In my hour of darkness

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 BruiseStranger In The HouseThat 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.

Picture of My Darling Clementine by Jeff Fassano

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. 

https://mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk/

 

 

 

‘I just wanted to make a Neil Young record, but it didn’t end up like that…’

Manchester singer-songwriter Nev Cottee’s new album, River’s Edge, is a beautiful, pastoral record that’s influenced by the countryside, ’70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Waits. 

He tells Say It With Garage Flowers why he’s had enough of the city and how he likes to write songs sat in his garden, strumming his acoustic guitar, listening to the birds…

When we last spoke to Nev Cottee, in 2017, the Mancunian singer-songwriter with a rich baritone voice that plumbs the same depths as Lee Hazlewood, had just made Broken Flowers – his darkest album to date.

Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, it wasn’t an easy listen. Heavy at times, it was moody, melancholy and psychedelic, with lengthy songs swathed in dramatic orchestral arrangements and haunting vintage synth sounds.

This time around, for his fourth album, River’s Edge, he’s in a much better place emotionally, and the music reflects that. A pastoral record, it sees Nev getting back to nature and at peace with himself. It’s much lighter than its predecessor.

Produced by regular collaborator Mason Neely (Wilco, Edwyn Collins), it’s a beautiful album. Opener, the nocturnal, Tom Waitsian piano and brass lullaby Nightingale takes the listener down to the river’s edge and from there we’re on a journey into gorgeous, Nancy and Lee-style balladry with Roses, which is a duet with guest vocalist Veronica, who sounds like Nico; and then plunged into cinematic psych-rock, with the first single, Hello Stranger.

The sublime I’m Still Here is laced with late-night pedal steel by Chris Hillman (Billy Bragg, Ethan Johns), while The Hollywood Sign recalls vintage Neil Young, The country-folk of You Can Help Me, featuring James Walbourne (The Rails, The Pretenders) on guitar, also mines ’70s Laurel Canyon, with its Crosby, Stills & Nash three-part harmonies, and the chilled-out, optimistic  Morning Sun sees Nev leaving the darkness behind to embrace a brand new day… “Here I am, back in the game,” he sings, over a warm backing of simple acoustic guitar and tinkling piano.

In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers quizzes him about the making of the new record…

Q & A

This album is a lot mellower and much lighter than its predecessor, Broken Flowers. You sound more contented on this record…

Nev Cottee: If you compare it with Broken Flowers, this album is easier on the ear – it’s less arranged and orchestral, and the songs are shorter. It’s more concise – the songs follow a traditional pattern. I wanted to get away from that Broken Flowers thing – I’d done that – and the songs just came that way. It was time to move on.

The four albums are a bit of journey – out of a relationship and reaching a promised land, a place of sanctuary. I had that idea in mind – the river’s edge is a place where everyone wants to be, whiling away the afternoon, as the water trickles by.

I’ve reached a plateau where I’m content, but that doesn’t necessarily create great art, does it? Let’s see… I can only do what I can do.

So how did you approach this record?

NC: In a way, I just wanted to make a Neil Young record. I was listening to Comes A Time, On The Beach, Zuma and After The Goldrush – that classic ‘70s Neil Young period.

Comes A Time is a really underrated album – it was a massive inspiration. Some of the songs aren’t finished on that record – on first listen, you think it’s a bit throwaway, but the songs are so good…

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.

With Neil Young, it’s all about the voice. Obviously the tunes are great, but once you put his voice on them… It would be interesting to see what his songs would sound like with a normal range vocal on them. Would they be as good? Probably not – they wouldn’t be as unique, would they? Anyway, I digress…

Would you say River’s Edge is a concept album?

NC: It’s not a concept album – they always run away from you… There are those classic ones, where the mood is maintained and it’s a concise piece that all adds up, but, if you’re just writing songs, you have to restrict yourself if it’s going to be a concept album. In the end you just go off in several directions… It’s loosely based on a pastoral, bucolic idea behind the songs, but then you’ve got Hello Stranger, which is completely different to the title track… You’ve just got to follow each individual song to where it takes you.

Let’s talk about Hello Stranger. It’s the first single from the album. Ironically, it’s one of the moodier songs on the record. It sounds like it could’ve come from Broken Flowers, with its cinematic, psych-rock feel…

NC: Yeah – I had a few two or three tracks that were quite acoustic and piano-based, but I wanted a few songs that we could go for it on and get the electric guitars out! In the end, I lost a couple of them because they didn’t sit well on the album – they’re in the vaults, so I might drag them out.

Hello Stranger really worked – I love it. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album. I like the lyric – it explains the moving on from Broken Flowers – it’s all about the past fading away and all those memories becoming less intense…

I think the song has real power. We got the guitar nailed on that – we were taking inspiration from Neil Young and trying to channel him. The guitarist is Alex Foote, who played on the last album. He’s American and a friend of Mason Neely’s – he just gets my thing.

Nick McCabe from The Verve played on the album sessions. Is he on the record?

NC: He’s on the two tracks that I dropped – he did some amazing stuff, that was classic McCabe, but he’s not on the album. I’ve spoken to him about doing some gigs – he’s always up to something. Fingers crossed – that could be one for the future. Get him up on stage and see what happens. Watch this space.

‘The river’s edge is a place where everyone wants to be, whiling away the afternoon, as the water trickles by’

Earlier, you mentioned the pastoral and bucolic feel that some of the songs have. You live in a city – Manchester. Are you a country boy at heart? Was this album a deliberate reaction to your urban living?

NC: It definitely was. I’ve lived in Manchester for 20 years on and off. I’ve had enough of the city – I think it’s an age thing. The city is a young man’s game – I want to get out. I don’t really go out much – I do like the hustle and bustle of the daytime, but more often than not, when it’s a decent day, I get out of Manchester. It’s a very dark, foreboding and shadowy city – you’ve got to get on a bus or a train and get out of there. I’m a child of nature – I’ve got a garden and I love going walking in Derbyshire. It’s definitely more of an inspiration at the moment, but who knows?

