Worcestershire Source

Worcester waterways (13) (1)

After 23 years living in Manchester, singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar moved back to Worcestershire, where he grew up. His relocation inspired him to write a concept album, Return of the Native – a brilliant collection of witty, reflective and deeply personal songs, featuring a whole host of weird and wonderful characters, including a burnt-out rock star, the ghost of a Civil War re-enactment enthusiast, Eminem hopelessly lost in Droitwich, ’70s M.O.R. singer Clifford T.Ward, DJ Tony Blackburn and comedian Rik Mayall.

Musically, the album takes the listener on a journey through Worcestershire that’s soundtracked by glam-rock, jangle-pop, psych, Pet Shop Boys-style electro and New Order-esque, Northern melancholy.

In an exclusive interview, I ask Vinny to give me a track by track guide to the record.  “It was a learning curve and cathartic,” he tells me. “I was putting some old demons to bed…”

Q & A

Hi Vinny. Let’s talk about your new album. The songs were inspired by you moving from Manchester back to Worcestershire, where you grew up. How and why did relocating inspire you when it came to writing songs and making this album, which is the follow-up to 2016’s Silver Meadows?

Vinny Peculiar: Hi Sean – good to speak with you. Moving back has been cathartic. Return of the Native was inspired by the changes, reflections and, up to a point, the memories I have of former times here. The ideas seemed to ebb and flow into songs soon after the move. I suppose, in some ways, I was writing to make sense of the changes, the end of a long-term relationship, the start of a new chapter…

How are you finding it living in Worcestershire? Is it good to be back?

VP: I’m settling in. It feels good, but it’s taken longer than I expected to connect. I still seem to spend a lot of time on the M6 – the lure of the North is never far away.

Is Return of the Native the first Worcestershire concept album? I can’t think of any others, can you?

VP: I’m not aware of any, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find some obscure folk singer got there before me…

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Picture of Vinny Peculiar by Trust A Fox Photography

Where did you make the record and who worked on it with you?

VP: The recording of the drums and bass and some of the noisier guitars was done in Whitby Studios, Ellesmere Port, with my Liverpool band Paul Tsanos [drums] , Bobby Kewley [bass, cello] and Rob Steadman [ex-Parlour Flames] on keys. The vocals were recorded and edited at home, as were the acoustic guitars, percussion and keyboards.

The serious sheen was added in UNIT 31, in Pershore, by co-producer Dave Draper, who turned a half- decent record into a great sounding one, I like to think.   

Was it an easy album to make? 

VP: It was something of a learning curve for me at times – the challenge of mic placements, street noise and the neighbours’ dog were all sent to test me – but it felt emotionally cathartic, like I was putting old demons to bed, especially in the more intimate, confessional songs.

I thought it would be fun to do a track-by-track guide to the new record. Let’s talk about each of the songs individually – I’ll throw in a few of my own thoughts and you can tell me more about the tracks and what inspired them. Here we go…

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Track By Track Guide to Return of the Native

The Grove and The Ditch 

This is a glam-rocking start to the record. We’re taken back to teenage street gangs of the ’70s. What was the inspiration? It’s quite possibly the only pop song to name check Tony Blackburn…

VP: When I was at school, my Bromsgrove friends and I were routinely terrorised by the Redditch Mob – they’d come over to Bromsgrove and pick a fight with us after school. We weren’t very hard and got regularly chased – it became the norm, they’d accuse us of being in the Bromsgrove Gang and we’d leg it!  The song is set in 1974, when Tony Blackburn was dumped by his girlfriend and famously cried in public on Radio 1 – he really was in bits.  Many of the other references in the song are from that time – The Rocky Horror Show, winters of discontent were everywhere. Glam rock was just about alive and kicking, but punk rock was about to confine it to history…

Malvern Winter Gardener

I think this is one of the best songs you’ve ever written. It’s beautiful, wistful jangle-pop and is about an eccentric local character – a once famous rock star, who’s reflecting on the gigs he played in the ’70s, at the Malvern Winter Gardens, and the bands he saw back in the day…

VP: Thanks, Sean. I used to go to the Winter Gardens in Malvern as a young teenager – the bands I mention in the song were some of the ones I saw. It was a magical place to me. The song’s narration is from the point of view of a burnt-out rock star who lives in Malvern, working as a gardener and lamenting the glory days.

The idea of using that voice came from conversations with older musicians in the local music shop and the pub. I understand Ted Turner, who played guitar in Wishbone Ash and gets mentioned in the song, used to live in Malvern. I was also informed the cover of Argus [by Wishbone Ash] was shot in the Malvern Hills, but my subsequent research suggests otherwise…still I’ve included it in the song, anyway. 

