‘I’ve always had a thing about losers and the downtrodden…’

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Pete Fij and Terry Bickers

Miserablist indie duo Pete Fij (Adorable and Polak) and Terry Bickers (The House of Love and Levitation) are back with a new album – We Are Millionaires.

The follow-up to their 2014 melancholy masterpiece Broken Heart Surgery – which was Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite album of that year – it’s another brilliant collection of cinematic, late-night laments for the lost and the lonely.

Like its predecessor, it’s full of deadpan humour and dry wit. With influences including John Barry, The Velvet Underground and Lee Hazlewood, and lyrical nods to movies The Third Man and The Birds, it’s like a soundtrack to an imaginary, downbeat, British, black and white kitchen sink-drama-meets spy-film – part Hancock, part Hitchcock – but this time around, there’s even some optimism.

“I like to think of this album as sunshine with showers – the last album was pretty heavy drizzle,” says Pete…

Q & A

Congratulations on the new record. It’s one of my favourite albums of the year so far, and its predecessor, Broken Heart Surgery, was my favourite record of 2014 – I described it as one of the greatest breakup albums of all time. How do you keep making such brilliant albums? What’s the secret?

Pete Fij: I don’t have a formula or secret. Some of it is about finding a genuine voice that is truly yours. I’m getting better at self-censorship and confidence of trusting my judgement of realising when a song is of a quality that I’m happy with. I don’t tend to record any song I’m not sure about. As a result there’s very little wastage – we wrote and recorded nine songs, which is the album. There are no bonus tracks or discarded songs.

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The title track of the new album has a line that references the first album, doesn’t it?

PF: Yes – it is a reference to the first album. We Are Millionaires [the song] is a little about the journey me and Terry tried to make on this album – we made a conscious attempt to be a little more upbeat than Broken Heart Surgery, but it was hard to fight our natural default setting of melancholy…

One of the lyrics in the song We Are Millionaires refers to your love of downbeat movies and a beat-up hero who never gets the girl. Do you like to wallow in melancholy? Are you at your happiest when you’re unhappy? Do you feel like an anti-hero?

PF: I’ve always enjoyed films with a darker twist, with an undercurrent of sadness. My favourite James Bond film is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – the ending where Bond cries as he holds his dead wife in his arms was always one of the strongest images in the entire canon of 007 for me. I’ve always had a thing about the losers and the downtrodden – it could be argued that by wallowing in the beauty of defeat, I perhaps haven’t helped my career, but we are who we are.

We made a conscious attempt to be a little more upbeat than Broken Heart Surgery, but it was hard to fight our natural default setting of melancholy’

As you sing on the title track, “If this melancholy that we share was common currency, we’d be millionaires…”

Please never cheer up – I don’t think I could bear it. It makes for great songwriting. Saying that, Waking Up, on the new album, is one of your cheerier numbers – it’s a positive song, isn’t it? It’s a beautiful track – the morning sunshine after a long winter. It reminds me of Spiritualized…

PF: Waking Up is an attempt at being upbeat, but the final refrain, “It’s been a long cold winter”, kind of harks back to darker times. Even when looking forward to brighter times, I don’t seem to be able to keep from looking back to darker moments. I like to think of this album as sunshine with showers. The last album was pretty heavy drizzle.

A recent magazine review called you and Terry, “the indie duo scripted by Galton and Simpson”. I’m saying you’re like Hancock-meets-Hitchcock. How do you feel about that description?

PF: It sounds like we’re being compared to a couple of cocks! Both Hancock and Hitchcock had a darkness and a humour running through their work, which is what gives it depth, and I’m glad that people pick up on the humour of my lyrics. I hope it takes the edge off it becoming relentlessly depressing.

How did you approach this record? Did you suffer from ‘difficult second album syndrome?’ What was the writing and recording process like?

PF: We experimented with a fuller band sound with a couple of tracks – we recorded Let’s Get Lost and Love’s Going To Get You with drums and a full band set-up, but it just didn’t quite work. It sounded very polished, and ‘adult’ but it kind of lacked a heart, so we reverted to our previous set-up.

Thereafter it was pretty straightforward, and quite similar to how we’d worked before. Basically, I’d write the songs and present them to Terry, who would add his parts, and we’d work on some of the arrangements together.

We tend to record in short bursts – four-hour sessions, in part due to time and budget constraints. We did maybe 30 sessions like that over a two-year period. We don’t believe in rushing things! Having extended time between sessions does give you the chance to reflect and it kind of avoids going down too many dead ends.

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Terry Bickers and Pete Fij

The new album feels like a close cousin of the first one. You haven’t gone all experimental on us – it’s a natural progression…

PF: Broken Heart Surgery was definitely more stripped-down and bare than We Are Millionaires. Some of the songs on this album have over 60 different layered tracks – there are loads of tiny textures on this record, even though it’s not ear-screechingly loud. It’s a more expansive sound than Broken Heart Surgery.

