In my hour of darkness

Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we love country and darkness, and we love My Darling Clementine and Elvis Costello, so we absolutely love Country Darkness Vol.1, the new four-track EP from My Darling Clementine, on which the UK husband and wife duo – Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgliesh – reinterpret country songs written by Costello.

They’ve even roped in the bespectacled singer-songwriter’s right hand man, Steve Nieve – keyboardist with The Attractions and The Imposters – to play on it, and, as if that wasn’t enough, it also features members of ace Sheffield crooner Richard Hawley’s backing band…

Opening song Heart Shaped Bruise is a stunning and dramatic, melancholy piano-led ballad; Stranger In The House has been reinvented in a rhumba style; That Day Is Done is a gospel song with a New Orleans funeral feel and I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came is a classic-sounding country lament, with its themes of infidelity and regret…

We spoke to Michael and asked him to shed some light on the Country Darkness project…

 Q & A

In 1981, when you were 19, Costello’s album of country cover versions, Almost Blue, first turned you on to country music, didn’t it?

Michael Weston King: Until I heard Almost Blue, country music for me was the occasional Jim Reeves record on my parents’ stereo and also Glen Campbell, who I appreciated – he’s still one of my favourite artists.

When I was 19, I was going to see The Jam and Elvis Costello. I was into post-punk, power-pop, New Wave, Joy Division, The Smiths and Echo & The Bunnymen – I used to go to Eric’s in Liverpool. Suddenly, Costello – my main man – made a record on which he’d covered artists I’d never heard of, in a genre that took me by surprise.

To most 19 or 20-year-old kids who’d been brought up on Dr Feelgood and The Clash, it was like, ‘what the fuck’s this?’ At the same time, it was Costello, so it had to be paid attention to.

I liked the clever lyrics and the great songs. From that record, I discovered George Jones and The Flying Burrito Brothers and whoever else Costello covered on it… His version of Hank Williams’s Why Don’t You Love Me (Like You Used To Do)? is sped-up, trashy and rock ‘n’ roll – it had an edge to it.

I know so many people for whom country music became something of value once they’d heard Almost Blue. Not long after that, the New Country thing came along – you had bands like The Rain Parade, Green On Red and Jason and The Scorchers, who were from a punk-rock background, but had a love of country music. The first few albums by The Jayhawks were also a big influence on me – they were fantastic records.

The track listing for Country Darkness Vol. 1 is Heart Shaped BruiseStranger In The HouseThat Day Is Done and I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came. How did you choose which songs to record?

MWK: We had a long list of songs to choose from – some got the chop because we felt they’d been done quite a lot before, or because, lyrically, they didn’t translate so well into being done by a duo.

I’ve always loved I Felt The Chill… and That Day Is Done is one of Lou’s favourite songs ever – I’ve not heard anyone else do it. That Day Is Done is a hard song to sing because of the vocal range. I also didn’t want our record to be totally country – I wanted a country soul vibe, as well. That Day Is Done is kind of gospel…

Interestingly, for the EP, you’ve chosen to cover some of Costello’s less well-known songs. You didn’t go for some of his more obvious country tracks, such as material from his King of America album…

MWK: King of America is one of my favourite albums. It’s kind of like an American record, as it was recorded in The States with T-Bone Burnett and musicians who’d played with Elvis Presley. It’s a really great collection of songs – well-formulated and brilliantly written. It was also Costello’s first album without The Attractions, so it’s a departure… I love the sound of it.

We certainly could have done a number of songs from it. In fact, there are some songs from it that are still on our shortlist – I’ll Wear It Proudly and Our Little Angel, to name but two, and they may yet be covered.

Lou had already recorded a beautiful version of Indoor Fireworks on a solo album many years ago, and I used to perform Sleep Of The Just in my solo set, so we intentionally chose to avoid those.

‘I know so many people for whom country music became something of value once they’d heard Costello’s Almost Blue…’

You recorded some of the new EP at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield, with members of Richard Hawley’s backing band – Colin Elliot (production, bass, cello, backing vocals, string and horn arrangements), Shez Sheridan (guitars, backing vocals) and Dean Beresford (drums). They’d played on your second album, The Reconciliation? How was it reuniting with them?

MWK: They’re fabulous musicians – Dean has become a regular part of the My Darling Clementine touring band and Colin and Shez are exemplary players and singers – technically and inspirationally. They’re a safe pair of hands. I can play those guys something I want to hear and they get it straight away.

When we came to make this record, we had The Imposters [Costello’s backing band] on board, who were up for it, but we had to look at how and where we did it. Would it be in London or L.A? It got complicated. In the end, we did pre-production, Steve Nieve put the piano down and sent it to us and then we went into the studio with Colin, Shez and Dean and built the tracks around the piano. It was interesting – in a way, Steve was leading the direction and then we followed that and added to it.

Had you met Steve before you worked on this project?

MWK: No – apart from maybe a nod backstage at a Costello gig. We had musical friends in common. It was interesting to go from exchanging emails with him to staying at his house in Trouville-sur-Mer [in France], which is where he and his partner, the filmmaker Muriel Téodori, have a place. We got stuck into the project – we were fully immersed in it.

Picture of My Darling Clementine by Jeff Fassano

You’ve released four songs on the first Country Darkness EP. Are there any more in the can?

MWK: We’ve worked out another five songs with Steve and I think we’ll record them using the same process, because it’s manageable and affordable and the results are fantastic. Yes – it would be nice to go and record in L.A. with The Imposters, but we can’t find the money to justify it… We’ll see… who knows?

‘It was interesting to go from exchanging emails with Steve Nieve to staying at his house. We got stuck into the project – we were fully immersed in it’

The new EP is the first in a series of Costello covers records you’re planning. Can you tell us any of the other songs you’re going to record?

MWK: Our plan is to record three EPs and then they’ll all come out together as an album. Either Side Of The Same Town from The Delivery Man is a real personal favourite of mine – it may turn up at a later date… My feeling about that song is that it’s Costello trying to re-write the Dan Penn classic The Dark End Of The Street – something we may all be guilty of trying to do at some point… It’s arguably the greatest country soul song ever written, particularly when James Carr sings it.

So what are your plans for the rest of the year? 

MWK: I’ve got a solo record that’s on the cards – I’m four songs short of having a squad that I’m happy to go and start working on. Hopefully the writing will be done by the end of November. I am going into a studio in Norway in the next few weeks to start work on that.

There are also two songs that I’m going to record with Colin Elliot and the guys – they’re bigger sounding tracks and I can hear them doing them wonderfully.

Finally, can you tell us any albums from 2019 that you have been listening to and enjoying?

MWK: My favourite record of the year has been Springsteen’s Western Stars – I absolutely adore it. It’s such a good record it’s damned near perfect he’s singing beautifully and I love the arrangements.

My favourite record of the year has been Springsteen’s Western Stars – I absolutely adore it. It’s such a good record – it’s damned near perfect’

It’s a great album apart from one duff track, Sleepy Joe’s Café...

MWK: Why is that track on it? It ruins the record if he’d taken it off, he would’ve had almost the perfect album.

Another record I really like although, due to the things he’s been saying in recent times, he’s not a person to praise is Morrissey’s covers album [California Son.] I think it’s a brilliant record with a great choice of songs his singing is great and the production is fantastic. I love that he picked songs by Tim Hardin and Phil Ochs some of my favourite songwriters. It’s very much an American record… I wonder if he’s going to do another one of songs by British artists?

