‘Think Johnny Marr channelling Simon & Garfunkel’

ian webber 2

LA-based, Brit singer-songwriter Ian Webber, former frontman with The Tender Idols and The Idyllists, has just released one of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite albums of 2015.

Year of the Horse is a nostalgic, reflective, melancholy record that’s influenced by The Smiths, Chet Baker, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Nick Drake, with stripped-back, gorgeous arrangements, strings, tinges of jazz and pretty, spiralling melodies.

I tracked Ian down to a snow-covered village in remote Idaho and asked him to tell me how his new record came about…

Hi Ian. How the hell are you?

Ian Webber: Hello – from a sub-zero ski village somewhere in deepest Idaho, quite possibly right out of a ‘60s Bond movie, where the villains are plotting their world domination.

The snow has settled, and I’m as far away from the no-season surroundings of Los Angeles as can be, but in a rather good way.

Your new album – Year of the Horse – is now out there in the world. How does that feel?

IW: Yes, my new record Year of the Horse is finally here – in the year of the goat! I think I’m allowed to call it horse, since it was technically written during the year of the horse [2014]. Either way, I think the horses and goats would approve. I’m very happy to have further evidence of my existence shoved out into the world.

It’s a very melancholy, nostalgic and wistful album in places. How did you approach this record? Did you have a definite idea of what you wanted it to sound like?

IW: Melancholy and nostalgic would certainly be a good way to describe the overall theme of the record. I’d been living in Laurel Canyon [in LA] for six years before the inevitable, but welcome, influence of ‘60s Canyon music started to surround me. Not that I really wanted to – or aspired to – follow in those footsteps, but the songs all came out of me, like an exorcism one summer, during that sun-drenched year of the horse.

The opening track, An Unfinished Symphony, is one of my favourite songs on the record. It has a gorgeous, spiralling melody. Can you tell me more about it?

IW: An Unfinished Symphony was always going to be the pop song on the record.

I was used to writing band songs, with strumming chords, and I pictured this song in my head having a larger arrangement than just solo acoustic. That may have influenced the title, I suspect, with my grand dreams of an orchestra as willing participants.

The magic for me came when it was actually almost completely finished – when Danny Howes, who was playing electric guitar, came up with the entire melody line on the last day of tracking. The idea was to think Johnny Marr channelling Simon & Garfunkel, in some strange way.

I always love a song with no guitar solo – Girl Afraid by The Smiths is a prime example – and that’s the direction we headed in.

As for the words, I was living in a Chopin world that day, and images of libraries, grand pianos, large wooden desks and handwritten notes drifted through my head.

Ian webber

I think the song House On The Hill could be about your life in your home in Laurel Canyon. Is that right?

IW: House On The Hill was inspired in part by the Crosby, Stills & Nash song Our House and is also about the house where I live in Laurel Canyon. It’s where all of the record was written.

I’m lucky to live so close to Hollywood Boulevard – the grit and the grime and the Hollywood glamour is just a short stroll away, although nobody walks in LA…

In Laurel Canyon, I’m surrounded by nature, overgrown trees and trails and, at night-time, the sound of coyotes. Not having someone live underneath, beside, or on top of me, lent itself to the privacy of writing.

I’d say I had the majority of the songs written in bundles – two or three per day – not every day, but fairly quickly, over a period of a month and a half.

It’s odd, really, but it’s one of those things that stops you doing anything else in your regular life. When you’re on a mission, tunnel vision kind of takes over and suddenly you stop cleaning, you forget to go out for fresh air, you look up and morning has become night.

I had an idea that I wanted this album to be an acoustic record, and after a few songs were born, I typed them out – my way of making a composition final – and then transferred them to voice memos, so the melody ideas were intact.

The album has an almost jazzy, stripped-down feel at times. Is that your love of Chet Baker rearing its head?

IW: Ah, Chet Baker – my one true weakness. Yes, for sure he was on my turntable more often than not. I do have a love for a good, moody jazz-type song, and I would also include Robert Wyatt, early Everything But The Girl (Eden), Prefab Sprout (Swoon) Francoise Hardy and Sean Lennon’s first couple of records – jazz-infused loveliness.