‘Hitchcock’s The Birds gets referenced on the album, and when I sing, “we both love black and white movies, inhabit a monochrome world, where the beat-up hero, never seems to get the girl,” I’m thinking of the fantastic last scene in The Third Man’

You often use film references in your lyrics, so I’m saying that this album is a sequel that’s easily the equal of the first one – it could arguably be better than its predecessor…

PF: Films are a massive part of my life and they always seem to crop up in my songs – Hitchcock’s The Birds gets referenced on the album, and when I sing, “we both love black and white movies, inhabit a monochrome world, where the beat-up hero, never seems to get the girl,” I’m thinking of the fantastic last scene in The Third Man.

That leads me nicely to my next question. One of my favourite songs on the album is If The World Is All We Have. Is it your attempt to write a Bond song? It has an exotic, dramatic and cinematic feel…

PF: I wrote it about 10 years ago, originally as a failed attempt to enter the Eurovision Song Contest. I recorded the song way more uptempo with a female vocalist – it sounded like a cross between Madonna and Depeche Mode, with a nod to John Barry, but then Andrew Lloyd Webber got fast-tracked as the writer for the UK entry that year, so the song got shelved. I always thought it was strong, so I dusted it off and we slowed it right down to make it more Bickers and Fij-esque and it worked pretty much straight out of the bag. Underneath our melancholic surface, a lot of our tracks are actually pop songs.

‘There are a few things on my musical bucket list that I realise are highly unlikely to ever happen – write or record a Bond song is one of them, appear on Top of the Pops is another’

Would you like to write a Bond song? The last few have been poor, haven’t they? I think you guys should do the next one…

PF: There are a few things on my musical bucket list that I realise are highly unlikely to ever happen – write or record a Bond song is one of them, appear on Top of the Pops is another – there are two good reasons why that’s not going to happen…Writing a song for Eurovision and appearing at The Royal Albert Hall are the two on my radar that while unlikely are not entirely impossible. On the subject of Bond themes, I’d argue that the Adele song for Skyfall was pretty good.

The first song on the new album – Let’s Get Lost Together – is about a relationship, as is the whole record, to be fair, but it strikes me that it could be about you and Terry and your working relationship. Is that a fair comment? Musically, it has a bit of a Velvet Underground – third album – feel…

PF: Yep – It’s a bromantic love song to Terry, and it’s about us. I wanted to channel the spirit of Nancy and Lee’s Jackson, where they bicker and wisecrack between themselves, though you know there’s still a spark underneath the barbed comments.

The first single, Love’s Going To Get You, is about being unable to escape from the inevitability of love, but would you say it’s more about the downside of love? I get the feeling that it’s more pessimistic than optimistic – or is that just me being cynical and knowing you and your penchant for melancholy? 

PF: It’s about being a passenger in love – how it takes over and you are powerless. It originally ended with the repeated refrain “Cupid’s a sniper”, but we thought that was just too dark – even by our standards.

You’ve got some gigs coming up later this year. What can we expect?

PF: Small attendances! Aargh – there I go again with this loser shit. Positive Pete, positive. Stadiums with laser shows.

Finally, if We Are Millionaires is the sequel to Broken Heart Surgery, can we expect the third in the trilogy? If so, what will it be like?

PF: I don’t know – I mentioned to Terry that I’ve never made more than two albums with any musical project – both Adorable and Polak made two albums before splitting, so making a third album with Terry would be uncharted territory. I’d love to do an album with proper orchestral backing…. and then play it live at The Albert Hall!

• We Are Millionaires – the second album by Pete Fij/Terry Bickers – is released on July 21. For more information, visit https://petefijterrybickers.bandcamp.com

Pete Fij and Terry Bickers are also playing a few UK gigs:

July 22 – St Paul’s Art Centre, Worthing

August 29 Backroom at The Star Inn, Guilford

August 30, Rialto Theatre, Brighton

August 31, Aces & Eights Saloon Bar, London

September 1, Aces & Eights Saloon Bar, London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘I’ve got the next four albums planned – track listings and all…’

 

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Whybirds drummer Luke Tuchscherer’s brilliant new solo album, Always Be True, is full of rough-hewn alt.country songs and anthems for the downtrodden, and its influences include Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Uncle Tupelo. 

Among the highlights are the rousing opening track, Waiting For My Day To Come,  the epic, tear-strewn ballad When The Dream Dies and These Lonesome Blues – a instant country classic that deals with death, drinking, cigarettes and the devil. ‘I really wanted to make a ’70s rock album, like Darkness on the Edge of Town or Damn The Torpedoes’, he tells me…

Q & A

Let’s talk about your new album – Always Be True. The title seems particularly relevant in these troubled times, where fake news is high on the agenda, wouldn’t you agree?