I should be listening to some much more younger and hipper things, but I can’t say I am, unfortunately…

Country Darkness Vol.1 by My Darling Clementine is out now on Fretsore Records. It is available to download and stream and also on limited edition vinyl. 

https://mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk/

 

 

 

‘The gold dust is in the groove…’

Dr. Robert

Is there a doctor in the house? There is, actually – it’s Dr. Robert from pop-soulsters The Blow Monkeys, but, this time around, he’s here to tell us about his latest project, masterminding the loose, musical collective that’s Monks Road Social, who’ve made two of the most diverse and richly rewarding albums of 2019…

Down The Willows and Out Of Bounds, the two albums released this year by the Monks Road Social collective, headed up by Blow Monkeys frontman Dr. Robert, have been on the Say It With Garage Flowers office hi-fi a hell of a lot over the past few weeks.

Recorded over two 10-day sessions in the residential Monnow Valley Studio in Monmouth, Wales, the records are two of the most eclectic collections of songs we’ve ever heard – from jazzy comedown ballads to Balearic beats, to soul, psych-rock, folk, drum and bass, country, blues, indie-rock and funk, they’re a melting pot of musical ideas and feature a seriously impressive line-up of guests.

Over the two albums, Dr. Robert’s collaborators include – wait for it, take a deep breath… singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams; Matt Deighton, guitarist and frontman of ‘90s acid-jazz outfit Mother Earth, who’s played with Paul Weller and Oasis; keyboardist Mick Talbot of The Style Council; drummer Steve White (The Style Council and Paul Weller); UK blues singer Angelina; Dick Taylor of ‘60s rockers The Pretty Things; Northern Irish artist Pat Dam Smyth; Brand New Heavies vocalist Sulene Fleming; London-based singer Samantha Whates; Midlands mod-soul band Stone Foundation; Mancunian crooner Nev Cottee; orchestral arranger Ben Trigg (Richard Ashcroft and Dexys Midnight Runners) and percussionist and programmer Steve Sidelnyk – to name but a few…

Dr. Robert oversaw the production of the albums and was also responsible for writing – and co-writing – many of the tracks, some of which are new versions of songs that have appeared on his solo albums, while others were penned especially for the project, or brought to the table by those involved.

Say It With Garage Flowers got an appointment with Dr. Robert, who lives in Spain, and asked him to tell us the inside story of the Monks Road Social sessions…

Q&A

How did the Monks Road Social project come about? Was it your idea?

Dr. Robert: It’s the brainchild of Richard Clarke, the owner of Monks Road Records. I am but a humble midwife. He asked me if I thought it would work. I said ‘no’, but, then, as usual, I slept on it and changed my mind.

I wasn’t sure what ‘it’ was, but, as we began to assemble the players, something else kicked in and we were drawn together by intrigue and a mutual love of playing music for its own sake. That bit was important – there has to be joy and a spark – the gold dust is in the groove…

Both of the albums are very eclectic – there’s folk, soul, blues-rock, psych, Balearic beats, pop, drum and bass… Was the idea to put everything into a melting pot and see what came out, or did you have a definite plan?

DR: No plan. Just let the music lead you. You can’t go wrong, as long as the intention is right. Music for its own sake – then let the universe decide.

Crispin Taylor [assistant producer and drummer – Galliano] plays a vital role in all this, too. He lays down a phenomenal groove, which is a great place to start, but he’s also more than that. I’m always bouncing ideas to and fro with him – he has great instincts.

Monks Road Social (picture courtesy of Richard Clarke)

You’ve worked with a lot of musicians on the project. How did you choose who to collaborate with?

DR: I had a core of friends in mind that I knew would work – people I knew I could get first takes from and who were prepared to wade in a little deeper than was comfortable: Crispin,  Mick Talbot, Ernie McKone [bass player Galliano] and Jacko Peake [saxophonist].

Steve Sidelnyk used to play with The Blow Monkeys, before going on to bigger things, and then there was the masterful Steve White, who I’ve known and worked with many times over the years, and the fabulous Matt Deighton, who I barely knew, but became great friends with.

They are all friends and brilliant musicians. And then I got to meet and work with so much exciting new talent, which I love the most. It shouldn’t work, but it does, as long as everyone buys into the collective idea and lets the music lead them.

How were the recording sessions for both of the albums?

DR: We recorded both albums in separate 10-day sessions in Monnow Valley Studios, down in Monmouth. They were pretty intense sessions, but since my only vice these days is coffee, I was up for it!

Matt Deighton in the studio (picture courtesy of Richard Clarke)

There was lots of laughter. Matt Deighton, in particular, is a hoot, and Mick Talbot is a master of the understatement and a fount of knowledge. My main concern was to keep things flowing – there were so many songs and artists in such a short period.

I did quite a bit of preparation beforehand, because I knew it would be crazy, and, if I didn’t have a plan, it could have all gone a bit Pete Tong…

‘They were pretty intense sessions, but since my only vice these days is coffee, I was up for it!’

There’s a mixture of new versions of old songs, including some written by you, as well as brand new material. How did you choose which songs made the final cut?

DR: Well, if I’m honest, one of the things that initially attracted me was the idea of having different singers try my songs, as well as other people’s.

I would talk through the selection with Richard and in the end it was about instinct. Matt brought some great material to the sessions and then people like Pat Dam Smyth and Angelina have their own distinctive writing styles.

Miles Copeland from [record label] Wonderfulsound got involved too, with his unique perspective and his trusty Omnichord.

Is it strange effectively masterminding new versions of your songs and having them reinvented and reinterpreted? Do you enjoy it?

DR: I love it. I always thought Stone Foundation would be perfect for The Coming Of Grace and it was a thrill to hear a song like This Is Nowhere come to life with the beautiful voice of Samantha Whates. It’s the same with Sycamore Tree – Angelina was born to sing that song!

As for OK! Have It Your Way, Sulene Fleming tore it up! Like some lost Northern Soul classic. She also did an amazing job on Bottomless Pit, which takes a certain sensitivity to sing. She has such a range.

Also, I’ve got to mention Kathryn Williams, who popped in for a couple of days. She’s such a genuine person and a great songwriter. It was lovely to sing with her on I Ain’t Running Anymore.

Mick Talbot in the studio (picture courtesy of Richard Clarke)

Do you have some favourite songs from the project?

DR: I was knocked out by the version of Lost In Rasa we did. Ben Trigg, who does the strings, is a genius and Matt’s lead guitar on that track is magical. Golden Day, too, with Angelina…what a voice.

From the new album [Out of Bounds], it’s If It Was All Down To Me from Hague & White – I love Joel’s voice. Also, Honey Rise by Romy Deighton – a neo-soul classic. Matt’s daughter is an amazing young talent. But, honestly, my favourite changes every day. The diversity on the albums is a strength, not a weakness.

Nev Cottee is someone I’ve written about a lot – he’s a great singer-songwriter and a brilliant vocalist. How was he to work with? Can you tell me more about the two songs he sings lead vocals on: Still Got A Lot To Learn and Nobody Knows Anything? They’re two of my favourites from the sessions…

DR: Nev is a bit of a mystery to me. He ghosted in one day to sing on Still Got A Lot To Learn and did an amazing job, so I wrote Nobody Knows Anything with his baritone voice in mind.

He sang it remotely from some distant island in the Indian Ocean, apparently… at least I like to think so… Again, he did a fantastic job. His voice is a wonder – people will make comparisons, but he’s unique and it’s from his heart.

Angelina is another great singer and songwriter…

DR: She was a real light around the place and she makes fantastic cakes, too! I just love her voice – it’s like an Appalachian blues-country singer, from China, via the Isle of Wight.

We bonded over a love of blues and we could sit and jam on two acoustic guitars all day. In fact, we plan to one day soon and record the results.

The Coming Of Grace is one of my favourite songs of yours? Can you tell me more about it? How was it to tackle it again, with Stone Foundation?

DR: I wrote it back in 1993, when Michele [my wife] and I and our two very young kids left London to live in a remote hamlet in Oxfordshire called Newbottle. It was an appropriate name, as I was drinking too much.

The song was originally called Dylan Thomas In Reverse, as I wanted to play with his ‘rage against the dying of the light’ line.

