In the first in an occasional series of visiting – and writing about – record shops we love, Say It With Garage Flowers heads to Union Music Store in Lewes, East Sussex. We speak to co-owner Danny Wilson, who tells us why he won’t be stocking any Mariah Carey albums just yet…
Record Store Day is a chance for diehard music junkies to blow some serious cash on vinyl, but last year, Danny Wilson and Del Day took things one step further – they bought a record shop!
On RSD 2018, Danny, the frontman of alt-country, rock ‘n’ roll soulsters Danny & The Champions of the World, who is also one third of Americana janglers Bennett, Wilson, Poole, and music publicist and promoter Del, were announced as the new owners of Union Music Store, in the East Sussex market town of Lewes. They took it over from Stevie and Jamie Freeman, who opened the shop in 2010.
A short walk from the station, Union is small, but perfectly formed – new and secondhand vinyl albums are neatly filed in wooden boxes, band T-shirts are hung on the walls, alongside musical instruments, and there are a few CDs on shelves and a selection of rock ‘n’ roll biographies. Americana, folk, country, classic rock, jazz and alternative are the genres of choice – it’s a shop for music lovers, run by people who are passionate about what they do and really know their stuff…
The shop has a cosy, cabin-like feel – it’s very warm and inviting – and behind the counter there’s the ‘Wall of Sound’ – each week, Danny and Del fill it with records and then share the images on social networking.
On the morning Say It With Garage Flowers visits the shop, the wall is country rock and folk-flavoured, with LPs by Dillard & Clark, Nick Drake, Karen Dalton and Jackson C. Frank on display.
‘The Grease soundtrack is as good as any Americana record I’ve heard in the past 20 years, so why not sell it to people who want it? Grease is brilliant!’
Say It With Garage Flowers does a spot of crate digging and is very pleased to find a limited edition, signed vinyl copy of Matt Deighton’s ‘horror folk’ album, Wake Up The Moths, which we duly purchase.
As we approach the counter to pay, Danny has just taken delivery of a pile of new records, including, much to Del’s displeasure, the Grease soundtrack. It turns out that Danny is threatening to include a musical theatre section in the shop…
“I’m really serious about it,” he says later, over a coffee in a nearby café. “Del is completely unhappy – the whole order that came in this morning was generally a variety of thorns in his side! If I’m being entirely honest, the Grease soundtrack is as good as any Americana record I’ve heard in the past 20 years, so why not sell it to people who want it? Grease is brilliant!”
So now you’re running a record shop can you afford to be a music snob, or do you have to sell what you think people will buy?
“In truth, we’re a bit more High Fidelity than we are HMV – we’re curating,” says Danny. “We only have a certain amount of space and we don’t just stock everything. There’s no pop music in there. You won’t find any Mariah Carey – not because I’m a snob about it, but it’s not what we’re into. We’ll see… If you come back in a year’s time and there are Adele posters all over the shop, you’ll know which way it’s been going! We’d rather sell a Miles Davis album than a Miles Kane one!
“If someone comes into the shop and asks us, ‘what’s that record like?’ we’d like to be able to say with confidence that it’s great, or that it’s OK, but you should buy this one instead – at the moment, it’s got to be stuff we love…”
Q & A
How did you come to own Union Music Store?
Danny Wilson: Stevie Freeman, the head honcho of the Americana Music Association (AMA) UK , ran Union for about seven and half years – I first went in there during the first couple of years it was open. I was camping with my kids, went into Lewes, saw the shop and thought, ‘wow – that’s crazy’. It was a folk and Americana shop – I bought a CD by The Long Ryders.
I got to know Stevie. Del lives in Lewes and he’s been involved in PR and promoting Americana, so he knew Stevie really well. Del and I started a record label, Maiden Voyage. Stevie was getting really busy with the AMA stuff and she approached Del and I, as she knew we ran the label and had a love of records – she asked us if running the shop would interest us. We had a conversation for about two minutes…
Shopkeeping runs in your family, doesn’t it? There’s a song on the Bennett Wilson Poole album called Wilson General Store, which is about your grandparents’ shop in Melbourne, Australia. It was called Wilsons Emporium…
DW: Yes – it’s in my blood. My mum and dad met in that shop – my mum was the Saturday girl.
One of my uncles from Melbourne found out about Union and he tracked down some old doo-wop 78s from Wilsons Emporium – when my dad was a kid, one of his jobs was to fill the jukebox in the shop. My uncle sent me the records, so we’ve put them up in the shop. The Wilson family is very happy that I’m continuing the shopkeeping… I have two teenage daughters – they’re both really interested in coming to the shop and helping out, but that’s possibly more about getting 20 quid than a fulfilling, artistic, cultural, community experience… Having said that, they’re both really into music.
So is it a dream come true owning your own record shop?
DW: Yeah – totally. About 20 years ago, I used to work in Music & Video Exchange in Notting Hill and then I was in the Goldhawk Road shop in Shepherd’s Bush, which sold reggae and soul – it was brilliant. Del worked in the jazz section of HMV for 11 years – he loves all music and had a really serious knowledge of jazz.
How is it working in a shop with Del?
DW: It’s hilarious!
‘We have a few regulars who just come in for a cuppa. It’s quite an arty little hangout – there’s no pressure to buy anything’
On a more serious note, retail is tough, so how are you finding it running a shop?
DW: The idea behind the shop wasn’t to start a business that would one day become a chain. We have the label, Del’s doing his PR and booking stuff and I’ve got the band, but we wanted a hub to hang everything else on. That’s what it’s becoming – we have an office downstairs.
We’ve been putting on shows in the town – we had the Lewes Psychedelic Festival in February, with The Hanging Stars and Emma Tricca playing in the shop. We’ve done some in-store events. There’s loads going on and people are coming in and buying records – we have a few regulars who just come in for a cuppa. It’s quite an arty little hangout – that’s what we want it to be. There’s no pressure to buy anything.
