Looking for something to help you cope with the post-Christmas comedown? New UK Americana label Greenhorse Records, which is based in Preston, Lancashire, has just the thing – Choke Hold, the debut single by alt-country four-piece West On Colfax.
Influenced by Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Wilco and Son Volt, it’ll put a jangle in your January. “The love we once found was just a fever going round,” sings vocalist Alan Hay, which is very apt, as it’s a highly infectious tune – two and a half minutes of life-affirming guitar pop that sounds like a long-lost Creation Records release from the early ’90s. They may hail from Lancashire, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that West On Colfax grew up on a Glaswegian council estate, reared on a diet of Irn-Bru and Byrds records.
The band’s debut album, Barfly Flew By, will be released later this year, but, in the meantime enjoy Choke Hold. In these dark and uncertain times we’re living in, it’s solid, it’s reliable and it’ll make you smile – it’s like catching up with an old friend you’ve not seen for ages. What a great way to start the New Year…
From a haunting and cinematic masterpiece about love, loss, grief and existentialism to power-pop, New Wave, pastoral country-rock, Americana, lo-fi Beachboys sounds, psychedelic blues and dark disco, Say It With Garage Flowers chooses its favourite albums of 2019…
2019 was an emotional year for me – I became a dad for the first time. In March, my wife, Susie, gave birth to beautiful twin boys, Ronnie and Roddy, and our world changed forever… I’ve always been over-sensitive, but such a major life event left me feeling even more sentimental and soft-centred, which undoubtedly had a major influence on which album I would choose as my favourite record of the year – Ghosteen by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.
The first record he’d wholly written since the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015, and the third album in a loose trilogy, Ghosteen is a haunting and cinematic masterpiece.
Its lyrics tackle love, loss, grief and existentialism and are set to minimalist, otherworldly and ambient soundscapes for synth, piano and strings. At times, the songs are extremely harrowing, but also moving, beautiful and optimistic. A double album, Cave said of the record: “The songs on the first album are the children. The songs on the second album are their parents. Ghosteen is a migrating spirit.”
When I first heard it on an overcast October morning, I was astounded by the stunning opener, the mesmerising Spinning Song, reduced to tears by the second track, the piano ballad BrightHorses, and by the third song, the plaintive and hymn-like Waiting For You, I was in bits…
The album’s closing epic, Hollywood, which clocks in at just over 14 minutes, is one of the most astonishing pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s stripped-down, brooding and atmospheric, with eerie electronic effects, a ghostly choir and low, rumbling bass in the background – like waiting for an oncoming storm to strike… Ghosteen is truly stunning – a career high point.
Several of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite artists put out great albums in 2019. We’ve highlighted just a few of them below. There’s also a list of our 40 best albums of the year at the end of the article and an accompanying Spotify playlist – we’re really spoiling you…
English husband and wife duo The Rails – James Walbourne and Kami Thompson – released their best long-player yet. Cancel The Sun – their third record – was produced by Stephen Street (The Smiths, Morrissey, Blur) and saw them moving further away from their folk-rock roots – Kami is the daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson – cranking up the electric guitars and embracing power-pop and New Wave, (Call Me When It All Goes Wrong, Ball and Chain, Waiting On Something); ‘60s-style country-soul (Something Is Slipping My Mind) and Beatlesy psychedelia (the title track).
‘Hollywood is one of the most astonishing pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s stripped-down, brooding and atmospheric, with eerie electronic effects, a ghostly choir and low, rumbling bass in the background’
Their gorgeous trademark harmonies were still in place and there were some folky ballads (Mossy Well and Leave Here Alone), but this time around, James, whose other job is as the guitarist in The Pretenders, really cut loose and pushed his extraordinary playing to the fore.
Cancel The Sun was very instant and direct – it didn’t mess around and had a harder, poppier feel than their last two records. Speaking to us earlier this year, Kami said: “This time, we didn’t rule anything out – we just wanted to make a bigger record.”