I was out of my depth, really, but somewhere in my subconscious I knew that the ego-driven destiny would lead me up the garden path. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn.

I love So Long Soho, from Down The Willows. It sounds like the best song Ray Davies never wrote…

DR: It was written by the wonderful and very talented Pat Dam Smyth and was a piano demo he had that we all added to.

Crispin did an amazing job playing drums over the original demo. Lyrically, it’s brilliant. You’re right about the Ray Davies influence, but it’s way beyond pastiche – it’s heartfelt and special.

Is there another Monks Road Social album in the offing? Volume Three?

DR: Yes – I’m just mixing it now and it’s a corker. It was recorded here in Spain at my friend Youth’s studio, at the height of the Andalusian summer. I can’t say too much yet, but there are some major surprises on it.

‘Brexit was an emotional response and I get it, although I disagree vehemently with it. The retreat to nationalism is depressing and we have to fight it’

As a producer, who else would you like to work with – and why? 

DR: Tom Waits. I’d just look and learn.

Dr. Robert (picture by Michele Siedner)

So what’s next for you? Have you got another solo record planned, or a new Blow Monkeys album?

DR: A Blow Monkeys album, I think. I’m in the mood and I still love playing live with the band – it’s the best thing about it all.

Earlier this year, you released the Cosmic Mayhem EP, which was made up of songs you’d written and played on a vintage Casiotone keyboard. Will you be firing up the instrument again anytime soon?

DR: I may sneak out a Casiotone part two EP, as I enjoyed it so much. I’m lucky – I can do whatever I like right now.

As someone who lives in Spain, and who’s written political songs, what’s your take on Brexit?

DR: Brexit was an emotional response and I get it, although I disagree vehemently with it. The real problem was years of neglect and austerity – not Europe or immigration. The retreat to nationalism is depressing and we have to fight it.

Finally, what music – new and old – are you currently enjoying?

DR: Sons Of Kemet blow me away. I’m rather keen on Sarah Vaughan, too.

 

The Monks Road Social albums Down The Willows (Wonderfulsound) and Out Of Bounds (Monks Road Records) are out now.

For more information:

https://wonderfulsound.bandcamp.com/album/down-the-willows 

http://monksroadsocial.com/

 

 

 

‘These are torrid times – this album is a reaction to that’

Vinny Peculiar is doing it while he still can… The West Midlands-based singer-songwriter’s new album – While You Still Can – is a socio-political record that takes a wry look at the current state of the UK, but also throws in some references to ’70s pop culture along the way.

We spoke to him about Brexit, the good and bad sides of social networking, heavy rock and channelling Gang of Four, Wishbone Ash and Pink Floyd…

Diane Abbott taking a selfie, broadcaster Richard Stilgoe, ’70s rock, class A drugs as a form of social control, Donny and Marie Osmond and a chain mail bikini… welcome to the weird world of Vinny Peculiar.

All of these subjects are mentioned on While You Still Can, the new album by the cult singer-songwriter, which is his thirteenth in a 20-year career.

The last time we spoke to Vinny, he’d just recorded Return of the Native, his brilliant 2018 album about moving from Manchester and returning to Worcestershire, where he grew up. This time around, he’s made a harder, darker and rockier record with a political edge and plenty of social commentary, but he hasn’t dispatched with the vintage pop culture references that we know – and love – him for.

Man Out Of Time is rollicking country-blues with a lyric about the ’70s glam rock years of his youth, while Culture Vulture’s Led Zep-inspired riffs are a nod to his Black Country rock roots. The synth-heavy Ministry Of Fate concerns itself with government media blackouts, Scarecrows is Bowie-esque, robotic funk meets plastic soul and the post-punk, heavy indie-rock of Pop Music For Ugly People tackles political opportunism and personal greed.

With atmospheric, ghostly piano and minimalist, spidery guitar, the opening song, Vote For Me, is a mysterious and sinister plea, and Question Time – our favourite track – is a Smiths-like, jangly pop song, but with a lyric about a missing female politician, told from the point of view of a suspect under interrogation.

With that in mind, we subjected Vinny to an interrogation to find out more about his new album and get his views on the state of the nation.

“I’m not used to making political-type proclamations – I just want to sell records!” he tells us. “How flippant am I?”

Q & A

I like the title of the new album. Where did it come from?

Vinny Peculiar: It came from something my dad often said to me: ‘Do something useful while you still can…’

That was the original title, but I shortened it to While You Still Can, after a conversation with Paul Cliff, who designed the sleeve of the record. It seemed appropriate, given the volatile times we live in, politics fragmenting, constitutions crumbling, the climate changing, and the need to act while we still can…

On that note, the album is quite political at times – there are several social commentary songs on there: Vote For Me, Pop Music For Ugly People, Culture Vulture, Let Them Take Drugs, Ministry of Fate, Diane Abbott Takes A Selfie, Question Time, Art and Poverty…  Did you set out to make a political album, or did it happen by accident? 

VP: It’s impossible to avoid politics nowadays – things are so polarised, opinions so righteous, news feeds ever omnipresent… This album is a reaction, in parts, to all that and from speaking to people on the sharp end of this Government’s austerity programme – teachers, nurses and shop workers. These are torrid times.

The Tories have so much to answer for and, with the Brexit divide, everything is so aggressively polarised all the time, hence the socio-political side to this record. That said I don’t have all the answers, but listening a bit harder and shouting a little less would be a start. We need to be nicer to each other, and we need to get rid of the Tories, obviously…

Staying with politics, Question Time – my favourite song on the album – is classic Vinny Peculiar jangle-pop. The guitars are very Johnny Marr-esque, but, beneath the pop tune, there’s something more sinister going on…. a female MP is missing and her suspected abductor is being interrogated. We hear the song from his point of view…

VP: There’s an ambiguity in the song – it’s not clear exactly what’s happened to her. Perhaps she’s has been trolled and has gone underground, or perhaps something more sinister is going on… So many of my songs have a linear story, with a beginning, middle and an end, but Question Time asks more questions than it answers – a bit like the TV show…

‘I’d support bringing politics back to a more local, accessible, decision-making level, with less screaming, confrontational opinions on Twitter and more jovial meetings in the community centre’

With the current state of the UK, it must be a great time to be an observational singer-songwriter. Where do you start? Is it overwhelming?

VP: The songwriter’s radar does seem to be a little more vivid just now – yes. The sense of uncertainty, Trump – I mean, where do you start? We are living in a great big unknown and it feels like we’re being stitched up. It’s crazy, isn’t it? The Brexit thing, all the pseudo-nationalism, immigration scaremongering, families at war – these are divisive times.

We need a more empathic way of listening to each other. I’d support bringing politics back to a more local, accessible, decision-making level, with less screaming, confrontational opinions on Twitter and more jovial meetings in the community centre.

There’s a song on the new album called Diane Abbott Takes A Selfie. Are you a fan of social media? Is it a necessary evil?

VP: Like most musicians, I use social media to communicate new releases, point people in my direction, share interests and such – it can be a useful tool. On the other hand, it can be incredibly damaging, dangerous and destructive.

The hate speak, the trolls – just block ‘em – the rise in teenage suicides that’s being driven by cyber bullies and the dubious data targeting to fix elections… It’s addictive by design and I’m as guilty as the next person of spending way too long scrolling through my feed… There are digital-free communities emerging in Northern California, which is, er, interesting…

‘We need to be nicer to each other, and we need to get rid of the Tories, obviously…’

Your last record, Return of the Native, was a concept album about returning to live in Worcestershire, where you grew up. The new album has some Black Country rock on it – the West Midlands influence is still creeping through. Culture Vulture has a Led Zeppelin feel. Have you been getting in touch with your ’70s rock roots?