Stevie and Jamie have been very kind to us – they worked really hard to build up a database of people who are happy to go to rootsy and Americana gigs, so they’ve handed us an audience and it’s down to us what we do with it. I have no experience in running a shop or my own business, but I love it – I’m as happy as Larry. I play a gig, get in at 3am, get up, then drive the kids to school and drive here – it’s exciting.
Finally, any new releases planned on Maiden Voyage?
DW: Our label has a new record out [Reaper] by a band from Cardiff called ¡Que Asco! They sound a bit like Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, as well as Dinosaur Jr, with a bit of Fugazi – they’re really cool. We’ve put out 100 numbered LPs – it’s like a white label and it’s more DIY than the other stuff we usually do. We love the music!
For more information on Union Music Store and Maiden Voyage go to:
Case Hardin frontman Pete Gow’s first solo album, Here There’s No Sirens, is a brilliant collection of stripped-down, intimate and very personal songs, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, brass, piano, drums and organ.
For his first interview to promote the record, Say It With Garage Flowers met him for a pint. Subjects on the agenda included string sections, tattoos, relationships, Stormy Daniels and Shane MacGowan…
Pete Gow is sat in Trinity bar in Harrow, North West London, nursing a pint of lager. The last time he was here was in late 2017, when he played a solo acoustic We Shall Overcome anti-austerity charity show for Say It With Garage Flowers.
At that gig, one of the songs he aired was the folky Some Old Jacobite King, which now features on his first solo album, Here There’s No Sirens – albeit in a radically different version.
In fact the new record that we’re here to talk about is a surprising departure for Pete, who fronts UK Americana / alt-country band Case Hardin. Sure, lyrically it’s sometimes dark and often left of centre – like the songs we know him for – but this is a deeply personal and confessional record, and, musically, it explores new territory for Pete – gone are the big electric guitars, old fashioned rock and roll, Springsteen-like anthems and kicked-around country songs of Case Hardin’s 2015’s album Colours Simple. Instead, this is a record of stripped-down acoustic songs, with stirring string arrangements, fleshed out by piano, brass, organ and drums.
We’re reminded of when US Americana singer-songwriter Chris Mills – who just so happens to be a friend of Pete’s – made his 2005 album The Wall To Wall Sessions – a masterpiece that featured lush orchestration and horns.
Opener One Last One NightStand sets the tone for most of Here There’s No Sirens – it’s a big, honest, relationship ballad with a breathtaking cinematic backing, while the song Mikaela sounds like early Ryan Adams, but with mournful horns and sweeping violins.
There are also character songs – the majestic Some Old Jacobite King is steeped in the storytelling tradition and was inspired by a trip to the remote Isle of Skye, while Strip For Me centres on a guy who treats women in a thoroughly unpleasant way – and it name checks porn actress and stripper Stormy Daniels, who has been involved in a scandal with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Produced by multi-instrumentalist Joe Bennett, (Dreaming Spires, Co-Pilgrim, Raving Beauties / Paul McClure) at Farm Music Studios in Oxfordshire and out in April on Clubhouse Records, Here There’s No Sirens is a stunning record that’s both beautiful and unsettling.
At times, it can be uncomfortable to listen to, as Pete shares raw emotions and intimate relationship details over dramatic orchestral backing. Does he think it will surprise people who are used to hearing Case Hardin?
“I hope it will,” he tells Say It With Garage Flowers, sipping his pint. “So often when you hear a solo record by people who front bands where the lead singer is the creative force behind them – like the manner in which I front Case Hardin – the differences are quite marginal and it’s just a little bit more acoustic. I really put a lot of thought into how I wanted this album to be different. Even if people don’t like it, nobody can say that it’s just a Case Hardin-lite record…”
Q & A
This is your first solo album. What prompted the move to make a record on your own?
Pete Gow: I was trying to get Case Hardin to make a record last year. It was written – it was even overwritten – I had 15 or 16 songs, but we just weren’t able to make it happen for a whole world of reasons. Sometimes five grown men just can’t get their shit together to make a record happen.
So I started about thinking what I should do – the concept of making a solo record had never occurred to me. I thought about us doing an EP – something that would tide Case Hardin over, as it had been two years since we released our Colours Simple album. Bands like us live or die on new products – not to mention the fact that I’d been writing for a long time and needed to find an outlet for it.
When I realised that the Case Hardin thing wasn’t going to happen, there were three or four songs in that pile that I’d always wondered what the hell Case Hardin would do with them anyway?
The whole thing just came about in almost 24 hours. I spoke to Joe and he was into it, and I spoke to Clubhouse Records, who were expecting a new Case Hardin record, and they said that if I could turn the three or four tracks into an album, they’d be interested in it. So then I wrote the rest of the album in a couple of weeks.
This record is a big departure from the Case Hardin sound – it’s stripped-down ballads, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, piano, trumpet, piano, organ and drums…
PG: I’m the main songwriter in Case Hardin and we have a sound that’s reasonably distinctive, so I had to find a way of making the album a proper solo project.
I went to Joe and said, ‘here’s what I want to do’ – I didn’t want any guitars on it, but I wanted strings and piano and drums, with everything else stripped-out. Joe was brilliant – he listened to the demos and said, ‘I’ll meet you halfway’.
‘I didn’t want people who came to my solo record to find that it was just like a Case Hardin album, but with different musicians playing on it… I didn’t want to make a Case Hardin record’
He wanted to keep the acoustic guitar, because that’s how the songs were written and it’s what drives them along, but there’s no lead guitar on the record.
I didn’t want to short-change anybody – I didn’t want people who came to my solo record to find that it was just like a Case Hardin album, but with different musicians playing on it… I didn’t want to make a Case Hardin record and I knew that Joe could do strings – he’s done some wonderful work on albums that I’m familiar with. I play all the acoustic guitars on the record, the drums are by Fin Kenny and Joe plays everything else.
Even the backing vocals? I thought they were female…
PG: I’ll tell him that!
