording from New York of the Nanci Griffith interpretations. Go out and see them; you’ll have a great time.
AM – Just looking around Leigh as an outsider, it always seems to have had a bit of an artistic vibe to it; do you get that?
PB – I’m torn on this idea; if you asked me where I would love to have lived it would probably be Greenwich Village but I’m not sure that that’s a good thing. You sometimes come from hick towns and you get the mavericks and the big fish in little pools but I’m not really sure that it matters at the end of the day. Obviously New York is a great residence simply because so many great writers came from there but if Lou Reed was born in Leigh-on-Sea what would he have written about?
AM – There’s no CBGBs here is there?
PB – Well there isn’t, but it would have been interesting, and vice versa; you get parochial writers who, well, what would they have done if they’d gone to town? I’m not sure it’s important; it’s certainly relevant, where you come from and where you write about. I don’t think it’s a prerequisite of something good. You can get blood out of a stone; you can, you’ve just got to try hard. Sometimes you’re swamped; now, having written from a local area that isn’t particularly bohemian, if I now went to New York, I’d probably overwrite everything and it would just be a mass of input and no way of filtering it. Which would be great; I’d love to do it if anyone’s got an apartment in New York.
AM – And that kind of leads in to “Dunfearing…”, which is the first part of a trilogy.
PB – I’m fond of these things; I get a lot of stick for it.
AM – It’s obvious that that there’s a tremendous sense of place in it. It’s a very West Country thing.
PB – The rest of the trilogy won’t be. You were probably the only person that picked up on the idea of approaching America as the only possible escape after the end of England; the only place you can go. That’s developing a little bit and the other two parts of the trilogy are written and I’m sorting out the third one but it’s more about how you escape the idea of getting old and the only way to do it is to reinvent a youth, which never really works and the idea of America is that it’s supposed to be the land of eternal youth no matter what age you go, so there’s a cynical angle to it as well but I hope that it’s more hope than cynicism: pragmatism.
AM – Do you think that the way the music business has gone over the last twenty years has allowed people like you to do what you want to do?
PB – No, I don’t. I actually think the music business is poorer for what’s happened to it. I would rather be struggling to sign to Warner Brothers, in a way. There’s a philosophy now that anyone can do anything they like, they can record it in their bedroom and make an album, which is fine, because the punk ethos is fine, but there is a difference. Yes, someone could thrash away at three chords and sing ‘I hate Margaret Thatcher’ and be played on John Peel; fabulous, but that was it. Now there seems to be a corporate mentality attached to do-it-yourself.
AM – It’s so difficult now, with music, to actually make any money.
PB – Which is essentially what you have to do. There were people around punk who never thought they’d make any money and a lot of them didn’t but they thought they’d got a chance of maybe an album and that’s it and they’re now working in IT or whatever and that’s what they wanted. The problem is, while you’ve got that ethos is that if people are taking it seriously, then they get lumped in with it and it’s ‘Oh, you’re still here, are you?’ and now it’s even worse because nothing’s taken seriously. To include lyrics with an album now is seen as pretentious.
AM – And yet, to me, “Dunfearing…” was actually a very nice packaging job, but we shouldn’t be talking about packaging, really.
PB – I would have agreed with you a while back, but now I go back to albums I’ve listened to and loved and I think these are beautiful things, regardless of the music, I would want this album; as a piece of art, as a whole.
AM – I’m accused of fetishing the whole thing; going for the vinyl and the nice gatefold sleeve…
PB – My mantra for that is accused by whom? I’m a great fan of the Oscar Wilde saying ‘The show was a success, the audience was a failure’; it depends who’s criticising.
AM – It’s a completely different listening experience now; I sometimes stick review copies on a little MP3 player and you have to pull this thing out of your pocket to check the track title.
PB – This is the first album I’ve done with a record company as opposed to putting it out on my own and Phil’s great (Phil Penman of Drumfire Records) but if you want tracks for radio, or the hit track (not the hit single, that never happens any more), I just think ‘I don’t want one’. That’s why I hate the download culture so much; ‘I’ve listened to this album twice, these two are obviously the best songs so therefore I’ll stick them next to my favourite Kylie song on my iPod’. Well, fuck that, what are you going to do with Lou Reed and “Berlin”; take a couple of tracks from that and stick it next to Miley Cyrus. Would we do it with art? ‘I think I like that third sunflower but I think it would look nice in the Velasquez, so I’ll shift it over and Photoshop it in to that’. There’d be outrage.