VP: I wanted this new record to be louder and prouder, with more of a band feel. The songs felt like band songs, even during the writing stage, and there are hardly any acoustic guitars on the record. It’s all rather riff-centric, with a few old school guitar solos – the kind of which I would have enjoyed as a teenager. They’re a bit flash – hah! One of the producers, Dave Draper, knows all about rock and the Midlands’ heavy metal legacy – his input was crucial in shaping the direction of the songs, as we turned up to 11.

Speaking of iconic Midlanders, I can recommend the Black Sabbath exhibition in Birmingham – it’s a beautifully put together show.

How were the recording sessions for the album? You worked with your ex-Parlour Flames rhythm section Che Beresford (drums) and Ollie Collins (bass) and two producers, Dave Draper and David Marsden, both whom you’ve worked with before. Was it an easy album to make?

VP: The Parlour Flames rhythm section reunion was fun. We rehearsed the songs as a three-piece band a couple of times and recorded bass and drums in Manchester – the rest of the album was recorded in my home studio. It was a relatively easy album to make, but they are never that easy – there is always something that doesn’t quite go to plan.

I’d hoped to have a more inclusive band involvement in the mixing/production, but it proved impossible with distance, time and work constraints. So, the bulk of the album was produced here in the Midlands by Dave Draper, who did Return of the Native, but three tracks were produced in Southport by David Marsden, who worked on my album Silver Meadows.

‘I wanted this new record to be louder and prouder – it’s all rather riff-centric, with a few old school guitar solos’

I should also add that the artwork for the album is by long-term Vinny Peculiar collaborator Paul Cliff. The images he used are pinhole photographs highlighting the former homes of World War 1 soldiers from Bury, Lancashire.

What were some of your other musical influences and starting points for the new record? As well as ‘70s rock, there’s synth pop (Ministry of Fate) and Bowie-esque funk / plastic soul (Scarecrows) in the mix, too. It’s an eclectic album…

VP: Gang of Four – I’m channelling my inner Andy Gill on a couple of the tracks – white noise and scratches – and my inner Andy Powell, from my teenage favourites Wishbone Ash – hard rock riffs and feedback. Oh and my inner Dave Gilmour on Let Them Take Drugs – he is such a feel-good player…

Man Out Of Time is a country-rock-blues song that is littered with ’70s references: Elvis, The Spiders From Mars, Queen, The Osmonds, Noggin The Nog, Richard Stilgoe… Do you feel like a man out of time?

VP: Hah! Yes – kind of. I think we all have our chosen musical era in pop music that’s defined by age. It was the excitement of the new music of my youth – glam rock, heartbreak, pop and TV culture – these are the inspirational forces at play here. The song is set in 1972 and is slightly at odds with the rest of the album. It ends in 1976, with the dawn of punk rock…

You’re very prolific. What are your plans for the rest of 2019 and 2020? Any new projects and albums in the pipeline?

VP: I’m hoping we can do a string of band gigs in March 2020, as well as continuing with the solo shows, and we have a band album launch gig at The Castle, in Manchester, on November 28.

I’m currently remixing some older tracks for a rarities album that I’ll put out some time next year, hopefully. I have an acoustic project I hope to finish, but, in truth, it’s only three songs in, so I have a way to go on that one. I’m especially looking forward to playing with the band again…

‘I’m channelling my inner Andy Gill from Gang of Four on a couple of the tracks – white noise and scratches’

The new record is coming out on vinyl. Is this your first vinyl release?

VP: Yes – this is the first Vinny Peculiar vinyl release. The label Cherry Red put out the Parlour Flames record on vinyl, but this is a first for my tiny little label and me. I’m hoping against hope I can shift a few of them – well, a lot of them actually, but we’ll have to see…

What was the last record that you bought?

VP: It was Kate Tempest – The Book of Traps and Lessons, and, before that, Be Bop Deluxe: The Very Best of The Rest of… both on vinyl.

Finally, what do you most enjoy doing while you still can?

VP: Playing football with my grandson, but, alas, my knees are giving way…

While You Still Can by Vinny Peculiar is released on October 28 (Shadrack & Duxbury Records). It’s available on CD digi pack and vinyl, or as a download.

More information at:

https://vinnypeculiar.com

https://vinnypeculiar.bandcamp.com/

 

 

‘I want to make nine studio records, then do a ‘best of’ and call it a day…’

Picture of Luke in the studio by Scott Anthony

Carousel, the new album by UK singer-songwriter Luke Tuchscherer, is a stark, moody and intimate solo acoustic record – guitar, voice and harmonica – that was laid down in one day at a studio in New Jersey. It doesn’t shy away from addressing political and social issues and was inspired by Neil Young and Bob Dylan. We spoke to him about the making of the album, living in New York, Brexit and why the death of Tom Petty hit him hard…

When Say It With Garage Flowers last spoke to New York-based singer-songwriter Luke Tuchscherer, in late 2018, he outlined his plans to release a series of albums over the next few years – one of which, Carousel, a solo acoustic record influenced by Neil Young’s Hitchhiker and early Dylan, was pencilled in for 2023.

That plan has now drastically changed – Carousel is out in October this year. What hasn’t altered, though, is the sound – it’s a stripped-down, dark and sombre affair – just Luke and an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. Recorded live in one day at the Storybook Sound studio in New Jersey, it’s an intimate, and sometimes unsettling, listen.

Opener, My Darling England, deals with social issues, including class and national identity – the song was written 15 years ago, but, in these troubled times and with the spectre of Brexit looming over us,  it’s eerily prescient: ‘Now the streets are filled with shadows, every house has its own ghost. The people are growing restless – never getting what they want the most…’

Violets tackles domestic abuse, Potash was penned during the Iraq War and The Night Tom Petty Died  documents how one of Luke’s musical inspirations passed away just as he’d moved to New York from the UK: “Sitting at the bar in the Tribeca Tavern, on the jukebox was Learning To Fly – a beer cost more than I could spend. I wished that I was home…’

Luke cites Neil Young and Dylan, specifically The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album, as his reference points for the record, as well as Townes Van Zandt and Elliott Smith, but, at times, it also reminds us of Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 masterpiece Nebraska – our favourite album by The Boss…

“Well, I don’t know about the Nebraska comparison, as that was really just demos for what became Born in the USA – and it’s also very lo-fi and there are overdubs… Mood-wise, it might be similar – but it’s more akin to those early Dylan records, or Hitchhiker”, says Luke, talking to us from his home in New York. “Plus, Carousel is recorded really well. You do hear some coughs and grunts and breathing and stuff, but that’s just the nature of the beast.”

He adds: “I’d always wanted to have one solo acoustic record in my back catalogue. One of my best friends, Johnny, said he was a little disappointed that my first solo album wasn’t just the sound of me playing in his living room. Well, this album is that for sure – so here you go, Johnny! But it dates back to before that, since university, when I started doing open mic nights.”

So is the new album a reaction to his last one, Pieces, a full-on, electric band record that was influenced by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Tom Petty and Pearl Jam?

“It’s not really a reaction to it – we’ve talked before about the records I have planned. That plan has become a little more refined now,” he says. “I want to make nine studio records, then make a ‘best of’ and call it a day. I’m not saying I won’t write and play music in the future, but that might be the end of my album career. It’s expensive to do and no one buys albums anymore. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

“The plan for the albums is three cycles of three: a quiet one, a middle one and a loud one – three times. This is the start of the second cycle…”

Q & A

You recorded Carousel in one day – how was that? Was it intense?

Luke Tuchscherer: It wasn’t too long – maybe four or five hours. I played the album in order, and I remember it took me a while to get past the first couple of verses in My Darling England. I think that was just a bit of red light fever. But once I got that out of the way, the rest was pretty smooth sailing.

I seem to recall a bit of trouble on Violets and Road to Damascus, but that was more a tuning concern — they’re in drop D and DADGAD, respectively, and the low string kept going out. We just had to stop for a bit and let the temperature in the room go down, despite it being recorded in February… I was pretty focused on the idea that it should largely be an album of first and second takes, and I think, other than the aforementioned songs, it was.