You wrote some of Broken Flowers while you were in India. Where did you write this album?

NC: In Majorca and in my garden, which is out of town [Manchester] – there’s no river there, but that’s my equivalent place. I like playing the guitar outside – it’s different from strumming in a room and you get the birds singing. A lot of the songs were written out in the open, so maybe that was an unintentional influence.

‘Manchester is a very dark, foreboding and shadowy city  – I want to get out. I’m a child of nature’

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album… Nightingale opens the record. It’s gorgeous and has a late night, Tom Waits feel. I love the brass and the piano…

NC: Yeah, Tom Waits, as well as Neil Young, is a massive influence. There’s a triple album he did called Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards. For me, it’s one of his best albums. The Bawlers part of the album is up there with anything else he’s ever done – there are some stunning tracks on there – loads of outtakes that he had never released. I always listen to it late at night. I kept listening to it and listening to it. He’s one of the great songwriters. I wanted the opening song to set the scene and take you down to the river’s edge, with the moon, the nighttime and birds singing.

River's B copy small

Roses is one of my favourite songs on the record. It’s a duet with a mysterious girl named Veronica and it reminds me of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. I also think the female vocal sounds like Nico…

NC: Roses is going to be the second single – a 7in on Wonderfulsound. I was going to get Tess Parks to sing on it. She did a vocal on an early incarnation of the song, but it didn’t have the right flavour. I befriended the mysterious Veronica, of whom we know very little, other than that she is a Nico-inspired chanteuse from Madrid. I got her to sing on it – it’s a really delicate, sweet vocal. I really like the juxtaposition. It’s the first time I’ve done a duet, but there maybe more to come from Veronica…

I’m Still Here is a country song and features Chris Hillman (Billy Bragg, Ethan Johns) on pedal steel…

NC: This was originally supposed to be a Dylanesque jazz boogie like Spirit On The Water [from Modern Times]. We had a nice version and then Chris Hillman got his hands on it and ruined it! Hah! No – he slowed it all down and did an amazing version that was even better. It’s lovely and it’s a great performance – the best one on the album.

The song The Hollywood Sign mentions ‘prairie wind’ in the lyric. Is that a nod to the Neil Young album and song of the same name?

NC: It’s my homage to Neil Young – it also has a Crosby, Stills & Nash Helplessly Hoping vibe, with the guitar picking. It’s a nod to the great man, Neil Young – everyone goes on about Dylan, but if you look at Neil Young’s back catalogue, he’s definitely the greatest rock ‘n’roll singer-songwriter there is. No one else has written a song like Old Man and a song like Like A Hurricane – a well-crafted country tune and a rock ‘n’ roll song with amazing wig-out guitar.

‘I befriended the mysterious Veronica, of whom we know little about, other than that she is a Nico-inspired chanteuse from Madrid’

You Can Help Me has a Neil Young and Crosby, Stills & Nash feel, too, and James Walbourne (The Rails and The Pretenders) plays guitar on it…

NC: I wanted to get that Crosby, Stills & Nash three-part harmony. James was playing in Manchester and he managed to whack an overdub down. I’d love to do something live with him, but he’s the busiest man in showbiz – he’s in about 40 bands! Let’s see, eh? One day…

You’ve been working with some great musicians recently….

NC: You’ve got to search out the great players – Hillman, McCabe and Walbourne… That’s not a bad line-up, is it? We need to get a supergroup off the ground and call it Hillman, McCabe and Walbourne – keep it old school.

You recorded the album in Manchester in two weeks. How were the sessions?

NC: I had the demos for quite a while. I’m quite meticulous, in that I’ll demo, then I’ll do another demo and fine tune it… I keep going, crafting it… I sent the songs to Mason and he said we had two weeks to do it – 9 to 5, clocking in. We worked throughout the day, drinking loads of tea  – we worked really hard, we kept it real and we got a lot of stuff done. We did it at Vibe Studios in Manchester, which is owned by Martin Coogan [The Mock Turtles], who’s a mate of mine. It’s New Order’s old rehearsal room and Doves used to rehearse there, as well. It was great – Mason is a grafter and I trust him implicitly in that he will know where to take a song. That’s the job of a great producer – to make suggestions, throw you ideas and see if you can do them. The man came up with the goods. 

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any gigs?

NC: Yes – there will be gigs. I’m hoping to play Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and London. There’s a gig in Madrid lined up and I think I’m going to go to Paris.

You contributed to the recent Monks Road Social album, Down The Willows, – singing a Dr Robert [The Blow Monkeys] song called Still Got A Lot To Learn. Any more collaborations in the offing? How was the Monks Road Social project? The album has a lot of great musicians on it, including Matt Deighton (Mother Earth), Dr Robert, Steve White and Mick Talbot (The Style Council)…

NC: They’re a good crowd – all really nice people. We recorded it in Wales, in Monnow Valley Studio and I’ve also done another song with Dr Robert – he sent it over and I added the vocal. I don’t know what the plan is with that yet. I think there’s going to be another Monks Road Social album and there’s talk of doing a gig with guest singers. Robert’s great –  it’s kind of weird, having grown up in the ’80s and seen him on Top Of The Pops. He’s a genuinely talented, warm and nice geezer.

What music are you listening to at the moment, old and new?

NC: Good question. I was listening to Aldous Harding the other day and getting into that. I’ve been listening to a lot of Gruff Rhys – he never gets the credit he deserves, does he? His last album [Babelsberg] was brilliant. I’ve also got into Kurt Vile’s last album [Bottle It In] and Kevin Morby, and I got into a bit of Joni Mitchell recently. Also, check out Matthew Halsall – a jazz guy from Manchester. He’s good.