You made the record last year. How was the recording process?
PG: There were two short sessions of four or five days each in the middle of last year. We did it slightly differently to the way in which records are usually made – I laid down the guitar and then I’d put a guide vocal over the top of it. Then we brought Fin in, who had two days to work through the tracks. Joe wrote melody parts on a violin and then recorded the strings – it was all real instruments. He also wrote the various harmony parts.
The whole experience was very different – when we make a Case Hardin record, it always sounds like a 100 per cent better version of what I knew it was going to sound like in my head – a beautiful, shining, brilliant and more fully realised version.
With this record, I handed the acoustic guitar, vocals and drum tracks over to Joe and he then built the string arrangements. There are a few songs – One Last One Night Stand and TV Reruns – which have big, long, instrumental sections. If I were writing those for a Case Hardin record, I wouldn’t have made them so repetitive and so long.
‘I told Joe that I wanted this record to sound like Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and most of Ryan Adams’ 29’
One Last One Night Stand was the first track Joe sent back to me and I knew then that it was going to be a great project. Joe has produced this album in the fullest and most traditional sense. He understood the content and took all of the songs to a place that was beyond my comprehension. That’s what he brought to this record. When Joe sent the tracks back to me, I was blindsided – they almost sounded like other people’s songs.
What were you listening to when you made this album? What were the musical influences?
PG: I told Joe that I wanted this record to sound like Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and most of Ryan Adams’ 29. He said, ‘I’ve heard neither of those records and I’m not going to listen to them!’ It sounds nothing like either of them.
Joe and I was a wonderful juxtaposition – I had these ideas of what I didn’t want it to sound like, and the influences I did want to draw on, but all he wanted to do was to make the best record possible. Sometimes that fell into line and sometimes it didn’t – sometimes I managed to persuade him to make changes and sometimes change for change’s sake wasn’t the right thing to do. It was a very fulfilling relationship.
It’s a very personal album – emotionally raw and confessional. It’s naked Pete Gow – often in more than one sense of the word, but we’ll come to that later…
Let’s talk about some of the songs. The opener, One Last One Night Stand, features the lines, ‘We don’t need to die here on this beach – we don’t need this sand to wipe blood off our hands…’ This is dark territory, isn’t it?
PG: It’s just my way into relationship songs. I’ve always tried to find that slightly left of centre way into any situation. If there’s anybody who likes the way I write, then I’m guessing it tends to be because of stuff like that.
One Last One Night Stand – like a lot of the album – shows that I’m in a relationship and a place that I never expected myself to be in. I’m certainly in a place that I never expected to be in so comfortably that it would reflect in the music that I’m making.
One Last One Night Stand is just a slightly left of centre way of realising that that’s where I am. It was one of the songs that I wrote for the record – it hadn’t been written previously and it was one of the last ones I wrote. I realised where the record was going and it sets the tone for the project, which I why I put it at the beginning. ‘Here’s where I am – now go and listen to the rest of the record and you’ll realise…’
‘A lot of the album shows that I’m in a relationship and a place that I never expected myself to be in’
It’s an album that’s very relationship-heavy, isn’t it? Some of your Case Hardin songs feature characters, and, although there are characters on this record, most of the songs are personal, aren’t they? They’re about you and the relationship you’re in…
PG: Yes. Apart from possibly Some Old Jacobite King, which is a story song, this album is self-contained and doesn’t really stray from its mandate or remit. Over the course of 40 minutes you need something like Some Old Jacobite King to pull you away… nobody wants to just sit and listen to me and my relationship! [he laughs].
The second song on the album, Mikaela, is my favourite track, largely for the great line: ‘Songs are like tattoos – you should think before you name one after a girl…’ That’s a rare moment of humour in one of your songs…
PG: It is – if you listen to my records, you’ll know that.
Have you got any tattoos of girls’ names?
PG: I haven’t, but it’s that famous thing, isn’t it? Get a tattoo of a girl’s name that been spelt wrong…
That song was never intended to be put on a record, but it suddenly became indicative of this whole album, which is relationship-based, more than anything else I’ve ever done. The song was written for her [Mikaela]. There are references in it that you might think shouldn’t be put on an album for people to hear…
The sexual stuff? Well, I did say it was a naked record…
PG: Literally and figuratively. That’s why that song sits so beautifully next to One Last One Night Stand… ‘Hold on, what’s he saying here? Oh – OK, this is why…’
That was a song that was written for the Case Hardin record, but when I sent it to the band I thought, ‘what the hell are we going to do with this?’ I just didn’t want to throw a load of guitars over the top of it and turn it into alt-country by numbers.
I really like the brass on it – it’s mournful, like a New Orleans funeral band…
PG: Yes, but slightly Mariachi as well – the trumpet was slightly buried in the string section originally, but it got pulled out and pushed front and centre in the final mix.
‘Nobody wants to just sit and listen to me and my relationship!’
From one sexual song to another… Next up we have Strip For Me, which could possibly be the first song to name check Stormy Daniels…
PG: It could well be. The song is nothing to do with her, but it’s about the underbelly of the male perspective of relationships – something I’ve written about at other points in my career.
It’s a character song, isn’t it?
The opening lines are very uncomfortable. There’s a fictional male protagonist who says to a woman: ‘Do you think you’re one of those girls too beautiful to hurt, too beautiful to cheat on? There’s no girl too beautiful for that’…
PG: That horrible guy would quite easily just see a porn star and remember her name – ‘Strip for me, like Stormy Daniels’ – without really realising who this woman is.
It’s a pop culture reference – it’s had an odd reception already. It’s one of the few songs I’ve played live – I did some acoustic shows with Jason McNiff and I road tested some songs. Whenever I played Strip For Me, people burst out laughing… I was like, ‘shit!’
I obviously don’t think through the consequences of these things when I’m writing, but it will be interesting to see if people can peel back the layers, rather than just hearing that woman’s name. I wouldn’t want it to turn into some kind of joke or parody song – it’s not. I used her name to underline the stupidity of the guy in the first verse.
