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.
Kansas City singer-songwriter Brent Windler has made the album of the summer, but he only just snuck in with it – his solo debut, New Morning Howl, which is soaked in the sunshine sounds of The Beach Boys and classic West Coast ’60s pop, but with a hint of Americana, came out in late August.
It’s a lush and lavish record, with rich arrangements – warm and optimistic. One of the songs is even called Mr Sun – a harmony-laden, Beatles-like hymn to the healing powers of that big golden globe in the sky.
Opening song and first single, Around The Bend, is gorgeous, Fountains of Wayne-style power-pop, with heavenly harmonies. Clocking in at around six minutes, My Josephine (Wildwood Flowers Are Where You Roam) is a Brian Wilson-esque, widescreen epic that’s symphonic and dream-like, while the title track, with its sweeping strings, uplifting chorus, bouncy melody and twangy guitar, is pure Pet Sounds.
The spectral and folky Spanish Jasmine is the perfect song to listen to as summer turns to autumn: Windler sounds like Simon & Garfunkel – with synths.
The Glitter and The Roar, features some great Easy Listening horns, and closing anthem, In My Daze is a big, Beatlesy, psych-tinged anthem, with piano, slide guitar and massed harmonies.
In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Windler about the new record.
“I didn’t really start with any direct influences in mind, but as the record came together, my ‘60s and ‘70s influences definitely started to crawl out,” he tells us.
Hi Brent. How’s it going? Where are you and what’s the vibe like?
Brent Windler: I’m doing alright – thanks for asking. I’m in Kansas City and everything here is going alright. If I had to complain, it’s really hot here at the moment…
How was lockdown for you?
BW: It was pretty crazy, like it was everywhere. I was lucky enough to be able to work at home, so I had it better than a lot of folks. It was a strange blur of a year – lots of hanging out with friends and family through my computer screen, and the terrible feeling that everything was crumbling.
Congratulations on the new album. It’s a beauty. New Morning Howl is your first solo record. What took you so long?
BW: Thank you. I’m happy you’re digging it. I actually started to record some solo material about seven years ago – some of it was released in 2019 – but life got in the way, as it does sometimes, and I refocused on other musical projects I was involved with at the time.
I actually have a whole other solo record that is just waiting to be finished that I started around that time, but I have been enjoying writing new material so much I’m not sure when I’ll get back to it, if ever.
Did lockdown affect the record? The album feels warm and optimistic, despite the current state of the world…
BW: I definitely think it affected the album. The way it was made would have been completely different had lockdown never happened, but I’m happy that the album feels optimistic and has a warm quality to it. I’m not sure any of that was intentional, but we were definitely trying to stay as optimistic as humanely possible while recording it – even though we failed on a regular basis. I know we tried make it work the best we could, and I think it made for an interesting record.
What’s your musical background? You’re from the Midwest. How was it growing up there?
BW: I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. I didn’t have much of a musical background growing up. I’m self-taught – a music obsessive – and I just stuck with it. Kansas City was a great city to grow up in, but, like anywhere, it’s got its ups and downs. I would be lying if I didn’t say I wish we had a mountain range near us, or the ocean I could walk down to, but there is something beautiful, calm, and strange about the Midwest that I have grown to love.
‘I’m happy that the album feels optimistic and has a warm quality to it. I’m not sure any of that was intentional’
What were your earliest music memories and influences?
BW: Hmmm…. Some of my earliest music memories are getting The Beatles and The Monkees Greatest Hits on cassette. Also I remember a lot of Creedence Clearwater Revival being played on family road trips, as well as late ‘50s/ early ‘60’s rock n roll. I specifically remember loving the Monotones song The Book of Love – that always stood out to me when I was really little. As I got older, my influences definitely grew wider. I loved and still love everything from that era, but I got into a lot of punk and indie acts in my teens, and my palette grew to loving everything from Bob Dylan to My Bloody Valentine to Fugazi. There’s too many to name.
Have you been in many bands? When did you start writing songs?
BW: I have been in many bands over the years. I played in the indie rock group The Casket Lottery for a while, doing a record with them in 2012. I also played bass in the indie band The Republic Tigers, and I was putting out records with Sons of Great Dane, which was more of my songwriting vehicle.
I started really getting into songwriting in my early twenties and I became obsessed with the craft. I had dabbled in my teens, but there was really nothing worthwhile that came out of it. Honestly not until these past five or so years do I feel like I started to feel more comfortable as a songwriter.
Tell us about your group Sons of Great Dane…
Sons is a band that was started around 2007-2008 with my good friend and bass player, Nolle. I had just gotten off tour, and had been gone for about six months and needed a place to crash until I got my own place to stay. He was nice enough to let me crash on his couch for a while, and I had written a batch of songs while I was out on tour, so we just started to play around with them and decided they were good enough to put together a band. We have released three records so far, and I’m sure we will get around to doing another in the future here if time permits.
Let’s talk more about your album, New Morning Howl. How did you approach the sound of the record? It often has a lush, widescreen, almost symphonic feel. The songs are layered, with rich arrangements. What were you aiming for from a sonic point of view? It has strings and horns – it’s a big-sounding record…
BW: I approached this record with a no-holds-barred attitude from beginning to end – every idea, whether it turned out good or bad, was tried. On other albums I have made songs that were specifically written with a band or a time frame in mind, so there were lots of ideas that never got tried because it seemed like a bit much, or we just didn’t have enough time and/or money. I didn’t put a time frame on this record, which freed me up in a way. I enjoyed the idea of just writing whatever I wanted to, and not having any certain style or agenda in mind. Sonically it’s the type of record I have been wanting to make for a long while – big but not in the typical big guitar style. I have always been interested in other ways to colour songs with instrumentation, and I think I attempted that on this record. Not to say there aren’t a lot of guitars, because there are a shitload!
What were your influences for the record?
BW: I didn’t really start with any direct influences in mind, but as the record came together, my ‘60s and ‘70s influences definitely started to crawl out. It all came pretty naturally and glued together without a whole lot of thought at first. I think after we got the first few songs together, I started to see more of a vision of where the train was moving.
How were the recording sessions? Where did you make the album?
BW: The sessions were done at a studio here in the city called Courtesy Tone, owned by a great engineer/mixer named Ryan Benton. We started to put together the record in early 2020, and when we really started to get going on it the pandemic hit and things slowed way down. We made it work the best we could though, doing things slowly and safely through the rest of the year. It was a very strange way to record a record, I would walk up to the studio and mask up, and then cut something quickly and then be on my way, so it was done in small pieces at a time. We also did a lot of things remotely as well. There are so many great musicians that played on the record that lived nowhere near us, and did an amazing job.
Were all of the songs written for the record, or are any of them old ones you’d been hanging on to?
BW: There were actually only a couple that were written during the recording process – all the others are songs had been floating around for quite a while. Some had been tried out for other projects, but were pulled away once I realised they were not going to fit. There was even one that I wrote in my early twenties that was revamped.
Let’s talk about some of the songs. If I pick a few and give you my thoughts on them, can you tell me yours?
BW: Sure – sounds good.
The first song on the record, Around The Bend, is gorgeous, melodic jangly guitar pop with a West Coast feel and also a Fountains of Wayne vibe. What can you tell us about it?
BW: This was the first song we started with at the beginning of 2020. It was actually a song that was written for another project I was working on called Dandelions, but as I was starting to think about what songs I wanted to do for the record, it seemed to fit with the batch I was imagining. The song was inspired by a friend lyrically and musically – he had been listening to a lot of jangle pop songs and I was inspired to write something in that vein. I really wanted to get a female vocal on it and was lucky enough to get the great musician, Heidi Gluck, to sing on it. She’s from Lawrence, Kansas, and vocals really give it a dream-like feel, which was perfect for the song.
On that note, My Josephine (Wildwood Flowers Are Where You Roam) is also dream-like, and lush – an almost six-minute epic…
BW: This one was written a little while ago, and honestly, I thought was it pretty boring at first. I always really enjoyed the verse progression, but nothing really stood out to me about it outside of that and the melody. I had a friend that really liked the song and would always request that one at solo acoustic shows, so I started to think maybe there was something there. Once I started to add parts over the top of it, the song came to life for me and I got excited about it. The ending I really wanted to be trance-like, almost like a mantra, so you could get lost in the repetition. Then having things coming in and out as the song goes on, but never losing that melody playing over and over. Now it’s one of my favourites on the record. I’m happy I stuck with it.
Spanish Jasmine is very haunting. It sounds like Simon & Garfunkel, but with synths… What’s your take on it?
BW: This is the song I was talking about earlier that was written in my early twenties. It’s definitely the oldest song on the record. I was going back through a bunch of old songs I had demoed back in the day and ran across this one. I felt it would fit the record well. I wanted some synths of some sort on it, so we reached out to a great musician named Nate Harold. He did an amazing job, and in my eyes, what he added gives the song its uniqueness.
The title track is another lushly orchestrated song. It has a Beach Boys feel. Would you agree?
BW: I agree – it definitely has a Beach Boys vibe going on. I borrowed a tenor ukulele from my good friend’s daughter, mainly just for fun, as I was bored with playing guitar. While I had it, I started to write a song and this was what came out of it. This song sort of became an experiment. We laid down the uke part and drums and main vocals, then sent it over to an amazing violinist and string arranger, Kaitlin Wolfberg, to have her arrange some strings over it. I didn’t want to put anything else down until we got back what she put down, as I wanted to build the rest of the song around her strings. It was a different way than I had ever put together a song, and I really enjoyed how this one came together.
The Glitter and the Roar has some great Easy Listening horns on it…
BW: There is a great author named Seth Borgen, and he put out a collection of short stories called If I Die in Ohio. One of my favourite stories from it is called The Glitter and the Roar, so the lyrics were inspired by that. I really like the way this one turned out both musically and lyrically. I really wanted the music to carry the lyrics and give them a big cinematic feel. It ebbs and flows throughout – one of those songs I hope gets better with more listens.