Commenting on working with Stephen Street, James said: “We wanted someone a bit different – who would take it forward – and who had perhaps more of a rock edge. We were thinking of the sound of Graham Coxon’s [Blur guitarist] solo records – in-your-face guitar.”
When we told James that we thought they’d made their best yet, he said: “That’s very kind of you – I appreciate that. After you make a record, there comes a point when just you don’t have a f***ing clue about what you’ve just done. This record is a truer reflection of what we listen to.”
James also cropped up on two of Say It With Garage Flowers’ other favourite albums of 2019 – he played guitar on two tracks on Spread The Feeling, the long-awaited new record by the Pernice Brothers, which was a brilliant mix of Smiths and New Order-like jangle-pop, ’80s US New Wave and melancholy Americana, and also turned in a neat guitar solo on the country-folk song You Can Help Me, which featured on Manchester crooner Nev Cottee’s latest album – the superb River’s Edge, which was influenced by ’70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Waits, and had an optimistic, mellow and pastoral feel. Produced by Mason Neely (Wilco, Edwyn Collins), River’s Edge was a beautiful album. Highlights included Nightingale, a nocturnal, Tom Waitsian lullaby with piano and brass, and the Nancy and Lee-esque ballad Roses – a duet with mysterious guest vocalist Veronica, who sounded like Nico. The first single, Hello Stranger, was cinematic psych-rock, with a [Cortez the] killer, Neil Young-style electric guitar solo.
‘Nev Cottee’s latest album, the superb River’s Edge, was influenced by ’70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Waits, and had an optimistic, mellow and pastoral feel’
Talking to Say It With Garage Flowers about the album, Nev said: “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…”
Cottee was part of the stellar cast of artists who contributed to this year’s two albums by the Monks Road Social collective – Down The Willows and Out Of Bounds – headed up by Blow Monkeys frontman Dr. Robert.
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 you’re ever likely to hear – 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; 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. The Monks Road Social collective are playing their first ever live show, in London, at the Jazz Cafe, in 2020, and Say It With Garage Flowers hopes to be there.
‘The Monks Road Social records are two of the most eclectic collections of songs you’re ever likely to hear – 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’
Telling us about the making of both the records, Dr. Robert said: “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! 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…”
He added: “As we began to assemble the players, something 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…”
Isle of Wight-based singer-songwriter Angelina – part of Monks Road Social – released her second album, Last Cigarette, this year.
Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, it was raw, visceral, menacing and angry – a heavy and psychedelic, garage-rock blues record that was a lethal cocktail of dirt, dust, diesel and Louisiana swamp juice.
Scorching opener, Throw Petrol At The Sun, had an oily, clanking rhythm and manic, trippy flute, first single, Devil’s Wishing Well, was built on a funky, Beck-like groove, See Through Dress was a smouldering, late-night tale of getting revenge on a soon-to-be ex-lover – she takes his last cigarette and stubs it out on the dress he bought her – and the riotous, rock ‘n’ roll gospel-soul of God Bless The Road was inspired by playing a gig in a Berlin biker bar, with bonfires burning outside.
‘Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, Last Cigarette was raw, visceral, menacing and angry – a heavy and psychedelic, garage-rock blues record that was a lethal cocktail of dirt, dust, diesel and Louisiana swamp juice’
The album saw Angelina reunited with Rupert Brown (drums, percussion, auto harp and backing vocals), who worked on her debut album, 2016’s folky and rootsy Vagabond Saint, but this time around she recruited ace electric and slide guitarist Barrie Cadogan (Little Barrie, Primal Scream, Edwyn Collins), and The James Hunter Six’s Jason Wilson on double bass.
Session musicians Joe Glossop (keys) and Gary Plumley (flute) were also along for the ride, as were five singers from the People’s Choir of St Louis.
Speaking about the influences behind the album, Angelina said: “I love the sound – and the truth – of those early blues artists, like Blind Willie Johnson, Ma Rainey and Charley Patton, but it wasn’t a conscious design to make a blues record – that was just what came out naturally…”
She added: “I always try and walk on the sunny side of the street, but I do have a habit of finding the shadows…”
Another artist who is no stranger to the darker side of life is gravel-voiced Mark Lanegan, who released his eleventh studio album, Somebody’s Knocking, in 2019.
