Brighton-based, jangle-pop collective Raving Beauties are back with a brilliant new single, This is the Train – an optimistic and summery song, with a hint of Northern Soul. It features special guest, James Walbourne (The Pretenders, The Rails), on twangy lead guitar, and was mixed by the Go!Team’s Ian Parton, who also plays organ, bass and glockenspiel on the track.
This is the Train is a taster from the group’s brand new album, Over Yonder, which is out next year. Raving Beauties started out in 2015, as a mysterious fictional band inspired by a short story written by frontman, Belfast-born Brian Bell. In an exclusive interview, he tells us all about the new single, so jump on board…
How’s it going? How’s your summer been?
Brian Bell: Well there are a lot worse places to be than Brighton in the summer, especially as it gradually becomes more like its old self, with things opening up again. A big thing for me has been a conversion to sea-swimming and most days I can be found splashing around in the English Channel around sunrise. I love it!
Tell us about your great new single, This is the Train. It’s a bit of a different sound for the band, isn’t it? It’s twangy, rather than jangly, and has a slight Northern Soul feel. Where did the song come from? It was written with band member and multi-instrumentalist, Tom Collison, wasn’t it?
BB: One of the main influences on the album we’re gradually putting the finishing touches to – Over Yonder – is the early ‘70s Island Records vibe, and at one point we’d been thinking about covering a John Martyn or Nick Drake song in a more up-tempo. jangly style. We ended up binning that idea, but This is the Train emerged from me putting a new vocal melody and lyrics to some of the folky chord progressions that Tom had been playing around with during that process.
I love Motown and Northern Soul, so maybe it was a subliminal influence, but I think Ian Parton’s work on the mix, which involved him re-doing the bass to make it more punchy, adding glockenspiel and organ, and doing a lot of work on the individual drum sounds, probably influenced that feel a lot.
It’s an optimistic and summery song, isn’t it? It came out in early September, so are you hoping for an Indian summer, so it can be the soundtrack?
BB: Yeah – an Indian summer would definitely suit the track nicely, but this time of year is often associated with new beginnings too, and I’ve been thinking about that Dylan quote from the Scorsese No Direction Home documentary, when he says “always be in a constant state of becoming”. It would be lovely if the song evokes that kind of feeling in people.
‘Having James Walbourne play on your single is a bit like Messi being in your five-aside team for a kickaround in the park!’
There’s a special guest on lead guitar, James Walbourne (The Pretenders, The Rails), and the organ, bass and glockenspiel are by Ian Parton (The Go! Team), who also mixed the track. How did those guys get involved?
BB: Back in the spring, myself and Tom had finally got around to doing more work on the album in his home studio in Homerton, and during that time I’d arranged to meet up with James for a coffee while I was in the area. When I mentioned the Beauties recordings, he offered to play on something, which was exciting when you consider what a phenomenal guitarist he is. Sorry for the football analogy, but it’s a bit like Messi offering to be in your five-a-side team for a kickaround in the park!
Anyway, we sent him over a rough mix of This is the Train to add a lead guitar part to. When we heard what he’d contributed, we were beyond delighted.
As for Ian’s involvement, it’s been frustrating how much the pandemic has slowed down progress on the album, but I felt that if we could at least get a single mixed and out there, that would feel pretty satisfying. I’d set my heart on that, but the major snag was that by that stage, Tom had dismantled his studio and was in the midst of the huge upheaval of him and his partner upping sticks from London to their new home in Dumfries.
I know Ian through Bosie Vincent – a film-maker who made the video for the single – and we’re pretty friendly, so in the ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’ spirit, I thought I’d see if he was up for helping out and luckily he was.
Tell us about the promo video. It’s cool – a bit summery and psych, with trains…
BB: As well as being one of my dearest pals, Bosie Vincent is very much part of the Beauties collective, having made all our other videos. For this one, he mixed up cool archive footage with footage that he got of a bunch of us having a sing-song to the tune around a campfire on Brighton beach. As he’s next-door neighbours with Ian, it was also pretty easy to get some nice close-ups of him bashing a customised Beauties tambourine in time to the tune! When I saw the finished video, I was so chuffed with it. I think he’s captured the feel of the song perfectly with those visuals.
The band line-up has changed since we last spoke. Scottish folknik and acoustic guitar maestro, Callum Johnstone, has joined. How did that come about?