In My Daze is a big finish to the record. It’s quite Beatlesy and a bit psychedelic, with slide guitar. I like the strange ‘whistling’ sound on it. What’s that?
BW: This song is another old one. It was originally played by and written for Sons of Great Dane, but I never felt it was finished or fit very well. The whistling sound is me drenched in reverb. I’m not a great whistler, so that was a huge pain in the ass and took me forever to get right. The slide part was originally put down as a reminder of what I wanted the whistle to be, but I ended up really liking it in the mix, so we kept it. I knew from the beginning that I wanted this song to end the record, and I think it turned out well and wrapped things up nicely.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any gigs planned?
BW: I’m playing some shows here and around the Midwest this fall and winter. I hope to get out and do a lot more in 2022, but will see how everything turns out. I’m also going to hopefully have a few more songs to share by the end of this year as well.
Can we expect to see you play in the UK one day?
BW: I would love that. Hopefully all the stars align and everyone can get back out there and touring on a more regular basis. If I can get over there, I’ll definitely come play some shows.
Finally, what music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently?
BW: Hmmm… Here is a handful I have been listening to as of lately:
Liam Kazar – Due North
Mini Trees – Carrying On
The Beach Boys – Sunflower
Supergrass – Road to Rouen
New Morning Howl by Brent Windler is out now on Goldstar Recordings.
Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we aren’t fans of the summer. In fact, when we first started publishing, in 2009, our tagline was, and still is, ‘musical musings from the dark corner of a pub’…
We love autumn / winter, and during the summer months you’re likely to find us sat indoors in a boozer, not the beer garden, discussing music, or hiding away indoors, listening to new and old albums. We’re staying in for the summer…
However, we do like our summer soundtracks, and this month we’ve been enjoying the new, self-titled album from Mojave Desert duo – and couple – Starlight Cleaning Co., who are Rachel Dean and Tim Paul Gray.
It’s a wonderfully melodic record that’s in love with ’70s/’80s New Wave guitar music, glossy L.A. pop, country rock, Americana and soft rock.
Opener, Don’t Take It Away, is jangle-pop perfection, with harmonies ringing out high over the desert landscape; the chugging, organ-fuelled and anthemic Train Wreck is like Tom Petty doing Springsteen’s Atlantic City; The Race is melancholy and reflective dream-pop, with a superb haunting guitar solo by the late Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Ryan Adams, Circles Around The Sun), and Joy Killer and The Current have the swagger and style of vintage Pretenders.
Dean fronted two bands prior to Starlight Cleaning Co – War Children and The Hot Fudge Sunday, while Gray was a member of Orange County-based groups The Delusions and Charles Mansion.
As a duo, Dean and Gray have toured with Tommy Stinson (The Replacements, Bash And Pop, Guns ‘n’ Roses) and on their own. Two years ago, they did something they had wanted to do for a while – they turned their solo act into a full band and recorded their debut album.
Dean has previously played under her own name, having released an album titled Indian Summer, produced by Rob Campanella (Brian Jonestown Massacre) and Casal, who plays guitar on two songs on the Starlight Cleaning Co. album. Sadly, he died last year.
“His death profoundly affected me,” Dean tells us, in an exclusive interview with the band. “It’s so hard to cope with the loss of a dear friend, especially when it’s sudden. That’s why it meant so much to us that he played on this record.”
Adds Gray: “Neal brought his unmistakable sound to a couple of the tracks. You know it’s him the second you hear it and I think that goes for everything he’s done. The fact that he left his stamp on it is something we are forever grateful for.”
‘Neal Casal’s death profoundly affected me personally. It’s so hard to cope with the loss of a dear friend, especially when it’s sudden. That’s why it meant so much to us that he played on this record’
Recorded at Dean and Gray’s home studio, Starlight Sound, Starlight Cleaning Co. was produced by L.A./San Francisco blue-eyed-soul and soft rock troubadour, Bart Davenport, (The Bedazzled, The Loved Ones, The Kinetics) and engineered by L.A.’s “indie king” Joel Jerome (Dios, Cherry Glazerr, La Sera).
“This record is a reflection of our life together as well as the individual paths that led us here: the struggles, uncertainty, the hopefulness and love,” says Dean.
“We hope that it resonates with others in their lives and brings us together as we all seem to deal with these common themes. We dedicate this album, in loving memory, to our dear friend Neal Casal.”
How’s it going? Where are you and what’s it like?
Rachel: Hi there. We are currently at home in Yucca Valley, California – right next to Joshua Tree. It’s a beautiful day and we are sitting outside enjoying the weather.
Congratulations on your debut album – it’s one of my favourite records of the year so far, and it’s my album of the summer. How do you feel about that?
Rachel: Thank you. That’s so nice to hear. We are excited you like it and hope that other people are connecting with it as well.
Tim: Very kind. Thank you.
How did you two first meet? You were both solo artists and this is your first full-band collaboration, as you were performing as a duo before, right?
Rachel: We first met when I booked Tim’s previous band at Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. I used to do all their music/cultural programming. We ended up talking more and he hopped on a show with me at Pappy and Harriet’s – a now famous roadhouse out here – as well. The Pappy’s show happened first. I really loved his music and voice, and we started talking about playing music together. The following week, we were already on it… me joining Tim on a solo acoustic show. The rest is history.
Tim: Even as a duo we knew that the kind of music we wanted to make would call for a full-band and the songs were written with that intention, so really the current situation is just an extension of those early duo days. We still enjoy a stripped-down show now and again.
What’s it like being in a band together, and also in a relationship with each other? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Rachel: It’s honestly a lot of fun. It can be stressful at times, but overall it’s really something special. We are able to share all these amazing experiences together. Also we both take very different roles. I’m way more the business side of things and the front person when performing, while Tim is the primary writer and the true creative. Sometimes, when we have opposing opinions, it can get too close for comfort, but we can always work it out.
‘We both take very different roles. I’m way more the business side of things and the front person when performing, while Tim is the primary writer and the true creative’
Do you write collaboratively? What’s your songwriting process?
Tim: The closest we have come to collaborative writing is Don’t Take It Away, where we tossed around lyrical content, took inspiration from our dog and surroundings, and had a good time making a song of it, but the truth is, it is very difficult for us to do. We’ve found making small suggestions for each other’s work is what works best for us.
Rachel: Yes, Tim is definitely the writer in this band. He writes everyday and it’s part of who he is. I just write when I have something in my head that I can’t escape.
You’ve said that the album is dedicated to the late Neal Casal, who plays guitar on it. How did you get to know and work with him, and how has his death affected you? Was it hard to put the record out after his passing, or did it feel like the right thing to do? Is it difficult to listen to?
Rachel: Neal was one of my dearest friends. We met in 2006, through mutual friends. We became close and he was a big part of my life. When it came to music, he really guided me. He produced my last record, Indian Summer, and he helped me so much with it. He played on it, sang, arranged all the songs and even took the photograph for the album artwork.
His death profoundly affected me. It’s so hard to cope with the loss of a dear friend, especially when it’s sudden. That’s why it meant so much to us that he played on this record. He actually took time out of his tour schedule and rented a studio to do some guitar parts. Putting the record out with his parts on there was celebratory. It was a way to celebrate Neal and thank him. I actually love listening to his parts. It’s something we’re proud of, and it always makes me smile.
‘Putting the record out with Neal Casal’s parts on there was celebratory. It’s something we’re proud of, and it always makes me smile’
Let’s talk about the recording of the album. How were the sessions? When did you make it?
Tim: We recorded this album pretty quickly in October of 2018. With a lot of unexpected events that year and the next, we were slow to wrap the mixing process, but once [producer] Bart Davenport suggested [engineer] Bill Faler, it took shape pretty quickly. The sessions took place at our home – Bart, [engineer] Joel, Dan [Sandvick – bass] and Sal [Salvatore Romano – drums] came out to stay at our house for five days and we just got it done. We cooked every night. Bart had a birthday. It was fun and low-key and an honest representation of our sound at the time.
You recorded it at your home studio, Starlight Sound. What’s your set-up like?
Tim: We were inspired after watching Thom Monahan and Vetiver do a record in our living room for the album Up On High in April of 2018. Like Thom, Joel brought all the gear and we just holed up and tracked it in our living room and the adjoining studio/office. I have a very basic set-up that I use for demos.
You worked with Bart Davenport and Joel Jerome on the album, as well as Neal Casal. What did they all bring to the process and the sound and feel of the record?
Tim: We thought of Bart for the role of producer, because we love his records. In particular, [his album] Physical World gave us the impression that he would be an excellent fit both creatively and for sonic and aesthetic reasons. He used a lot of similar tones on that record and shares the 1980s quality we were after. He’s also a great person and a calming voice of reason.
Joel brought the entire studio out to the desert. He is incredibly talented and has an amazing pop sensibility that made his input invaluable. He was also comic relief when we needed it most and an excellent DJ. Neal brought his unmistakable sound to a couple of the tracks. You know it’s him the second you hear it and I think that goes for everything he’s done. The fact that he left his stamp on it is something we are forever grateful for.
‘The desert moves me: the people, the weather, the music that has been part of this place, is all inspiring’
The record has an ’80s soft-rock and New Wave feel, as well as jangle-pop and Americana. What influenced it, musically and lyrically? Do you think being in the Mojave Desert rubs off on you musically?
Tim: We love so much music. A jangly guitar says something an aggressive guitar can’t and vice-versa. It’s a very sensitive-sounding album and the lyrics reflect that, so more often than not, the jangle won the battle with the lyrics coming from such inward places.
The ’80s thing is just part of what we love and who we are. We listen to a lot of that decade – The Replacements, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello and ’80s hits. It’s just stuff we like. And there is a lot under the Americana umbrella we love too: Lucinda Williams, Townes Van Zandt… the list goes on.