Most of the songs on the album are old – My Darling England, the opening track, was written when you were 21 – you’re 36 now. Ironically, in these times of Brexit turmoil, small-minded attitudes and a harsh economic climate, it’s more relevant now than ever…

LT: When I wrote the song, I was at university in Falmouth, Cornwall. When I was on breaks from there, I would do removal work to earn a bit of cash. Some of the removal guys would light-heartedly take the piss out of me for being a student — especially during the one summer I worked in the office. They were calling me a pencil pusher and all that. It was all in good spirits, it has to be noted, but that kind of reverse snobbery, even if it was in jest, probably inspired the beginning of it.

It’s a song about class in England, snobbery and reverse snobbery, socialism and meritocracy – all those big words I was learning at university. I did change the first two lines in the last verse before recording it, to make it even more relevant to today, but other than that, it’s basically the same. I’m 36 now and it’s weird to think that a song like that makes more sense now than when I wrote it. We did record a full band version for The Whybirds’ Cold Blue Sky album, but it didn’t really fit. It’s a good rendition, though.

‘I’d always wanted to have one solo acoustic record in my back catalogue. One of my best friends said he was disappointed that my first solo album wasn’t just the sound of me playing in his living room’

I’ve only written a couple of songs without a guitar — just the words and melody — and My Darling England was one of them. I wrote the whole tune one day during that summer I was working in the office. When I got home, I put the chords to it.  As a potentially interesting side note, the other two songs I wrote like that are Outside, Looking In, from Always Be True, and I Am The Child of An Immigrant, which will be on my Salvation Come album.

You now live in New York with your wife. Are you glad you got out of the UK? As an Englishman in New York – to quote Sting (!), how do you feel about the whole Brexit thing? Would you move back to the UK?

LT: Well, we’re not gonna be here forever. What will probably happen is that we’ll live in the US during Trump’s tenure, and then move back to a post-Brexit Britain. For fuck’s sake!

As anyone who’s friends with me on Facebook, or follows me on Twitter, will know, Brexit has been an obsession of mine since the referendum. It’s heartbreaking, needless and frustrating.

At the beginning, I was very much one of the shouty Remainers, who called all Brexiteers dumb and racist. But having seen The Great Hack and the Brexit film with Benedict Cumberbatch [Brexit: The Uncivil War] about Dominic Cummings, you realise how people were exploited. How they fell for this lie about the EU being the cause of all their problems, when it’s really not.

Most folks never had a problem with the EU, until a select group of millionaires — the ERG [European Research Group] and others – conspired to get us out in order to benefit financially. And look what they’ve done to the country. Even if we don’t leave – and I do still hold a small glimmer of hope that it won’t happen – the damage done to the collective psyche of the country is immeasurable and will take years to undo. And if it does happen, well, you can kiss Scotland goodbye – with good reason – and maybe you’ll be looking at a united Ireland, too.

‘Even if we don’t leave the EU, the damage done to the collective psyche of the country is immeasurable and will take years to undo’

There are plenty of Leavers who have seen the facts and have now changed their minds. That’s reason enough to call it off, or at the very least have another referendum. But the thing is, now it’s just become a tribal thing. The nuances have been completely lost. I’d rather just call it off and endure a couple of riots than have another referendum because I’m not sure I really believe in elections and referendums that much these days.

That’s not to say I don’t believe in democracy, but those processes are too open to populism, to trickery and to making it like a fucking game show. That’s when you get Brexit and Trump. We need something more akin to sortition. There’s a great book on that called Against Elections: The Case For Democracy.

I’m not an out-and-out angry Remainer now, as I have a bit more empathy with the folks who were duped. However, to those people who have seen all the new evidence but have just doubled down — out of greed or xenophobia or whatever — I would say to them that they’re either fucking dumb, or they’re a fucking c***! Or both!

Anyway – yeah, we’ll be moving back to the UK at some point. We just don’t know what state the place will be in when we do.

Do you like living in New York? Was it hard when you first moved there?

LT: We love it here. We miss our friends and family, and that’s why we’re not going to stay forever — not to mention the guns and shit healthcare — but it’s an amazing city.

My wife went vegan and I followed suit about a year later, and there are so many options here, but that’s barely scratching the surface. There’s an endless number of things to do and see, stuff that only happens in New York — like going to see Letterman or Fallon — not to mention it feels like you’re walking around on a movie set. In the summer you can go to the beach, in the winter you can huddle up in a cocktail bar… it’s awesome. Obviously, we’re working — we’re not going up the Statue of Liberty every day – and it’s not all partying all the time — but it’s cool as fuck.

Picture by Ben Oliver

One of my favourite songs on the album is The Night Tom Petty Died. How did his death affect you and why did he mean so much to you?

LT: Yeah, that song might make it sound like the opposite of what I just said about New York! But I’d just moved. My wife wasn’t due to move for two weeks. It was all feeling pretty scary and new, and there were a lot of unknowns. Where were we going to live? How was my wife going to get a job? How can we possibly afford all this? And the weekend I got to town there was the massacre in Las Vegas, then Tom Petty died.

A lot of people talked about 2016 — with Bowie and Prince and others, which were definitely tragic — but in 2017, we lost Chris Cornell and Tom Petty, which hit a bit closer to home for me.

Tom Petty’s not my favourite songwriter, in fact he’s probably only just in my top 10. There are too many filler tracks on later albums and, lyrically, he can be a bit clunky at times — look at Into The Great Wide Open: ‘A roadie named Bart’ and ‘chains that would jingle’ – oof! But he would often write an amazing lyric, and he knew his way around a chorus, that’s for sure.

One thing I like about Petty is how he can go from Honey Bee, which could basically be stoner rock, to Wildflowers, which is a really pretty, acoustic number, on the same album. Petty was just a very inspiring guy. Despite his success, there was still a punky, DIY quality to him.

Carousel is quite a political album at times –The Billions and Potash both reference war and suffering. What inspired those songs and when were they written?

LT: The Billions was written when I was single and feeling all ‘woe is me’ and writing loads of forlorn love songs. It’s a song about getting some fucking perspective and realising that my shit doesn’t even begin to compare to the suffering of billions of others around the world.

Potash is quite mental isn’t it? It’s a stream of consciousness. There are definite allusions to the second Gulf War in there, but that’s only a couple of lines. But it all creates a mood. The rest is up for debate.

What about Violets? You’ve said it was written in 2005, when you were working behind the counter of a petrol station, and it deals with domestic abuse…

LT: That’s right. I was on a post-grad course after my degree and worked in a petrol station while I studied. As I’m sure you can imagine, you’d see all sorts of characters come in. But occasionally you’d see something a little shadier. A few times I saw women come in with dark sunglasses, or black eyes, or the like. Could just be dark glasses, could just be an accident, but you always wondered…

‘The song Violets has got a kind of Elliott Smith vibe to the guitar, but, lyrically, it’s very direct’

Violets was inspired by a very specific incident when this girl – and she’d only have been a teenager, she was the little sister of a girl younger than me at school – came into the shop. Her boyfriend, who was a well-known local scumbag, was behind the wheel and he’d made her come in and pay. She had bruises all up and down her arms, which were plainly from being grabbed.

You want to say something, but you don’t know how. I guess the song is about that regret. It’s got a kind of Elliott Smith vibe to the guitar, but, lyrically, it’s very direct.

So, back to that plan you mentioned earlier… What’s on the horizon? When we spoke last year, you said you had plans for several albums, including Salvation Come, with acoustic guitar and violin, and Widows & Orphans – an acoustic album with guitarist Dave Banks. You also wanted to do another full band record – like Pieces – and a folky / bluegrass album, in the vein of Steve Earle. What’s the latest on that?