‘I hope history will be a lot kinder to Stormy Daniels and realise that she’s quite a significant character in the theatre that is the Trump presidency’
I guess the reason I left the reference in is because I hope history will be a lot kinder to people like Stormy Daniels and realise that she’s quite a significant character in the theatre that is the Trump presidency. The second verse is supposed to be the woman talking about the guy…
Strip For Me is going to be the preview digital single from the album, so let’s really see what people make of it…
The title track, Here There’s No Sirens, contains a lyrical reference to the Pogues song, A Rainy Night In Soho, playing on the radio, and there’s also a snippet of the song in the outro…
PG: It’s a song about just finding yourself in the kitchen, with a radio playing your favourite song. I’ve given Shane MacGowan a co-writing credit – the song was originally intended for the Case Hardin record and I think they could’ve done something with it.
When I was finishing writing it and demoing it, I thought, ‘what key am I in? This is almost A Rainy Night In Soho’, so I slightly changed the guitar pattern and the style of the strum. I put a little bit of swing into it and changed the key.
The original demo was me playing it into my phone, with the last verse of A Rainy Night In Soho playing on my stereo. I’m a huge Pogues fan – that song is the one to slap people around the face with when they say the Pogues are just a bunch of drunks and that MacGowan is not a good writer…
Why is Here There’s No Sirens the title track?
PG: On this album I deliberately set out to do a few subtle things that I wouldn’t have done on a Case Hardin album – never titling a record after a song and never having our images on the front cover. I wanted to name the record after a song and the cover art is a picture of me by an artist from Edinburgh called Veronica Casey – she painted it many years ago. This album is a case of me unticking a lot of boxes for reasons only known to myself…
‘On this album I deliberately set out to do a few subtle things that I wouldn’t have done on a Case Hardin album’
You’re launching the album at a special London show in the Network Theatre, Waterloo on April 6, where you’ll be joined by The Siren Strinqs quartet…
PG: It’s a community theatre and it’s a beautiful space. Clubhouse Records and Joe wanted people to realise that this album is something different, so we have the Siren Strings – it’s not just me and a guitar. The show will be me, Joe, Tristan Tipping [Clubhouse Records and Paul McClure and The Local Heroes] on bass, Fin on drums, and the string quartet.
There are two supports – Lucy Kitt and Tony Poole [Starry Eyed and Laughing and Bennett Wilson Poole]. Tony mastered my record. We’re going to play the album and there will be one or two little surprises on the night.We’re also going to play at the Ramblin’ Roots Revue [April 12-14, Bucks Student Union, High Wycombe].
Finally, let’s talk about Case Hardin. Any plans for a new album?
PG: It’s written – we’re going into the studio as soon as we can. I think we’re going to start recording it in June and then get it out by June the following year.
What can we expect it to sound like?
PG: Looking at the solo project and knowing that I didn’t want electric guitars on it – and looking at the songs I’ve taken away from Case Hardin for my record – you’re left with something that will quite organically be a collection of much shorter, punchier, louder songs.
There won’t be anything on there as expansive as Poets Corner [the eight-minute album opener from Colours Simple], and I also won’t feel the need to put on tracks like High Rollers and Cheap Streaks From A Bottle [also fromColours Simple].
I think the next Case Hardin album, will, by default, be louder and punchier, and we can zone in on what many people think Case Hardin do best.
Pete Gow’s Here There’s No Sirens will be released on April 5 on Clubhouse Records. There will be an album launch show with The Siren Strings quartet on April 6 at The Network Theatre, London Waterloo, with support from Lucy Kitt and Tony Poole. Tickets are available here.
Pete Gow and The Siren Strings will also be playing at the Ramblin’ Roots Revue festival (April 12-14, Bucks Student Union, High Wycombe).
From UK Americana, to Canadian country-blues, Staffordshire psych-pop, Spaghetti Western soundtracks and, er, a concept record about Worcestershire, Say It With Garage Flowers chooses its favourite albums of 2018…
Bennett Wilson Poole have had a great year.
The UK Americana and jangle-pop trio formed by Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive, Danny and the Champions of the World) and Tony Poole (‘70s rockers Starry Eyed and Laughing – ‘the English Byrds’), released a critically-acclaimed debut album, played sell-out shows across the UK and were nominated twice in the UK Americana 2019 Awards – for UK Album of the Year and UK Artist of the Year. And if that wasn’t enough, they’ve also scooped the prize for Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite album of 2018.
When we told Danny Wilson the news, he said: “What an honour! I didn’t think it would be your album of the year… I wouldn’t have dreamed of it! I loved making the album with the other guys and I think it’s a great record.”
It certainly is! When we first heard the record at the start of the year, we said it would undoubtedly find itself high up on Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite records of the year list come late 2018…
‘High on harmonies and brimming with glorious melodies, it’s a stunning collection of instantly memorable and brilliantly crafted songs that are steeped in classic ‘60s and ‘70s rock and pop, but don’t shy away from tackling contemporary social issues’
Produced by Tony Poole – the king of the 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitar – in his home studio in rural Oxfordshire, it’s a totally cosmic trip that takes in Byrds-meets-Tom-Petty/ Traveling Wilburys jangle-pop (Soon Enough), gorgeous, soulful balladry, (Hide Behind A Smile), mystical country (Find Your Own Truth), sunny Americana (Wilson General Store), shimmering psychedelic sounds (That Thing That You Called Love) and moody, powerful protest rock in the vein of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Hate Won’t Win and Lifeboat (Take A Picture of Yourself).
High on harmonies and brimming with glorious melodies, it’s a stunning collection of instantly memorable and brilliantly crafted songs that are steeped in classic ‘60s and ‘70s rock and pop, but don’t shy away from tackling contemporary social issues.