Rachel: I moved to the desert back in 2007, after countless trips to Pappy and Harriet’s. I’ve been in love with Bakersfield country and California cosmic country like Buck Owens, The Byrds, and Linda Ronstadt, and have been inspired by those sounds almost as much as I am Chrissie Hynde or The Motels. So I guess the desert just moves me: the people, the weather, the music that has been part of this place, is all inspiring.
Although everyone seems to be catching on to it, back when I first moved here, this area felt very secret and special. Certain types of people were drawn to it. Weirdos, artists, and musicians mixed in with the sun-worn blue collar workers and it made for an interesting energy.
‘Don’t Take It Away is loosely based on our dog, Otis, who will lose his mind and get depressed if you take away his toys’
Can we talk about some of the songs on the record? What can you tell me about Don’t Take It Away? It’s one of my favourites – I love the harmonies and the killer melody – it’s perfect, jangly guitar pop. Where did that song come from?
Tim: Thank you. The uptempo songs always come about after too many cups of coffee early in the day. Just walking around the house, strumming the guitar. I like to imagine playing songs live and that sometimes helps them take shape.
Don’t Take It Away is loosely based on our dog, Otis, who will lose his mind and get depressed if you take away his toys. So that’s where the idea came from, and Rachel and I had a laugh making it.
What inspired The Race? It feels like it’s about your relationship… There’s a brilliant haunting guitar solo from Neal Casal on there too, isn’t there?
Rachel: Yes. The Race is about our relationship and about the short time we spent in the south. Back in 2015, shortly after Tim and I started dating, my job moved us to New Orleans to open a new hotel and book the music venue on the property. It was a rough time. Although there is a sleepy, slow-paced feel to that place, there was a sort of ‘rat-race’ mentality in what I was dealing with there.
The song is about the hard time I was having fitting in, that both of us were having with each other, and still figuring out who we were together, and socially fitting in as well. It’s about struggle and overcoming it, when the going gets tough. We got through that life hurdle and it made us realise we were meant to be together and if we could get through that, we can probably get through anything. Once we started playing the song, we both agreed a Neal Casal guitar solo would be the icing on that cake.
I love the organ sound on Train Wreck – another of my favourite songs on the record. Ryan Adams would kill to have written it. I think it sounds like a classic Springsteen or Tom Petty tune…
Tim: That’s Bobby Furgo on organ. He played with Leonard Cohen throughout the ’90s and he’s an incredible musician living out here in the Joshua Tree area. He and Rachel both played together in the Pappy and Harriet’s Sunday band a while back.
Train Wreck definitely sounds like Atlantic City, but I realised that too late and there’s no going back now. Tom Petty’s writing style was more of an influence on that one than Springsteen though. There’s something really challenging and fun about trying to get something to resemble a ‘hit’. It’s like a different part of the brain and Tom Petty was a master at that.
I wrote the song in 2015. I had been living and travelling in an RV and broke down in Ozona, Texas. I was in a tow yard for three weeks and worrying and thinking a lot about the people in my life with substance abuse problems. Train Wreck came out of that experience.
I think Like A Shadow has the feel of The Smiths at times – it’s the jangly, Johnny Marr-like guitars…
Tim: I am a fan of The Smiths – Johnny Marr’s playing, in particular. That is probably Bart’s playing you’re hearing though, as I was strictly rhythm on that track. It is one of my personal favourites that I’ve written just due to its simplicity and how quickly it came to me. It was a little valentine for Rachel.
Sooner Than You Learn has an ’80s pop/ soft rock vibe – a touch of Fleetwood Mac…
Tim: Fleetwood Mac definitely crossed my mind when writing that song. It was built around that opening guitar part and the realisation that not only myself, but so many others, are just kind of going too hard and drinking too much after the party’s over..
Joy Killer is one of the heavier songs on the record – it’s kind of ’80s indie-rock and it reminds me of The Pretenders. The Current feels like it’s coming from a similar place, too…
Tim: Joy Killer was a song I had before I met Rachel that I never properly recorded. We just liked having a rocker in the set and so it became part of the album, although the lyrical content dwells on the relationship issues I was having before I met Ms Dean.
Rachel:The Current was another song from the past. I wrote it back in 2007 with my friend Rick Boston, who was sort of mentoring me at the time. It was one of the first real songs I ever wrote and it started out as a slow song.
Chrissie Hynde has always been a huge influence on me and I could always hear her in the song, so I guess it kind of shows up a bit. It’s so funny to think that Tim and I were both writing these songs that would mesh so well together, years before we ever met.
What music – new and old – are you enjoying at the moment?
Rachel: Well, I’m a really nostalgic person, so I get lost in music memories from my past. I’ve been listening to a lot of Burt Bacharach, Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam, Divinyls, Richard Ashcroft, Travis, Jesse Ed Davis, Doug Sahm, and Marcos Valle for summer vibes. And for newer stuff.. well I guess some of this isn’t exactly “new”, but I love so much of our friend’s music like Brian Whelan – he used to play with Dwight Yoakam, and he’s just an incredible songwriter and singer –, Vetiver, The Tyde, Cass McCombs, Howlin’ Rain, Beachwood Sparks, as well as the Curation Records bands – GospelbeacH, Pacific Range, FD and the Wizards of the West, Trevor Beld Jimenez – and so many others.
‘I’m a really nostalgic person, so I get lost in music memories from my past’
Tim: What she said… Also I’ve just recently doing a dive into Nick Lowe’s new(ish) stuff – Stoplight Roses from The Old Magic is an amazing song, as is pretty much anything he does.
The first record Rachel got me was his Labour of Lust, early in our relationship. A friend turned me on to Richard Hawley and I’ve been enjoying his music. I had a moment with Funkadelic, Zappa and the like during the pandemic, which always lifted my spirits. I run the gamut with my musical taste. It’s all over the place. I love a lot of our friends’ records as well.
How has Covid affected your plans? Any live shows coming up? Will we get to see you play in the UK?
Rachel: Our plans for the rest of this year are to get out and play as much as possible. Out here on the West Coast, venues are opening slowly but surely and I hope that by the fall, we’ll be playing more regularly. As of right now, it’s a lot of unconventional outdoor shows, private parties and things like that. We’re really hoping to get to the UK next year, and we’ve actually been talking to a friend out there about setting up a tour, so fingers crossed. We really love the UK and can’t wait to get back.
The self-titled debut album by Starlight Cleaning Co. is out now on SofaBurn Records, on vinyl and digital.
The last time Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Glasgow singer-songwriter, Daniel Wylie, the former frontman of late ’90s / early noughties, Alan McGee-endorsed jangle-poppers, Cosmic Rough Riders, he was going into the studio to record his 2017 album Scenery For Dreamers, which showcased his love of heavy Neil Young and Crazy Horse-like electric guitars and the chiming Rickenbacker sound of The Byrds.
This year, he’s releasing a new record, Atoms and Energy, which is much more stripped-down than its predecessor. Neil Young is still an obvious influence, but it’s the Young of After The Goldrush and Only Love Can Break Your Heart, rather than Cortez The Killer.
“I wanted to make a completely different album from [2015’s] Chrome Cassettes and Scenery For Dreamers. Both of those had a similar approach and vibe to them and I felt it was time for a change,” he says.
“I wanted to write a classic ‘70s acoustic record, lyrically based around what was currently occupying my thoughts, and musically like my favourite ‘70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Cat Stevens and James Taylor records. That was the plan and I think we pulled it off pretty well.”
When and how was Atoms and Energy written and recorded?
Daniel Wylie: I always write my song ideas on an acoustic guitar. I write almost daily, and when it’s time to make an album, I go through hundreds of those ideas and try to choose 10 that have great melodies – some kind of lyrical spark that I can work from and that fit well together as a collection of songs.
Initially, the plan was to go in and record 10 acoustic songs over two days. Just two guitars, one lead vocal and one harmony, with a little bit of percussion, piano and harmonica on a couple of the songs. However, once I got into the studio [La Chunky in Glasgow] and started recording, my co-producer Johnny Smillie, suggested that some songs deserved a bigger setting, so the record evolved into something else.
Who did you work with on the album?
DW: Neil Sturgeon, Johnny Smillie and Stu Kidd are guest musicians. They are all great writers and artists in their own right and having them on board makes it easy work. They fully understand what I’m looking for and they’re just great players and good people.
Did Covid-19 mess up your plans for the record? How did you cope with lockdown?
DW: Covid-19 totally messed with recording. However, lockdown turned out to be a blessing and a curse. Basically, I had to stop recording the album. My good pal Neil Sturgeon, had recorded his acoustic guitar parts, Stu Kidd had recorded his percussion parts and I’d recorded the vocals. Eventually, Johnny Smillie began to work on some arrangements for me, in an attempt to get the record finished, which turned out to be a real blessing. Otherwise, it’s likely the record would still be sitting unfinished.
‘I was really ill for a while, with a dodgy heart. How do you conceive a plan for dying?’
Johnny would go in alone, do some work on arrangements, send them over to me and I’d relay back my likes and dislikes and any changes I wanted made. There’s a spontaneity about being in the studio, like instant ideas get put into action, so some of that is missing.
There’s also the fact that you suddenly have too much time on your hands to over-analyse stuff. There’s a madness to it all. Cabin fever played its part in the final outcome.
The record often feels melancholy, reflective and nostalgic. All the songs are either about relationships or death, aren’t they? Is it a kind of concept album? If you don’t mind me asking, have you had a tough time of it during the past few years?
DW: I almost called the album Relationship Songs. I can’t deny that I’m getting older and I was really ill for a while, with a dodgy heart. How do you conceive a plan for dying? I just thought it was time for reflection on relationships with people, time and events that shaped my life. A little bit of sadness for the things I got wrong along the way, and my thoughts on important people and events that brought me to where I am as a person and as an artist.
‘Alan McGee and Poptones found me the audience that has allowed me to continue to make music’
Dealing with the death of my mum five years ago from cancer, and, career-wise, being in the right place at the right time to get signed by Alan McGee, and also the negative side of that, which is being surrounded by the wrong people.