LT: That goes back to the three cycles of three I mentioned earlier. Quiet, middle, loud. You Get So Alone… [first solo album], Always Be True and Pieces were the first cycle. The next cycle starts with Carousel, then Salvation Come, then another rock album. Then it’ll be Widows & Orphans, then a folky/ bluegrass one, and then a final rock one.

Originally, Widows & Orphans was going to kick off the second cycle, as it’s basically ready to go. But My Darling England made me change my mind. I just felt that with Brexit, that song had to come out now, while it’s so relevant. Widows & Orphans will now start the third cycle.

As for Salvation Come, I’ve done my guitars, vocals and drums, the bass is nearly done, ditto the mandolin. Then it’ll be time to add the fiddle, steel and baritone guitars over here in the US. It’s sounding good already.

Picture of Luke in the studio by Scott Anthony

What music – new and old – are you enjoying? What have been your favourite albums of 2019?

LT: The best albums of 2019 have been David Banks’ Until The End and Pete Gow’s Here There’s No Sirens. Other than that, I’ve been listening to a lot of Wilco, as I read Jeff Tweedy’s book, and a lot of Supergrass, since they reformed. I also listen to a lot of ‘90s hip-hop and ‘80s rock at the gym.

Finally, when will you be back to play in the UK?

LT: I will be back with The Penny Dreadfuls in April. There will be a couple of normal shows and then a certain indoor roots festival that everyone should come to because it’s brilliant. I’ll keep everyone posted.

Carousel by Luke Tuchscherer is released on October 4 by Clubhouse Records. For more information, click here.

Never say Novichok again…

Russian Spy, the new single by Salisbury’s The Neighbourhood Strange, is based on real-life events that hit the headlines last year. Say It With Garage Flowers goes undercover to find out more…

They say truth is stranger than fiction… Last year, something truly strange happened in the neighbourhood of Salisbury-based garage-rockers, the aptly named The Neighbourhood Strange.

A former Russian spy and his daughter were found seriously ill on a bench in the Wiltshire cathedral city – they had been poisoned by a deadly nerve agent called Novichok.

The sinister plot inspired the thrilling – and controversial – title track of the band’s brilliant new EP Russian Spy, which opens with the lines: “Hush my love – I can’t take it any longer. Ten past five and the Novichok is stronger…”

 

With its groovy organ and a menacing, twangy guitar riff that sounds like it’s been stolen from the soundtrack to some long-lost, ‘60s Cold War film, the song will lodge itself in your brain like a bullet, quicker than you can say, ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E’

“The song and the riff just came together at one of our rehearsals – we felt the local mood and we subconsciously created it from that,” says the band’s vocalist/ guitarist, Marcus Turner.

“It all felt too close to home – the weekend of the poisoning, our bass player was admitted to hospital. He believes that his accident was orchestrated to get him off the streets when the Novichok appeared…”

The 7in vinyl version of the single has a killer track called Many Secrets on the B-side – it’s been in the band’s live set for a while and has a ‘70s US punk / New Wave feel – the snarling vocals are pure Iggy Pop.

‘Our bass player believes that his accident was orchestrated to get him off the streets when the Novichok appeared…’

If that’s got you wanting to hear even more of The Neighbourhood Strange, you can get a five-track CD EP version of the Russian Spy single, which also includes three other tunes – the classic-sounding, heavy garage-rock of Mary Mary, the psychedelic Walk On Water and the exotic, Middle Eastern-flavoured instrumental, Desert Sand. 

Mary Mary is a song about an archetypal ‘60s girl who you might follow and end up somewhere where you never intended,” says Marcus, mysteriously.

Russian Spy is the band’s third single – so is there an album on the way?  “Along with playing gigs and writing new songs, we are hoping to record an LP. A lot of our fans – in fact all of them – have been crying out for one,” says Marcus.

“It would be great if a label would help us with the costs etc, as long as they would also leave us to our own devices. We are really pleased that we have found our spiritual recording space. After experimenting with studios in London and Paris, we’re happiest with the sound from our rehearsal rooms – out here in the wilds of Wiltshire.”

So what are the band’s plans for the rest of 2019?  Says Marcus: “We’re promoting the new single, although that’s been interesting, thanks to the response of the local media. Maybe the lyrics are ruffling a few feathers… Rock ‘n’ roll is still being censored.”

Stranger things have happened…

The Russian Spy EP by The Neighbourhood Strange is out now on Strange Recordings: https://theneighbourhoodstrange.bandcamp.com/

 

 

 

 

‘We’d rather sell a Miles Davis album than a Miles Kane one!’

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Danny Wilson and Del Day, owners of Union Music Store in Lewes

In the first in an occasional series of visiting – and writing about – record shops we love, Say It With Garage Flowers heads to Union Music Store in Lewes, East Sussex. We speak to co-owner Danny Wilson, who tells us why he won’t be stocking any Mariah Carey albums just yet…

Record Store Day is a chance for diehard music junkies to blow some serious cash on vinyl, but last year, Danny Wilson and Del Day took things one step further – they bought a record shop!

On RSD 2018, Danny, the frontman of alt-country, rock ‘n’ roll soulsters Danny & The Champions of the World, who is also one third of Americana janglers Bennett, Wilson, Poole, and music publicist and promoter Del, were announced as the new owners of Union Music Store, in the East Sussex market town of Lewes. They took it over from Stevie and Jamie Freeman, who opened the shop in 2010.

A short walk from the station, Union is small, but perfectly formed – new and secondhand vinyl albums are neatly filed in wooden boxes, band T-shirts are hung on the walls, alongside musical instruments, and there are a few CDs on shelves and a selection of rock ‘n’ roll biographies. Americana, folk, country, classic rock, jazz and alternative are the genres of choice – it’s a shop for music lovers, run by people who are passionate about what they do and really know their stuff…

The shop has a cosy, cabin-like feel – it’s very warm and inviting – and behind the counter there’s the ‘Wall of Sound’ – each week, Danny and Del fill it with records and then share the images on social networking.

On the morning Say It With Garage Flowers visits the shop, the wall is country rock and folk-flavoured, with LPs by Dillard & Clark, Nick Drake,  Karen Dalton and Jackson C. Frank on display.

‘The Grease soundtrack is as good as any Americana record I’ve heard in the past 20 years, so why not sell it to people who want it? Grease is brilliant!’

IMG_7841Say It With Garage Flowers does a spot of crate digging and is very pleased to find a limited edition, signed vinyl copy of Matt Deighton’s ‘horror folk’ album, Wake Up The Moths, which we duly purchase.

As we approach the counter to pay, Danny has just taken delivery of a pile of new records, including, much to Del’s displeasure, the Grease soundtrack. It turns out that Danny is threatening to include a musical theatre section in the shop…

“I’m really serious about it,” he says later, over a coffee in a nearby café. “Del is completely unhappy – the whole order that came in this morning was generally a variety of thorns in his side! If I’m being entirely honest, the Grease soundtrack is as good as any Americana record I’ve heard in the past 20 years, so why not sell it to people who want it? Grease is brilliant!”

So now you’re running a record shop can you afford to be a music snob, or do you have to sell what you think people will buy?

“In truth, we’re a bit more High Fidelity than we are HMV – we’re curating,” says Danny. “We only have a certain amount of space and we don’t just stock everything. There’s no pop music in there. You won’t find any Mariah Carey – not because I’m a snob about it, but it’s not what we’re into. We’ll see… If you come back in a year’s time and there are Adele posters all over the shop, you’ll know which way it’s been going! We’d rather sell a Miles Davis album than a Miles Kane one!

“If someone comes into the shop and asks us, ‘what’s that record like?’ we’d like to be able to say with confidence that it’s great, or that it’s OK, but you should buy this one instead – at the moment, it’s got to be stuff we love…”

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Danny Wilson

Q & A

How did you come to own Union Music Store?