Speaking to us earlier this year – we were the first publication to interview Bennett Wilson Poole – Tony said: “With our songs, like Hide Behind A Smile, the chords are quite simple and the tunes are quite jangly, but if you dig a little deeper, there’s more under the surface.”
He added: “A lot of people have said that you can keep listening to the album over and over again and you hear new things, which is great – that’s a good sign. If it makes you feel good, we’re adding to the sum of human happiness…”
Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we totally agree – Bennett Wilson Poole’s long-player has been on heavy rotation on our hi-fi and it’s been our feel-good soundtrack of 2018. And the good news is that there’s a follow-up planned for 2019. It can’t come soon enough…
Another Americana release that impressed us this year was Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger’s Nonsense and Heartache.
Produced by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, who worked on our favourite album of 2017, John Murry’s A Short History of Decay, it’s a double album, but, 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…
Jerry has a new album due in the autumn of 2019 and will be playing dates in Europe and the UK in the spring.
Pieces, Luke’s third solo album, is his best yet. An angry, heavy, often political album, it rocks like Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Batten down the hatches, it’s like a hurricane out there… There’s even a nine-minute, epic rallying call (Requiem), which attacks social injustice in the UK and comes across like Luke’s very own Rockin’ In The Free World…
It’s not all big guitar anthems, though – there are some quieter moments in the eye of the storm, like the apologetic ballad Charing Cross and the sublime, Springsteen-like country-rock song Ghosts, which sees Luke revisiting his childhood haunts.
Luke wasn’t the only US-based, UK singer-songwriter to make a political album this year – Nashville resident Ian Webber brought out Op-Eds, which tackled social issues including women’s rights, fake news, war-torn Syria and the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy.
Musically, it’s a very stripped-down record – 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.
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.
‘Musically, it’s a very stripped-down record – 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’
Fellow Bowie fan, UK singer-songwriter and Say It With Garage Flowers regular Vinny Peculiar released the latest in a long line of great albums in 2018. Return of the Native was a concept record inspired by moving back to Worcestershire after 23 years living in Manchester.
A brilliant collection of witty, reflective and deeply personal songs, it features 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.
Jangle-pop and psych sounds both featured heavily on the 2018 albums by London cosmic-country-folk five piece The Hanging Stars and Staffordshire band Alfa 9.
With Songs For Somewhere Else – the follow-up to their 2016 debut, Over The Silvery Lake, which was our favourite album of that year, The Hanging Stars made a record that was even better than its predecessor and was a much more varied and adventurous collection of songs – there was the beguiling and soporific Spiritualized-meets-Byrds groove of On A Sweet Summer’s Day, the heavenly, Big Star jangle-pop of Honeywater, menacing Spaghetti Western soundtrack Mean Old Man, the country-rock romp For You (My Blue Eyed Son) and the woozy and playful 1920s-style jazz-blues of Too Many Wired Hours.
Alfa 9 are also fans of Spaghetti Western soundtracks – their album My Sweet Movida was full of Ennio Morricone influences,retro rock, cosmic-psych-country road trips and ’60s-inspired jangle-pop.
Back in April, guitarist Leon Jones told us: “We love Morricone and that kind of melancholy there is in a lot of his work. I’m fascinated by the Mojave desert in California and the Joshua Tree, particularly. For someone from the Midlands, it’s a very strange environment…”
Another fan of Morricone is Frank Sweeney, whose band of London renegades The Magic City Trio turned in one of the best debut albums of 2018.
Amerikana Arkana has wonderful orchestral arrangements that recall the dramatic ’60s pop of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, (Black Dog Following Me), Morricone’s moody Spaghetti Western soundtracks (Cousins’ War) and Mexican Mariachi music (Trav’ler), but these story songs are also steeped in the dark traditions of murder ballads, old country and folk laments, outlaw tales and hillbilly blues.
For more Spaghetti Western sounds and gun-slinging action, may we also recommend another great debut album from 2018 – Sarah Vista’s Killing Fever. Look out for an interview with London-based singer-songwriter Sarah on Say It With Garage Flowers soon…
Whether your year has been good, bad or ugly, we hope that you’ll take time to listen to some of the albums that were our soundtrack to 2018.
Here’s the full list of our 35 favourite albums of the last 12 months and a Spotify playlist to go with it*.
It’s been an amazing year for Bennett Wilson Poole, the UK Americana and jangle-pop supergroup formed by Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive, Danny and the Champions of the World) and Tony Poole (‘70s rockers Starry Eyed and Laughing – ‘the English Byrds’).
Their self-titled debut album has received great reviews – it’s Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite record of 2018 – and the band has played a string of well-attended shows, been nominated twice in the UK Americana 2019 Awards – for UK Album of the Year and UK Artist of the Year – and played live on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC TV and Robert Elms’ BBC Radio London show.
In an exclusive interview, Danny Wilson reflects on the group’s success, chooses some of his favourite albums of 2018 and gives us a sneak preview of what Bennett Wilson Poole have planned for next year… Could there be a second album on the way?
Q & A
I’m delighted to tell you that your record, Bennett Wilson Poole, is my favourite album of the year… I’m going to publish the full list later this month, but I wanted to give you the heads-up…
Danny Wilson: What an honour! I didn’t think it would be your album of the year… I wouldn’t have dreamed of it! I loved making the album with the other guys and I think it’s a great record.
It’s been a great year for you, hasn’t it? There’s a lot of love for Bennett Wilson Poole out there…
DW: There is – it’s touching. It’s really lovely. I’m a bit surprised at how well it’s gone – not because the music isn’t good, but because you just never know… You can spend years in your main bands trying to push an elephant up the stairs and it’s tough… I think all of our combined histories have helped – they’ve made it more palatable and immediate for people to get into.
It’s not easy for anyone, but the shows have been selling – when the wheels are greased a little, it’s really nice. We’re not turning up to shows and wondering if anyone’s going to be there, which makes life a lot easier. Things have gathered a bit of steam.