Another positive was the association with McGee and [his label] Poptones, which found me the audience that has allowed me to continue to make music. It’s really an album about what life has given to you and what it hasn’t.
The first song, The Bruises and the Blood, deals with a dark subject matter – domestic violence. It’s quite a shocking and unnerving start to the album – although, in typical Daniel Wylie style you’ve managed to mix a dark and powerful lyric with a great pop tune and some Beach Boys-style harmonies / vocal arrangements. What can you tell me about that song?
DW: When we were young, my wife and I lived in a flat in Castlemilk housing estate in Glasgow, and our upstairs neighbours were always fighting. It was terrible. He would beat her up and throw her out on the landing, naked. We’d take her in and call the cops on him, but nothing was ever done and at that time, she was scared to leave him, as she had nowhere else to go.
I kind of had that in my head when I was writing the song. On the outside, their relationship looked normal, and that’s what they presented to the world, but behind closed doors, it was an atmosphere of bullying, control and violence against the woman. Thankfully, I know that she escaped the situation and moved on to a better relationship. The melody is at odds with the lyrics, in the same way as their presentation to the world was at odds with what was really going on in their relationship.
What about the song Heaven’s Waiting Room? It deals with childhood friends, moving on and getting older…
DW: That song is referencing how quickly our childhoods pass and how much we cram into those formative, carefree years, and how many of our clearest and fondest memories are attached to those times…before we’re forced to grow up. For those who believe in something after death, Earth is basically heaven’s waiting room. We’re all sitting on this planet waiting and wondering what’s next.
Are you a nostalgic person?
DW: Yes. The older I get, the more I look back, and the more I look back, the more I realise how lucky I’ve been to have lived through so many historical moments, great inventions, avoiding wars on my doorstep, all the great scientific, technical and medical advances, films, art… and especially music. To have walked this planet in the same lifespan as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, R.E.M… How lucky is that?
How old are you? Do you worry about death and old age? Those themes crop up on the album a few times…
DW: I was born on January 2, 1959, so I’m 62. Death has occupied my thoughts since I was a child. It used to scare me, but as I get older, the inevitability of death is something I’ve come to terms with. I’ve noticed how younger generations come through and you no longer have anything much in common with them. Who wants to be here alone when all your friends have gone? There’s a line in my song Value Of Life, from the album, Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine: “while other people sleep, I lie awake and wonder why I’m here.” That was me singing about me worrying about death as a child, in my bed at night.
God is Nowhere, from the new album, is a song for atheists everywhere, isn’t it? You’re not a believer then? I love the fuzzy electric guitar sound on it – it turns a sweet-sounding song into something more subversive. Was that the idea?
DW: I wrote it when I was angry. The lyric: “I said a begging prayer for your healing, but you still died,” is about my mother’s death. I’m not a believer in organised religion. I was brought up Catholic, but I knew I didn’t believe in all that, so I abandoned it. I do believe in a spiritual existence after death though, so I suppose I’m more of an agnostic rather than a complete atheist.
The song only has two chords. I tried to keep it to one chord, but the temptation to change got the better of me. I had the idea to try and make it sound like those late ‘60s/ early ‘70s Santana records, with Latin percussion and fuzz guitar. Johnny Smillie played the fuzz guitar, using a plectrum given to him by Carlos Santana, after a live show in which he used the plectrum to play with during the gig. How awesome is that?
Our Love Will Never Die is one of the more positive songs on the album, isn’t? It’s beautiful – a simple, honest love song. Did you write it for your wife? It reminds me of vintage Neil Young, circa his After The Goldrush album – it’s very like Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Was that intentional?
DW: I have no problem admitting my wife is the greatest person I’ve ever known and, yes, it was written for her. When I wrote the song, I had to double-check the Neil Young song to make sure I hadn’t ripped him off. When Johnny Smillie heard my home demo, he did the same, but after doing that, he told me it just sounded like me. There was never any intention to write a Neil Young song. I think because I’m such a fan of certain people, their influence will occasionally shine through.
‘I do believe in a spiritual existence after death, so I suppose I’m more of an agnostic, rather than a complete atheist’
In a just world, Our Love Will Never Die would be the soundtrack to lots of wedding first dances, wouldn’t it?
DW: One of my earlier songs, That Was The Day, has proved to be a favourite wedding song for a bunch of couples over the years. Funnily enough, it was also written for my wife. So, yeah, I’d be happy if Our Love Will Never Die became a wedding staple.
In total contrast, Ruth The Truth is a dark and sinister song lyrically, that’s tangled up in a web of lies. Musically, I think it has echoes of early R.E.M. What inspired it?
DW: I have a history of throwing out songs with girls’ names in the title. This is just the latest. It’s a story about how stupid men are when it comes to a beautiful lady – the shallowness of men who think with their dicks and whose brains are in their balls. The album needed a little pop tune, and I chose this song because of its catchy chorus.
‘I’d be happy if Our Love Will Never Die became a wedding staple’
One of my favourite songs on the album is the last one, Saddle Up The Horses. It deals with childhood memories – playing cowboys. What can you tell me about it?
DW: Children are dreamers. I had the cowboy hat, the gun belt, the gun – the children’s cowboy outfit – and as a child, I was a big fan of westerns. Back then, little boys of that age would play cowboys and Indians. I think the song captures that childhood innocence – to the point where you can’t fathom how dangerous a gun is.
Did you have a happy childhood? The pictures on the album artwork are of you as a kid…
DW: I had a pretty happy childhood. My dad took the album sleeve photo when I was around 12 years old. I didn’t realise how poor we were at the time, but you can see the poverty in that photograph.
Despite being poor, my parents did their best to make sure we knew our way around all the local parks and museums. We had an occasional holiday down the Ayrshire coast to Saltcoats or Troon, and, most importantly for me, our home was filled with great music. My parents had amazing taste in music – it was an education in itself.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Will be you making another album? How about a return to big guitars?
DW: I hope to begin recording again later in the year. I’ve chosen 10 songs for my next album and finished writing them last week. It’ll be a full-band album with hooky choruses, loud guitars and harmonies. It might be called Shane, after one of my all-time favourite cowboy films. I even have the photo for the sleeve picked out.
Have you written many new songs during lockdown?
DW: Honestly, hundreds. I have 12 albums’ worth of really good tunes.I need a big lottery win, so I can afford to record them all. Do you happen to have the winning numbers?
I’m lucky – I can pick up a guitar, strum a few chords and a tune will be there in my head. I don’t know how or why it happens, but I’m not complaining. I genuinely think it’s just a gift I’ve been given, but it’s not to be questioned or analysed. Life and death inspires me, so does other people’s music, and the weather and nature.
You’ve been working with English singer-songwriter Ian M Bailey. Earlier this year, he released a great EP of songs you’d co-written together, called Shots of Sun. Do you have more songs with him coming out? How did you hook up?
DW: Yes – as well as writing a whole bunch of new songs for myself, I’ve co-written 12 songs with Ian. Last year, he sent me a couple of his videos of songs he’d written during the initial lockdown period. I thought they were excellent and told him so.
He suggested we maybe write a song together and I had so many songs half-written that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to use, so I sent him four and he liked them all – a song turned into an EP. Ian added his parts to complete the songs and we were both so pleased with the results that we decided to keep going and do an album.
I send him unfinished songs, sometimes a good chorus with no verse, or a verse and a chorus with no bridge, and sometimes he’ll write the chorus, and he adds his bits and then he records them himself. He’s a producer and one-man band. We’ll likely keep the songwriting thing going.
I’ve also been co-writing with other people. There’s a double A-side single I’ve written with Amanda Louise Thompson for her band The Big Believe. That’s more guitar pop-oriented, like an indie Blondie or something, and will be released before the end of 2021.
What music – new and old – are you enjoying at the moment?
DW: Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams; Will Stratton – The Changing Wilderness; Khruangbin & Leon Bridges – Texas Sun EP; Ray LaMontagne – Monovision; Fleet Foxes – Shore; The Milk And Honey Band – Songs From Truleigh Hill; The Chills – Scatterbrain; The Coral – Coral Island, and The Beatles – Esher Demos.
‘I do understand the convenience of streaming. Financially, though, something has to change. People need to eat’
DW: I love CDs and I love vinyl. I need the artwork with the music. I still don’t have Spotify, but I do understand the convenience of streaming. Financially, though, something has to change. People need to eat and need to be able to focus on creating the great music that the world loves. It costs money to do that.
Atoms And Energy is being released by Last Night From Glasgow records – they got their name from a line in the ABBA song Super Trouper. It’s on various formats. Green, yellow and black vinyl, CD and, eventually, the usual digital outlets.
At the end of this year, you’re reissuing the 2001 Cosmic Rough Riders compilation, Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine, on vinyl. It’s a compilation of material from your first two, self-funded, Cosmic Rough Riders albums, Deliverance and Panorama, plus a few other songs, and it was put out by Alan McGee’s Poptones label. What’s prompted the rerelease? It was a lot of people’s introduction to your music, wasn’t it?
DW: Ian Smith, from Last Night From Glasgow, asked me if I’d be up for reissuing it. I felt the time was right, so I said yes. There’s been a lot of interest in a vinyl reissue, so that’s what’s happening, and I’ve added I Call Her Name, to the end of side one. It’s from the same sessions and I always regretted not putting it on the original album. Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine sold over 100,000 copies when it was first released, but only 1,000 vinyl copies were pressed and they’ve been changing hands for silly money.
How do you feel about those songs now? What’s it like revisiting them?
DW: I had to listen to the master a couple of weeks ago – it’s the first time in years that I’ve heard it from start to finish, uninterrupted.
I really enjoyed listening to it again. It brought back some great memories of recording it with Stephen Fleming. I wrote the songs, but we did everything else as a team. We put everything we had into making sure it was as good as it could be and to my ears, it still sounds great. I’m so proud of it and how it changed my life. So now it’s coming out on some nice coloured vinyl: blue, orange, white, and black.
Do you have any regrets about Cosmic Rough Riders? Do you wish you’d been bigger?