Finally, you’re stood at the river’s edge – do you jump in?

NC: Never jump in – you don’t know what’s in there. It could be dangerous. For me, it’s safety first, fun later. I’m a side of the river guy – I’m sat there watching and listening. I’m not one of those wild swimmers. You won’t catch me naked in a river. 

River’s Edge by Nev Cottee is released on June 7 on Wonderfulsound

cover

‘I wanted to get back to that rock sound…’

40137715_800228863434029_614577891270721536_n
Luke Tuchscherer – photo by Amanda Tuchscherer.

There’s a song on Pieces, the latest album by Americana singer-songwriter Luke Tuchscherer, called Batten Down The Hatches. It sums up the record perfectly – this time around, on his third – and best – solo album, Luke, former drummer with Bedford alt-country band The Whybirds, isn’t pulling any punches – he’s made an angry, heavy, often political album that rocks like Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Batten down the hatches, indeed, for 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 gorgeous, Springsteen-like country-rock song Ghosts, which sees Luke revisiting his childhood haunts.

In an exclusive, in-depth interview, Luke, who now lives in New York, gives me the inside story on the making of Pieces and reveals that he’s already got his next five albums planned out…

Q & A

The last time we spoke was in the summer of 2017, for the release of your second solo album Always Be True.

You told me then that you’d already got the next four albums planned – track listings and all…. So I guess Pieces, which came out earlier this year, is the first of those albums. Is everything going to plan?

Luke Tuchscherer: Yeah – it’s going well. Pieces is the first of those albums. There’s another one, which will be called Widows & Orphans, that’s already been recorded. That just features Dave Banks and me on acoustic guitars, and is a really intimate, autumnal record and, as such, will be out in October 2019.

I have recorded my acoustic guitar and vocal parts for another record, provisionally titled Salvation Come, in Maplewood, New Jersey. We’re going to be adding some violin parts soon, with a Brooklyn musician I met called Steve May, then I’ll add the drums in the spring back home [in the UK], before adding the other parts as and when, including a baritone guitar player I met here [in New York] called Chris Tarrow. Widows & Orphans should buy us a bit of time before that one comes out, but I’d imagine it would be 2020.

So, the fourth of those records would actually be another full-band Penny Dreadfuls effort, akin to Pieces, which will have to wait until I’m back home [in the UK] again…
But, on top of that, I’ll be recording a solo Neil Young Hitchhiker/early Dylan-type album in New Jersey early next year, and I’ve had a folky/bluegrass album planned for years, akin to Steve Earle’s Train a Comin’ or something, but I just need to find the players for it.

The first thing that strikes me about your latest album, Pieces, is that it’s a much heavier sound than your last two records – quite frankly, it rocks, in a Neil Young and Crazy Horse style. What was your intention with this album? It has a big sound! 

LT: I’d already started moving things that way with the Shadows EP, which came out earlier this year and was mainly rockers. The reason is because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as an acoustic artist. The first record was only that way because The Whybirds were still going, so my “electric” side was satisfied. You Get So Alone… [first solo album] was made up of songs that didn’t fit the band. But now the band is done, I wanted to get back to that rock sound.

‘I’ve actually written quite a few political songs, but they’ve never made it on to any albums before – I can see myself writing more about the wider world now, because my personal life is stable’ 

In 2017, you told me that classic ‘70s rock records like Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge of Town and Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedoes informed your last album, Always Be True. What were you listening to when you made this album? A lot of Neil Young, I guess…

LT: Neil Young has always been an influence, and for sure, it comes out the most on this album compared with my others. But for anyone who heard The Whybirds’ Cold Blue Sky, it shouldn’t be too much of a shock.

I think there’s a bit of Pearl Jam on this album, too – and in fact the Neil Young/Pearl Jam album Mirror Ball was an influence in terms of how quickly they recorded it – and the Petty stuff is still there.

a2993474155_10

 

Your song Requiem is a Neil Young-like protest anthem that bemoans the current state of the UK – high taxes, the challenges faced by the NHS and how the rich are getting richer and the poor are worse off… It sounds like your very own Rockin’ In The Free World, crossed with Like A Hurricane…

It’s great to hear a modern protest song. Considering the dire situation the world’s in, doesn’t it surprise you that more artists don’t write protest songs? You’re not afraid to tackle issues head-on, are you?

LT: I’ve actually written quite a few political songs, but they’ve never made it on to any albums before. The thing about them is that they tend to date quite quickly. If the NHS goes tits up, then so does Requiem – ha ha! A truly great political song, like Masters of War [by Bob Dylan] is always relevant, sadly enough. Some other reactionary songs are redundant as soon as whatever event they’re responding to is over. Requiem was written after watching the Noam Chomsky film Requiem For The American Dream and applying it to the UK.
As for other people not writing them… I dunno. Maybe they’re wimps. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they just don’t like political music. Personally, I can see myself writing more about the wider world now – though not strictly protest songs – because my personal life is stable. It’s kind of weird singing old break-up songs when I’m happily married, whereas I can see myself still feeling the things in Sudden Getaway or Ain’t That What They Say? in the future.

The first four tracks on the album don’t mess around – they rock out. Things don’t calm down until we’re halfway through, with the song Charing Cross. It’s quite an angry album in places, too. What frame of mind where you in when you wrote the songs and recorded them? Requiem, The MF Blues and Company Girl are angry songs – the latter is very vicious. It’s a put-down song. What inspired it? It sounds like a dig at the music industry…

LT: The only songs that were written shortly before recording were Requiem and Ghosts, but, because I have such a big backlog of songs, I basically choose the best batch to make a cohesive album, along with any new stuff I’ve got that fits. It’ll probably take me to the mid-2020s to clear my backlog!  The MF Blues was pretty old, probably 2007, but it fitted the theme of the record.