BB: It sounds like something out of our ‘fictional band’ past but it’s actually true. We met at a Transcendental Meditation weekend and when we got chatting, it emerged that he was really into the Bert Jansch/Davy Graham school of finger-style acoustic guitar playing, which I was really keen to incorporate into the new album. When he checked out some of the previous Beauties stuff, he was impressed enough that he was keen to get on board. Let’s just say I ended up ditching the Maharishi but kept Callum!
It’s a nice bit of serendipity in that the original Raving Beauties album was a Belfast-Edinburgh alliance, with singer/songwriter Gordon Grahame, which has now neatly been re-established, as Callum is a proud Edinburgher. If you look closely at the Beauties logo, there’s a Shamrock and Thistle entwined, so I’m really glad to keep that Scots-Irish aspect alive.
Completing the new line-up is drummer Grant Allardyce. What’s his story and how does he fit in? Isn’t he a jazzer?
BB: Grant is another exiled Belfast boy on the local music scene and I’ve known him for donkey’s years. He plays with a fantastic alt-country folk band called the Mountain Firework Company, but he’s primarily a jazzer and is part of a jazz trio called the Lost Organ Unit. It was a massive influence on Grant’s style that he was originally tutored by a guy called Keith Copeland, who was renowned on the New York jazz scene. I wanted a looser, jazzier feel to the album, which is why I got him involved, and Tom came down to a wee studio in Lewes a while back to record all Grant’s drums.
‘We’re tantalisingly close to finishing the new record, but a 2022 release is looking more likely. We’re aiming for it to be just as melodic as the previous records, but with more of a loose, early ’70s vibe’
How’s the new album coming along?
BB: We’re still working on it, and aiming to reconvene at Tom’s new place in Scotland in the autumn, if we can fit that in with his other commitments, as he’s very much in demand as a gigging multi-instrumentalist.
I think we’re tantalisingly close to finishing the record, but a 2022 release is looking more likely now. Sound-wise, we’re aiming for it to be just as melodic as the previous records, but with more of a loose, early ’70s vibe, with lots of instrumental segues provided by Callum, who’s become such an invaluable asset to the project.
I’ve put together a Spotify playlist that’s full of the type of stuff that’s influenced the record:
On that note, what music – new and old – are you currently enjoying?
BB: I love Fleet Foxes’ Shore – it’s been a constant since it came out this time last year. I think Robin Pecknold is an incredible talent. Other than that, I’ve been on a bit of a John Fahey tip lately. There’s something about his playing that really gets under your skin. His Days Have Gone By album is a big favourite.
In recent times I think we’ve needed music to lift us and if ever there’s a tune that does that, it’s Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir, Like a Ship (Without a Sail), which you hear quite often popping up on 6 Music – what a belter!
Finally, when was the last time you took a train and what was it like?
BB: We went on a trip to Hastings a few weeks ago – there are some very nice Sussex Downs views and coastal scenery on that line. Also, when I get there, I always make a wee pilgrimage to John Martyn’s old gaff on Cobourg Place and imagine Nick Drake striding up those steep steps to West Hill, which he’d have done many times when he came down to visit John and Beverley.
This is the Train by Raving Beauties is out now as a digital-only single on Clubhouse Records.
From a haunting and cinematic masterpiece about love, loss, grief and existentialism to power-pop, New Wave, pastoral country-rock, Americana, lo-fi Beachboys sounds, psychedelic blues and dark disco, Say It With Garage Flowers chooses its favourite albums of 2019…
2019 was an emotional year for me – I became a dad for the first time. In March, my wife, Susie, gave birth to beautiful twin boys, Ronnie and Roddy, and our world changed forever… I’ve always been over-sensitive, but such a major life event left me feeling even more sentimental and soft-centred, which undoubtedly had a major influence on which album I would choose as my favourite record of the year – Ghosteen by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.
The first record he’d wholly written since the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015, and the third album in a loose trilogy, Ghosteen is a haunting and cinematic masterpiece.
Its lyrics tackle love, loss, grief and existentialism and are set to minimalist, otherworldly and ambient soundscapes for synth, piano and strings. At times, the songs are extremely harrowing, but also moving, beautiful and optimistic. A double album, Cave said of the record: “The songs on the first album are the children. The songs on the second album are their parents. Ghosteen is a migrating spirit.”