How did you record this album? Where was it made and which musicians did you use? 

IW: The record was demoed on voice memos – just voice and acoustic guitar at home in Laurel Canyon – and shared via dropbox to my former band The Tender Idols, who live in Atlanta, Georgia.

Danny Howes [guitarist] and myself worked out the rough arrangements, and shared track and ideas via Pro Tools/Logic software, leading up to a week of tracking at The Quarry, a fantastic large and airy studio, owned by Georgia band Third Day. TJ Elias, who was resplendent in his black cowboy boots and with a southern accent, recorded it…

The band that played on the record was Danny Howes, Guy Strauss on drums and percussion and anything else that would shake or rattle, Michael Lamond on upright bass, and Matthew Barge – from my LA band The Idyllists – on piano and organ.

I returned to the scene of the crime to mix in the same studio in Atlanta, and mastered it in Los Angeles, with my good friend Mark Chalecki.

Highwire Dancer is another of my favourite songs on the record – it’s beautiful. Can you tell me about that track?

IW: That’s a pretty personal song – a sort of autobiography of a singer, or in the case of the song, a dancer, who starts out living life to the full, only to have things stripped away, by no real fault of his own.

I would definitely say I had Idol, a song by Elton John about a ‘50s star in mind, and also I had just watched Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders, so that was the high wire connection. Together, I thought it made for an interesting narrative.

The song Years is also very personal – and nostalgic. It looks back at your childhood and reflects on your life and it has a lovely string arrangement. It reminds me of Nick Drake…

IW: Years is a life story – I always felt the need to write something like it, but I never did because I was too shy… At some point you have to say, well here’s what I did in this world, how it came to be, how I turned out and how I experience life.

I’m lucky to have the support of my family – I was always a traveller, a loner and a dreamer. If you have a creative side, which I feel most people do, you have to just throw it out there, and let it out. I applaud anyone who can make something of their life – in book form, lyrics, words, or art, painting and fashion. It’s an expression of oneself.

You mentioned Nick Drake, and he is up there with the greatest – so sad, yet personal and soul-baring. One day someone will unearth an old Super 8 film of him playing live. Please let it be so!

You’ve played with bands including The Idyllists and rockabilly outfit The Hopelessly Devoted. Are they on hiatus?

IW: So here I sit, a songwriter alone. Sometimes I miss the gang-like mentality of The Idyllists and my ‘50s rockabilly guys in The Hopelessly Devoted. I never like breakups. We all still get along like twin sisters, so I’d like to say that we are together apart, until the next time…

year of the horse new

What are you plans for 2016? Can you play some gigs in the UK, please?

IW: Well, you know, come February, it’s the year of the monkey! To celebrate, in a mischievous way I’m getting ready to move once again.

I’m moving to Nashville – in February – in the heart of the winter. I’m going back to my southern American roots. I am from Devon in England, so that’s the south, right?

So, yes, I’m travelling again – trading Laurel Canyon for the land of Johnny Cash. I certainly would love to do a show in the UK – green card in hand, if you’ll let me back…

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

IW: I do have a few golden nuggets that I’m currently listening to. This goes out to Oscar Wilde who said: “Music makes one feel so romantic – at least it always gets on one’s nerves, which is the same thing nowadays.”


Nils Frahm: re

Richard Hawley : Nothing Like A Friend

Ben Watt: Matthew Arnold’s Field


Sondre Lerche: Dead End Mystery

Kings of Convenience: Know How

Sean Lennon: On Again Off Again


Robert Wyatt: Shipbuilding

Lou Reed: Berlin

Howling Wolf: My Troubles And Me

Billie Holiday : Willow Weep For Me

Year of the Horse – the second solo album by Ian Webber is out now.

For more information, visit: https://ianwebber.bandcamp.com/


Best Albums of 2015



As we approach the end of the year and overindulge in festive celebrations, hangovers are a daily occurrence.

They also played a major part in the making of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite album of 2015 – Minesweeping by O’Connell & Love.