AM – I think Pink Floyd were entirely right…
PB – There has to be a first time for everything
AM – When they blocked the downloading of single tracks from “Dark Side of the Moon”.
PB – Funny you should say that, but it occurred to me the other day that if I blended my music in so that it tinkled out on one track and tinkled in on the next, nobody would be able to download it; don’t tempt me.
AM – I can’t do it, I can’t buy in to the download thing; I’d rather pay full whack…
PB – And be wrong. I’ve spent ten quid on an album and it’s been bullshit apart from the track I liked. That’s what you get; you can buy a sofa for four hundred quid and the leg falls off and that’s life, get used to it.
AM – So you’re going to be recording the second album in the trilogy soon.
PB – This year we’re doing the second. The third album is very ephemeral, but I want to get that done because I want to get on to the next phase. There’s a bunch of folkie songs that I’ve written and I want to get them out of the way, so I’ll do a double folkie album next year, but I might get two albums out before then. I’ll have to put out one on my own label because I don’t expect Drumfire to do it. It’s weird really; if Bob Dylan was still fabulously creative, I’d want an album from him every month. There’s an idea that you can only put an album out once every year or two years but The Fall make an album every twelve minutes; some of it’s all right, some of it’s not but I’d rather have that.
AM – That’s just reminded of someone that I know you admire, Jackie Leven, who would do exactly the same thing.
PB – That’s what I’m aiming for actually. Jackie recorded what he called his platinum albums for Cooking Vinyl. Someone would give me a tape from a live gig I did somewhere and I’d love to release that so and that’s why I kept my own label. I can put stuff out that’s not a big production number but it’s a bunch of songs that hang together well and say ‘Have a listen to this’ and Jackie did that really well. Other than that, I’ve got a good setup for recording that I use with a few people and Mark Elliott especially and it’s easy to do. We get the band together, rehearse it and record it. “Mercenary Thoughts of a Lush”; we went up to London and recorded the whole thing in two days. Bit of punk spirit and some people say it sounds like it but that’s what it needed to be with that bunch of songs. We could never have done that with “Dunfearing…”because it needed a bit of time but there should be room to do that.
Neil Young would be cruising about, just out for a drive and he’d drive down to New Orleans and hear a bit of music and end up writing ten songs and think ‘I need to record this’, so he’d phone up local musicians, get into the studio, record them and send them to his recording company and they’ll say ‘Well you only had an album out a month ago, you can’t do this’, and I’m with him, why not. If you love Neil Young, or whoever, and you hear that a month after you’ve paid out ten pounds for his new album, he’s got another one out, I think I’d find ten quid but apparently it’s an unwritten law that you can’t do this.
AM – What I find quite interesting is that more and more bands are rehearsing stuff, getting the songs right, going into the studio and recording as a band rather than doing separate tracks.
PB – I don’t exactly do that. I like the idea but I find it takes a lot more time because you have to do a lot more takes but certainly, with the next album, it’ll be a lot looser; it’s nothing like “Dunfearing..”. It loosely follows on from that album; the third of the trilogy ties it all together. The second one will be a bit ‘what’s this?’, but it’ll make sense with the third one. I’m already on to next year with the folkie album, trying to get into Pentangle now, God help me.
AM – That’s something to look forward to then.
PB – Well that’ll be a double album because there’s a lot of songs there. Just songs that I’ve written in a folkie/country style that don’t need a lot of embellishment so they’re easier to record. There’s a lot of them, so let’s stick them out on a double album, which no-one does any more; gatefold sleeve coming up here.
AM – I bought the Ben Watt album, “Hendra” on vinyl, a few weeks ago and that had a nice gatefold sleeve and lovely packaging.
PB – I had a drink with Ben Watt, once; a very polite drink.
AM – It’s a great album and it’s nice to hear that people are still making music in that way.
PB – Well, these Drumfire gigs I’ve been doing, I supported Clive Gregson and my first reaction was ‘Christ, he’s still going’ and Martin Stephenson played there as well (at The Cabbage Patch in Twickenham) and I thought it was great because you don’t to discover that they’re dead or working in Macdonald’s or something; they’re still out there playing and that’s really reassuring. They must love it. They must love and hate it enough to carry on doing it. Any ordinary, sane person would just say ‘I’ve had my shot now’, but the rest of us drink ourselves to death and write songs.