DW: My main regret is using a band name and not just using my own name from the start. That way there would have been no confusion as to whose music it was. But, hey, I did come up with a great name that was worth using.
‘The celebrity thing freaks me out. Sometimes you have to get off the rollercoaster, before it kills you’
If Cosmic Rough Riders had been a bigger band, it would probably have changed my life too – or at least more than I was willing to give or accept. I was already becoming unrecognisable to myself. One time, I came home after a tour and my wife asked me to wash up some dishes. I said to her: “I don’t do dishes”. It sounds funny, but it was an indication that I was losing myself. When you have massive exposure on a show like Top of the Pops, things change. People treat you differently. It’s not like you suddenly have super powers or become a gifted brain surgeon who saves lives, but the celebrity thing freaks me out. Five minutes of it was enough for me. It’s always been about the music for me and I prefer being normal. Sometimes you have to get off the rollercoaster, before it kills you.
Finally, it’s 2021. Do we need a revolution in the summertime?
DW: Hah! People don’t get that song. It was written about a day I spent with some college friends in Glasgow’s Queen’s Park. The weather was super-sunny and the army had set up some kind of recruiting show in the park. I was thinking: ‘join the army? Or sit in the park, in the sunshine, with some beer, and watch our beautiful Scottish girls’. Stuff that for a revolution!
Atoms and Energy by Daniel Wylie’s Cosmic Rough Riders is available to pre-order on vinyl and CD from Last Night From Glasgow here. The physical albums will be officially released on July 2, but pre-orders will ship this month.
You can pre-order the reisssue of Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine on vinyl here.
Loose Canyon, the debut single from Midlands-based band The Gabriels, is one of our favourite songs of the year so far.
A gorgeous, melodic and jangly guitar pop tune that celebrates the legendary Laurel Canyon music scene of ’60s L.A, it’s a far-out and groovy trip (man), that brings a much-needed hit of California sunshine to these dark days we’re living in.
“Loose Canyon was recorded in 2020 against the obvious background of Covid,” says vocalist Gudg, aka Kate Gudgin. “The song is about escapism. This year more than any we’ve all probably felt the need to escape. As a band we love the 1960s Laurel Canyon scene and would have loved to be have been part of it. It was a time where it felt like anything could happen both socially and musically and as a band it’s a big influence on us.”
‘Loose Canyon was recorded in 2020 against the background of Covid. The song is about escapism. This year more than any we’ve all probably felt the need to escape’
All of the full-time members (Gudg /Kate – vocals; Fran Feely – bass,Leon Jones – guitar and Stuart Gray – keys) have been in other acts prior to forming The Gabriels. Gudg previously sang with Pallenberg, Fran was in Elefant Records group, The Silver Factory, Leon was in Blow Up Records’ cosmic country-rockers, Alfa 9, and Stuart played in Fence Collective band, Viva Stereo, and drone/psych act Children of Leir.
The Gabriels cite their influences as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, C86, The Stone Roses and Teenage Fanclub, and they have a shared love of ’60s culture and soundtracks.
In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Gudg (Kate), Fran and Leon about the new single, their penchant for all things ’60s and their plans for this year. Sadly, due to the current crisis, we couldn’t travel to Laurel Canyon for a chat, so we made do with email instead…
How’s 2021 going for you so far?
Fran: Great. The debut single officially comes out on January 31, but it’s pretty much available now. The response has been amazing so far. It certainly helps dealing with the lockdown situation when there’s positivity elsewhere.
Let’s talk about your debut single.It has a great jangly guitar sound and it celebrates the ‘60s Laurel Canyon scene. Why does that era appeal to you so much?
Fran: It’s a real common love of all the members of the band, so it seemed an obvious subject matter to write about. We also got Robyn Gibson from The Junipers in to sing backing vocals, which has worked a treat, as he nailed it.
Kate: Personally I love music from all decades. Although the ‘60s music undoubtedly influences us, there’s tons of great music that’s been released since 1969 that you can’t ignore. That could be something that came later that’s indebted to the ‘60s like the Paisley Underground scene, 1980s jangle pop or even stuff like The Stone Roses, Teenage Fanclub or The Coral. Or something completely different… Fran and I are massive ABBA fans for example, so we hope some of that pop sensibility comes across in The Gabriels’ music.
Leon: That mid-late ‘60s West Coast sound is pretty much ingrained in my psyche. There were a lot of those records in my house when I was growing up – The Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young – so it’s always been there for me, but I’ve never excluded bands who weren’t part of that ‘60s scene.
We decided from the start that we wanted the band to be about great songs and to concentrate on writing songs and recording, as opposed to writing and rehearsing a set of songs and going out and playing a million gigs before thinking about recording anything. That has turned out be a very serendipitous decision, as we’d recorded the bare bones of an album’s worth of songs just as Covid hit. From that we’ve been able to build the songs up, with sessions scattered over 2020, albeit slower than we’d have liked.
‘That mid-late ‘60s West Coast sound is pretty much ingrained in my psyche. There were a lot of those records in my house when I was growing up – The Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young – so it’s always been there for me’
Tell us about how the band came together. You all knew each other socially, but what led to you forming The Gabriels, and where are you all based?
Fran: Over the years we all knew each other from club nights and playing in bands. We were all good friends and Kate asked Leon if he would be interested in playing on some songs I had written. Stu came on at a later stage, as he liked the sound and wanted to join. Fran is originally from Leicester. Stu is Scottish but based in Leicester. Leon is from and based in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Kate is from where Noddy Holder is from.
Leon: We started discussing putting something together a couple of years ago, borne out of a mutual admiration of our other musical exploits and a lot of jangly guitars.
Where did the band name come from?
Gudg: Fran and myself are massive early Genesis fans – the Peter Gabriel period – so the name came from, well, Peter.
There’s an album planned. What can we expect? Is it done and dusted?
Fran: We went about things in a different way. We have written the album already and Leon has his own studio – he is in the process of mixing all the tracks. We feel that each song is strong enough to be a single. That is our goal – to have an album where there are no fillers on it.
Leon: Yep, as Fran says, we’ve approached the release in a different way, almost old-school indie – three great singles followed by an album. We’re just finishing up mixing as we speak and looking to release the album in the summer on the usual download/streaming services and, of course, on good old vinyl.
‘Each song on the album is strong enough to be a single. Our goal is to have an album where there are no fillers on it’
There’s a real sunshiny, positive vibe to the album – hopefully everything will feel a lot more positive by the time it’s released in the summer. We’re all chomping at the bit to get out and do some gigs, but that could be ages away, so we’re keeping an open mind. Again, we’ve been lucky in that we managed to film a few videos in 2020, so we’ve got plenty in the can to put out there over the next few months.
Are you worried about the current situation for live music? What are your hopes and fears for the future? As a new band, is it harder to get exposure at the moment?
Fran: The world is definitely changing, so we will see what happens. To be honest, we are just happy making music and seeing what happens. We don’t expect anything in return, but hopefully folk enjoy the sounds. We’re pretty much making it up as we go along and just hoping people jump on board.
Leon: I think live music is something people have always enjoyed and always will, so no matter what, it will recover. However, the vast majority venues are in a desperate situation, which is heartbreaking. I just hope they can hang on in there. I’m not sure it’s any harder to get exposure at the moment – it’s always been hard! All you can do is write the best songs you can, present them in the best way you can and hope people enjoy it.
Can you tell us some of your favourite music and films from the Laurel Canyon / ‘60s counterculture scene?
Fran: The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Love. Those bands have always been personal faves.
Leon: The Byrds’ first six albums have been a cornerstone of my music taste for as long as I’ve been a musician. I seem to have been on a personal Gene Clark crusade for ever, as he never gets the plaudits I think he deserves both as a member of The Byrds and as a solo artist. I love the Flying Burrito Brothers’ self-titled album – the blue one – which is the first post-Gram Parsons album they did and is really underrated. I’m not the greatest film buff, but I love Beyond The Valley of The Dolls, which has a great soundtrack, and I still love Easy Rider, which I first saw in my early teens.
What music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently?
Fran: I really like a new band called Fur. I think they are great. I really love early Genesis and Caravan are real faves of mine. I listen to lots of music, so it changes. We have a collaborative playlist on the The Gabriels’ Spotify page of stuff we all love.
‘I seem to have been on a personal Gene Clark crusade for ever, as he never gets the plaudits I think he deserves’
Kate: I’ve been really enjoying Swampmeat Family Band’s new album, which is called Muck! It’s such a great album – I saw them a few times in the mid-2000s.
I am also on a nostalgia trip to my youth at the moment, which includes songs that I remember vividly from childhood, such as those by The Everly Brothers and ABBA. I do keep my eye out for new music – there is some great music coming out at the moment by some really talented people.
Leon: I’m really enjoying a lot of the output from Brent Rademaker’s label Curation Records, especially the recent Beachwood Sparks reissue. I really enjoyed the last Whyte Horses album and I’m enjoying La Luz at the moment as well. The latest El Goodo album is great, as you’d expect.
How have you been coping with lockdown?
Kate: I’m loving it! I’m on furlough, so every day is like Sunday for me! I read a lot. If you have a great book in hand, then you are sure to have a great adventure.
Leon: I feel really blessed that I’ve had The Gabriels to keep me occupied and that we managed to get enough material recorded in time to build on.
‘I’m on furlough, so every day is like Sunday! I read a lot. If you have a great book in hand, then you are sure to have a great adventure’
[To Leon]. Are Alfa 9 still going? Would you consider The Gabriels to be a side-project?
Leon: Alfa 9 are taking some time out. We’ve been together in one form or another for 20 years, so I think we’re due a break! We’re like family, so that will never go away. The Gabriels is definitely not a side-project and I’m really enjoying working as hard on it as I have for anything in the past. It’s really energising to work in a situation with different people, taking a new approach and with great songs.
Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, one of the recent albums that has helped us to stay positive during these tough times – and has been a shining light in the darkness – is the aptly-entitled Set Your Sights Towards The Sun, the debut record by UK duo The Lost Doves, who are North West-based singer-songwriters Ian Bailey and Charlotte Newman.
It’s a superb collection of songs that’s in thrall to classic ’60s jangly and harmonic guitar pop, like The Byrds and The Beatles, as well as vintage psychedelic sounds. On the optimistic and anthemic title track, Bailey’s 12-string Rickenbacker rings out like bells (of Rhymney), and it also adds a gorgeous shimmer to the melancholy She’s Waking Up To Close Her Eyes.
There’s a country tinge to the beautiful, acoustic ballad You Stop Me From Falling, a Lennon feel to the haunting Sally Weather, a hint of Eastern mysticism on More Than I and some seriously heavy psych on the dark, trippy instrumental, The Clowns Are Coming To Town.
“I wanted the album to feel like a record you’ve had in your collection for years – warm, inviting and in the vein of the classic West Coast sound of the ‘60s,” Bailey tells us, in an exclusive interview. He’s certainly achieved his goal…
Hi Ian. How’s it going?
Ian Bailey: Well, things could be better gig-wise, as you can imagine, but being able to work and record from home has been a lifeline for me.
I’m based in Leyland, near Preston. Pre-Covid, Preston’s music scene was bustling and bright. The city played host to several fantastic local acts and artists – many of whom I’ve been lifelong friends with – as well as touring bands. All play and perform regularly at great venues, like The Ferret and The Continental.
Have you heard of Preston-based Americana band West on Colfax, who released a great debut album, Barfly Flew By, earlier this year?
IB: Scott [Carey – bass] from West on Colfax was in touch recently, after seeing one of my videos on the Americana UK website. He has invited me to play at their Americana night at The Continental, so I’m looking forward to that once venues can open again.
How has the Covid-19 crisis affected you, and what are your hopes and fears for the future of live music?
IB: I’ve been a self-employed musician for many years. At the onset of the first lockdown, back in March, I was really worried for the careers of fellow musicians, venues and everyone else working within the arts sector – the sound engineers, stage crew, lighting techs, the list goes on… Sadly, it appears to be an industry that was first to shut and looking like the last to open. Encouraging audiences to be confident to attend gigs again is another story…
‘Nobody should be excluded or made to retrain – that’s just the highest insult you can give any creative person. It’s a tough time, but I believe music, arts and culture builds bridges and has the power to heal’
It’s also concerning to see so many people in the arts slipping through the net and not being eligible for financial support, like the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). I know the Musicians’ Union and other organisations are lobbying for it and I really hope something can be done for everyone in the arts world. Nobody should be excluded or made to retrain – that’s just the highest insult you can give any creative person. It’s a tough time, but I believe music, arts and culture builds bridges and has the power to heal. I truly hope the live scene will return bigger than ever.
Let’s talk about your latest project – The Lost Doves. How did you end up working with Charlotte Newman? You both complement each other well – your voices sound great together…
IB: Thank you. I really enjoy working with Charlotte – she’s a real natural talent. We met at a gig on the back of a lorry (laughs) a few years ago, and, a couple of years later, we decided to do something together. We started rehearsing various songs – covers and originals – and subsequently called the rehearsals ‘The Green Tea Sessions’, due to the copious amount we consumed. From thereon, we started recording a few tracks and that’s what spurred us on to create the album together.
You recorded it at your home studio, between late 2019 and pre-lockdown this year. How were the sessions and what’s your set-up like at home?
IB: They were all great sessions – quick and productive. Most of what you hear on the album were first takes. My studio, Small Space Studios, is in fact my daughter Sacha’s old box bedroom – it’s very small. I inherited the valuable space when she moved to Liverpool to start university.
A couple of years ago, I bought a 360 12-string Mapleglo Rickenbacker, which is the guitar you hear on the album. I use a jangle box with the Ricky, which is basically a compression pedal. It gives the guitar sustain and ‘that’ sound, and I just go straight into the desk with it. I bought some half decent mics, an £80 keyboard, an old Boss BR900CD [portable multi-track recorder] complete with flash cards, a drum machine, an old amp and monitors. That’s it really.
You co-produced the record with Charlotte and you both played all the instruments, apart from the drums, which were by ‘local legend’ Little Bobby Rockin’ Box. Tell us about Bobby…
IB:Well, Bobby is the pseudonym for my wonderful old Alesis drum machine that I bid for and won on eBay. We used Bobby’s talents throughout the album, before adding tambourine and shakers to complement his impeccable timing. We thought that by giving him credit and accolade as a local legend he’d be up for doing another album!
‘I wanted the album to feel like a record you’ve had in your collection for years – warm, inviting and in the vein of the classic West Coast sound of the ‘60s’
How did you approach the album? What kind of sound and feel were you going for?
IB: That’s a really good question. When we embarked on the project, I was going to keep everything stripped-back and understated, but it soon became apparent that it would be a big mistake to leave out things like Charlotte’s wonderful lead guitar playing, our built-up harmonies and the way we blended the instruments, so I started to look at the majority of the album being full ‘band’ tracks, but with the occasional stripped-back song in there to give some balance.
With regards to the sound, I wanted the album to feel like an album you’ve had in your collection for years – warm and inviting. I guess I was always trying to create an album that was in the vein of the classic West Coast sound of the ‘60s.
Were all the songs written especially for The Lost Doves project, or did you already have some of them?
IB: Not all the songs were written specifically for the album. You Stop Me From Falling is one I wrote several years ago, but after performing the song in rehearsal acoustically with Charlotte, it felt natural to include it on the album.
See Saw and She’s Waking Up To Close Her Eyes were originally written for my stripped-back, acoustic album Empty Fields, but I really wanted to give them a bigger sound and production, so it felt right to include them on the album too.
Where did the name The Lost Doves come from?
IB: I was originally working on a psychedelic ‘60s-style name, you know like Jack & Jill’s Incredible Grooving Satanic Barber Shop Bungee Jumping Santa Machine, but I was having no such luck coming up with something that had any relevance.
So I basically went back to the drawing board and hit upon the idea of two white doves escaping from a magician’s cage and flying for days, possibly weeks, over the sand and sea, to find a new home in the sun, away from the conjuror’s clutches, but, unfortunately, getting lost and losing their bearings somewhere along the way. I liked the way it also worked with The Byrds theme.
On that note, the jangly title track, which is one of my favourite songs on the album, has a definite Byrds feel, with 12-string Rickenbacker, harmonies and a great poppy melody…
IB: It feels very relevant for the hard times we’re living in. It’s a hopeful song about bringing some light into the darkness. It’s one of our favourites too.
What inspired it? Was it written in response to the Covid crisis?
IB: It was written pre-Covid and lockdown – in fact it was the first track we finished for the album. I wanted to write a song that delivered a positive message on life. It’s about helping each other, not looking back, and finding that even the smallest chink of light in the darkest room can bring hope – the bad days will pass. Its sentiment means more now than ever. I like the way the album hangs off the back of it too.
Several of the songs deal with hope and looking towards a better, brighter time. Was that intentional? They feel like they have a common theme…
IB: I guess it wasn’t intentional, but it seemed to flow that way. I’ve found that listening to certain music, using certain instruments and working with certain musicians brings out different sides to my songwriting and it’s confirmed to me that it’s good to be around positive folk.
‘I wanted the guitars to sound like Crosby and McGuinn in the left and right speakers, and the harmonies to sound like Crosby, Stills & Nash’
She’s Waking Up To Close Her Eyes is also very Byrds-like…
IB: Yes indeed, I wanted it to sound like The Byrds had just got back together. Musically I think it has a Chimes of Freedom feel. I like the words – they’re pretty melancholy really. It’s about a couple going their separate ways, but he wants her to stay and pleads with her, but how can he possibly change her mind? Will she believe him that it will all be different, when all she’s felt is loneliness and neglect day-after-day? I wanted the guitars to sound like Crosby and McGuinn in the left and right speakers, and the harmonies to sound like Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Why do you like the Rickenbacker sound so much? Are you a Byrds and Beatles fanatic? Who are your main influences?
IB: I’ve loved The Beatles and The Byrds since I was at school. I got my first Rickenbacker 12-string when I was 18, from Hobbs Music in Lancaster, after falling in love with the look and that unmistakable jangly sound. My dad was kind enough to sign the never-never form and I paid him back £10 a week. I still have the guitar to this day. I have a few different guitars, but the Rickenbacker always comes out of the case first.
My friends and I formed our first band together while we were at school and eventually turned ourselves into a great mod band, playing the scooter rallies in and around Lancashire. Bands like The Jam, The Who, The Small Faces and The Kinks all featured heavily in those days.
As the years went by, I was listening to artists like The Moody Blues, Simon & Garfunkel – in fact most of the stuff from my dad’s record collection. Little Richard, John Denver, Cat Stevens, Don McLean, Bread, Procol Harum, Traffic – those kind of artists. Later I was introduced to the such greats as Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newbury, David Olney, Emmylou Harris….the list goes on.
Your song Sally Weather has a Lennon/ Beatles feel…
IB: It was based on a riff and an idea I’d had for around 20 years. The lyrics are based on a person I knew who had fallen into an abusive relationship. I’m glad to say she is now happy and loving her life again.
I always think it sounds like a cross between Girl and something else I can never quite put my finger on, but I guess something from the Revolver-era. The keyboard solo was inspired by House Of The Rising Sun by The Animals. I like the lines “insanity’s a point of view, so close your eyes you’ll miss the truth.”
You Stop Me From Falling is more stripped-down. It’s a gorgeous acoustic ballad. Where did that song come from?
IB: It was written and dedicated to a dear friend who helped me through some rough times. It was my way of giving them something back.
It’s been through a few different guises, but, primarily, when I was writing it, I had in my head the scene from The Shining, where all the ‘ghosts’ are in the big concert room in their 1920s regalia and the band are playing. It’s slightly odd I know, but you can never tell what will inspire a song sometimes.