Company Girl was probably written in 2012 or so. And yeah, it’s angry. It’s about a lot of people, not just one, and they don’t have to be female at all… It’s just I was writing from the ‘company man’ perspective, so it made sense for the other part to be female, but it could’ve been Company Boy easily enough.

‘I have such a big backlog of songs – it will probably take me to the mid-2020s to clear it!’

I guess it’s a bit high horsey, but it’s a dig at the people who aren’t really artists – they’re just after fame. The kind of people who don’t love “Americana” or whatever, and would happily do an RnB album if they thought it would make them more successful. I won’t name names, but they’re not hard to spot. But they’re all doing better than me, so, what do I know?

Let’s talk about the recording sessions for Pieces… How was it making the album? You recorded the seven ‘rock’ songs live in one day, with a band – in June 2017, at The Music Centre, in Bedford. That must’ve been a long day? Talk me through it… 

LT: I had limited time before I moved to New York to get the album done. We knew the move was coming, so I wanted to maximise my minutes, so to speak. Between April and September 2017, we recorded PiecesWidows & Orphans and my hard rock side-project Herd Behaviour’s debut, which is called Animal Habitual, and I played drums on David Banks’ forthcoming solo debut. All were recorded by Chris Corney.

I don’t remember it being a long, or even particularly stressful, day. We’d rehearsed the songs in the weeks leading up to the date – with me on drums, Dave on guitar and Simon Wilson on bass. We set up the night before to get all that out of the way. Then we went in and did it.

0005386175_10.jpg
Luke in the studio – photo by Tom Peters

Requiem was one take – we didn’t complete a second one. Sudden Getaway was like second take or something. It was all easy as I recall. I think Batten Down The Hatches was the only one that was a slight struggle, but even then it wasn’t too hard. Dave’s an amazing guitarist – every single note he plays on those seven rockers is live – Simon’s a great bassist, and I’m more comfortable behind the kit than anywhere, apart from singing, I suppose.

Then I added my guitars, vocals and percussion in a couple of additional sessions. Chris did almost all the harmonies and did a great job on the vocal arrangements, and Tom Collison added his keys from his home studio – I’d already moved by that time. Done!

When we last spoke, you were gearing up to move to New York. Does the opening song on the album, Sudden Getaway, reference that?

LT: Sudden Getaway was written in 2015, I think, maybe 2014, when NYC wasn’t even on the horizon. It’s really about an existential crisis, I guess. About struggling to be happy with your lot and wondering when that struggle might end.

Why did you move to New York and how is it working out?

LT: Essentially my day job got us to NYC, but I’d never have gone if the band was still going. But once the writing was on the wall with The Whybirds, I felt like I’d given up all of my twenties to the band and had nothing to show for it.

All my holidays were used up touring and recording, as were my weekends and a lot of my evenings. And I felt like I’d never really done anything for myself, or – since I was married by then – for my wife and I as a couple.

A lot of people asked if the New York thing was a music career move, but it was the complete opposite. It was to do something that wasn’t music-related, so I could feel like I’d actually done something with my life. That sounds pretty negative, but if you listen to Waiting For My Day to Come or Outside, Looking In on Always Be True, you can tell that I wasn’t very happy with music anyway! That said, See You When I See You is a fond look back at the ‘birds days, with just a tinge of regret that things didn’t turn out better.

‘A lot of people asked if the New York thing was a music career move, but it was the complete opposite. It was to do something that wasn’t music-related, so I could feel like I’d actually done something with my life’

I was basically working two full-time jobs and it was slowly eroding my passion for music. Since moving to New York, it’s been like starting at the bottom again, and the gigs have been half good and half soul suckers. But it’s made me miss playing music just for the fun of it, and that’s just about the most positive thing that could’ve happened. When I went back [to the UK] for the Pieces gigs in the summer, they were the best and most fun solo shows I’ve ever played. Bar none. I’m already massively excited about coming back next year and firing up the Penny Dreadfuls again.

Let’s talk about one of the ballads on the album – Charing Cross. It’s a sad song – an apology to a loved one. Demons and drink are involved. What’s the story behind it? Is it set in Charing Cross? Surely that must be a first for a song… 

LT: Yeah, that was an old song – 2010. It was written after a night at The Borderline, which is obviously just off Charing Cross Road. Anyway… I’d had my wallet and phone stolen, I was in a terrible mood, I got very drunk and I was an arsehole. The song was the apology. I can’t actually remember what the original chorus line was, but it was more positive, as the relationship lasted a few months more. But since that particular relationship is long gone, I turned the lyric into “I know I’ve really blown it now”, to make the song make sense on its own, and give it some finality.

dcb2467d6bd2bf8720f74347f8944d2213cade63
Photo of Luke by Jez Brown

Ghosts is another quieter moment on the record – a gorgeous country-rock song about going back to where you grew up. What can you tell me about that song? 

LT: That’s probably my favourite on the album and one of my best ever songs lyrically. It was inspired by something quite personal that I won’t go into, but, hopefully, it was written in a fairly universal way, so that people can get their own meanings from it.

What music are you currently listening to – new and old? Any recommendations?

LT: Even though I was a year late to it, I can’t get enough of Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps. It’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard, let alone recently. Again, I was late to the party, but I finally watched The Devil and Daniel Johnston and I find his stuff pretty addictive. The latest Mudhoney album, Digital Garbage, is really good, too. I discovered a band on Spotify called Arliss Nancy, who have broken up now, I think, but I thought they had some good stuff.

So, finally, what’s next for you? There are all those albums to get out…

LT: I’d expect something like this:

2019: Widows & Orphans – stripped back acoustic album akin to Time (The Revelator) [by Gillian Welch].