One of the most eclectic and richly rewarding albums of recent times, it’s a collaboration between Larry Love, the lead singer of South London country-blues-gospel-electronica outlaws Alabama 3 and songwriting partner Brendan O’Connell.

As Larry told me when I interviewed him about the making of the record: “What was interesting with Minesweeping was the use of hangovers in the recording process. Brendan was financing the project and, basically, at the end of the night, we’d chuck some drunken ideas down, but the most important stuff was done in the morning after. I knew that unless I did some songs in the morning, Brendan wouldn’t buy me a pint in the afternoon.”

Reviewing it earlier this year, I described it as, ‘a hung-over road trip through the badlands, stopping to pick up some hitchhikers on the way – namely guest vocalists Rumer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, June Miles-Kingston, Tenor Fly and Pete Doherty.’

The record opens with the moody, Cash-like, acoustic death row ballad, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock, visits Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood territory for the drunken, playful duet Hangover Me (feat. Rumer), travels across Europe for the sublime, blissed-out, Stonesy country-soul of  It Was The Sweetest Thing,hangs out by the riverside for the gorgeous pastoral folk of Shake Off Your Shoes (feat.Rumer) and heads out to the ocean for the Celtic sea shanty-inspired Where Silence Meets The Sea.

Larry Love and Brendan O’Connell

It’s an album that wears its influences on the sleeve of its beer-stained shirt – it’s like rifling through a record collection of classic rock and roll, folk, blues, country and soul.

There are nods to late ‘70s Dylan (The Man Inside The Mask), Motown (Love Is Like A Rolling Stone – feat.Tenor Fly ), Leonard Cohen (Come On, Boy – feat. Junes Miles-Kingston) and The Band (If It’s Not Broken).

I’m really looking forward to seeing O’Connell & Love play this record live in 2016 – according to Larry, there are plans for a UK tour.

In the meantime, I’m going to pour myself a large glass of something dark and strong and lose myself in Minesweeping.

One for the road, anyone?

As albums of the year go, singer-songwriters, alt.country, power-pop and Americana dominate my list.

Richard Hawley turned in a classic with Hollow Meadows, which was less psychedelic than its predecessor, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, and largely rooted in country, folk and the lush, late-night, ‘50s-tinged melancholy ballads that dominated his earlier albums. Although there was still room for some bluesy-garage rock (Which Way) and anthemic, widescreen guitar pop (Heart of Oak).

I was lucky enough to meet Richard after one of his gigs this year and when I told him that I preferred his new album to the one before, he simply said, ‘Well – you can’t please everyone, Sean…’

Other singer-songwriters who released great albums this year included Manchester’s Nev Cottee – Strange News From The Sun sounded like Lee Hazlewood on a spacewalk – and Vinny Peculiar, whose Down The Bright Stream was a witty, funny and moving collection of brilliantly observed pop songs, steeped in childhood nostalgia, teenage memories and wry social commentary.

Nev Cottee

Nev Cottee

John Howard’s new project – John Howard & The Night Mail – was a wonderful record, full of quirky, witty, intelligent, theatrical and nostalgic songs, from Zombies-like psych-pop to slinky retro mod-soul, glam-rock and observational Ray Davies-style tales of people’s everyday lives.

Detroit’s Nick Piunti – a Say It With Garage Flowers favourite – returned in a blaze of glory with Beyond The Static, which was the follow-up to his critically acclaimed power-pop record 13 In My Head, while Dublin-born singer-songwriter Marc Carroll’s latest album, Love Is All or Love Is Not At All, was his most political record yet.

Dead Flowers – who topped Say It With Garage Flowers’ album of the year list back in 2013 with their debut, Midnight At The Wheel Club, didn’t disappoint with their new record – Minor & Grand, which was often louder and much more electrified than their first album.

Manchester band Last Harbour made Caul – a brooding, cinematic masterpiece that recalled Bowie’s Berlin period, the industrial, electronic atmosphere of Joy Division and the gothic splendour of Scott Walker and Nick Cave.