The Clowns Are Coming To Town is a heavy, psychedelic instrumental. I really like it, but it feels a bit out of place on the album. Is it your Revolution 9 moment?
IB: I wanted a track that would crash down and create some waves. I love the whole psychedelia scene from the late ‘60s onwards – it had a big effect on me. I remember hearing White Rabbit [by Jefferson Airplane] for the first time and immediately heading into town, straight to Action Records [in Preston] and buying it.
‘I wanted a track that would crash down and create some waves. I love the whole psychedelia scene from the late ‘60s onwards – it had a big effect on me’
Watching the Monterey Pop Festival and seeing Hendrix setting his guitar on fire, and hearing Tomorrow Never Knows, Eight Miles High, Soft Machine, Piper at The Gates of Dawn and Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast all had a big influence on me.
We had a lot of fun recording The Clowns Are Coming To Town – we were bouncing guitars along tables, pinging rulers, reversing organs, radios and guitars, backwards pianos, distorted bass, sending political leaders’ speeches backwards… that sort of thing. It started its days by being loosely based around The Byrds’ Stranger In A Strange Land, but it quickly turned into Revolution 9 part two.
More Than I also has a Beatles feel, as well as some slight Eastern vibes, as does the final track, which is a short, backwards, psychedelic instrumental, entitled Isolation. Is that you embracing your inner George Harrison?
IB:More Than I was written for my daughter while we were on holiday in Cornwall. We had gone down to the beach – the weather was beautiful, the sun was high, the sky was blue and I just had the line “Like a child on the sand who doesn’t feel the land as its fear” running through my head. I love Charlotte’s harmonies on that song.
Musically it’s inspired by Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’, The Beatles’ Across The Universe and George Harrison’s Here Comes The Moon. I use an electric sitar on it, just tickling through in the mix. I’m greatly inspired and influenced by George Harrison’s music and his spiritual values. He was a great man.
There are two cover versions on the album – and they’re both songs I love, the standard, Autumn Leaves, and Scott Walker’s Duchess. Why did you choose them?
IB: When Charlotte and I started rehearsing, we had one of those ‘OK, what songs have you got?’ moments. She played me Autumn Leaves and I was astounded. It was beautiful. I knew then it just had to go on any future album we made. I like to call it the ‘candlelit room with a glass of wine, next to a crackling California fire and looking out onto the setting sun’ moment on the album.
Scott Walker’s Duchess was played to me around 20 years ago after a long studio session. I’d never heard anything quite so enchanting, beautiful and dark. I would play it on repeat for months after and still do. It felt like the perfect choice to honour and celebrate this wonderful song and the great Scott Walker.
Waves, which is the only song written by Charlotte on the album, has the sound of the sea from Barbados on it. Were you tempted to put any sound effects from Lancashire on the album? What would you have chosen?
IB: Charlotte loves travelling and she has a real sense of wanderlust. While she was away playing the cruise ships around the Caribbean, we stayed in touch and one cold, frosty morning she sent me a video recording of the Barbados sea lapping against the sun-drenched sandy shore. When she returned, we recorded Waves and I secretly added the waves to the final mix. She was delighted. Charlotte plays the beautiful lead guitar throughout that song – it reminds me of Lindsey Buckingham’s playing. What North Western sound effect would I have chosen? Probably the wind and the rain.
Can you tell us about your musical background? You’ve had four solo albums out since the ’90s…
IB: I was born in Blackpool in 1969 and spent my formative years living in various parts of The Fylde before moving to Preston in 1980. I started playing in bands when I was at secondary school, although I had a Bontempi guitar as a five-year-old and dug Blockbuster by The Sweet. When I left school, I got my first job as an apprentice at Fylde Guitars in Kirkham. During that time, I formed a mod band called Class A. It was taken from a Marlboro packet I seem to remember.
We went through various guises, but as the mod flame dimmed to a flicker, we attempted to resurrect ourselves. Sometimes we were psychedelic and sometimes gothic, but never with direction. We stuck together right through the early ‘90s until around ‘96/’97.
During that time, I met and married my soulmate Rachel and we had two wonderful daughters, Jose and Sacha. Rachel and the girls keep me on track through thick and thin. In 1998, I met Gary Hall through a mutual friend, Lee, who I was playing with in our band MellowDrive. We recorded our debut album and everything else after with Gary, in ’98, and he soon became a friend, producer and mentor.
He introduced me to great music I’d never heard before and songwriters whose lyrics cut deep. I recorded four solo albums with Gary and we both produced other artists over a 11-year or so period at his Voodoo Rooms Studio. That was a valuable experience for me and gave me the knowledge and tools to pave the way for me to start recording and producing from my own homegrown studio.
As well as Charlotte, you’re also working with singer-songwriter, Daniel Wylie, the former frontman of Cosmic Rough Riders. You’re releasing an EP of co-written songs, aren’t you? I’ve had a sneak preview of two tracks, Take It Or Leave It, which has a ’60s, jangly pop feel, with keys and brass, and Slow Down River – another summery, Byrdsy song about the sun. What’s the plan for the EP?
IB: I’m loving working with Daniel. We’ve been Facebook friends for several years. His songs, music and stories, and his ability to pull brilliant melodies out of the air are inspiring.
During lockdown, I began recording some new solo songs – Dangerous Clowns and TV Land. My daughter, Sacha, acted as video producer for my lockdown sessions. I sent Daniel the videos and he loved them. We got chatting about music we both enjoyed and I suggested we should do a co-write at some point. He was really into the idea and he sent over four song ideas.
The first track we finished was What’s Happening Now?, followed by Take It Or Leave It, and then Slow Down River. We are both really pleased with how they are all sounding. We plan to do more co-writes after this EP.
I’m producing and performing the songs in my home studio and I’m finding it to be such a great way to work. Daniel and I really are both enjoying the whole process. It’s also bringing out a different side to me as a songwriter and producer, which I’m loving. Daniel has been playing a couple of the tracks to a few record company friends and getting some great feedback. Nothing is finalised yet regarding the release, but we’re excited about it.
As you mentioned, you’ve been putting out some solo songs on YouTube. Any plans for another solo album? If so, when will it come out and what can we expect?
IB: Yes – so far I’ve recorded two tracks which will be on my new solo album. I have a bunch of songs ready to go and record. You can expect more jangle from the Rickenbacker, and a possible duet or two. There’s no release date as yet, but hopefully it will be towards next summer.
What music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently? What have been your favourite albums of 2020?
IB: That’s a great question. Well, recently I’ve been tuning in to a great American radio station called Radio Free Phoenix, which plays some fantastic music.
On my recent playlists there’s been The Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash, The Doors, Townes Van Zandt, The Cure, Ravi Shankar, Buddy Holly, Dylan, Lennon, R.E.M, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Daniel Wylie, Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, Syd Barrett, Black Sabbath, Soundgarden, Janis Joplin, The Mamas and the Papas, Creedence, George Harrison, Steve Hillage, Bob Marley, Little Richard, Mickey Newbury, The Who, Van Morrison, Richard Thompson, Bert Jansch, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, The Moody Blues, Vaughan Williams, Tom Baxter, Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, Crowded House, Miles Davis, Vivaldi, Steve Marriott, Martin Simpson, and, worth mentioning again, The Byrds!
I enjoyed the coverage on the radio for John Lennon’s 80th birthday too and I’ve had Ray LaMontagne’s Monovision on repeat. There’s some real gems on that album. My daughter Sacha introduced me to a band called Flyte – I love the harmonies and they are great musicians. I’ve been enjoying Homegrown by Neil Young. I also listened to the new Paul Weller album [On Sunset] the other evening. I really like the album before it, True Meanings, too.
Finally, what are your plans for Christmas? Will your 12-string Rickenbacker be ringing out?
IB: Well, I would usually be busy gigging in December, but I think this year it will be nights by the fire, finishing songs, spending time with my family and recording the new album. I’m sure the Ricky will be making an appearance. I might even record a jangly Christmas carol for you.
Set Your Sights Towards The Sun by The Lost Doves is out now on Green Tea Productions.
In an exclusive, in-depth interview with Say It With Garage Flowers, singer-songwriter Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires and Bennett Wilson Poole) reflects on lockdown, looks back at the making of his 2005 solo mini-album Days of Splendor, Nights of Horror, which has just been made available online for the first time, and updates us on the eagerly-awaited second album from Bennett Wilson Poole.
One of the few positives to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis is that lockdown has given musicians more time to dig around in their vaults and release rare or unheard material online for their fans to enjoy while stuck indoors.
Oxford-based singer-songwriter Robin Bennett, who is one third of Americana and jangle-pop supergroup Bennett Wilson Poole and, with his brother Joe, is one of the main members of The Dreaming Spires, has made his hard to find 2005 solo mini-album, the eight-track Days of Splendor, Nights of Horror, available to stream or download from Bandcamp.
Released under the pseudonym Dusty Sound System, it was written and recorded over a week in Los Angeles, California, in January 2005, at the time of the Iraq War. The songs, which were laid down in a day, were composed with his friend Danny Black – aka Danny Power (The And/Ors).
Robin and Danny spent most mornings watching the Bob Dylan film Don’t Look Back before getting down to songwriting and it shows – album opener, the riotous, bluesy, rock ‘n’ roll of The One And Only Lost Boy, sounds like a homage to mid-’60s electric Dylan, while Nation At War and I’m A Soldier are both folky protest songs.
Nothing I Can’t Do Without is a lovely, fragile acoustic ballad, You Can’tFool All The People (All The Time) is anthemic country rock, the sombre, piano-led ballad As I Lay Dying has a Lennon feel, and Don’t Sleep Alone is yet more raw, Dylanesque rock ‘n’roll.
The album was recorded in a studio owned by Rob Campanella ( Brian Jonestown Massacre) and features a cast of friends and local musicians, including Bobby Bones, Darren Rademaker (The Tyde) and Jason Anchondo (The Warlocks).