You’ve been nominated for two UK Americana Awards – the winners will be announced in January 2019…
DW: I’m totally thrilled that we’ve been nominated – it’s amazing. I really hope that we win one – Danny and the Champs won a few and it does have a knock-on effect in terms of bums on seats – you can’t argue with that. We’re really honoured to have been nominated – if we get given the thumbs-up by people, that’s a lovely thing.
When you appeared on the Robert Elms radio show recently, you played a great new song called I Wanna Love You (But I Can’t Right Now). It has a very poignant lyric and an instantly addictive melody. It’s a song about falling out of love with America because of the current political situation, but it also celebrates some of the great things that America has brought us, including Andy Warhol, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, De La Soul, Aretha Franklin, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and Martin Luther King…
DW: It’s a love song to America. – Robin and I wrote the song together. Weirdly, Bennett Wilson Poole is the only act I’ve ever been in that’s overtly political in any way. I like protest songs and political music – Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Billy Bragg; Paul Weller; Elvis Costello – even Simply Red – but I’ve never felt in a position to do it.
It’s fairly obvious that everyone involved in the Bennett Wilson Poole project are humanists – they want the best for people who aren’t getting the help they need, but that’s about as far as I’ve ever gone in terms of being overtly political – being a friendly person. I think everybody should be like that, regardless of their politics, but with Bennett Wilson Poole it’s the first time I’ve done political songs.
‘Bennett Wilson Poole is the only act I’ve ever been in that’s overtly political in any way. I like protest songs and political music, but I’ve never felt in a position to do it’
So can we expect a second Bennett Wilson Poole album next year?
DW: I think so – there’s lots of material. It’s been really easy – they are around 17 new songs we’ve written that are all tailor-made. There’s a really good feeling – we’re inspired by Tony and the reception that he’s getting at this stage in his career.
Will you be playing any new songs at your upcoming gigs in Oxford and London this month?
DW: Yes – It’s very Byrdsian and it’s lovely. Someone from outside of the band suggested that we do it. We have mooted the idea of a covers album – we’ve written a list of songs for it. I wrote an exhaustive list. I don’t know where to go with it – whether it should be like Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs’ wonderful covers albums, where every song is a classic, or to make it much more obscure, but that might be one nerdy step too far… I’m thinking of stuff by The Beau Brummels and some songs from Dion’s folk-rock period, but we’ll see.
What are your favourite albums of the year?
DW: Ryley Walker’s The Lillywhite Sessions is totally amazing – it’s a reimagining of a Dave Matthews Band album that was unreleased. Damien Jurado’s new album [The Horizon Just Laughed] is fantastic and there’s one particular record by Dios [Life Between The Tides] that’s like a shoegazing cross between Neil Young and The Beachboys – it’s a really great record, but no one has been banging on about it. I also liked the new J Mascis album [Elastic Days]. I bought a lot of records this year, as I own a record shop [Union Music Store in Lewes, East Sussex]. I like all the stuff on Loose too – they’re going from strength to strength. They’re my friends and I respect and admire them – they’re amazing.
Finally, any plans for a new album by Danny and the Champs?
DW: Yeah – I think so. We’ve got some gigs booked in Spain and I’ve been just putting together a playlist for the guys of stuff that is informing my thinking on the next Champs album and it’s really not what anyone would expect. It doesn’t mean the album will sound like that, but there will be elements of it.
If the next Champs album turns out like I think it will – although it never quite does – it will be trying to push the envelope in certain directions. I’m really excited about it. I don’t want to make another Champs record that sounds like any of the others – there’s no reason to.
I guess I’m getting my serious folk-country-rock fix from Bennett Wilson Poole at the moment, so I don’t need to add to that. At some point there will be a folk-rock-Americana logjam and I don’t want to contribute to that – I’d rather take a left turn. I’m also going to do a solo album at some point – I don’t what I’m going to do with it, but it will either be an acoustic singer-songwriter record, or I might do a jazz album!
•Bennett Wilson Poole’s self-titled debut album is out now on Aurora Records. The band are playing shows this month at The Bullingdon Arms in Oxford (December 7) and Kings Place, London (December 8).
Some things are meant to happen. The coming together of Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive, Danny and the Champions of the World) and Tony Poole (‘70s rockers Starry Eyed and Laughing – ‘the English Byrds’) to form UK Americana supergroup Bennett Wilson Poole is one such thing…
Fate led to a meeting of minds and musical talent – and thank God it did, as it’s resulted in a wonderful, self-titled debut album that will undoubtedly find itself high up on Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite records of the year list come late 2018.
Produced by Poole – the king of the 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitar – in his home studio in rural Oxfordshire, it’s a totally cosmic trip that takes in Byrds-meets-Tom-Petty/ Traveling Wilburys jangle-pop (Soon Enough), gorgeous, soulful balladry, (Hide Behind A Smile), mystical country (Find Your Own Truth), sunny Americana (Wilson General Store), shimmering psychedelic sounds (That Thing That You Called Love) and moody, powerful protest rock in the vein of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Hate Won’t Win and Lifeboat (Take A Picture of Yourself).
High on harmonies and brimming with glorious melodies, it’s a stunning collection of instantly memorable and brilliantly crafted songs that are steeped in classic ‘60s and ‘70s rock and pop, but don’t shy away from tackling contemporary social issues.
I met up with Bennett Wilson Poole in a North London pub after their second ever gig – at Islington’s Union Chapel – to find out why this collaboration was always on the cards, how the record was made and why they love working – and playing – together…
Q & A
You’ve formed a supergroup. Are you the new Traveling Wilburys or Crosby, Stills and Nash?
Danny Wilson: Yes! The name Bennett Wilson Poole does kind of have a similar feel to Crosby, Stills & Nash. People have been mentioning the Traveling Wilburys quite a lot. The supergroup thing is mad…
Back in the ‘70s, ‘80s and even the ‘90s there was a trend for supergroups, but it seems to have died off…
Danny: Maybe we’ve brought it back. Howard [Mills – the band’s manager] said that us getting together was inevitable because of where we’re coming from – we all write the same kind of music and we’ve done stuff together before.