Danny Wilson: Stevie Freeman, the head honcho of the Americana Music Association (AMA) UK , ran Union for about seven and half years – I first went in there during the first couple of years it was open. I was camping with my kids, went into Lewes, saw the shop and thought, ‘wow – that’s crazy’. It was a folk and Americana shop – I bought a CD by The Long Ryders.

I got to know Stevie. Del lives in Lewes and he’s been involved in PR and promoting Americana, so he knew Stevie really well. Del and I started a record label, Maiden Voyage. Stevie was getting really busy with the AMA stuff and she approached Del and I, as she knew we ran the label and had a love of records – she asked us if running the shop would interest us. We had a conversation for about two minutes…

Shopkeeping runs in your family, doesn’t it? There’s a song on the Bennett Wilson Poole album called Wilson General Store, which is about your grandparents’ shop in Melbourne, Australia. It was called Wilsons Emporium…

DW: Yes – it’s in my blood. My mum and dad met in that shop – my mum was the Saturday girl.

One of my uncles from Melbourne found out about Union and he tracked down some old doo-wop 78s from Wilsons Emporium – when my dad was a kid, one of his jobs was to fill the jukebox in the shop. My uncle sent me the records, so we’ve put them up in the shop. The Wilson family is very happy that I’m continuing the shopkeeping… I have two teenage daughters – they’re both really interested in coming to the shop and helping out, but that’s possibly more about getting 20 quid than a fulfilling, artistic, cultural, community experience… Having said that, they’re both really into music.

So is it a dream come true owning your own record shop?

DW: Yeah – totally. About 20 years ago, I used to work in Music & Video Exchange in Notting Hill and then I was in the Goldhawk Road shop in Shepherd’s Bush, which sold reggae and soul – it was brilliant. Del worked in the jazz section of HMV for 11 years – he loves all music and has a really serious knowledge of jazz.

How is it working in a shop with Del?

DW: It’s hilarious!

‘We have a few regulars who just come in for a cuppa. It’s quite an arty little hangout – there’s no pressure to buy anything’

On a more serious note, retail is tough, so how are you finding it running a shop?

DW: The idea behind the shop wasn’t to start a business that would one day become a chain. We have the label, Del’s doing his PR and booking stuff and I’ve got the band, but we wanted a hub to hang everything else on. That’s what it’s becoming – we have an office downstairs.

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We’ve been putting on shows in the town – we had the Lewes Psychedelic Festival in February, with The Hanging Stars and Emma Tricca playing in the shop. We’ve done some in-store events. There’s loads going on and people are coming in and buying records – we have a few regulars who just come in for a cuppa. It’s quite an arty little hangout – that’s what we want it to be. There’s no pressure to buy anything.

Stevie and Jamie have been very kind to us – they worked really hard to build up a database of people who are happy to go to rootsy and Americana gigs, so they’ve handed us an audience and it’s down to us what we do with it. I have no experience in running a shop or my own business, but I love it – I’m as happy as Larry. I play a gig, get in at 3am, get up, then drive the kids to school and drive here – it’s exciting.

Finally, any new releases planned on Maiden Voyage?

DW: Our label has a new record out [Reaper] by a band from Cardiff called ¡Que Asco! They sound a bit like Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, as well as Dinosaur Jr, with a bit of Fugazi – they’re really cool. We’ve put out 100 numbered LPs – it’s like a white label and it’s more DIY than the other stuff we usually do. We love the music!

For more information on Union Music Store and Maiden Voyage go to:

https://www.unionmusicstore.com/

https://www.maidenvoyage.net/

To purchase the ¡Que Asco! album Reaper (Maiden Voyage), click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘I just wanted to make a Neil Young record, but it didn’t end up like that…’

Manchester singer-songwriter Nev Cottee’s new album, River’s Edge, is a beautiful, pastoral record that’s influenced by the countryside, ’70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Waits. 

He tells Say It With Garage Flowers why he’s had enough of the city and how he likes to write songs sat in his garden, strumming his acoustic guitar, listening to the birds…

When we last spoke to Nev Cottee, in 2017, the Mancunian singer-songwriter with a rich baritone voice that plumbs the same depths as Lee Hazlewood, had just made Broken Flowers – his darkest album to date.

Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, it wasn’t an easy listen. Heavy at times, it was moody, melancholy and psychedelic, with lengthy songs swathed in dramatic orchestral arrangements and haunting vintage synth sounds.

This time around, for his fourth album, River’s Edge, he’s in a much better place emotionally, and the music reflects that. A pastoral record, it sees Nev getting back to nature and at peace with himself. It’s much lighter than its predecessor.

Produced by regular collaborator Mason Neely (Wilco, Edwyn Collins), it’s a beautiful album. Opener, the nocturnal, Tom Waitsian piano and brass lullaby Nightingale takes the listener down to the river’s edge and from there we’re on a journey into gorgeous, Nancy and Lee-style balladry with Roses, which is a duet with guest vocalist Veronica, who sounds like Nico; and then plunged into cinematic psych-rock, with the first single, Hello Stranger.

The sublime I’m Still Here is laced with late-night pedal steel by Chris Hillman (Billy Bragg, Ethan Johns), while The Hollywood Sign recalls vintage Neil Young, The country-folk of You Can Help Me, featuring James Walbourne (The Rails, The Pretenders) on guitar, also mines ’70s Laurel Canyon, with its Crosby, Stills & Nash three-part harmonies, and the chilled-out, optimistic  Morning Sun sees Nev leaving the darkness behind to embrace a brand new day… “Here I am, back in the game,” he sings, over a warm backing of simple acoustic guitar and tinkling piano.

In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers quizzes him about the making of the new record…

Q & A

This album is a lot mellower and much lighter than its predecessor, Broken Flowers. You sound more contented on this record…

Nev Cottee: If you compare it with Broken Flowers, this album is easier on the ear – it’s less arranged and orchestral, and the songs are shorter. It’s more concise – the songs follow a traditional pattern. I wanted to get away from that Broken Flowers thing – I’d done that – and the songs just came that way. It was time to move on.

The four albums are a bit of journey – out of a relationship and reaching a promised land, a place of sanctuary. I had that idea in mind – the river’s edge is a place where everyone wants to be, whiling away the afternoon, as the water trickles by.

I’ve reached a plateau where I’m content, but that doesn’t necessarily create great art, does it? Let’s see… I can only do what I can do.

So how did you approach this record?

NC: In a way, I just wanted to make a Neil Young record. I was listening to Comes A Time, On The Beach, Zuma and After The Goldrush – that classic ‘70s Neil Young period.

Comes A Time is a really underrated album – it was a massive inspiration. Some of the songs aren’t finished on that record – on first listen, you think it’s a bit throwaway, but the songs are so good…

I wanted to do something that was acoustic-based and had a few piano songs – to take it into Neil Young territory, but, in the end, it didn’t end up like that, as other influences got in the way. Ultimately, what I found out is that only Neil Young can do Neil Young songs and I’ve got to do mine.

With Neil Young, it’s all about the voice. Obviously the tunes are great, but once you put his voice on them… It would be interesting to see what his songs would sound like with a normal range vocal on them. Would they be as good? Probably not – they wouldn’t be as unique, would they? Anyway, I digress…

Would you say River’s Edge is a concept album?

NC: It’s not a concept album – they always run away from you… There are those classic ones, where the mood is maintained and it’s a concise piece that all adds up, but, if you’re just writing songs, you have to restrict yourself if it’s going to be a concept album. In the end you just go off in several directions… It’s loosely based on a pastoral, bucolic idea behind the songs, but then you’ve got Hello Stranger, which is completely different to the title track… You’ve just got to follow each individual song to where it takes you.