Luke Tuchscherer: I would certainly agree. Though, to be honest, we started recording it in late 2014 and I’ve had the title in mind since then, so I wouldn’t say that Trump and co had a direct influence on it, or the Brexit battle bus lies or any of that.

The title comes from the song Be True, which is a declaration of fidelity to my then girlfriend, now wife. But in a wider sense, it’s about being true to yourself, to your dreams and beliefs, as well as simply doing your best to be honest in day-to-day life.

It’s your second solo album. How does it feel to have it out there? 

LT: It’s a relief. It’s like an albatross has been lifted from me. I’m really thankful that it’s finally out and really happy that people like it.

 

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How long were you working on it?

LT: As I mentioned, we started in late 2014. It was due out in summer 2016. For various reasons – some good, like Tom (Peters, producer) getting married and some awful, like band members losing loved ones – it took longer than planned. But that’s not the story of the album, that’s simply what delayed it. And when those big life events happen, well, as much as I like music, I’m afraid they take precedent and the music takes a back seat. However – much like the first album actually – even though it took a couple of years to complete, in terms of actual recording, it was only a few days.

How do you feel this record differs from your debut? You’ve said it’s a collection of songs that you want to play live, whereas with the first album, that wasn’t the case. Can you elaborate on that?

LT: With the last album, you had to be careful which songs to play in which venues. Unless it was a “sit down and shut up,” type place, then you couldn’t play half the songs off it.

Trying to play Hold On or I Don’t Need You To Tell Me to a festival crowd wasn’t even worth attempting.

This time most of the tracks – though admittedly not all – can be played solo, or with the band, to pretty much any audience. Obviously I’m not gonna pluck out A Song For Jack Brown in a noisy venue, but for the most part, they work.

The new album has a much bigger, more full-on sound that its predecessor – 2014’s You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense – doesn’t it?  What did you want this album to sound like? How did you approach the songwriting and the recording?

LT: It certainly has more electric guitar! But if anyone followed what was happening in The Whybirds, they’d know that a large part of what I do is that rockier alt.country sound. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as an acoustic artist just because of the first album, as that would be a great example of me not being true to myself… There’s that album title again!

‘I know what I’m doing for the next few records. There won’t be such a gap between albums – for the next couple at least’

Regarding the songwriting, I’ve got such a big backlog of songs that it’s very easy for me to pick the 10 that best fit the theme. No bullshit, I’ve got the next four albums planned, track listings and all. Now, obviously they’re subject to change, should I write something new that fits in, but for the most part I know what I’m doing for the next few records. There won’t be such a gap between albums – for the next couple at least.

You made the record with Tom Peters at The Den, in Bury St Edmunds. How was that? What was the recording process like? Was it a quick album to make? 

LT: Other than the delays mentioned, the sessions went really well. Very smoothly. Tom’s brilliant. He’s a great friend of mine and an awesome producer. I can’t recommend him highly enough.

Did you have all the songs written before you went in to record the album? What were your musical  and lyrical  influences for this record?

‘I really wanted to make a ’70s rock album with this one. Something like Darkness on the Edge of Town or Damn The Torpedoes’

LT: Without being too anachronistic, or overly reverent of the past, I really wanted to make a ’70s rock album with this one. Something like Darkness on the Edge of Town or Damn The Torpedoes or something, If Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker was the template last time, I think those albums informed this one.

The opening track, Waiting For My Day To Come, is a bit of an anthem, isn’t it? It’s a big tune. What can you tell me about that song? Are you still waiting for your day to come? Could this album change all that?

LT: I wanted to write a song like Lodi by Creedence Clearwater Revival, where I could sing it at every shit gig I ever played, and now I open most shows with it. I dunno if that’s some sort of Freudian slip! I guess I am still waiting, and the song seems to suggest I always will be – ha ha! But really, that song was just what I was feeling in that moment, same as Outside, Looking In. It doesn’t mean I always feel that way about music. I don’t see Waiting… as a positive song whatsoever, but a lot of people find it optimistic, so good for them.

The legendary pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole played on your new album. How was he to work with?

LT: He was great. We sent him the songs, sent him some money and he sent back his tracks. Easy-peasy! One nice thing about having him playing on it though is that my wife and I had Tiny Dancer [by Elton John] as our first dance and BJ plays on that. It was very cool that he ended up playing steel on three songs about my wife.

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You were the drummer in The Whybirds. How does it feel looking back on those days now? Why did you make the break and go solo?