Blackpole

The dangers of English Civil War battle re-enactment. Please discuss…

VP: There’s a Civil War re-enactment society just down the road from me – I walk past it when I go to town. I’m fascinated by people who a dress up to re-enact battles – time travellers, if you will. There’s a particular escapism – a kind of discipline that I admire. The song came from a  ‘what if?’ scenario – ‘what if your re-enactment became real and someone got hurt?’ and it grew from there.

The hero of the song dies in battle and returns as a ghost to haunt his girlfriend, who marries the undertaker. I wrote it as a picky little folk song, but it morphed into quite an epic – a twanging, jangling affair. I think it’s one of my favourite songs on the record.

Golden City

What’s the story behind this song? It sounds like it’s named after a Chinese restaurant…

VP: I’d drive past Golden City – and you’re right, it’s a Chinese restaurant here in Blackpole – routinely, when I was in the process of moving from Manchester to Worcester. It’s a rather striking, modern, detached roadside building and I was intrigued. It’s also the name given to San Francisco, which is one of my absolute favourite places to be. The song is about change, hope and moving on, as well as addressing doubt and uncertainty…

Return of the Native 

This is the title track and it name checks Rik Mayall, alongside a whole host of other people and local characters who’ve come from Worcestershire…

VP: Yes – there are a lot of name checks in this song – they’re affectionate recollections. The song is derived from a ‘making a list’ approach, I’ve done this with a few songs before where there’s no linear story – a more random approach. Many of the characters are fabricated, but all have local reference points…and Rik Mayall was born just down the road from me, so that has to be worth celebrating. Many of the other landmarks were significant to me when I lived here, all those years ago. I suppose you could say it’s a spontaneous memory song, in the Kerouac tradition of bop prosody, or was it Ginsberg? I digress…

A Girl From Bromsgrove Town 

More jangle-pop… This is a sad tale of a girl who left you for the girl next door! Care to shed any more light on this affair?

VP: After visiting my father in his Bromsgrove nursing home, I found myself loitering outside a former girlfriend’s house, waiting for my mother. It was a flashback-type moment, and it set me reminiscing. It’s a true story…

‘Clifford T. Ward taught me for a year – we spent a lot of time distracting him and he was happy to talk music’

The Singing Schoolteacher 

This is a very poignant and reflective song, which is about your English teacher, who found brief fame as ’70s M.O.R. singer-songwriter, Clifford T. Ward. It talks about the influence he had on you and how pop music shaped your early life. I guess he was the first famous person you knew and he had a major impact on you… How did he inspire you?

VP: Clifford T. Ward taught me for just a year. He took a less than typical approach to teaching. If we didn’t fancy poetry, he gave us permission to opt out – nobody did – and he had long hair, very long hair, so he was immediately one of us. I don’t remember much about the actual lessons – we spent a lot of time distracting him and he was happy to talk music. He was on John Peel’s record label, Dandelion Records, and he wrote songs for Bronco. All of this was incredibly exciting. When I told him I had musical ambitions, he was the only teacher who took me seriously. I never got to know him as an adult. The song tracks my relationship at a distance, but it’s very much a tribute to his memory and his inspiration when I was young.

Detroitwich

The first time I heard this song, I laughed out loud! Eminem ends up in Droitwich by mistake and mayhem ensues when the locals get their hands on him. There’s even a ‘Vinny Peculiar-doing-the-Pet-Shop-Boys’ West End Girls’ rap vocal! How the hell did you come up with this? It’s bonkers… 

VP: I first heard the ‘Droitwich-meets-Detroit’ naming aggregation from my daughter. It amused me no end, setting off some flight of fancy, whereby Eminem, befuddled by endless touring, ends up in Detroitwich, where he’s abducted by the mob, before being rescued by P Diddy. I worked at a plastic mouldings factory in Droitwich when I knew no better – it was rather grim and I suspect its influence has crept into the song somehow. It is sort of bonkers, yes – I can’t really argue with that…

‘I worked at a plastic mouldings factory in Droitwich  – it was rather grim and I suspect its influence has crept into the song’

 On Rainbow Hill

We’re plunged back into more familiar Vinny Peculiar territory – this is another poignant, reflective, melancholy ballad of lost love. Can you elaborate?

VP: It’s a readjustment song – it’s all about moving on. End of a relationship stuff.

David Swan Riverman

Another song about a local, eccentric character… David Swan Riverman regularly feeds the local swans and ducks and looks out for them. Do you know him? Is there a nod to Nick Drake’s Riverman in the title? I like the haunting, psychedelic feel of this song….

VP: There are a lot of guitars on this song and cellos, too – beautifully played by Bobby Kewley. The haunting Nick Drake-ish-ness is kind of accidental, but I can see what you mean. It’s a droning, root note affair. I don’t actually know David Swan, but I’ve seen him at work and it’s kind of mesmerising and dazzling seeing so many swans assembled at feeding time on the river. Crowds gather around – it’s a beautiful spectacle.