AM – The first time I saw you play was supporting Dean Owens in Clerkenwell at Drumfire gig. I spoke to Dean and he wasn’t happy because the venue was half-empty because they hadn’t used the posters he’d sent to publicise it and that must be incredibly frustrating.
PB – This was the other myth about myth about punk, that you used to have all these gigs going on everywhere. If you had a punk band or a new wave band or a post-punk band, you could probably get a few people to turn up but if it was a solo, forget it, it would be the owner and his dog, and his dog will hate you.
Which brought us neatly back, almost full circle, to Phil’s punk beginnings and the end of the interview.
So it’s time to move on to the second half of the seventies and the early eighties and we start off with the P-word.
AM – How did you react when punk came along then?
PB – Loved it; I actually loved it and weirdly I wanted it to do what it wanted to do because up to that point my heroes were not punk at all and the very antithesis of punk. I wanted it, because I would have been about seventeen then, leaving school, and just starting to think about playing music in pubs and got a band together; well, actually, I got a duet together with Martin Gore (yes, that Martin Gore) and we were trying to write songs. He liked, I don’t know who he liked, I think it was Simon and Garfunkel at the time and he did like Sparks and David Bowie. I liked David Bowie but I wasn’t sure, I didn’t trust him which now, I think, was probably wrong, but I didn’t get the idea that superficial and chameleon-like was his theme. At the time I thought ‘I don’t believe he really means this’ and at that time it had to mean it and that meant a lot to me and I was probably wrong and Gore was probably way ahead of me on that. So we wrote songs which I tried to make melodic and soulful and he wanted to make strange and weird. I taught him how to play guitar and he was a better guitar player than he is, well, what he’s ended up as. We were writing some interesting songs at the time and we went out as this strange band and the punk happened, halfway through this band.
I had hair like Marc Bolan at the time and he had a bubble-cut but we found ourselves on these punk bills. I’d started writing a few songs as well, so I found myself as a solo person on these punk bills for no reason whatsoever because I had nothing to do with punk musically but I liked the fact you could play somewhere and there was energy there and I started listening to other people who were playing and I thought I’ll have a listen to this, so I went along to see some bands. I saw The Buzzcocks, The Ramones and The Talking Heads when they first came over, I saw The Clash once and there was a big fight so I didn’t hear much of The Clash, but that wasn’t the point in a way. I tended to like a what went on afterwards in the post-punk era; I got really well into that because there seemed to be room for bands like Television and The Fall with some of their lyrics which, at that point, were suddenly taking over for me and I went from trying to write songs like James Taylor with three words in them to two chords and “War and Peace” over the top of them; “Ulysses” or something like that, but then there were bands that that was feeding into at the time like The Fall. I certainly got heavily into The Fall and the more experimental bands but I would still listen to “The Modern Dance” by Pere Ubu and then go home and listen to “Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon” by James Taylor because I think that’s what it’s about; they’re not dissimilar in the sense that the person who’s responsible for the music does what he wants it to do. There’s too many categories, in a way.
AM – I know Television, “Marquee Moon”, everybody claims now that it’s always been their favourite album and at the time…
PB – They’re fucking lying; I tried to get everyone into that and a couple of people got it, but for once the rabid NME press was right about this.
AM – For me it’s still one that I’m happy to get the vinyl copy out and stick it on the turntable.
PB – It is actually an album I can listen to at any time and that’s a rare thing. Sometimes, even your favourite albums you think ‘I’m not in the mood for that’, but I can be depressed, I can be happy, I can be whatever, but when Television comes on, that’s it.
AM – So, that was punk, what about what came after that.
PB – Punk was exciting and I was involved in the energy of it; everywhere you went there were gigs. I sounded like Leonard Cohen at that time but anything went and that was the beauty of it. I wore flares and had long hair at the punk gigs I did and it was, sort of, ok. You’d get comments, but that was sort of the point; wait until Dexys Midnight Runners sing about ‘you’re so anti-fashion, wear flares”. You could do anything you liked, it was sort of Dadaist spirit. It was very early on when the fashion thing kicked in, the Kings Road punks, and it was weird because I felt like I’d transcended that because I hadn’t changed. I didn’t even cut my hair so I was like David Crosby amongst the punks.