2020: Salvation Come (Country-ish Southern Gothic album, with fiddle as the lead instrument.

2022: Luke Tuchscherer & The Penny Dreadfuls – another rock effort.

2023: Carousel – completely solo “session” album.

20??: Untitled folk/bluegrass album.

But I’m back for a solo show at the Green Note in London on April 11, then I’ve got full-band shows in Leicester, Bedford and London on July 18, 19 and 20, respectively. There’s also a European festival, but I don’t know if I can announce that yet, but I’m super-excited about that!

Pieces by Luke Tuchscherer is out now on Clubhouse Records.  For more information, go to: https://www.luketuchscherer.co.uk/

Cosmic Americana Music

hanging-stars-promo-2015-650x400

London’s The Hanging Stars have made one of the best albums of this year.

Recorded in LA, Nashville and, er, Walthamstow,  Over The Silvery Lake – their debut record – is a gorgeous psych-folk-pop-country-rock masterpiece that owes a debt to The Byrds and the Cosmic American Music of Gram Parsons, but also Fairport Convention’s pastoral ’60s English tune-smithery.

Willows weep, ships set sail on the sea and songs are laced with pedal steel guitar and shot through with blissed-out harmonies. There are hazy, lazy, shimmering summer sounds  (I’m No Good Without You and Crippled Shining Blues), as well as brooding desert-rock (The House On The Hill], trippy mystical adventures (Golden Vanity) and, on the closing track, the beautiful Running Waters Wide, rippling piano is accompanied by bursts of groovy flute. 

In an exclusive interview, I spoke to singer, guitarist and songwriter Richard Olson (The See See, Eighteenth Day of May) and bassist Sam Ferman (The See See and The Lightshines) about the making of Over The Silvery Lake and found out that its follow-up – due out next year – is almost done and dusted. Cosmic, eh?

Your debut album, Over The Silvery Lake, was released in March 2016. It’s one of my favourite records of the last 12 months. This year has been a bad one for the wider world, but how’s it been for The Hanging Stars?

Sam Ferman: We’re going to be a footnote to Trump…. It feels like 2016’s been a bit of a whirlwind. It doesn’t feel that long ago that Rich had an idea about taking the music that we were doing at the time somewhere different and creating a new band. From recording the album in LA, finishing it off, having it released and going round France and Spain and heading to Germany… We’ve packed a lot in.

Richard Olson: To be honest, I didn’t expect for us to get the kind of reception that we’ve been getting. There were so many bits that fell into place with the album. I’ve been in quite a few bands and projects and the best ones haven’t been too try-hard. Don’t get me wrong, we work very hard, but it’s a natural harmony.

005189101_500

Can you tell me about the songwriting process behind the album? Do you all write songs?

Sam: Most of the record was ideas that Rich brought to us. We had the benefit of spending quite a lot of time working out what we wanted to do with them. Rich was quite keen on taking it somewhere different, which is where the pedal steel, violin and flute got involved. We broadened our horizons and didn’t restrict it to just a three person, guitar pop band. We made it more pastoral, folky and country-infused, which was really exciting.

Are you guys into the classic country-rock bands?

Richard: Of course – I’ve always been obsessed with The Byrds and Gram Parsons. Our guitar player, Patrick [Ralla  – banjo, guitar and assorted instruments] is a real country connoisseur – he really knows his shit.

Sam: It’s been exciting for me. As a kid, I was never that into country stuff – Rich got me into it. Me and Rich and Paulie  [Cobra – drummer] – and, maybe to a lesser extent, Patrick  and Joe  [Harvey White – pedal steel] are interested in psychedelic music. It’s been really interesting trying to see what you can do with a psychedelic twist on the country thing. When I was playing music seven or eight years ago, there were no psych bands around, apart from my one and Rich’s one – now there are dozens. It’s interesting to see how far you can push it and mix it with prog-folk and the Fairport Convention thing.

Richard: As much as we like the Flying Burrito Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the English folk revival of the late ‘60s is just as important for us – Fairport Convention, Pentangle and John Renbourn.

Your album was made in LA, Nashville and Walthamstow. Did you have a definite idea of what you wanted it to sound like?

Richard: We went to LA and said, ‘let’s do some recording’.

Sam: A lot of it crystallised there. There was a lot of talking about what we wanted it to sound like – quite often, it’s very easy to stumble into recording a lot of stuff and then it comes together in a patchwork at the end. We had a coherent vision for the album right from the outset.

‘As much as we like the Flying Burrito Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the English folk revival of the late ‘60s is just as important for us – Fairport Convention, Pentangle and John Renbourn’

 

 

Did you write any of the album in LA?

Sam: We wrote a lot of the parts there. One of the songs – Ruby Red – is based on me and Rich having a jam on a porch in Hollywood. I came up with a riff – we thought it was going to be an acoustic instrumental, but we started messing around with it in rehearsals and it sounded good when it was heavy and electric. Rich went away and wrote the melody and the words.

 

The House On The Hill is one of my favourite songs on the album. What can you tell me about that track? I love the twangy guitar riff and the Spaghetti Western vibe…

Richard: Our friend Christof [Certik], who is a bit of a LA/San Francisco legend, wrote that riff. The guys went out on the porch and drank beer and smoked weed, while I had to coach him for four hours. It was hard to get it out of him, but once he did it, it was incredible.

Sam: Like every brilliant guitarist, he’s a perfectionist, but we got there in the end.

Crippled Shining Blues is another highlight of the album. It was also featured on an EP with Oxford band The Dreaming Spires earlier this year…

Richard: I’m really pleased with the way that song came out – it was all done in Walthamstow.

Sam: Rich had the two-chord riff at the start and we just jammed over it and he came up with the guitar riff. There’s a lovely complementary pedal steel riff, too.

 

You’ve been recording your new album? How’s it going?