Game Over

This is one of my favourite songs on the album. It sounds like your years living in Manchester have influenced this elegiac song of lost love. I think it has a Joy Division / New Order feel and it references Ian Curtis lyrically…

VP: This was a cathartic song to write, too. Sometimes songs write themselves and you look at them and think ‘is that really me?’ This was such a song. It’s a final acknowledgement – a song that’s hopefully fit to end a record. I wasn’t that aware of the Manchester influence, but I can hear it now you’ve mentioned it. I suppose it’s hard to ignore it after living there for the best part of 23 years.

‘I’ve started making demos for a new album –  it’s going to be a very noisy, dissonant wreck of a record’

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Picture by Trust A Fox Photography

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the songs, Vinny. Finally, what’s next for you? Any projects in the pipeline?

VP: I’m currently working on a collaboration with the poet Anna Saunders, writing music for poetry. We hope to perform live in the future.

I’ve also started making demos for a new album, which we plan to record and mix live in just five days – the very opposite in many ways to how I typically put records together. It’s not going to be a singer-songwriter album – it’s going to be a very noisy, dissonant wreck of a record. It’s a collaborative project with the musicians formerly known as Parlour Flames – the file sharing has commenced. I have no idea how long it will all take, nor under which name it will emerge, but it feels kind of exciting and new, which is a good sign, I think…

Return of the Native by Vinny Peculiar is released on June 1 (Shadrack & Duxbury Records). 

http://vinnypeculiar.com/

https://vinnypeculiar.bandcamp.com/

 

 

‘I wanted to produce something that was a document of the times – the world through my eyes’

 

 

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British singer-songwriter Ian Webber, who is based in Nashville, Tennessee, has just released his most political album to date.

Op-Eds tackles social issues including women’s rights, fake news, war-torn Syria and the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy. 

Musically, it’s very stripped-down – mostly just Ian and his acoustic guitar – and it makes for intimate and sometimes uneasy listening, as he shares people’s stories of hardship and struggle. 

Opener Follow Me and its parent song, The Regime, are haunting tales inspired by reading news stories about families suffering in Syria, while Frontline is a protest song that has its roots in ’50s rockabilly.

First single, Radio Zero, is an ode to the healing power of great music – while the world is going crazy, sometimes you just need to switch off from all the doom and gloom and crank up some classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes. Ian sings the song in a Bowie-like croon that sounds like it’s been beamed in from outer space.

In an exclusive interview, I spoke to Ian to find out why he’s made such an overtly political record and what it was like recording it in Nashville…

Q & A

Your new album Op-Eds totally surprised me, as it’s a lot darker and much more political than I was expecting. Did you deliberately set out to make a political record? And if so, why? What was the starting point for this album?

Ian Webber: The starting point for this album, and pretty much all my projects, was the music I was listening to and absorbing before I began writing it. This time it was The Velvet Underground and Lightnin’ Hopkins. That’s a strange combination, but both were essentially using blues-based chord sequences, keeping it fairly simple, so the vocal melody could take the priority.

The first couple of song ideas were very New York Warhol/Reed inspired. ‘Late night, up on the corner’-type songs, so that’s where my head was to begin with.

I also had a really great hallway with excellent reverb, so that was a good place to stand and sing ideas in a low vocal key.

I had no idea that the record would turn political at all – that really only started when I took breaks from strumming to catch up on daily news. I was intrigued by articles in the New York Times and Washington Post. I discovered really compelling stories, which in turn inspired me to create mini stories as lyrics.

Lyrically and thematically, the album deals with social and political issues past and present, including protesters affected by the Dakota Access Pipeline, women’s rights, the plight of families in Syria, politics in Virginia and immigration issues… This is heavy stuff.

Was it difficult to write such political songs? How did you tackle the issues without sounding trite, or patronising? Was it a worry or a risk?

IW: The universal theme was a common bond that I felt with other humans – all of us moving through life.We all start out the same way, wanting the simplest things, and that gets lost as we grow up.

The world as a whole is a small place. I’ve travelled a lot and you find, whatever language, whatever culture, people are generally the same. I wanted to express that in these songs and, in a small way, shed light on the bigger issues, too.

I don’t proclaim to be a learned scholar, but I really wanted to produce something that was a document of the times. This was the world through my eyes in 2017, living as a Brit in a very American, southern culture.

‘I’ve travelled a lot –  whatever language, whatever culture, people are generally the same. I wanted to express that in these songs and shed light on the bigger issues, too’

Musically, it’s a very stripped-down album –  it’s mostly just you and your acoustic guitar. Was that how you wrote the songs?

IW: Yes – I certainly had this idea that I would try to do the whole record alone.

I always have voice memos lying around, and when I played them in the car, or through headphones, they sounded great to me. I guess that made me want to make the album in essentially the same way, but obviously, with a better mic than the one on my phone.