So how did you all meet each other?
Robin Bennett: When I had the band Goldrush, we opened for Grand Drive a couple of times and we were fans of theirs. That’s when I met Danny – I then played with Danny and the Champions of the World and on their first couple of albums.
Danny: I made a record with Tony – he produced Hearts and Arrows [by Danny and the Champions of the World].
Tony Poole: I know Danny through a guy called Peter O’Brien, who had a magazine called Omaha Rainbow and who was a fan of my band, Starry Eyed and Laughing. He was a teacher at Danny’s school. Starry Eyed and Laughing played at the school, in Wallington, but Danny probably wasn’t born then…
What year was that?
Tony: 1872! No – it was about 1974.
Danny: Rock photographer Tom Sheehan’s first ever professional photography job was taking pictures of Starry Eyed and Laughing at my school!
So, it was fate that brought you together – it was meant to be…
Tony: Yeah – it’s kind of weird. I was a fan of Danny’s and he asked me if I’d work on Hearts and Arrows. I couldn’t say no – at that point I was doing lots of stuff with bands like Steeleye Span and it was so heartless. I loved mixing music, but I hated what I was doing. We did the Hearts and Arrows album really quickly and everything came together – it was easy. I loved doing it and I loved the music. It was a rediscovery for me.
‘I was doing lots of stuff with bands like Steeleye Span and it was so heartless. I loved mixing music, but I hated what I was doing’
Robin: I was playing a Dreaming Spires gig in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, Tony was there and we got talking.
Tony: I went to their studio in Steventon to listen to some tracks and they put an electric 12-string Danelectro guitar in my hand… I ended up adding some stuff and mixing some of the tracks – it worked out really well.
So what prompted the move to form a supergroup and write and record your debut, self-titled album?
Tony: I got a call out the blue from either Robin or Danny to say they’d been writing songs together on FaceTime – that’s the modern world, isn’t it?
Danny: I go in the kitchen, drink a bottle of wine, get a guitar, FaceTime a mate who has a guitar and you have some new songs! It’s good. We’d written some songs and we both said that Tony would be perfect for them – we rang him and he was up for it.
Tony: How could I not be? Everything was so fast – they’d written most of the songs and when they came to my studio, I had some bits of songs that I’d started. All three of us finished them in the room in about 20 minutes – that had never happened to me before. It was unbelievable. We did two recording sessions and then one for overdubs – the spirit of it is the live thing that we did. It’s like Crosby, Stills & Nash – we were sitting around with three guitars and three voices and we recorded it. That’s the meat of it.
‘I go in the kitchen, drink a bottle of wine, get a guitar, FaceTime a mate who has a guitar and you have some new songs! It’s good’
The cover artwork of the album is a nod to the first record by Crosby, Stills & Nash, isn’t it? You’re all sat on a sofa, outside a saloon at Truck Festival, and, just like the Crosby, Stills & Nash cover, the names of the band members don’t match the order that you’re sat in the picture…
Tony: The Crosby, Stills & Nash photo is by Henry Diltz – the picture was taken before the band had decided on the order of the names. When they went back to reshoot the pictures, the house had been torn down.
Robin: What’s even more appropriate is that the structure in our photo also no longer exists…
Tony: The saloon at Truck has been destroyed…
There’s definitely a whole Crosby, Stills & Nash vibe to the record – in more ways than one..
Tony: We didn’t do it consciously, but it seemed natural. When we on our way to do a shoot with photographer John Morgan, we passed the saloon… He took four or five shots and that was it.
Maybe for the next album, you could recreate The Notorious Byrd Brothers cover and replace one of you with a horse?
Tony: It will be me!
Is it fun working together?
Robin: I kind of pinch myself – I just love these guys’ music.
Danny: The same here.
Tony: It’s so natural.
[To Tony]: You produced the album. How was that?
Tony: I take the Jeff Lynne role – I’m a bit of a control freak, but, luckily, everything I do, they like – mostly anyway.
Danny: We love working with Tony. Not only are we all good friends, but me and Robin are massive, massive fans of Starry Eyed and Laughing and Tony’s production is so brilliant. He kept sending us stuff when we were working on the album and asked us for comments. We said ‘it’s brilliant – we love it!’
Robin: That’s not how things usually work…
‘I take the Jeff Lynne role – I’m a bit of a control freak, but, luckily, everything I do, they like – mostly anyway’
Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. The first single, Soon Enough, came out in early February. It’s a classic jangle-pop tune, isn’t it? It’s very Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty and The Byrds. You filmed the video at the Didcot Railway Centre museum. How was that?
Danny: The video is a knowing nod to the Traveling Wilburys song End of the Line – we wanted it to be like that.
Robin: It’s also quite A Hard Day’s Night. Quite a lot of our songwriting reminds me of that mid-’60s thing.
The track Hide Behind A Smile is a gorgeous, soulful ballad, but, lyrically, it talks about coping with depression and anxiety…
Danny: Me and Robin wrote that song. I think everyone will understand it – it’s something we all do. We all put on a brave face to mask things – a smile is obviously a facade at times.
The song Wilson General Store, which was written by Robin, was inspired by Danny’s family history. Danny’s grandparents had a shop in Melbourne, Australia called Wilsons Emporium…
Danny: That’s where my mum and dad met.
Robin: In the middle of our writing session, I went to bed and woke up with the idea – we’d been talking about the shop. By the time we started writing again the following morning, I’d already finished the song.
Danny: My folks are huge music fans. I gave my dad a copy of the album, but I forgot to mention Wilson General Store. When he heard it, he said, ‘Is this our song?’ He loved it – it’s his favourite on the album.