When I first heard it on an overcast October morning, I was astounded by the stunning opener, the mesmerising Spinning Song, reduced to tears by the second track, the piano ballad BrightHorses, and by the third song, the plaintive and hymn-like Waiting For You, I was in bits…
The album’s closing epic, Hollywood, which clocks in at just over 14 minutes, is one of the most astonishing pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s stripped-down, brooding and atmospheric, with eerie electronic effects, a ghostly choir and low, rumbling bass in the background – like waiting for an oncoming storm to strike… Ghosteen is truly stunning – a career high point.
Several of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite artists put out great albums in 2019. We’ve highlighted just a few of them below. There’s also a list of our 40 best albums of the year at the end of the article and an accompanying Spotify playlist – we’re really spoiling you…
English husband and wife duo The Rails – James Walbourne and Kami Thompson – released their best long-player yet. Cancel The Sun – their third record – was produced by Stephen Street (The Smiths, Morrissey, Blur) and saw them moving further away from their folk-rock roots – Kami is the daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson – cranking up the electric guitars and embracing power-pop and New Wave, (Call Me When It All Goes Wrong, Ball and Chain, Waiting On Something); ‘60s-style country-soul (Something Is Slipping My Mind) and Beatlesy psychedelia (the title track).
‘Hollywood is one of the most astonishing pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s stripped-down, brooding and atmospheric, with eerie electronic effects, a ghostly choir and low, rumbling bass in the background’
Their gorgeous trademark harmonies were still in place and there were some folky ballads (Mossy Well and Leave Here Alone), but this time around, James, whose other job is as the guitarist in The Pretenders, really cut loose and pushed his extraordinary playing to the fore.
Cancel The Sun was very instant and direct – it didn’t mess around and had a harder, poppier feel than their last two records. Speaking to us earlier this year, Kami said: “This time, we didn’t rule anything out – we just wanted to make a bigger record.”
Commenting on working with Stephen Street, James said: “We wanted someone a bit different – who would take it forward – and who had perhaps more of a rock edge. We were thinking of the sound of Graham Coxon’s [Blur guitarist] solo records – in-your-face guitar.”
When we told James that we thought they’d made their best yet, he said: “That’s very kind of you – I appreciate that. After you make a record, there comes a point when just you don’t have a f***ing clue about what you’ve just done. This record is a truer reflection of what we listen to.”
James also cropped up on two of Say It With Garage Flowers’ other favourite albums of 2019 – he played guitar on two tracks on Spread The Feeling, the long-awaited new record by the Pernice Brothers, which was a brilliant mix of Smiths and New Order-like jangle-pop, ’80s US New Wave and melancholy Americana, and also turned in a neat guitar solo on the country-folk song You Can Help Me, which featured on Manchester crooner Nev Cottee’s latest album – the superb River’s Edge, which was influenced by ’70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Waits, and had an optimistic, mellow and pastoral feel. Produced by Mason Neely (Wilco, Edwyn Collins), River’s Edge was a beautiful album. Highlights included Nightingale, a nocturnal, Tom Waitsian lullaby with piano and brass, and the Nancy and Lee-esque ballad Roses – a duet with mysterious guest vocalist Veronica, who sounded like Nico. The first single, Hello Stranger, was cinematic psych-rock, with a [Cortez the] killer, Neil Young-style electric guitar solo.
‘Nev Cottee’s latest album, the superb River’s Edge, was influenced by ’70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Waits, and had an optimistic, mellow and pastoral feel’
Talking to Say It With Garage Flowers about the album, Nev said: “I wanted to do something that was acoustic-based and had a few piano songs – to take it into Neil Young territory, but, in the end, it didn’t end up like that, as other influences got in the way. Ultimately, what I found out is that only Neil Young can do Neil Young songs and I’ve got to do mine…”
Cottee was part of the stellar cast of artists who contributed to this year’s two albums by the Monks Road Social collective – Down The Willows and Out Of Bounds – headed up by Blow Monkeys frontman Dr. Robert.
Recorded over two 10-day sessions in the residential Monnow Valley Studio in Monmouth, Wales, the records are two of the most eclectic collections of songs you’re ever likely to hear – from jazzy comedown ballads to Balearic beats, to soul, psych-rock, folk, drum and bass, country, blues, indie-rock and funk, they’re a melting pot of musical ideas and feature a seriously impressive line-up of guests.