LT: If it were up to me, The Whybirds would still be going all guns blazing with all four original members, and I’m pretty sure the other members know I feel that way. But it’s not up to me. The decision wasn’t mine. It was just a matter of life getting in the way. All of a sudden, my solo side-project became my main thing.

The Whybirds reunited for two tracks on your new album – Don’t Put Me Out and These Lonesome Blues. How was it being back in the studio with the band again? 

LT: It was great. We played those tracks back in the day but never got to record them, so I wanted everyone to play on them. Taff did his bass parts and backing vocals from Canada, where he lives now. We have our final gigs – for now – this summer. Everyone should come along!

These Lonesome Blues is a classic country-rock song, isn’t it? Depression, booze, cigarettes, women, death, the devil…. It’s got it all! What can you tell me about that track?

LT: I wrote that in 2006/2007, when I was a lonely, boozing, smoking, depressed young man. Hearing it now it sometimes seems like a pastiche, but I really felt all that at the time. If you look at the lyrics, without that barroom country backing, they’re actually pretty fucking bleak. But, I don’t feel that way anymore, so all’s well that ends well…

‘I wrote These Lonesome Blues when I was a lonely, boozing, smoking, depressed young man’

A Song For Jack Brown deals with the suicide of a young man. Why were you inspired you to write a song about Jack? Was it a difficult song to write? How have his friends and family reacted to the song?

LT: I was trawling through Facebook one night when I saw that a promoter The Whybirds used to work with had posted in a group called For Those Who Knew and Will Miss Jack Brown.

Seeing that group and reading those messages really got to me. Jack was a 21-year-old based in Leighton Buzzard. He was a super-talented rugby player, by all accounts the life and soul of the party, and it just seemed so tragic that he’d take his own life. The people left behind were devastated.

Anyway, I got choked up reading the messages and went away and wrote the song. I demoed it and sent it to the promoter saying that I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate or not, but that I’d written this song and thought I’d send it on. He liked it and asked if he could pass it on to Jack’s friends and family, and I said yes.

I started getting messages from people, including Jack’s mum, thanking me for the song. The next time we played in Leighton Buzzard, Jack’s dad came along to buy me a beer and say thanks. Now, as you can imagine, that’s quite a strange and humbling experience. Even though this was back in 2009, I thought I’d include the tribute on this record.

How’s the summer shaping up for you? What are your plans for the rest of 2017, music-wise?

LT: A few festivals, we’ve got some Whybirds ‘final shows’, and then the rest is a closely guarded secret – for the time being…

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

LT: I try, wherever possible, to listen to things that aren’t necessarily close to what I do, otherwise I’d just write songs like Waiting For My Day To Come all the time… But jazz, grunge, rock, pop, blues… I listen to all kinds of music. I’ve been really digging into Paul Westerberg’s back catalogue at the moment. I’ve always liked his stuff from the Singles soundtrack and The Replacements of course, but I’ve been delving in a bit more. For obvious reasons, I’ve been listening to a lot of Soundgarden lately.

Always Be True by Luke Tuchscherer is out now on Clubhouse Records.  For more information, please visit http://www.luketuchscherer.co.uk/ .

The Whybirds will be playing three farewell shows:

June 30 –  Esquires, Bedford
July 7 – Portland Arms, Cambridge
August 11 – The Lexington, London

http://www.thewhybirds.com/

From cover with love…

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I love James Bond and I love indie-pop, so when I was sent a copy of the new compilation album Songs, Bond Songs – a 26-track collection of Bond songs covered by contemporary US indie-pop acts, I had a licence to be thrilled…

The brainchild of criminal mastermind and executive producer, Andrew Curry, it’s an exciting journey into the world of soundtrack songs from both official and unofficial 007 films.

Things get off to an explosive start with Lannie Flowers’ rip-roaring, ’60s-style garage rock-style version of the James Bond Theme; there’s an outrageous pop-punk take on Thunderball by Jaret Reddick; a gorgeous acoustic rendition of For Your Eyes Only by Freedy Johnston that’s better than Sheena Easton’s version; a funky, yacht rock Never Say Never Again by Minky Starshine and a cool, loungey The World Is Not Enough by Fountains of Wayne side-project Look Park.

I tracked down Andrew Curry to his secret underground lair and got the intel on his latest devious plan for world domination…

Q & A

How did the project come about? Why did you decide to put together a Bond songs tribute album?

Andrew Curry: I had done two compilations prior to Songs, Bond Songs. The first one – Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock – paid tribute to the soft hits that were so prominent on America’s AM radio stations in the late ‘70s.

The second – Here Comes The Reign Again: The Second British Invasion – focused on the early years of MTV, specifically the British bands that came to dominate the American charts for the first few years of the ‘80s.