Richard: We’re almost done – we’re putting the finishing touches to it. We’ve got about 20 songs, we’ll whittle that down to about 11 and then we’ll see if it’s any good…

When do you hope to release it?

Richard: Only the gods know that. Everything is a bit up in the air regarding when the album’s coming out.  It’s a weird time – everything takes absolutely ages, because of bloody Record Store Day. We need to have our stuff out on vinyl. The people who buy our records like vinyl and it’s how we survive on the road – not by eating vinyl, but by selling it.

Your next record will be quite a quick follow-up to your first one…

Sam: I think we started recording the new one before the last one was even out – we like to keep things ticking over. We’ve been busy this year.

What can we expect the new record to sound like?

Richard: I think we’ve found our feet to be honest. The first album was a bit of a stab in the dark and it was very much me, Paulie and Sam…

Sam: We were the genesis of it.

Not the Genesis?

Sam: There’s no Phil Collins…

Richard: Even though I do like Genesis… We’ve taken shape as a live band, with Patrick and Joe on pedal steel. They’ve been very involved with the new album – Patrick’s been co-writing. It’s been much more of a collaborative effort. I do think that the new album is very different, but it’s very much in the same vein musically, I suppose.

The-Hanging-Stars-637x358.jpg

Sam: We’ve done all of it at Bark Studio in Walthamstow, which is where we did about a third of the first album. We’re working with Brian O’Shaughnessy – he’s fantastic. Me, Paulie and Rich live in Walthamstow.

It’s sounding really nice. We had the majority of the album – the core bits – done about nine months ago. We’ve spent the last few months sprinkling the fairy dust on it.  It’s been really nice to see how it’s come together.

Richard: A lot of the recording for the first album was done in LA and we did some overdubs in Nashville. This album has been purely E17, which has been great. Due to the way of the world, it’s so hard to get a two-week chunk of time for recording, so we do a weekend of basics and then we drop in with some other ideas. I’m so chuffed with some of the stuff that we’ve done for the new record. I think it’s bloody good and I really hope that people will be blown away by it.

If you’ll pardon the pun, Christmas is a good time for hanging stars… What are your plans for the festive season?

Sam: Our drummer will be on the other side of the world, but for New Year’s Eve we’ll probably be at the What’s Cookin’ night in Leytonstone, sinking in a Yuletide country vibe.

Richard: We’ll probably be getting slightly off our nuts in some way or another – we don’t mind that at all.

 

Over The Silvery Lake by The Hanging Stars is out now on The Great Pop Supplement/Crimson Crow.

http://www.thehangingstars.com/

https://thehangingstars.bandcamp.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m hugely in love with the new Richmond Fontaine album”

markface

 

Crime writer Mark Billingham’s new novel, Die of Shame, is released in May and is based on murderous goings-on in a therapy session. I spoke to him about addiction, country music and sitting around in his pyjamas all day…

 

The last time we spoke, you’d just released The Other Half – your spoken word album with country band My Darling Clementine – and your most recent Tom Thorne novel, Time of Death, had come out.

Now your new stand-alone novel, Die of Shame, is about to hit the shelves. Without giving too much away, what we can expect?

Mark Billingham: It’s a stand-alone psychological thriller and in some ways it’s a very modern take on the classic locked-room mystery, but my locked-room is a therapy group for recovering addicts.

There are six people in a circle who meet every Monday evening to talk about shame, which their therapist is convinced is the key to their problems with addiction and crucial in aiding their recovery.

One person in that group will die at the hands of another. Writing about addiction – a subject I’m fascinated by – enabled me to create a cast of characters from a variety of backgrounds, which is always an enjoyable challenge.

My best friend is a recovering addict and his experience and advice was hugely helpful. It’s a very different sort of novel from those in the Thorne series, but the bottom line is that it’s still a murder mystery and one I’m enormously proud of.

 

51UCO0OC1XL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_ 

Tom Thorne usually makes a cameo appearance in your stand-alone books. Will he crop up in Die of Shame?

MB: Yes, of course he will. And Phil Hendricks is in there as well…

Music is never far away from you and some of the characters in your books – particularly Tom Thorne. What were you listening to while you were writing Die of Shame? Have you heard any new albums that have blown you away? I’m loving Richmond Fontaine’s latest record and I know you’re a big fan of them…

MB: Well, like you, I’m hugely in love with the new Richmond Fontaine album [You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To].

It might even be their best yet, which is ironic considering that it’s almost certainly their last.

I’ve recently discovered Margo Price, who is just wonderful, and I’ve been really enjoying Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds In Country Music.

I’ve been playing a lot of M. Ward too, and when I really need to get into a dark place, I put on Gorecki’s Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs. That stuff makes Hank Williams sound like The Wombles!

There’s not too much music in Die Of Shame, because there isn’t much Tom Thorne, but like you say, it’s never very far away…

CS608050-01B-BIG 

I recently picked up the My Darling Clementine Record Store Day EP, which features As Precious As The Flame – a song you co-wrote with the band. It must be great to have a track you worked on out on vinyl?  

MB: Absolutely – it’s a real thrill. I’m very proud of that song, which I think is a wonderful ending to the album and the live show of The Other Half. It’s fantastic to see it on the My Darling Clementine EP.

You’ve been touring The Other Half with My Darling Clementine. How was it going out on the road?

MB: The tour was a lot of fun, but bloody exhausting. Whenever I complained about all the travelling, Michael and Lou from My Darling Clementine would just say, “welcome to our world”.

I drove somewhere close to 7,000 miles doing the show, so now I’m appreciating the luxury of sitting at my desk all day in my pyjamas and not having to go further than the kitchen. I adored doing it, though. Michael and Lou remain a joy to work with and I’m very proud of the show we did.

Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine
Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine perform The Other Half

Do you have any plans for some more musical collaborations?