AM – So presumably when the synthesisers kicked in that wouldn’t really have been your thing.
PB – When the post-punk thing happened, I used to like some of the bands that became known as Krautrock, Can, Neu and the newer ones as well, Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft and Einsturzende Neubauten who were pure noise and distortion and the English versions of that like Cabaret Voltaire; I loved all of that. I thought there’s a synth thing going on and Martin got into it, so he buggered off and did Depeche Mode. Suddenly it turned into this really twee pop with no substance. I don’t hate pop music but I thought, with everything he knew, and the stuff he liked, I thought he would have gone towards Throbbing Gristle rather than this thing that happened, which seemed like it was going to be over in five minutes. For all I know he’s now a multi-millionaire and I’m sitting in a pub in Leigh.
AM - It’s a general thing that innovations like that come along, people make really good music and then somebody grabs bits of it for the mainstream and just dilutes it.
PB – That’s always happened. Bob Dylan wouldn’t have been anywhere if it wasn’t for The Byrds; fabulous as that was, I’d rather hear Dylan. I’m probably alone in the world in preferring “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan to the Hendrix version, even though I like Jimi Hendrix. I’m alone, even Bob Dylan said it’s a better version.
AM – Dylan’s songs have been interpreted by a lot of people; are they better versions or are they different versions?
PB – They’re different versions. Sometimes you can say they’re better versions but the thing I always try to get away from is ‘Dylan’s a fabulous songwriter and an icon of the twentieth century but he can’t sing’. So that means that if Judy Collins or some such does a version of “Idiot Wind”, it will be better, de facto, because she can sing. I could not disagree with anything, outside of UKIP, more vehemently than that. Bob Dylan and Sinatra are probably the best vocal stylists of this millennium. The reason I say that is because you try to play a Bob Dylan song and sing it and not sing a bit like Bob Dylan, not phrase it like him. The same with Sinatra, once you’ve heard “You Make me Feel So Young”, you try and sing that differently. Put your own slant on that; you can’t.
AM – I play and sing badly but I try Dylan songs like “I Shall be Released” and it’s always going to sound like Dylan.
PB – The Band did that; they’ve got some great singers in that band, and it sounded like Dylan; they couldn’t change the phrasing at all. You can sing it in a bland way or you can over-sing it; my worst nightmare is that I’ll wake up and “Positively Fourth Street” is covered by Mariah Carey. She would do it and you can guarantee you would have a queue of people saying ‘Oh, at last this song has been realised by a true singer’, but I would hunt her down and you’d see me on the Six O’Clock News if that happened.
Phil Burdett’s album, “Dunfearing and the West Country High” was reviewed here earlier this year and ever since that time I’ve been waiting for the chance to sit down and have a chat with Phil about his music (and many other things). We finally managed to meet up in Leigh-on-Sea on typically miserable British Bank Holiday weekend and had a pretty expansive chat over a couple of beers. Now that’s the way to do an interview. We covered a lot of ground, so the interview is being published in parts over the next few days.
AM – So Phil, tell us a bit about how you got to be where you are now, musically and philosophically.
PB – I take it you don’t mean the bus route down here. That’s a very good opening question and I’ll do my best to answer it. Musically I would say it’s incremental; it started off with my brother when I was five years old with a guitar and my brother Mick used to have a record collection and he’d lend me his older albums and he was one of those part-time hippies in the late sixties. He went to the Isle of Wight Festival, credit for that, and he had loads and loads of folk music and blues music which was all I heard. Everyone at school was into glam rock and everything so I used to have endless school parties when I was older (obviously not when I was five; great progressive school that would have been). All I would listen to was John Fahey, John Renbourn and probably a bit of the West Coast Neil Young, Topanga County kind of people, James Taylor and those sort of things. And I thought great, this is what’s in the charts, this pop music, then I got school and it was Marc Bolan which was fabulous; I didn’t quite reject everything of my brother’s but I thought, this is what I’m meant to be listening to so I suppose in the early times it was a mixture of Marc Bolan and John Renbourn and then my brother expanded as well into other things like The Band and Van Morrison. Actually, I saw Van Morrison first, although he will tell you different, but I saw him on the Old Grey Whistle Test when he did the “Too Late to Stop Now” thing and they broadcast the whole thing live when they used to do those things, in those days, and I just thought it was music from another planet; I’d never heard anything like it. He had a string section, he had a horn section, he was doing soul music, he was doing blues music, he was doing folky stuff and I can remember a shift happened in my head and I thought ‘this is what I want to do’, and that’s when I wanted to write songs. Not so much to write songs, ‘but I want to make this noise, not to play “Caravan” or “Brown-Eyed Girl”; I want to make this noise with these people. I want to have a bunch of people like this behind me and I want to make this noise.’