For this compilation, I wanted to expand things a bit. Rather than focus on a brief period of pop music history, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could find a concept that could cover a much wider time period. And so Bond music seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I can look at five or six decades of music rather than five or six years.

Are you a huge Bond fan? Which are your favourite Bond films and songs? And which are you least favourites?

AC: I am a Bond fan, though perhaps not quite as enthusiastic about it as I was in my youth. I grew up with Roger Moore as my Bond, and while I know it’s far cooler to choose the movies of Connery or Craig as one’s favourites, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Moore era. Not to mention that I think the songs from the Moore years are, as a group, the best of the franchise.

So while I’ll concede that some of Moore’s films haven’t aged well, I’ll sit down and watch Moonraker or For Your Eyes Only any time they come on. But as it happens, my least favourite Bond film also stars Roger Moore. In A View To A Kill, he just seems so completely disinterested.

As for the music, I’ve been so inundated with it while working on this project that I’m not sure I can pick favourites anymore. But as I said, the Moore years were formative for me, so songs like Live and Let Die, Nobody Does It Better, and For Your Eyes Only were biggies for me growing up. Of the more recent songs, I think Adele did a nice job recalling the Shirley Bassey era with Skyfall. My least favourites? Well, the less said about Madonna’s Die Another Day, the better.

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Andrew Curry

‘My least favourite Bond song? Well, the less said about Madonna’s Die Another Day, the better’

How did you choose which acts to work with and how did you get them involved?

AC: As with my previous projects, I made a list of musicians I wanted to work with, and went about contacting them. Social media makes things far easier than it might have been a decade or so ago.

As for the song assignments, I went to some musicians with definite ideas for which track I wanted them to do.

My wife insisted to me that Freedy Johnston had to do For Your Eyes Only. I loved the idea of hearing Jaret Reddick take a stab at Tom Jones. Having Lisa Mychols do a Lulu song seemed too perfect to pass up. But for the most part, once the musicians had signed on, I’d give them a list of available songs, and let them choose the ones they wanted. People who chose early got a far longer list of songs to choose from!

Do you have a favourite song on the album?

AC: I know I’ll sound dodgy saying this, but I really do like all the songs on the record. But I will say that there were songs that I wondered about when the assignments were being carried out.

Could someone take a song that I didn’t have much use for and turn it into something interesting? And I’m delighted to say that the answer is a resounding yes. A few examples (among many) –  the original Moonraker is the least of Shirley Bassey’s three Bond songs, but Gary Frenay has turned it into a terrific Travelling Wilburys-esque number, complete with Orbison-styled vocals.

I’ve already mentioned that Die Another Day, with its lame overuse of Auto-Tune, is my least favourite Bond song, but in the hands of Big-Box Store (aka Joe Seiders of The New Pornographers), it’s terrific.

Some of the acts have been pretty faithful to the original versions, but there are also some very different interpretations, aren’t there? It’s a very varied album….

AC: It is, and that’s always what I strive for. People ask how much input I have in the direction a musician takes with a song. I’m always emphatic that once musicians sign on, how they approach their songs is entirely up to them. And almost without fail, that has meant that I’ll get a handful of songs that stick closely to the original and another handful that completely re-invent the source material.

I prefer the Freedy Johnston acoustic version of For Your Eyes Only and Zach Jones’ dramatic take on All Time High to the original versions by Sheena Easton and Rita Coolidge. Do you agree? I think they’ve managed to reinvent some dull, MOR ballads into something that’s much more interesting…

AC: I really love those two versions. And you’re right about the originals. They were released at a time when softer ballads were more in fashion. Freedy’s For Your Eyes Only is stripped-down, just an acoustic guitar and his vocals, and the world-weary way he approaches the song just works. It sounds like a track that would fit comfortably on some of Freedy’s early records. Zach went in a different direction than Freedy, in that his version has a full band. He hasn’t really altered the melody all that much, but he’s given it a soulful quality that Rita Coolidge’s original version couldn’t possibly approach.

I think that in recent years, the quality of Bond songwriting has gone downhill. As the films have improved, the theme songs have got worse. Would you agree?

AC: I think some of the recent songs are decent. I already mentioned Adele’s Skyfall as one example. I always thought of that song as a conscious effort to return to the lush, orchestral Bond songs of the Connery years.

I will say that I was pretty surprised that Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall from Spectre actually won an Oscar. But I’ll also concede that nostalgia will always play a role in which tracks are my favourites. So it’s unlikely that any of the newer ones will ever hold the same place in my mind as, say, Live and Let Die. But if my kids decide to make the follow up to this record 30 years from now, they might just say, “You know, these new songs can’t hold a candle to Sam Smith.”

‘I was pretty surprised that Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall from Spectre actually won an Oscar’

Any plans to do a live show with some of the acts doing the Bond songs?