MB: Collaborating is something I would highly recommend for anyone who works on their own most of the time.

Aside from the artistic benefits, it’s great to have someone to go for a beer and a curry with at the end of the day. I’m certainly up for doing something similar in the future, should the chance come along. Obviously I’m still waiting for Elvis Costello to call…

It’s going to be a busy year for you, as you’ve got some more gigs with My Darling Clementine planned, you’re promoting your new book in the UK and US and your novels In The Dark and Time of Death are being filmed for TV by the BBC. Can you tell us more about the TV adaptations?

MB: They’ve been filming for a week now and everything’s going well. Danny Brocklehurst has written four brilliant scripts and the BBC have put a fantastic cast together, so it’s really exciting.

Fans of Peep Show will be familiar with Matt King, who plays Super Hans, and it’s brilliant that we’ve got him playing Phil Hendricks.

Obviously, I’m going to spoil everything in a couple of weeks when I rock up to do my cameo, but I’m sure it will be fun.

The stories have changed a bit, as they should when you move from page to screen, and there’s no Thorne at all. The series focuses on Helen Weeks, and MyAnna Buring, who is playing her, is fantastic.

I’m sure some readers will be up in arms because the TV show is not exactly the same as the books, but how can it be? They are different animals and should be judged differently. I’m closely involved with the scripts and as an executive producer, so there’s nothing going on that I don’t completely endorse. We’re just trying to make the best TV show we can.

I fully expect my cameo to wind up on the cutting room floor, especially as I plan to ham it up shamelessly…

3582977

 

Have you started writing the next Thorne novel yet? When can we expect it to be released and can you give us a teaser?

MB: Yes, I’m halfway through the next one. There’s a new detective in Die Of Shame called Nicola Tanner. In many ways she’s the ‘anti-Thorne’, so I’m having a lot of fun putting her and Tom together in the book I’m currently writing.

Fun is perhaps the wrong word, as I’m actually writing about a subject that is very dark. I don’t want to say too much at this stage – I don’t even have a title yet – but I’ve never felt angrier writing a book. I hope that turns out to be a good thing…

Following on from your appearances on TV quiz shows Pointless and Celebrity Mastermind, you’re going to appear on Eggheads, as a member of a team of crime writers. When can we see that? 

MB: I think it’s due to go out in September. I was part of a team of crime writers, alongside Val McDermid, Martyn Waites, Doug Johnstone and Chris Brookmyre. It was a lot of fun. I’m not allowed to say how we got on against the Eggheads, but I would urge people to watch!

Finally, can you recommend any good books, other than Die of Shame?

MB: Chris Brookmyre’s newest book Black Widow is fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed David Hepworth’s book about the music of 1971 – Never A Dull Moment.

Another non-fiction recommendation would be Chasing The Scream by Johann Hari. It’s a brilliant history and detailed dissection of the war on drugs and I guarantee it will change everything you ever believed about addiction.

It’s absolutely fascinating and a huge eye-opener.

I’m currently reading John Connolly’s new Charlie Parker novel, A Time Of Torment, which is as sickeningly brilliant as usual. If I didn’t like him as much, I’d hate him…

Mark Billingham’s new novel, Die of Shame, will be published in the UK by Little, Brown on May 5 and in the US by Grove Atlantic on June 7.

For more information, visit http://www.markbillingham.com/

 

 

 

Best Albums of 2015

 

minesweeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry Love and Brendan O’Connell

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

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

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

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

One for the road, anyone?

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

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

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

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

Nev Cottee
Nev Cottee

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

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

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

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

Steelism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Say It With Garage Flowers will return in 2016…

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

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

‘We love hangovers – they’re very inspiring’

I speak to songwriting duo O’Connell & Love to find out how a stormy winter week in Hastings, afternoon drinking, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings and some serious hangovers all helped to create one of the best albums of the year…

 

Larry Love and Brendan O'Connell
Larry Love and Brendan O’Connell

 

Minesweeping – the new record by O’Connell & Love – is one of the most eclectic and richly rewarding albums of 2015.

A collaboration between Larry Love, the lead singer of South London country-blues-gospel-electronica outlaws Alabama 3 and songwriting partner Brendan O’Connell, it’s a hung-over road trip through the badlands, stopping to pick up some hitchhikers on the way – namely guest vocalists Rumer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, June Miles-Kingston, Tenor Fly and Pete Doherty.

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

An album that wears its influences on the sleeve of its beer-stained shirt, there are nods to late ‘70s Dylan (The Man Inside The Mask), Motown (Love Is Like A Rolling Stone – feat.Tenor Fly ), Leonard Cohen (Come On, Boy – feat. Junes Miles-Kingston) and The Band (If It’s Not Broken).

MID cover

The essence of the album came together when you were holed up in the Sussex seaside town of Hastings, writing songs one stormy week in winter. Can you tell me more about that time? What was the writing and recording process for the record like?

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

We’re pretty quick at getting ideas down. We’re too long in the tooth to fuck around, in terms of working out structures and the basic platforms of rock and roll.

We’re not meandering around like 17-year-olds, listening to fucking Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and Ann Peebles records, trying to work out what the formula is. We have our formula very organised.

If anything, we had too many ideas – the challenge was to get them to coalesce. Hopefully that comes across on the record. It has a certain homogenous quality to it.

It does – it feels like a complete album, from start to finish. 

You’ve said that the album was seven years in the making, due to other commitments… Were all of the songs written during that week you spent in Hastings?

Brendan O’Connell: A couple came after that and some had been hanging around for years.

You might recycle an idea that you tried to write 25 years ago, but that never really came to anything. You leave it and then come back to it years later, use it with someone else’s idea and it suddenly gets finished.

You might have an idea where the verse is really good, but you can’t get the next bit together… Then one day it suddenly comes from somewhere and you know it’s right.