Let’s talk about Hello Stranger. It’s the first single from the album. Ironically, it’s one of the moodier songs on the record. It sounds like it could’ve come from Broken Flowers, with its cinematic, psych-rock feel…

NC: Yeah – I had a few two or three tracks that were quite acoustic and piano-based, but I wanted a few songs that we could go for it on and get the electric guitars out! In the end, I lost a couple of them because they didn’t sit well on the album – they’re in the vaults, so I might drag them out.

Hello Stranger really worked – I love it. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album. I like the lyric – it explains the moving on from Broken Flowers – it’s all about the past fading away and all those memories becoming less intense…

I think the song has real power. We got the guitar nailed on that – we were taking inspiration from Neil Young and trying to channel him. The guitarist is Alex Foote, who played on the last album. He’s American and a friend of Mason Neely’s – he just gets my thing.

Nick McCabe from The Verve played on the album sessions. Is he on the record?

NC: He’s on the two tracks that I dropped – he did some amazing stuff, that was classic McCabe, but he’s not on the album. I’ve spoken to him about doing some gigs – he’s always up to something. Fingers crossed – that could be one for the future. Get him up on stage and see what happens. Watch this space.

‘The river’s edge is a place where everyone wants to be, whiling away the afternoon, as the water trickles by’

Earlier, you mentioned the pastoral and bucolic feel that some of the songs have. You live in a city – Manchester. Are you a country boy at heart? Was this album a deliberate reaction to your urban living?

NC: It definitely was. I’ve lived in Manchester for 20 years on and off. I’ve had enough of the city – I think it’s an age thing. The city is a young man’s game – I want to get out. I don’t really go out much – I do like the hustle and bustle of the daytime, but more often than not, when it’s a decent day, I get out of Manchester. It’s a very dark, foreboding and shadowy city – you’ve got to get on a bus or a train and get out of there. I’m a child of nature – I’ve got a garden and I love going walking in Derbyshire. It’s definitely more of an inspiration at the moment, but who knows?

You wrote some of Broken Flowers while you were in India. Where did you write this album?

NC: In Majorca and in my garden, which is out of town [Manchester] – there’s no river there, but that’s my equivalent place. I like playing the guitar outside – it’s different from strumming in a room and you get the birds singing. A lot of the songs were written out in the open, so maybe that was an unintentional influence.

‘Manchester is a very dark, foreboding and shadowy city  – I want to get out. I’m a child of nature’

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album… Nightingale opens the record. It’s gorgeous and has a late night, Tom Waits feel. I love the brass and the piano…

NC: Yeah, Tom Waits, as well as Neil Young, is a massive influence. There’s a triple album he did called Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards. For me, it’s one of his best albums. The Bawlers part of the album is up there with anything else he’s ever done – there are some stunning tracks on there – loads of outtakes that he had never released. I always listen to it late at night. I kept listening to it and listening to it. He’s one of the great songwriters. I wanted the opening song to set the scene and take you down to the river’s edge, with the moon, the nighttime and birds singing.

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Roses is one of my favourite songs on the record. It’s a duet with a mysterious girl named Veronica and it reminds me of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. I also think the female vocal sounds like Nico…

NC: Roses is going to be the second single – a 7in on Wonderfulsound. I was going to get Tess Parks to sing on it. She did a vocal on an early incarnation of the song, but it didn’t have the right flavour. I befriended the mysterious Veronica, of whom we know very little, other than that she is a Nico-inspired chanteuse from Madrid. I got her to sing on it – it’s a really delicate, sweet vocal. I really like the juxtaposition. It’s the first time I’ve done a duet, but there maybe more to come from Veronica…

I’m Still Here is a country song and features Chris Hillman (Billy Bragg, Ethan Johns) on pedal steel…

NC: This was originally supposed to be a Dylanesque jazz boogie like Spirit On The Water [from Modern Times]. We had a nice version and then Chris Hillman got his hands on it and ruined it! Hah! No – he slowed it all down and did an amazing version that was even better. It’s lovely and it’s a great performance – the best one on the album.

The song The Hollywood Sign mentions ‘prairie wind’ in the lyric. Is that a nod to the Neil Young album and song of the same name?

NC: It’s my homage to Neil Young – it also has a Crosby, Stills & Nash Helplessly Hoping vibe, with the guitar picking. It’s a nod to the great man, Neil Young – everyone goes on about Dylan, but if you look at Neil Young’s back catalogue, he’s definitely the greatest rock ‘n’roll singer-songwriter there is. No one else has written a song like Old Man and a song like Like A Hurricane – a well-crafted country tune and a rock ‘n’ roll song with amazing wig-out guitar.

‘I befriended the mysterious Veronica, of whom we know little about, other than that she is a Nico-inspired chanteuse from Madrid’

You Can Help Me has a Neil Young and Crosby, Stills & Nash feel, too, and James Walbourne (The Rails and The Pretenders) plays guitar on it…

NC: I wanted to get that Crosby, Stills & Nash three-part harmony. James was playing in Manchester and he managed to whack an overdub down. I’d love to do something live with him, but he’s the busiest man in showbiz – he’s in about 40 bands! Let’s see, eh? One day…

You’ve been working with some great musicians recently….

NC: You’ve got to search out the great players – Hillman, McCabe and Walbourne… That’s not a bad line-up, is it? We need to get a supergroup off the ground and call it Hillman, McCabe and Walbourne – keep it old school.

You recorded the album in Manchester in two weeks. How were the sessions?

NC: I had the demos for quite a while. I’m quite meticulous, in that I’ll demo, then I’ll do another demo and fine tune it… I keep going, crafting it… I sent the songs to Mason and he said we had two weeks to do it – 9 to 5, clocking in. We worked throughout the day, drinking loads of tea  – we worked really hard, we kept it real and we got a lot of stuff done. We did it at Vibe Studios in Manchester, which is owned by Martin Coogan [The Mock Turtles], who’s a mate of mine. It’s New Order’s old rehearsal room and Doves used to rehearse there, as well. It was great – Mason is a grafter and I trust him implicitly in that he will know where to take a song. That’s the job of a great producer – to make suggestions, throw you ideas and see if you can do them. The man came up with the goods. 

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any gigs?

NC: Yes – there will be gigs. I’m hoping to play Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and London. There’s a gig in Madrid lined up and I think I’m going to go to Paris.

You contributed to the recent Monks Road Social album, Down The Willows, – singing a Dr Robert [The Blow Monkeys] song called Still Got A Lot To Learn. Any more collaborations in the offing? How was the Monks Road Social project? The album has a lot of great musicians on it, including Matt Deighton (Mother Earth), Dr Robert, Steve White and Mick Talbot (The Style Council)…

NC: They’re a good crowd – all really nice people. We recorded it in Wales, in Monnow Valley Studio and I’ve also done another song with Dr Robert – he sent it over and I added the vocal. I don’t know what the plan is with that yet. I think there’s going to be another Monks Road Social album and there’s talk of doing a gig with guest singers. Robert’s great –  it’s kind of weird, having grown up in the ’80s and seen him on Top Of The Pops. He’s a genuinely talented, warm and nice geezer.

What music are you listening to at the moment, old and new?

NC: Good question. I was listening to Aldous Harding the other day and getting into that. I’ve been listening to a lot of Gruff Rhys – he never gets the credit he deserves, does he? His last album [Babelsberg] was brilliant. I’ve also got into Kurt Vile’s last album [Bottle It In] and Kevin Morby, and I got into a bit of Joni Mitchell recently. Also, check out Matthew Halsall – a jazz guy from Manchester. He’s good.

Finally, you’re stood at the river’s edge – do you jump in?

NC: Never jump in – you don’t know what’s in there. It could be dangerous. For me, it’s safety first, fun later. I’m a side of the river guy – I’m sat there watching and listening. I’m not one of those wild swimmers. You won’t catch me naked in a river. 

River’s Edge by Nev Cottee is released on June 7 on Wonderfulsound

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