On the track Penthouse High, he sang: “There’s ghosts inside this house…” It sounded as if the place was haunted by the spectre of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, as the Manchester post-punk band – and the outfit they morphed into, New Order – were two of the most obvious influences at work on this record. Name and Number was powered by a doomy, Peter Hook-style bassline, which also sounded like The Cure, Playing Nero was all ’80s synths and drum machines and Dark Disco Jag had a sinister electro groove.
Lanegan also made another album this year – Downwelling, which was attributed to Not Waving and Dark Mark. A collaboration with experimental producer Alessio Natalizia, it explored dark electronic territory and served as a great companion piece to Somebody’s Knocking.
Now for something a bit lighter… Summer Deluxe, the fifth solo album by Hampshire-based, UK singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Mike Gale, was one of the most gorgeous records Say It With Garage Flowers heard this year.
‘On the track Penthouse High, Lanegan sang: “There’s ghosts inside this house…” It sounded as if the place was haunted by the spectre of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis…’
Adding samples of strings, piano and organ to drum machines, synths, guitars and harmonies, Mike, formerly of Americana band Co-pilgrim and, before them, cult noughties indie-slackers Black Nielson, crafted a blissed-out, lo-fi summer soundtrack that was heavily influenced by The Beach Boys.
There were pure pop moments (Jump Start My Heart and Shoot Shoot The Needle), wonky synth sounds (You Know How I’m Feeling Now) and jazzy tinges (Every Cloud Has A Cloudy Lining), but lurking beneath the sunny, surf’s up melodies, there was an undertow of sadness and world-weariness.
‘There were pure pop moments and jazzy tinges, but lurking beneath the sunny, surf’s up melodies, there was an undertow of sadness and world-weariness’
This year’s follow-up, Time Out For Tomorrow, was another album that we fell in love with. From the Dylanesque country-rock of first single Canvas of Gold – with slide guitar and organ – to the melancholy, piano-led ballad That Ain’t Here, the blues-folk of Burchell Lake – inspired by a ghost town in Ontario – and the haunting and cinematic mountain tune, Survived Like A Stone – with fiddle and saw – these were raw, powerful and emotional songs.
Asked about the sound of the new album, Jerry told us: “It’s a nice, short and sweet, lean and mean record. Two records I really dug the sound of that I wanted to capture on this record were Nick Lowe’s TheImpossible Bird and one of my favourite Lou Reed albums, Coney Islnd Baby – I love that dry drum sound and the real directness of it. Some of the songs just coast along. I also like a lot of Nick Lowe’s older records with Rockpile, where he doubled the electric guitar solos. I doubled my vocals on some songs.”
Here There’s No Sirens, the debut solo album by Pete Gow (ex-Case Hardin) was a brilliant collection of stripped-down, intimate and very personal songs, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, brass, piano, drums and organ.
Produced by multi-instrumentalist Joe Bennett, (Dreaming Spires, Co-Pilgrim, Raving Beauties / Paul McClure) at Farm Music Studios in Oxfordshire and released on Clubhouse Records, it was both beautiful and unsettling. Opener One Last One NightStand set the tone for most of the record – it was a big, honest, relationship ballad with a breathtaking cinematic backing, while the song Mikaela sounded like early Ryan Adams, but with mournful horns and sweeping strings.
‘Here There’s No Sirens, the debut solo album by Pete Gow, was a brilliant collection of stripped-down, intimate and very personal songs, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, brass, piano, drums and organ’
There were also character songs – the majestic Some Old Jacobite King was steeped in the storytelling tradition and was inspired by a trip to the remote Isle of Skye, while Strip For Me centred on a guy who treats women in a thoroughly unpleasant way – and it name checked porn actress and stripper Stormy Daniels, who was involved in a scandal with U.S. President Donald Trump. Pete Gow also released a limited edition seven-track mini album called The Fragile Line in 2019 – it too was one of our favourite records of the year.