LL: It was a bit like a pit bull that gets impregnated by a breeder. Eight little puppies come out and you think all the litter has been delivered. Then another five arrive two weeks later, in the ectoplasm!

So, Brendan, do you bring your musical ideas to Larry?

BO’C: Yes – some chords and a melody.

LL: A lot of them he might find in a charity shop. Sometimes the clothes don’t fit on that particular day – especially as you get older…

Lyrically, the album has a recurring nautical theme running through it…

BO’C: That must’ve come from Hastings.

The record was produced by Greg Fleming – aka Wizard – who’s worked with the Chemical Brothers, Dizzee Rascal and Chase & Status.Why did you choose to use a dance music producer on a country, blues and folk album?

LL: I really liked Rick Rubin’s recordings with Johnny Cash.

What did Greg Fleming bring to the record?

LL: He brought cynicism, pessimism and downright depressiveness to it because he’s generally used to doing this: (Larry suddenly makes loud, squelching dance music noises with his mouth!)

Any good stories from the recording sessions?

LL: Far too many – they generally involved me having rows with Brendan, who said I was irresponsible for staying up all night drunk. But, over the years, he has accepted that me getting drunk does add to the joie de vivre.

There are quite a few special guests on the album, including Buffy Saint-Marie, Pete Doherty and Rumer. How did you come to work with them?

LL: Whatever technology has taken away from us as musicians in terms of revenue, it’s also opened up many doors for collaborations – it’s not like you have to have a long, drawn-out scenario where you have to have everyone together in the same studio.

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s new album – Power In The Blood – was named after a song I wrote. I went to see her when Morrissey was curating Meltdown at the South Bank [in 2004] and I got invited backstage. I asked her if she fancied doing a song.

I’ve known Pete Doherty for years – he used to come and see Alabama 3 gigs back in the day. I got hold of his manager and said, ‘He fucking owes us one, so Pete, get down here.’

B’OC: We knew Rumer from Brixton, but she disappeared off to America and became a big star. My brother bumped into her in the street – she was a fan of the album we did before this one [Ghost Flight – released in 2006, under the name Robert Love] and she was keen to come and sing on a few songs.

 

Let’s talk about some of the songs from the new record. The opener, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock sounds like Johnny Cash…

LL: I thought you said Clash! Yeah – what Rick Rubin did at the end of Johnny Cash’s career was very inspiring. It’s the same as when Bob Dylan worked with Daniel Lanois. Grizzled voices and ‘hip-hop’ production.

BO’C: To me, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock sounds Spanish, rather than country, but Larry’s voice sounds like Cash.

LL: It has a ‘you’re on death row’ kind of vibe – I used to know someone who was on death row and I got quite involved with the campaign to release Albert Woodfox, who was from the Angola Three. He was one of the longest incarcerated members of The Black Panthers. It was around that time that I wrote the song. He was waiting on death row for years, but he’s now been reprieved.

 

 

One of my favourite songs on the album is Hangover Me, featuring Rumer. It has a Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood feel to it…

LL: Yeah – it ended up that way. We wrote it with Seggs Jennings (The Ruts DC), with hangovers. It nails our colours to the mast. We love hangovers – they’re very inspiring.

It was originally called The Ballad of Martin Lambert and was written about a friend of ours who died from a morphine overdose on Christmas Day at his mother’s. It was a tragic way to go. I sang at his funeral. We surround ourselves with people who are on the edge – they’re not living comfortable lives and selling houses to fucking yuppies.

 

 

The track It Was The Sweetest Thing has a great Stonesy country-soul swagger… It’s a good story song – a tale of lovers embarking on a European adventure…

LL: Lyrically, it’s about the inevitable nostalgia that comes from when you’ve lost something that you realise you should’ve held on to. I like to think that I’ve lost a lot of things I should never have lost and found things I should never have found…

BO’C: Or that you never deserved to have in the first place.

LL: Exactly. I had an Italian girlfriend, but things didn’t work out. I’d never been to Europe before – I flew to Bologna with a pocketful of Ecstasy! I didn’t know you couldn’t take it on the plane. It was inspired by that – as lovers, you can traverse continents.

In this day and age, with the refugee crisis, love does transcend boundaries. The nature of the song implies that we went everywhere, looking for love, but, ultimately, we found it nowhere.

The Man Inside The Mask, which started out as a very long poem, reminds me of late ‘70s Dylan…

BO’C: When I first played it on my own and sang some of the words from the poem, I thought it was going to end up sounding like Leonard Cohen, but it turned out quite Dylanish…

Let’s go back to your roots. How did you meet and start writing songs together?

LL: About 20 years ago, I was a recovering heroin addict. I haven’t done it since – touch wood. Brendan was in a band called Past Caring – I thought they were very innovative. If you’re familiar with narcotic withdrawal, it’s quite highly sensitised. I was in an Irish bar called Brady’s and I was really impressed by the strength and the quality of Brendan and the band’s performance. I used to sing Uncertain Harbour [the penultimate song on Minesweeping] as a guest vocalist. We were both habitués of South Londonwe knew the same pubs and the same problems.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

LL: We’re letting the album gestate in people’s minds. I’m busy – I’ve got an Alabama 3 tour in October/November. We’re looking at doing an O’Connell & Love tour in January/February – up and down the country, with some skirmishes in-between. We’re definitely taking the band out on the road.

BO’C: And we’re writing some more songs.

LL: We’re going to do the next album in seven days – like the Lord. Doing Minesweeping has given us more confidence for the next phase. I don’t think it will have a nautical theme – it will be rain and Northern towns.

So, finally, what’s the secret of writing a great country song?

LL: Get a bad woman and a good hangover.

MID o connell and love band

 

Minesweeping is out now on Mountmellick Music.

http://www.oconnellandlove.com