Over the two albums, Dr. Robert’s collaborators include – wait for it, take a deep breath… singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams; Matt Deighton, guitarist and frontman of ‘90s acid-jazz outfit Mother Earth, who’s played with Paul Weller and Oasis; keyboardist Mick Talbot of The Style Council; drummer Steve White (The Style Council and Paul Weller); UK blues singer Angelina; Dick Taylor of ‘60s rockers The Pretty Things; Northern Irish artist Pat Dam Smyth; Brand New Heavies vocalist Sulene Fleming; London-based singer Samantha Whates; Midlands mod-soul band Stone Foundation; Nev Cottee; orchestral arranger Ben Trigg (Richard Ashcroft and Dexys Midnight Runners) and percussionist and programmer Steve Sidelnyk – to name but a few…
Dr. Robert oversaw the production of the albums and was also responsible for writing – and co-writing – many of the tracks, some of which are new versions of songs that have appeared on his solo albums, while others were penned especially for the project, or brought to the table by those involved. The Monks Road Social collective are playing their first ever live show, in London, at the Jazz Cafe, in 2020, and Say It With Garage Flowers hopes to be there.
‘The Monks Road Social records are two of the most eclectic collections of songs you’re ever likely to hear – from jazzy comedown ballads to Balearic beats, to soul, psych-rock, folk, drum and bass, country, blues, indie-rock and funk, they’re a melting pot of musical ideas’
Telling us about the making of both the records, Dr. Robert said: “We recorded both albums in separate 10-day sessions in Monnow Valley Studios, down in Monmouth.
“They were pretty intense sessions, but since my only vice these days is coffee, I was up for it! I did quite a bit of preparation beforehand, because I knew it would be crazy, and, if I didn’t have a plan, it could have all gone a bit Pete Tong…”
He added: “As we began to assemble the players, something kicked in and we were drawn together by intrigue and a mutual love of playing music for its own sake. That bit was important – there has to be joy and a spark – the gold dust is in the groove…”
Isle of Wight-based singer-songwriter Angelina – part of Monks Road Social – released her second album, Last Cigarette, this year.
Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, it was raw, visceral, menacing and angry – a heavy and psychedelic, garage-rock blues record that was a lethal cocktail of dirt, dust, diesel and Louisiana swamp juice.
Scorching opener, Throw Petrol At The Sun, had an oily, clanking rhythm and manic, trippy flute, first single, Devil’s Wishing Well, was built on a funky, Beck-like groove, See Through Dress was a smouldering, late-night tale of getting revenge on a soon-to-be ex-lover – she takes his last cigarette and stubs it out on the dress he bought her – and the riotous, rock ‘n’ roll gospel-soul of God Bless The Road was inspired by playing a gig in a Berlin biker bar, with bonfires burning outside.
‘Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, Last Cigarette was raw, visceral, menacing and angry – a heavy and psychedelic, garage-rock blues record that was a lethal cocktail of dirt, dust, diesel and Louisiana swamp juice’
The album saw Angelina reunited with Rupert Brown (drums, percussion, auto harp and backing vocals), who worked on her debut album, 2016’s folky and rootsy Vagabond Saint, but this time around she recruited ace electric and slide guitarist Barrie Cadogan (Little Barrie, Primal Scream, Edwyn Collins), and The James Hunter Six’s Jason Wilson on double bass.
Session musicians Joe Glossop (keys) and Gary Plumley (flute) were also along for the ride, as were five singers from the People’s Choir of St Louis.
Speaking about the influences behind the album, Angelina said: “I love the sound – and the truth – of those early blues artists, like Blind Willie Johnson, Ma Rainey and Charley Patton, but it wasn’t a conscious design to make a blues record – that was just what came out naturally…”
She added: “I always try and walk on the sunny side of the street, but I do have a habit of finding the shadows…”
Another artist who is no stranger to the darker side of life is gravel-voiced Mark Lanegan, who released his eleventh studio album, Somebody’s Knocking, in 2019.
On the track Penthouse High, he sang: “There’s ghosts inside this house…” It sounded as if the place was haunted by the spectre of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, as the Manchester post-punk band – and the outfit they morphed into, New Order – were two of the most obvious influences at work on this record. Name and Number was powered by a doomy, Peter Hook-style bassline, which also sounded like The Cure, Playing Nero was all ’80s synths and drum machines and Dark Disco Jag had a sinister electro groove.