AC: It’s a far-flung group, so there are no plans at the moment. It would be terrific fun, though.

James_Bond_(Roger_Moore)_-_ProfileWith the recent death of Roger Moore, it’s rather timely – and poignant – to be talking about Bond….

AC: Moore was always my Bond, and he’s who I always think of when I picture the character. He added a bit of camp to the part, which I know some people can’t stand, but which I always appreciated. The opening helicopter sequence in For Your Eyes Only has always been a favourite. It’s silly and over the top, but also completely entertaining. Just like Roger Moore.

Which contemporary artist – UK or US – do you think should write and record the next official Bond song?

AC: This is always a fun game to play. I have a dear friend who is a bigger Bond fan than I am – he even designed the album art.

As I started putting this together, we talked about all the musicians we were surprised never did a Bond song. Sade seems like she was built in a lab with the express purpose of recording a James Bond theme song. Seal had to have written Kiss From A Rose with hopes that it would be in a Bond film, don’t you think? It’s all I hear when I listen to that song.

‘Does Harry Styles have the gravitas to pull off a Bond song? Doubtful’

As for contemporary musicians, I’m pretty ignorant of the most popular acts these days, but I hope they’ll stay away from guys like Ed Sheeran. Does Harry Styles have the gravitas to pull it off? Doubtful. It’s a shame we’ll never hear what Amy Winehouse might have done with a Bond song. Good or bad, it probably would have been pretty interesting.

Any plans for another project? 

AC: I’m in the very early stages of planning for the next one. It’s merely a concept at the moment. I can’t reveal it here just yet, but I will say that it won’t be nearly as many songs as my previous compilations, each of which had more than two dozen songs. A nice album of 10-12 tracks sounds like heaven right about now.

Andrew Curry will return…  

To stream, download and buy Songs, Bond Songs, please visit https://currycuts.bandcamp.com/ .

Soul from the Deep South of London

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Still Testifying, the new album from husband and wife country duo My Darling Clementine – Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish – sees the band building on the Southern soul sound that they explored on their 2013 record The Reconciliation?

More Delaney & Bonnie than George & Tammy, and with gospel leanings and luscious horn arrangements, it could’ve emerged from Memphis, Alabama or New Orleans, but it was actually made in Tooting, South London.

I spoke to Michael to find out more about My Darling Clementine’s love of sweet soul music and get the low-down on the stories behind the songs on Still Testifying

Q & A

On your last album, The Reconciliation?, which was the follow up to your 2011 debut, How Do You Plead? you added some soul to your country sound. With the new record, Still Testifying, you’ve taken that even further and also thrown in some gospel for good measure.

What was your approach to this record? Why have you headed further down the Southern soul road, rather than gone back to your country roots?

Michael Weston King: We had a clear remit with How Do You Plead? – to make an album that sounded like George and Tammy in 1967.

How Do You Plead? was made up of old songs that had been deemed “too country” for either my former band, or my solo albums, along with some new songs written specifically for that album.

We didn’t really think beyond album one, but here we are, on album three, and our remit has changed. We didn’t want to stay still and make the same sounding record again, only with different songs.

We have both always loved soul music, and I have been driving Lou mad with all the old country soul stuff I have been listening to over the years, so it just felt a natural progression for us when making this new album.

We hinted at it with the song Our Race Is Run on our second album, but have given that country soul feel – and style of writing – to more songs on this album

‘We didn’t want to stay still and make the same sounding record again, only with different songs’

There are some great arrangements on the album – it’s a rich and full-sounding record that’s very rewarding.

I love the brass on the opening song, The Embers and The Flame – particularly the ‘bah-bah-bah’ instrumental break halfway through…

MWK: That was originally a guitar solo that I came up with when writing the song, but once we had added the brass to the arrangement, it was only natural they [the horn players] took the solo, too – the melody is the same, though.

The horns on Just A Woman sound like you’ve been listening to some old Burt Bacharach tunes…

MWK: Yes – that was producer Neil Brockbank’s idea and it was brilliantly brought to fruition by horn player and brass arranger Matt Holland.

The original piano and voice demo did not conjure up Bacharach & David to us, but it clearly did to Neil. And once the French Horns and trumpets went on there, well that was it, and we just fully embraced Burt!

Can you talk me through the writing and recording process for the new album? Did you do basic demos and then work out the full arrangements?

MWK: All our songs are demoed very simply, with voice and guitar or voice and piano. We then get together with the main core of the band and work through them. Most of the songs do tend to work themselves out – it is pretty clear how they should go. Also, working with guys that we have worked with for years now, and fully understand what we are striving for musically – and who share the same musical tastes and influences – makes coming up with the right approach and arrangements a lot easier

Did you have definite ideas for arrangements in your head before you went into the studio?