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Historic RCA Nashville Studio A

Where and how did you record the album and who did you work with?

IW: I recorded the record at Historic RCA Nashville Studio A, thanks to my ex-band mate Dave Cobb, who runs the place, and who helped make time between projects for me to go in and record

There is a huge tracking room that’s big enough for an orchestra. I basically set up in the middle and sang live and played guitar. The natural reverb in the room is insane, and there were minimal overdubs. It was a cathartic way to record – no drums, no bass, no other souls around except me and Gena Johnson, Dave’s engineer, who produced the record.

‘It was a cathartic way to record – no drums, no bass, no other souls around except me and the engineer’

One of my favourite songs on the album is The Regime – it’s very haunting…

IW: The Regime started as a chord sequence that was similar to the ideas on my last record [Year of the Horse, from 2015] – walk down progressions and minor chords, of course!

The lyrics were based on an interview that a family in Syria gave to the New York Times, about trying to survive war in the city.

When you grow up, you have this romantic idea of the place you were born, and its streets and sounds, and fond memories. I could never imagine living somewhere you call home and watching it fall apart. That song is a kind of companion to Follow Me, which deals with leaving that kind of scenario behind and having to find a new home in a foreign land.IMG_1746

Another standout track for me is Frontline – it has a ’50s Sun Records feel.  It’s an acoustic, rockabilly protest song… 

IW: That’s a cool observation, Sean! The love of ‘50s rockabilly music seems to be a recurring theme on my records, but I can’t say I had it in mind when I was writing the song… I have been having a Lightnin’ Hopkins obsession lately, so certainly that was in my brain at the time…

The song Spirit of Houston comes from a similar place, doesn’t it? What’s the story behind it?

IW: That’s the only collaboration on the record. I started the year chatting, via email, to an old singer friend of mine, Sam Smithwick. I was inspired and jealous of his ability to write blues songs. We had been sending each other finished ideas, kind of like a pen pal would write letters. One song he sent had no vocal, just a guitar riff. I took the idea, added words, looped the riff, and sang to it live in RCA Studio.

Lyrically it’s about the 1977 National Women’s Conference for women’s rights. Last year, I went to the Women’s March in Nashville, and the signs I saw and the voices I heard made me want to become more educated.

‘When you grow up, you have this romantic idea of the place you were born, and its streets and sounds, and fond memories. I could never imagine living somewhere you call home and watching it fall apart’

In the last couple of years, you’ve moved from L.A. to Nashville and you’ve become a father – congratulations! How much did relocating and having a son have an influence on this album?

IW: There were a few reasons for the move from L.A. to Nashville. I started out in Atlanta, playing music in the ‘90s, before moving to Seattle and then L.A. Coming back to the South was a way to reconnect with the culture and some amazing musicians I had played with. I got to do some touring for the last record with some former bandmates that still lived here, so it was kind of a homecoming of sorts.

My son, Wilder, was still inside his mum Meg’s belly when I was writing and recording, so his influence was there, but in little kicks. He did get to hear Fire on the Water being recorded, when Meg sang the backing vocals while pregnant!

You’re an English guy living in the U.S. What’s your take on Brexit and US politics at the moment? Is this album your chance to try and make sense of it all?

IW: I have my British passport, my Green Card, and am hanging on to my accent. Living abroad definitely makes you more nostalgic and somewhat patriotic.

One thing about living here is that the news is generally US-based, so Brexit is something I feel like a tourist talking about. From what I hear, it’s going to affect a lot of musicians from touring as freely in Europe. I would rather see a world without boundaries and barriers.IMG_2153 (1).jpgOne of the least political songs on the album is the first single, Radio Zero. It’s about escaping fake news and bad news and listening to classic rock ‘n’ roll instead. I think your vocal on the track has a slight Bowie feel to it…

IW: At the end of it all, I am a music lover, and so Radio Zero is a nostalgic look back at when I was lying on my bed as a teenager, late at night, scanning the radio for a good song. John Peel was still around, and also some AM pirate radio stations, so cracking rock ‘n’ roll was something I tuned in to and fell asleep to. David Bowie was one of my first musical loves, so maybe he was sending me messages through the wavelengths on that one. I hope so.

Finally, on that note, it seems apt to ask you what music – new and old – you’re currently enjoying?

IW: I like that you added the old and new line there… Currently in my mind – new:

Charlotte Gainsbourg – Rest

Ryuichi Sakamoto – async

David Sylvian – A Victim of Stars

Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree

Devendra Banhart – Ape in Pink Marble

And some older – and loved…

R.E.M – Reckoning

Prefab Sprout – Swoon

The Smiths – The Smiths

 

Op-Eds by Ian Webber is out now.

For more info, visit: https://ianwebber.bandcamp.com/album/op-eds

http://www.ianwebbermusic.com/