Lanegan also made another album this year – Downwelling, which was attributed to Not Waving and Dark Mark. A collaboration with experimental producer Alessio Natalizia, it explored dark electronic territory and served as a great companion piece to Somebody’s Knocking.
Now for something a bit lighter… Summer Deluxe, the fifth solo album by Hampshire-based, UK singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Mike Gale, was one of the most gorgeous records Say It With Garage Flowers heard this year.
‘On the track Penthouse High, Lanegan sang: “There’s ghosts inside this house…” It sounded as if the place was haunted by the spectre of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis…’
Adding samples of strings, piano and organ to drum machines, synths, guitars and harmonies, Mike, formerly of Americana band Co-pilgrim and, before them, cult noughties indie-slackers Black Nielson, crafted a blissed-out, lo-fi summer soundtrack that was heavily influenced by The Beach Boys.
There were pure pop moments (Jump Start My Heart and Shoot Shoot The Needle), wonky synth sounds (You Know How I’m Feeling Now) and jazzy tinges (Every Cloud Has A Cloudy Lining), but lurking beneath the sunny, surf’s up melodies, there was an undertow of sadness and world-weariness.
‘There were pure pop moments and jazzy tinges, but lurking beneath the sunny, surf’s up melodies, there was an undertow of sadness and world-weariness’
This year’s follow-up, Time Out For Tomorrow, was another album that we fell in love with. From the Dylanesque country-rock of first single Canvas of Gold – with slide guitar and organ – to the melancholy, piano-led ballad That Ain’t Here, the blues-folk of Burchell Lake – inspired by a ghost town in Ontario – and the haunting and cinematic mountain tune, Survived Like A Stone – with fiddle and saw – these were raw, powerful and emotional songs.
Asked about the sound of the new album, Jerry told us: “It’s a nice, short and sweet, lean and mean record. Two records I really dug the sound of that I wanted to capture on this record were Nick Lowe’s TheImpossible Bird and one of my favourite Lou Reed albums, Coney Islnd Baby – I love that dry drum sound and the real directness of it. Some of the songs just coast along. I also like a lot of Nick Lowe’s older records with Rockpile, where he doubled the electric guitar solos. I doubled my vocals on some songs.”
Here There’s No Sirens, the debut solo album by Pete Gow (ex-Case Hardin) was a brilliant collection of stripped-down, intimate and very personal songs, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, brass, piano, drums and organ.
Produced by multi-instrumentalist Joe Bennett, (Dreaming Spires, Co-Pilgrim, Raving Beauties / Paul McClure) at Farm Music Studios in Oxfordshire and released on Clubhouse Records, it was both beautiful and unsettling. Opener One Last One NightStand set the tone for most of the record – it was a big, honest, relationship ballad with a breathtaking cinematic backing, while the song Mikaela sounded like early Ryan Adams, but with mournful horns and sweeping strings.
‘Here There’s No Sirens, the debut solo album by Pete Gow, was a brilliant collection of stripped-down, intimate and very personal songs, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, brass, piano, drums and organ’
There were also character songs – the majestic Some Old Jacobite King was steeped in the storytelling tradition and was inspired by a trip to the remote Isle of Skye, while Strip For Me centred on a guy who treats women in a thoroughly unpleasant way – and it name checked porn actress and stripper Stormy Daniels, who was involved in a scandal with U.S. President Donald Trump. Pete Gow also released a limited edition seven-track mini album called The Fragile Line in 2019 – it too was one of our favourite records of the year.
Another Americana album we enjoyed this year was Carousel, by UK singer-songwriter Luke Tuchscherer. A stark and moody solo acoustic record – guitar, voice and harmonica – that was laid down in one day at a studio in New Jersey, it didn’t shy away from addressing political and social issues and was inspired by Neil Young and Bob Dylan.