MWK: Yes – certainly for some of them, and then, as I just mentioned, more ideas came from kicking the songs round in rehearsals.

After that, once in the studio, the more fine-tuned arrangement ideas, and what additional instrumentation we felt was needed, came from the producer, Neil Brockbank.

‘Sometimes there was the occasional flounce out and teacups hitting the wall, but, generally, it was a fun album to make’

Was it a fun album to make, or was it difficult? 

MWK: Like with all albums, you go through a roller coaster of emotions – “it’s the greatest record ever made”, or “it’s awful”, but as you get older and the more records you make, you know it will be like this and you just try and let those highs and lows pass you by. Sometimes there was the occasional flounce out and teacups hitting the wall, but, generally, yes, it was a fun album to make.

How do you feel listening back to it now? 

MWK: Very pleased with it – especially its diversity. There really is an eclectic mix of styles on the album, which I love, but it still sounds like the same artist. It is held together by our voices.

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It sounds like a record that could’ve been made in Memphis, Alabama or New Orleans, but it was recorded in Tooting Bec – it’s Southern soul from South London. How did you capture that authentic vibe in the studio? 

MWK: Like we have done with all our albums – getting the right producer and the right team and the most suitable players. We used British musicians, but ones with a real love and understanding of Stax, Fame, Hi and mid ‘60s- era Atlantic Records. They’re players who, between them, have worked with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Ben E. King, Van Morrison, Dr John and Doug Sahm.

I think too many UK artists want to run off to Nashville to record there – often out of vanity – just to say, “we made an album in Nashville”. I would have been guilty of that years ago.

Yes, there are some great studios and people there, but also lots of mediocrity – just churning out generic stuff. I like the fact we recorded here with the finest of British players and producers and still captured the spirit we wanted.

‘Too many UK artists want to run off to Nashville to record there – often out of vanity – just to say, “we made an album in Nashville”’

What were your main musical influences for this album?

MWK: Delaney & Bonnie, Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham, Mickey Newbury, Jim Ford, Goffin & King, Elvis, Roy Orbison, and, if you listen closely to the middle eight of Since I Fell For You, The Searchers and Helen Shapiro!

Yours Is The Cross That I Still Bear is a gospel-tinged track. What can you tell me about that song?

MWK: It was originally written for the German label, Bear Family Records, which celebrated its 40th anniversary with a triple album box set. They asked us to contribute a track – the caveat being all songs had to have the word ‘bear’ in the title. So I came up with that.

The version used on that album was just piano, guitar and vocals, but it did have a country soul / gospel groove to it, and I always planned to use it on this album. Lou took some convincing, but I think she really digs it now. The song has since been expanded and totally re-worked on our new album.

Lyrically, I had some old friends in mind when I wrote it. A shared history, a time when you did a lot together and then, as you get older, you drift apart and move on to other people and other places, but that bond you forged at an early age stays with you forever – even if you lose regular contact. Those shared times – both the good things and the bad things – are what bind you.

On your last album, there was a song called No Matter What Tammy Said – a retort to Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man – and on this record there’s Jolene’s Story –  a sequel to Dolly Parton’s song Jolene. Your song is written from Jolene’s point of view and we find out that she did take Dolly’s man…

I sense a theme going on. Can you think of any other classic country songs that deserve a follow-up? I feel a My Darling Clementine concept album coming on… 

MWK: On our debut, we had Going Back To Memphis – which kind of picked up where the great Tom T. Hall song, That’s How I Got To Memphis, left off.

I think The Grand Tour by George Jones is rife for a follow-up song. Maybe about the people who bought and moved into the house. Or where the wife is now – the one who “left me without mercy”.

How about a sequel to Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billie Joe? Isn’t it about time we found out what was thrown off Tallahatchie Bridge?

MWK: Yes – that could be a good one. Lou has actually performed that song live, and does a rather fabulous version of it, I must say.

Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine

Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine performing The Other Half

When we last spoke, in 2015, you’d just released The Other Half album – your music and spoken word collaboration with crime writer Mark Billingham. A couple of songs from that piece of work have ended up on your new record, albeit in slightly different guises – The Embers and The Flame and Friday Night, Tulip Hotel…

MWK: All the songs recorded for The Other Half album, either the older ones re-recorded, or the two ones written for the project, were recorded sparsely and acoustically, just guitars, mandolins, a bit of percussion, piano on one or two, but simple and sparse – the same as we performed them in the live show.

Both the new songs were very well received when played live and we always felt they could be enhanced even more by a fuller arrangement. We didn’t want them to remain just as acoustic recordings.

I am so glad we did that now, as they are both very different to the versions on The Other Half and we have also slightly changed the titles of them too for this album.