Instrumental duo Steelism, with their spy film guitar licks and surf-rock riffs, came up with a record (615 To FAME) that harked back to the glory days of ’60s instrumental rock & roll, but also threw in country, soul and blues – and even a touch of krautrock – to create their own dramatic soundtracks.

UK Americana label Clubhouse Records had a great year in 2015, releasing superb albums by alt.country band Case Hardin (Colours Simple), whose singer-songwriter Pete Gow played a solo show that I promoted back in October, and The Dreaming Spires (Searching For The Supertruth)– Oxford’s prime exponents of ‘60s-style jangle-pop.

I must declare a vested interest in one of my favourite records of 2015 – The Other Half, a collaboration between top UK crime writer Mark Billingham and country duo My Darling Clementine.

Mark discovered My Darling Clementine by first reading about them on my blog, so, I’d like to think that I set the wheels in motion that led them to record their story of love, loss and murder that’s told in words and music and set in a rundown Memphis bar.

Sadly, not everyone who released superb albums in 2015 lived to tell the tale. Gifted, but troubled, singer-songwriter Gavin Clark (Sunhouse, Clayhill) died in February, but he left behind Evangelist – a project that was completed by James Griffith and Pablo Clements, members of UNKLE/Toydrum and the owners of the Toy Room Studios in Brighton.

Loosely based on Gavin’s life, it was a dark, edgy, atmospheric and psychedelic-tinged trip that made for uneasy – yet essential – listening.

And finally, here are some nods to acts who didn’t release studio albums this year, but put out some records that I loved.

I’m not normally a huge fan of live albums, but Johnny Marr’s Adrenalin Baby was brilliant and really captured the feel and atmosphere of his gigs – it’s worth it just to hear his outstanding, europhic version of Electronic’s Getting Away With It.

And talking of live shows, UK folk duo The Rails gave away a seven-track acoustic EP called Australia at their gigs this year.

It served as a good stopgap until their next album and featured a killer, stripped-down cover of Edwyn Collins’ Low Expectations.

Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Steve Roberts followed up his 2013 concept record Cold Wars Part 1 EP with the five-track sequel – What Would You Die For? [Cold Wars Part Two].

The standout track This Is A Cold War was a stately, Beatlesesque piano-led ballad. Lennon and McCarthy?

And while we’re on the subject of spies, being a huge James Bond fan, I really enjoyed A Girl And A Guna 34-track tribute album of 007 songs and soundtracks by artists including Darren Hayman, Robert Rotifer, Ralegh Long and Papernut Cambridge.

Say It With Garage Flowers will return in 2016…

Here’s a list of my favourite albums of 2015 and a Spotify playlist to accompany it:

  1. O’Connell & Love – Minesweeping
  2. Richard Hawley – Hollow Meadows
  3. Vinny Peculiar – Down The Bright Stream
  4. John Howard & The Night Mail – John Howard & The Night Mail
  5. Nev Cottee – Strange News From The Sun
  6. The Dreaming Spires – Searching For The Supertruth
  7. Dead Flowers – Minor & Grand
  8. Evangelist [Gavin Clark & Toydrum] – Evangelist
  9. Duke Garwood – Heavy Love
  10. Mark Billingham & My Darling Clementine – The Other Half
  11. Nick Piunti – Beyond The Static
  12. Case Hardin – Colours Simple
  13. Last Harbour – Caul
  14. Steelism – 615 To FAME
  15. Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night
  16. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
  17. Marc Carroll – Love Is All or Not At All
  18. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
  19. Gaz Coombes – Matador
  20. Wilco – Star Wars
  21. The Sopranistas – Cutting Down The Bird Hotel
  22. Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – Angels & Ghosts
  23. New Order – Music Complete
  24. GospelBeacH – Pacific Surf Line
  25. Sarah Cracknell – Red Kite
  26. Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth
  27. Ryley Walker – Primrose Green
  28. Hurricane #1 – Find What You Love And Let It Kill You
  29. Jacob Golden – The Invisible Record
  30. Ian Webber – Year of the Horse
  31. Bill Fay – Who Is The Sender?