You’ve filmed a promo video for your PledgeMusic campaign in which you feature in a Two Ronnies-inspired comedy skit…
Danny: With that video and the one for Soon Enough, we’re quite happy to be humorous and have a laugh. I think it takes something to be removed from your ‘day job’ project and to give you the distance, so you can show your personality – there’s no trying to be cool. It just is what it is and it frees you up – it’s been a pleasure because it’s not too important. Sometimes the precious things that you hold on too tightly to can be crushed…
Hate Won’t Win is one of the songs on the album that has a darker edge. It’s a protest song and was written in response to the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, in 2016. Musically, it’s a nod to Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s classic counterculture anthem about the Kent State University shootings in 1970, isn’t it?
Tony: Yes – when I heard the news about Jo Cox it was a Thursday [June 16, 2016]. I remember sitting in the garden with a guitar and I thought about the story behind Ohio. Neil Young had written the song, Crosby got them in the studio and the song was out a few days later.
My tune came from the same place – I wrote a verse that was kind of reportage and was quite vicious. I sent Danny and Robin a phone recording of it and when they turned up at mine on the Saturday, Robin had written another verse and we finished it off and recorded it – it was out on YouTube on the Monday [as Hate Won’t Win (Song For Jo Cox)]. It was an echo of the time of Ohio. What can you do? We can’t change the world, but we put it out there… On the album, we purposely haven’t used the subtitle (Song For Jo Cox), as it’s now universal, but it’s still a nod to her – she inspired the song.
With our songs, like Hide Behind A Smile, the chords are quite simple and the tunes are quite jangly, but if you dig a little deeper, there’s more under the surface. But it’s not like ‘we’ve suffered for our art, now it’s your turn’ – we don’t do that.
Danny: Interestingly it’s the flip side of what I was saying about doing the videos. Working with these guys on a song like Hate Won’t Win is something that I wouldn’t approach in one of my normal projects – it gives me an extra dimension. It’s not a career move – it’s just something I really love doing. You can afford to be a bit more serious, or, like in the videos, a bit funny.
Robin: With this record we were able to do some things that we might not feel brave enough to do with our other projects.
The album closes with Lifeboat (Take A Picture of Yourself) – another song that tackles a social issue. Tony, you started writing it after seeing a photo of a refugee boat in the Mediterranean adjacent to an article on selfies…
Tony: It was so vivid – the world we’re living in and the other world. I had the idea – picture yourself in that lifeboat. You can’t explain things too much – they just come out.
It’s a great song – with the heavy electric guitar, it’s very Neil Young-sounding. The lyric even mentions the phrase ‘on the beach’, which is the title of a 1974 Neil Young album…
Tony: We were sitting in the recording studio with a pad and it took five or 10 minutes.
Robin: I couldn’t tell what Tony was singing, so I just wrote down what I heard.
Tony: I was singing phonetic stuff and he turned it into words for the chorus.
‘With this record we were able to do some things that we might not feel brave enough to do with our other projects’
You’ve played a couple of gigs as Bennett Wilson Poole – one in Oxford and one in London, at the Union Chapel. What it’s like playing the album live?
Tony: It’s taken it to a new level – as we’re playing it, we grow into the songs. As we get further along, we’ll get right under the skin of them. It was quite a fast recording process, but it’s somehow like a record that was made by somebody else. I keep listening to it… Vanity, eh?
Robin: We are slightly distanced from it – it is like hearing someone else’s album. You’re not hearing your own voice all the time.
Danny: When I do a new album with the Champs, it’s so raw to me – I hate all of my vocals and the songs! It’s so difficult to listen to it, but with this album, I listen to it everyday! I don’t know what that says about me…
That you’re in the wrong band?
Tony: A lot of people have said that you can keep listening to the album over and over again and you hear new things, which is great – that’s a good sign. If it makes you feel good, we’re adding to the sum of human happiness…
[To Robin]: I’d like to ask you about the song Find Your Own Truth, which you wrote. It’s not the first time one of your songs has dealt with the subject matter of looking for the truth. I’m thinking of the title track from the Dreaming Spires album Searching For The Supertruth…
Robin: The evidence is piling up! I don’t know why… I wrote Find Your Own Truth in five minutes, which doesn’t happen very often. It’s one of my more cosmic songs. I’ve been working on a solo album – I had a list of songs and that was one of them, but it really felt like it could be a Crosby, Stills & Nash thing.
Tony: Robin sent his home demo to me and we put some harmonies and electric guitar on it. The idea was for it to be a song like Helplessly Hoping [by Crosby, Stills & Nash] – that was my vision for it.
You’re launching the album with three gigs at the Betsey Trotwood in London – March 21-23. That’s a London residency…
Robin: When Danny suggested three nights at the Betsey, I thought he was insane, but they’re all sold out.
Can we expect a triple live album?
Danny: Good idea.
Robin: We are recording the shows – the Betsey is our spiritual home. We’ve all played there.
Tony: The lovely thing about doing three nights there is that even though we’re only playing to 30-40 people each night, it’s got the feeling of three nights at Wembley. Some people have bought tickets for every night, so we’re going to mix it up.
When you’re watching us, you can relax because we’re pals and you can see we’re all getting on. There are three times in my life I’ve had that happen – my band, Starry Eyed and Laughing; when I produced The Men They Couldn’t Hang in the ’80s; and with this band. Sometimes when you watch a band, you can see that they’re not getting on and it makes you feel bad…
So, can we expect a second album from Bennett Wilson Poole?
Robin: I think we could do it.
Tony: Absolutely. We’ve got an extra track that’s not on the album – it’s really good. It’s like a rare Beatles track.
•Bennett Wilson Poole release their self-titled debut album on April 6 (Aurora Records).
For information on their PledgeMusic campaign, please click here.
They will play three album launch shows at The Betsey Trotwood, in Clerkenwell, London – March 21-23. All three shows are sold out.
Bennett Wilson Poole will also appear at The Ramblin’ Roots Revue, Bucks Student Union, High Wycombe: April 6-8.