The Embers and The Flame was formerly called As Precious As The Flame. The fire burning out is an often-used country music metaphor for a relationship that has lost its spark. We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning and After The Fire Is Gone are just two prime examples. We have somewhat inverted it here, suggesting that you don’t always need the spark, the flame or the fire. Sometimes the embers are just as important, perhaps even more so.  

Mark Billingham wrote most of the original lyrics for it. We needed a “happy song” to end the story of The Other Half. The reworked version is bigger and bolder and brassier.

And the secret to a long and happy marriage? According to Mark it is “sticking around, no matter how shitty it gets”.

Friday Night, Tulip Hotel – formerly Friday Night At The Tulip Hotel – was written in the car park of The Golden Tulip Hotel, Rotterdam, while watching a couple check out very early, as indeed we had, though for different reasons. They were trying to be discreet about being there, about being with each other, but it was clearly a case of “same time, same place, next week”. We watched them drive off in opposite directions and drew our own conclusion as to how it ended.

Would you like to do another project in the same vein as The Other Half?

MWK: Yes, absolutely –  we would love to do another, though maybe starting from nothing this time, with all new songs, as well as a brand new story. Oh, that suddenly now sounds like a musical!

There are the usual helpings of infidelity and heartache on Still Testifying that we’ve come to expect from My Darling Clementine songs, but Two Lane Texaco sticks out because it’s more of a political / issues-based song – it deals with the effect of the oil industry on small town America.

Can you tell me more about the background and inspiration for that song? It’s also one of the more ‘traditional’ country songs on the album. I can imagine Nick Cave doing a cover of it…. 

MWK: That would be nice, I must send it to him. The opening verse for it came to me while driving along a very unromantic, English motorway, crawling along, due to roadworks. They were widening the road. The song remained unfinished for quite a while until I was watching the Pixar movie Cars with our daughter Mabel. It was all there –  this small town being bypassed due to a newly built highway and the town just dying.

‘The lyric owes a debt to my love of John Ford films, reading Peter Guralnick’s Lost Highway, and my ongoing obsession with movies set in the ’50s’

The lyric also owes a debt to my love of John Ford films, reading Peter Guralnick’s Lost Highway, and my ongoing obsession with movies set in the ’50s, such as American Hot Wax and American Graffiti, featuring the iconic DJs Alan Freed and Wolfman Jack, respectively.

Overall, the song is a hymn to the demise of small town America. In fact, small towns anywhere – Megawatt Valley is actually in Yorkshire. Towns that have been affected by an industry that was once its heart and soul, making it a thriving community. And then, that industry abandons the town, leaving the people left behind without work and without hope. And with a faith severely tested… “We’ve sold the family silver but there’s gold still buried underground.”

You’ve just come back from touring the States. How was that and where did you go?

MWK: We go to the US every April, during the school holidays, so our daughter Mabel can be with us too. Which is just as well, as she is now very much part of the show. She even made her New York debut this time, playing with us at City Winery, when we opened up for Ray Benson and Dale Watson.

The tour this time was along the eastern seaboard, from Rhode Island down to New Jersey, with some shows a little further west in Chicago, Detroit and over the border to London, Ontario [Canada].

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You’re currently on a UK tour. What can we expect?

MWK: We are four days into an eight-date run of shows with the full band – they are going great. It’s always a joy, as they are such fine musicians, and for the London show [June 7 –  The Islington] we will have the horn section too. It will be spectacular. Then we’re doing a run of more acoustic shows.

What’s a typical My Darling Clementine tour like? How rock ‘n’ roll are you?

MWK: Not very these days. I have pretty much given up drinking and so has Lou, and touring with your daughter also curtails too many rock ‘n’ roll activities. In fact, she is the one that wants to order room service at 1am and stay up watching TV, while we want to sleep!

Finally, I’m giving you a chance to testify. What would you like to bear witness to?

MWK: Well, my testimony may have been very different had we done this interview a few weeks ago, but in the light of the tragic events in Manchester, a city I love (and I think you do, too), and where two of my children live, and the news a few days ago that Neil Brockbank, who produced this record and our debut album, died suddenly of lung cancer, it is simply this: to cherish as much time with your family, friends and loved ones as possible.

Still Testifying – the new album by My Darling Clementine – is out now on Continental Song City: http://mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk/

The band’s UK tour dates are: 

June 7 –  The Islington, London 

June 9 –  The Met, Bury

June 10 – The Hut, Corby

June 11 –  The Old Stables, Crickslade

June 28 –  Catstrand, Dumfries

June 29 –  Clark’s On Lindsay, Dundee

July 1 –   Old Fire Station, Carlisle

July 2 –  Birnam Arts, Dunkeld

July 6 – Phoenix Arts, Exeter

July 15 – Americana Weekend, Bristol