Another Americana album we enjoyed this year was Carousel, by UK singer-songwriter Luke Tuchscherer. A stark and moody solo acoustic record – guitar, voice and harmonica – that was laid down in one day at a studio in New Jersey, it didn’t shy away from addressing political and social issues and was inspired by Neil Young and Bob Dylan.
Opener, My Darling England, dealt 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 was 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 tackled domestic abuse, Potash was penned during the Iraq War and The Night Tom Petty Died documented 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…’
‘A stark and moody solo acoustic record that was laid down in one day at a studio in New Jersey, Carousel didn’t shy away from addressing political and social issues’
Luke cited 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 reminded us of Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 masterpiece Nebraska – our favourite album by The Boss.
2019 was a decent year for new music, but a bad one for politics, however, some good did come out of the current dire state of the UK, as West Midlands-based singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar was inspired to write While You Still Can – a socio-political album that took a wry look at the situation the country found itself in. This time around, he made a harder, darker and rockier record with a political edge and plenty of social commentary, but he didn’t dispatch with the vintage pop culture references that we know – and love – him for.
Man Out Of Time was rollicking country-blues with a lyric about the ’70s glam rock years of his youth, while Culture Vulture’s Led Zep-inspired riffs were a nod to his Black Country rock roots. The synth-heavy Ministry Of Fate concerned itself with government media blackouts, Scarecrows was Bowie-esque, robotic funk meets plastic soul and the post-punk, heavy indie-rock of Pop Music For Ugly People tackled political opportunism and personal greed.
‘2019 was a decent year for new music, but a bad one for politics, however, some good did come out of the current dire state of the UK – Vinny Peculiar was inspired to write While You Still Can – a socio-political album that took a wry look at the situation the country found itself in’
Question Time – Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite track – was 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.
In an interview with Say It With Garage Flowers, Vinny said: “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.”
With Brexit looming, who knows what 2020 will bring, but, rest assured, I’m confident that, like 2019, it will be another great year for new music. I’ve already had a sneak preview of three albums that are due out in 2020 – no spoilers here – but it’s safe to say that they’ll be high up on Say It With Garage Flowers’ list of our favourite records of next year…. In the meantime, here’s our 40 best albums of 2019 and a Spotify playlist to go with them. It’s been emotional…
Say It With Garage Flowers: Best Albums of 2019
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
The Rails – Cancel The Sun
Nev Cottee – River’s Edge
Pernice Brothers – Spread The Feeling
Peter Bruntnell – King of Madrid
Richard Hawley – Further
Pete Gow – Here There’s No Sirens
The Delines – The Imperial
Jerry Leger – Time Out For Tomorrow
The Lilac Time – Return To Us
Morrissey – California Son
Pete Gow – The Fragile Line
Vinny Peculiar – While You Still Can
Those Pretty Wrongs – Zed For Zulu
Monks Road Social – Out of Bounds
PP Arnold – The New Adventures of PP Arnold
Angelina – Last Cigarette
Mercury Rev – Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited
Mark Lanegan – Somebody’s Knocking
Monks Road Social – Down The Willows
Mike Gale – Summer Deluxe
Luke Tuchsherer – Carousel
The Rockingbirds – More Rockingbirds
RW Hedges – The Hills Are Old Songs
Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
Steve Gunn – The Unseen In Between
Nocturum – The After Life
Wilco – Ode To Joy
The National – I Am Easy To Find
Elbow – Giants of All Sizes
Jeremy Squires – Poem
Whoa Melodic – Whoa Melodic
Not Waving & Dark Mark – Downwelling
John Howard – Cut The Wire
Edwyn Collins – Badbea
Iggy Pop – Free
GospelBeacH- Let It Burn
Lucette – Deluxe Hotel Room
Hannah Rose Platt – Letters Under Floorboards
Hurricane #1 – Buddha At The Gas Pump
•Please note – at the time of writing, Spread The Feeling by Pernice Brothers, The Fragile Line by Pete Gow and More Rockingbirds by The Rockingbirds are not available on Spotify.