Opener, My Darling England, dealt with social issues, including class and national identity – the song was written 15 years ago, but, in these troubled times and with the spectre of Brexit looming over us, it was eerily prescient: ‘Now the streets are filled with shadows, every house has its own ghost. The people are growing restless – never getting what they want the most…’
Violets tackled domestic abuse, Potash was penned during the Iraq War and The Night Tom Petty Died documented how one of Luke’s musical inspirations passed away just as he’d moved to New York from the UK: ‘Sitting at the bar in the Tribeca Tavern, on the jukebox was Learning To Fly – a beer cost more than I could spend. I wished that I was home…’
‘A stark and moody solo acoustic record that was laid down in one day at a studio in New Jersey, Carousel didn’t shy away from addressing political and social issues’
Luke cited Neil Young and Dylan, specifically The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album, as his reference points for the record, as well as Townes Van Zandt and Elliott Smith, but, at times, it also reminded us of Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 masterpiece Nebraska – our favourite album by The Boss.
2019 was a decent year for new music, but a bad one for politics, however, some good did come out of the current dire state of the UK, as West Midlands-based singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar was inspired to write While You Still Can – a socio-political album that took a wry look at the situation the country found itself in. This time around, he made a harder, darker and rockier record with a political edge and plenty of social commentary, but he didn’t dispatch with the vintage pop culture references that we know – and love – him for.
Man Out Of Time was rollicking country-blues with a lyric about the ’70s glam rock years of his youth, while Culture Vulture’s Led Zep-inspired riffs were a nod to his Black Country rock roots. The synth-heavy Ministry Of Fate concerned itself with government media blackouts, Scarecrows was Bowie-esque, robotic funk meets plastic soul and the post-punk, heavy indie-rock of Pop Music For Ugly People tackled political opportunism and personal greed.
‘2019 was a decent year for new music, but a bad one for politics, however, some good did come out of the current dire state of the UK – Vinny Peculiar was inspired to write While You Still Can – a socio-political album that took a wry look at the situation the country found itself in’
Question Time – Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite track – was a Smiths-like, jangly pop song, but with a lyric about a missing female politician, told from the point of view of a suspect under interrogation.
In an interview with Say It With Garage Flowers, Vinny said: “It’s impossible to avoid politics nowadays – things are so polarised, opinions so righteous, news feeds ever omnipresent… This album is a reaction, in parts, to all that and from speaking to people on the sharp end of this Government’s austerity programme – teachers, nurses and shop workers. These are torrid times.”
With Brexit looming, who knows what 2020 will bring, but, rest assured, I’m confident that, like 2019, it will be another great year for new music. I’ve already had a sneak preview of three albums that are due out in 2020 – no spoilers here – but it’s safe to say that they’ll be high up on Say It With Garage Flowers’ list of our favourite records of next year…. In the meantime, here’s our 40 best albums of 2019 and a Spotify playlist to go with them. It’s been emotional…
Say It With Garage Flowers: Best Albums of 2019
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
The Rails – Cancel The Sun
Nev Cottee – River’s Edge
Pernice Brothers – Spread The Feeling
Peter Bruntnell – King of Madrid
Richard Hawley – Further
Pete Gow – Here There’s No Sirens
The Delines – The Imperial
Jerry Leger – Time Out For Tomorrow
The Lilac Time – Return To Us
Morrissey – California Son
Pete Gow – The Fragile Line
Vinny Peculiar – While You Still Can
Those Pretty Wrongs – Zed For Zulu
Monks Road Social – Out of Bounds
PP Arnold – The New Adventures of PP Arnold
Angelina – Last Cigarette
Mercury Rev – Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited
Mark Lanegan – Somebody’s Knocking
Monks Road Social – Down The Willows
Mike Gale – Summer Deluxe
Luke Tuchsherer – Carousel
The Rockingbirds – More Rockingbirds
RW Hedges – The Hills Are Old Songs
Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
Steve Gunn – The Unseen In Between
Nocturum – The After Life
Wilco – Ode To Joy
The National – I Am Easy To Find
Elbow – Giants of All Sizes
Jeremy Squires – Poem
Whoa Melodic – Whoa Melodic
Not Waving & Dark Mark – Downwelling
John Howard – Cut The Wire
Edwyn Collins – Badbea
Iggy Pop – Free
GospelBeacH- Let It Burn
Lucette – Deluxe Hotel Room
Hannah Rose Platt – Letters Under Floorboards
Hurricane #1 – Buddha At The Gas Pump
•Please note – at the time of writing, Spread The Feeling by Pernice Brothers, The Fragile Line by Pete Gow and More Rockingbirds by The Rockingbirds are not available on Spotify.
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.
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.