AM – Was it the variety of instruments that drew you to it?
PB – It was and, in retrospect, I was quite pleased with that because it was just such an astonishing surprise sometimes you go along to a gig, and you know two numbers in what you’re going to get, whether you like it or not. I like the idea that suddenly you don’t know what’s going to happen next; this could be a folk song, he could pull an acoustic guitar out, he could pull a set of bagpipes out. It could be anything; it could be heavy metal and I loved the idea of that and people like Captain Beefheart. Frank Zappa took it to extremes but I used to love Zappa and probably all the people I’ve liked since that, I’ve liked because of that gig where you thought that anything was possible. You see it now and it flows and it seems like a very good and expansive band playing but at the time I thought that one minute it was classical music, the next minute it was folk music and that’s what I liked it was the variation that made it a whole; it hung together because of the variation. It was astonishing; I sat up after it and I just didn’t know what to do. I wanted to everything but couldn’t do anything.
AM - You mentioned a couple of the musical mavericks there; is there something in you that taps in to that?
PB – I think it all came from that Van Morrison show. Now, I slag off Van Morrison more than anyone does because I think he’s become an appalling thing, an appalling great lump of Irishman. I would rather go and see, and I don’t say this lightly, I would rather go and see a Van Morrison tribute band now than see Van Morrison because it’s the same thing essentially; I think he’s lost the plot or never had the plot and got lucky. His first four or five albums up to “Veedon Fleece” and a little bit beyond were fantastic but suddenly it all went very wrong. When he was inventive and varied, which was probably before I got in to the idea of lyrics, and that’s evolved more than the music side, he was just purely making music and making sounds for the joy of it; I think Van Morrison expresses that if I don’t care about lyrics, because he’s not the greatest lyricist in the world, it’s perfect. “Astral Weeks”, it’s errant nonsense a lot of it but you couldn’t change a word of it. What the fuck is “Veedon Fleece”? What is a Veedon Fleece? But you wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m not religious, I’m an atheist, but I believe that; I want to go and search for the Veedon Fleece when I’m hearing that, so it works. It was that combination of trust in him, you believed in what he did, and his voice, which was peerless at that time. I used to try to do the Van Morrison bit with a bit of Bob Dylan thrown in. My brother tried to get me into Bob Dylan more and I said that Van Morrison was the man, and then suddenly the thing that changed it was Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson. I heard The Band’s first album and, for no reason whatsoever, I just loved and then I realised that the reason I loved it was because of these words. It’s not the way they were being sung, although that was fabulous, it was these words and I didn’t know what they meant, but they sounded like they meant something and it was probably a combination of those things; Dylan, the Band and Van Morrison.
AM – I was going to come to this a bit later, but the first time I listened to “Dunfearing and the West Country High” I pulled the lyric booklet out and it was obvious that there were an awful lot of lyrics there.
PB – I get hell from record companies for that, especially from the people that type the lyrics out.
AM – But it was doing that and actually reading the lyrics that I realised you’re obviously a writer who is influenced by poetry as well.
PB – In a way, poetry came before lyrics because I used to like poetry before music. When I first heard music, the lyrics were part of the music, of the sound. They could have been singing anything and in some cases they were. People talk about Nick Drake, but I think Nick Drake’s a terrible lyricist. I’ll get crucified for this, but if his music and his sound wasn’t as good as it is, if musically he was someone like Donovan, then the lyrics aren’t that different; it becomes mystical because of the setting rather than the content.
AM – What struck me as well is that the lyrics on “Dunfearing…” actually repay careful listening.