With its Dylanesque country-rock, rootsy blues, folk and haunting mountain balladry, Jerry Leger’s new album, Time Out For Tomorrow, will feature highly in our ‘Best of 2019’ list.
We spoke to the Toronto-based singer-songwriter, who will be playing shows in Europe and the UK in spring next year, about the ‘short and sweet, lean and mean’ sound he wanted to achieve on the record and how he was inspired by listening to Lou Reed and Nick Lowe…
Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we’ve been championing Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger since we first heard his brilliant double album, Nonsense and Heartache, which came out in 2018.
It was one of our favourite records of that year – as we said at the time, ‘essentially it’s two distinct collections of songs. The first half – Nonsense – is a raw, primal, bluesy, electric rock ‘n’ roll record, while the second instalment – Heartache – is a stripped-down, alt-country affair, with intimate ballads, lap steel, piano and fiddle. Put them together and you have an album that reminds us of those classic early Ryan Adams long-players Heartbreaker and Gold – yep, it’s that good…’
In April this year, Toronto-based Jerry and his band, The Situation, toured the UK and Europe to support the release of the limited edition, retrospective compilation, Too Broke To Die, which was put together especially for the European market and was available to buy from his merch stall on tour.
In an exclusive interview ahead of his East London headline show at What’s Cookin’, in Leytonstone, Jerry gave us a scoop – he spilled the beans about his latest studio album, Time Out For Tomorrow, which was due to be released in the winter of 2019.
He told us: “I’m really excited about the new record – I’m very proud of it. I really think it’s the best record I’ve made so far. It’s a cross between Early Riser [his seventh studio album from 2014] and Nonsense and Heartache sound-wise and it’s very concise – songwriting-wise, performance-wise, arrangement-wise and sequence-wise.”
Talking about the recording sessions, which were overseen by producer Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), who worked on Jerry’s two previous albums, he said: “What was different this time around was that we rehearsed a lot before going into the studio, trying out different arrangements, but there’s still spontaneity on this record… A lot of it was played live in the studio, but I had more of a clear idea about how it was going to be executed. I already had in my mind what the arrangements were going to be. It took about a week to make.”
He added: “We went in with 18 songs, focused on about 15, then cut it down to 12 and 10 made it. Some of the songs that didn’t make it are some of the best, but they didn’t fit. It was like putting together a puzzle. I like records that are rough around the edges, but with this one I took a little more care putting those puzzle pieces together.”
‘It’s a nice, short and sweet, lean and mean record. I wanted to capture the sound of Nick Lowe’s The Impossible Bird and Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby’
Asked about the sound of the new album, Jerry told us: “It’s a nice, short and sweet, lean and mean record. Two records I really dug the sound of that I wanted to capture on this record were Nick Lowe’s TheImpossible Bird and one of my favourite Lou Reed albums, Coney Island Baby – I love that dry drum sound and the real directness of it. Some of the songs just coast along. I also like a lot of Nick Lowe’s older records with Rockpile, where he doubled the electric guitar solos. I doubled my vocals on some songs.”
It’s now more than six months since we spoke to Jerry – Time Out For Tomorrow was released in early November and it’s easily one of our favourite albums of 2019. From the Dylanesque country-rock of first single Canvas of Gold – with slide guitar and organ – to the melancholy, piano-led ballad That Ain’t Here, the blues-folk of Burchell Lake – inspired by a ghost town in Ontario – and the haunting and cinematic mountain tune, Survived Like A Stone – with fiddle and saw – these are raw, powerful and emotional songs that deserve to be heard by a much wider audience.
It seems that the word is getting around – the recent European edition of Rolling Stone awarded Time Out For Tomorrow four and a half out of five stars and called it “his masterpiece”, monthly music magazine Uncut gave the album a positive review in its latest issue and well-respected specialist website Americana UK also had good things to say about it.
We caught up with Jerry recently and asked him if he thinks Time Out For Tomorrow could be the album that takes him to the next level?