PB – That’s what you want. That’s the reason I want to write short stories, I want to write books, I want to write everything, but I’m writing this music because it’s the only thing I can see, outside of opera, that’s taken seriously (not seriously enough, in my opinion) because it’s a combination of music and lyrics that would not work separately. I’m not a great lover of the idea that lyrics are poetry; I think lyrics are lyrics but they can be good lyrics. Poetry’s another thing; poetry should be able to stand alone. If you have as good a lyric as “Idiot Wind” and Bob Dylan wanted to do that as a poem, I think he would rewrite it, but he shouldn’t rewrite it; it’s got to complement the music.
AM – For the first time in years listening to a new album, I went into sixth form English Literature criticism mode.
PB – My album will be on the curriculum next year; I trust Gove.
AM – You’ve seen the review, it got that reaction because there was so much in there lyrically.
PB – Your review astonished me; my first reaction was that I thought it was a wind-up and that Phil Pavling (described in the sleevenotes as guru and benefactor) had written it or I thought I’d written it and forgotten and posted it to myself. You don’t get that often, you think ‘That’s nice, we’ll use that line for a plug or something’, but this was almost like you knew as much as I did about what was going on, which is very rare.
AM – That was just my natural reaction to the album, really. The other thing was that my wife, who wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to listen to it, being much more into disco, gave it a big thumbs up as well.
PB – My disco album will come a lot later.
And that’s end of part one, more to come very soon, when we get into punk, post-punk and post-post-punk, among other things.
There’s a bit of a buzz going on around Jim Stapley at the moment and, on the evidence of “Long Time Coming”, his debut album after over ten years as a professional musician, it’s more than just hype. He’s been highly recommended by Kenney Jones and the album has been produced by the legendary (over-used term, but justified in this case) Tony Visconti. Taking the album as a whole, it feels like a showcase for Jim’s prodigious vocal talent across a fairly wide range of styles and, in those terms it’s very effective. There’s no doubting that Jim has a great rock voice; he can do everything from heartfelt ballads to the wails of Percy Plant and it all sounds totally convincing. And he plays keyboards and guitar on the album as well.
The core band for the album is Jim, CJ Evans (drums), Tom Swann (bass), Ricky Glover (electric guitars and vocals), Johnson-Jay Mewik-Daley (electric and acoustic guitar and vocals). Tony Visconti steps in with some string arrangements and vocals while additional keyboards and horns are courtesy of Josh Phillips (Hammond) and James Arben (tenor and bass sax). Last but not least, the string quartet is Rachel Dawson, Sarah Tuke, Polly Wiltshire and Catriona Parker and Mollie Marriott, Rachel Leavesley and Jessica Morgan are the additional backing vocalists. If you think the name of the first backing singer sounds familiar, you’d be right; Mollie is the daughter of the late Steve Marriott.
The album opens with all guns blazing; “No Good Reason” has a guitar riff straight out of the 70s (or the Black Crowes) and a massive chorus underpinned by power chords and it’s followed by “Laid to Waste” which changes the mood with an acoustic guitar intro and a string quartet. “Hurricane” is a power ballad which culminates in a kitchen-sink ending, while “Heartstrings”, possibly the first single from the album, is a reflective piece with acoustic guitar, strings and harmonium supplying the backing.
“New Religion” and “My Way Home” both have a slight country tinge while “Made of Stone” moves the influences forward to the 80s with a massive chorus and a lead vocal/guitar riff duet towards the end. “My Own Worst Enemy” is another ballad with strings before three songs, “Out of Sight”, “Grey Matter” and “Breaking Out” which open with acoustic guitar intros before building up to big finishes. The final song, “Shield”, closes out the album on a low-key note with finger-picked acoustic guitar, brushed drums and cello laying the foundations.
It’s not difficult to pick out Jim Stapley’s influences on this debut album; he’s emulating some superb singers. What is astounding is that he can do it all, he sounds equally at home with the ballads and the all-out screamers and I know from musicians who have worked with him that he can do it live as well. If there’s a niche in the market for a new rock god singer (and let’s face it, most of the originals have collected their bus passes now), then he might just be the man for the job. Maybe the lyrics could move away from the standard rock themes of bad women and finding yourself, but that’s relatively unimportant compared to the superb musicianship and quality of the singing on this album.
This is a very assured debut album, packed with quality playing, singing and instrumental arrangements and should certainly get Jim Stapley’s name out to a wider public whether it’s through Radio 2 (it’s ok, it’s acceptable now) or specialist rock stations. Either way, it may have been a long time coming, but I think we can safely say he’s arrived now.