“I hope it does – just to make it easier to keep travelling and making albums. I certainly think that there are enough people that would dig it to make that happen, but it’s hard these days,” he says. “Once upon a time the music would come to them, now they gotta dig for it, unless there’s a lot of money behind it, pushing it. We’ll be back in the UK and Europe in the spring  – I’m really looking forward to it.”
Time Out For Tomorrow feels less bluesy than its predecessor – it’s more of an Americana record… “Yeah – that’s a fair comment,” says Jerry. “I think the Nonsense portion of Nonsense and Heartache was basically a blues record. It’s just where I was at for those sessions. They’re all kind of blues records, but this one swings more.”
The basic band set-up for Time Out For Tomorrow – guitars/ vocals, piano, bass, drums and organ – is very mid-‘60s Bob Dylan…
“He’s influenced everything and everyone, whether they like it or not,” says Jerry. “As Warren Zevon once said, ‘He invented my job.’ Having said that, it wasn’t anything intentional. We just have a good buddy, Alan Zemaitis, who plays the organ like you’ve never heard. He recently played with Buddy Guy in Chicago, and Buddy gave him the nod and thumbs up. I really wanted him as part of the family on this record.”
The first single, Canvas of Gold, which was only written a few days before the recording sessions for the new album, includes the lines: “Everything was almost decided when we were young. You stay poor like your family before and I’ll keep hustling…”
Is the song autobiographical? “Well, my dad had a rough upbringing – not a lot of money in a very full house in St. John’s, Newfoundland,” says Jerry. “He always worked very hard – he did a few jobs to make sure that we didn’t grow up the same way. His work ethic is still inspiring to me. He always had pride in what he was doing. My dad was no sell-out.”
‘Life is a hustle for people that don’t rely on luck, or rely on someone to create the illusion for them’
So, as a full-time musician trying to earn a living, does he feel like a hustler? “Yeah. Life is a hustle for people that don’t rely on luck, or rely on someone to create the illusion for them.”
One of our favourite songs on the record is the moving ballad, That Ain’t Here, which seems to be about escaping from fake people and from the harsh realities of life by being with a loved one. There’s a great line in it: “We sang our favourite song that everyone gave up on…” What’s Jerry’s favourite song on the album?
“I guess I like that one and Corner Light, and I love I Would – I just think it does what it needs to and doesn’t overstay its welcome, ” he says.
The title, Time Out For Tomorrow, was taken from the name of an early ’60s dime store collection of science fiction short stories given to Jerry by a friend. “I just couldn’t get the title out of my head. Everything around me seems like science fiction these days and the phrase ‘Time Out For Tomorrow’ fits these songs and my mood in one way or another.
“It seemed to make sense to me for this record,” he says. “Sometimes I know exactly what it means and sometimes I think it could be something else. I dig that.”
So do we. Time Out For Tomorrow is here and now – you need to take time out to listen to it today…
Time Out For Tomorrow by Jerry Leger is out now on Latent Recordings. Jerry Leger and The Situation will be touring Europe and the UK in spring 2020. These are the confirmed dates so far – more will be announced:
09/04: Hengelo, NL – Metropool º 10/04: Arnhem, NL – Luxor Live º 22/04: London, UK – Green Note 23/04: Glasgow, UK – Broadcast 24/04: Hull, UK – O’Rileys 25/04: Stockport, UK – Roma Lakes 26/04: Winchester, UK – The Railway Inn 29/04: Örebro, SWE – STÅ – Pintxos & Vänner 30/04: Stockholm, SWE – Snotty Seaside 01/05: Ringebu, NO – Arnemoen Gard 02/05: Trondheim, NO – Moskus 03/05: Oslo, NO – Krøsset 05/05: Recklinghausen, DE – Creative Outlaws 06/05: Eindhoven, NL – De Rozenknop Eindhoven 07/05: Groningen, NL – Der Aa-Theater 09/05: Houffalize, BE – La Truite d’Argent – Hotel & Cabanes 10/05: Utrecht, NL – Café de Stad
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 Bruise, Stranger In The House, That 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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.