Mixed back in England with Rowland Prytherch, after the addition of harmony vocals by Piney Gir and Cat Martino, the album was mastered by Tim Turan in Oxford and originally released in 2005 on Truck Records.
Ironically, considering its title, Days of Splendor, Nights of Horror sometimes sounds like it’s gone for a great night out on the town – one of the songs is called It Takes No Talent To Party – but, more often that not, it’s waking up the morning after, bleary-eyed and melancholic.
“There certainly were a lot of parties, but I always found I could get by with very little sleep when in California – it must have been the sunshine,” says Robin.
How are you and how have you been coping with lockdown?
Robin Bennett: I live in a somewhat isolated spot anyway, so, in some ways, not a lot has changed, although my children are at home. Thankfully the weather has mostly been good and we are lucky enough to have a garden. A lot of the meetings I have to attend due to my council work (Robin is a cabinet member for development and regeneration at South Oxfordshire District Council) have moved online, so I’m pretty busy. I’ve also got a small home recording set-up to keep my musical side occupied.
What’s been your lockdown soundtrack?
RB: I’ve definitely been drawn to listening to music, old and new. I bought a new record player from Danny Wilson’s [Bennett Wilson Poole, Danny and the Champions of the World] shop, Union Music Store, to help me make the most of my vinyl collection.
I’ve also joined in with a few of Tim Burgess’ Twitter listening parties – diverse selections from The Chemical Brothers to The Flaming Lips, which was stuff from when I was first getting into music and going out. My old band Goldrush supported The Flaming Lips in 2002 and went on to record with Dave Fridmann.
The other night I went back to some classics on vinyl that I haven’t listened to in a while, due to over-familiarity – like Neil Young’s After the Goldrush. I like the way the internet allows shared listening. I joined in with the Clubhouse Records crew, who were listening to The Band’s Stagefright last weekend. Opinion was divided on whether it’s a lost classic.
‘The lockdown seems to favour nostalgia. There has been space for things like the 17-minute Bob Dylan single, and also for plenty of looking back over one’s musical past’
We’ve also got a crappy Dansette in the shed, where we’ve been dancing to 7-inch singles with the kids, mostly The Beatles or stuff from the Britpop era, when I was buying 7-inches.
Although it’s a pain for artists – including Bennett Wilson Poole – that the release cycle has been disrupted, it’s created an interesting pause in the normal torrent of attention-grabbing. There has been space for things like the 17-minute Bob Dylan single, and also for plenty of looking back over one’s musical past. The lockdown seems to favour nostalgia.
Have you written any new songs during lockdown?
RB: Not really. I have demoed a whole pile of songs from my notebook though – some of them are going back years. I’m trying to avoid writing songs about the lockdown.
During lockdown, you’ve decided to make your 2005 Dusty Sound System mini-album, Days of Splendor, Nights of Horror available on Bandcamp. What was the thinking behind that?
RB: It was partly because of just having the time and space to do it. Although it was originally released in a pretty minimal way, it has a bit of a reputation in some circles, and I wanted people to be able to hear it – those who didn’t have one of the few original CD copies.
The album is 15 years old. How you do feel about it now? How old were you when you made it and what music were you into at the time?
RB: Um… I was 26! One thing I remember from the time is that Bright Eyes was just releasing his two albums on the same day, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. I was very impressed by that – the US press were calling him ‘the new Bob Dylan’ at the time.
Since first going to the US in 2003, to record and tour with Mark Gardener of Ride, my Goldrush bandmates and I had been introduced to a whole swathe of US independent acts, from Death Cab For Cutie to The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and I met, or played with, many of them.
I was impressed how the scale of the US allowed these bands to have a viable career without signing to a major label, which was more or less impossible in the UK at the time.
There were also records that were more abundant in American record stores, like Songs for Beginners by Graham Nash, that I’d not really come across before. Big Star and Gram Parsons loomed large too. I also got into The Jayhawks around then –I’m not sure how I’d avoided them previously. We also listened to a lot of old Bob Dylan – especially The Bootleg Series Volume 2.
What’s the story behind the album? How did it come about? You went to L.A. and you wrote the record in a week, with your friend Danny Black – aka Danny Power – and you recorded in it a day. That must have been a hell of a week!
RB: I’d always largely been the lyric writer in Goldrush – in the early days, songs used to come together in a somewhat miraculous way, without a lot of forethought, but, of course, that method can dry up. When we went to record with Dave Fridmann in 2003, I was still finishing lyrics in the studio, which stressed me out no end. I knew there had to be a more structured way of writing.
I worked with Mark Gardener on some of the songs for his solo album, and found that I could be useful as a co-writer. Then, with Danny, we found such a close rapport that extending into co-writing happened almost by default.
‘L.A. was a whole different world and very inspiring. Danny and I had a daily routine of watching Don’t Look Back, listening to records, buying doughnuts and coffee, and then trying to write’
Goldrush had US visas, so we took the opportunity to spend as much time there as we could, staying in Brooklyn, or at Danny’s house in L.A., even when not touring. I applied for a PRS grant, which gave me the chance to go over and do some writing with Danny in January 2005. He lived just off Sunset Boulevard, between Echo Park and Silverlake, in a shared house, with a few bohemian friends who were always welcoming.
It was a whole different world and very inspiring for me. Danny and I had a daily routine of watching bits of Don’t Look Back, listening to records, buying some doughnuts and coffee – vital – and then trying to write. I also had an obsession with Gatorade – the US version. I still do.
On previous visits we’d become good friends with Rob Campanella of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, who had an excellent studio in his house. We’d written enough songs for an album, so we thought we should get them down for posterity and we invited some of the aforementioned people along for a day in the studio, setting up live and rattling through the whole lot in one day, pausing only for sandwiches from the deli and the odd beer. It was all so much fun and we knew that we had something.
Danny Power has been a big influence on you musically, hasn’t he? He’s inspired several Dreaming Spires songs and he got you into Big Star. How did you meet him?
RB: Danny Power was initially our West Coast tour manager, but he was – is – a musician too and we wound up becoming close friends. Mark Gardener had discovered Danny after his band, The And/Ors, opened for Mark’s solo tour, so when we came over as Mark’s backing band, he asked Danny to supply a van and equipment, which he did – rickety vintage gear you’d rarely see in the UK.
Danny worked printing art posters for the famous artist, Shepard Fairey, in a large warehouse in downtown L.A., so that’s where we rehearsed. It was an amazing scene to be part of. It was next to the American Apparel factory, in an eerie industrial district patrolled by homeless people pushing shopping trolleys, and there were also furtive porn movie shoots in warehouses – or so we heard. The Dreaming Spires song Singing Sin City describes meeting Danny and his van, which was named Darla.
You said that you were watching Don’t Look Back most mornings in L.A. The first song on Days of Splendor, Nights of Horror is The One And Only Lost Boy, which is a mid-’60s electric Dylan homage, isn’t it?
RB: Yes, certainly – though one of my earliest influences, like Dylan, was Chuck Berry, and it has a bit of that about it too.
The song is about your experiences as a Brit in L.A. What did you make of it?
RB: My experiences of L.A. were completely overwhelming – I’d been there once, aged 18, but not really found any of its secrets, but going there again in 2003, even after the thrill of touring the East Coast, was something else. It seemed like another planet and we were lucky enough to be introduced to some amazing places and people. We were probably as exotic to the Californians as they were to us.
I can’t remember writing The One And Only Lost Boy, but all the people mentioned in it are real people we used to hang out with. Bobby (Bones), Jason ‘Plucky’ Anchondo and Dave ‘The Kid’ Koenig all play on the record so it’s very self-referential. Caroline and Abigail lived in Danny’s house. I really did get called Lindsay after [film director] Lindsay Anderson on account of my British accent, and on that writing trip it rained for several days, which was a real novelty in L.A. It caused many plants to bloom and gave me severe hay fever, enough to somewhat affect the sound of my voice on the record.
Nothing I Can’t Do Without is a lovely song. It sounds like a more stripped-down version of what you went on to do with The Dreaming Spires, but minus the jangly guitars. What can you tell me about it?
Nothing I Can’t Do Without was written on Danny’s porch, throwing phrases back and forth in a rapid fashion. The house was in sight of Sunset Boulevard, which, of course, is named after the amazing California sunsets, which are made more spectacular by a layer of smog.
I was definitely moving away from writing verse-chorus type songs, and getting more narrative in style. I was probably listening to Another Side…era Dylan, which seeped into the guitar style. It does sound a bit like the cover of Girl From The North Country that The Dreaming Spires started our career with. I basically used the same chords under the Dylan lyrics for that, as I didn’t know the correct chords.
As I Lay Dying is one of the darker songs on the album. What can you tell me about it? The piano sounds quite Lennonesque, and it’s a sad song…
RB: As I Lay Dying was written after a trip, so to speak, to Joshua Tree National Park, on one of our regular pilgrimages to the desert. It provided a very different perspective on life and the song was written down pretty much directly as we experienced it.
‘When we mixed the album back in England, we used plenty of WEM Copicat tape echo, which contributed to the Lennon-y vibe’
The title was from the William Faulkner novel. I was into trying to describe out-of-body or near-death experiences at the time, as also on the Goldrush album, The Heart Is The Place. The song There’s A World by Goldrush, on the Ozona album, is also based on being at Joshua Tree. It became one of our favourite places to go when in the US. We played at the famous Pappy & Harriet’s and stayed on Victoria Williams’ ranch and at number of other interesting spots. I seem to recall when Rowland Prytherch and I mixed the album back in England, we used plenty of WEM Copicat tape echo, which contributed to the Lennon-y vibe.
Where did the song It Takes No Talent To Party come from? Great title! I can imagine there was a lot of partying during your week in L.A…
RB: The title was a saying from Dave Koenig, who, at the time, was the bass player in The Brian Jonestown Massacre, or he may have just left the band. He was kind enough to play bass on the album. He was a very funny guy and a master storyteller – it was his phrase to describe some of the characters who populated the L.A. scene, which was to some extent surface over content. There certainly were a lot of parties, but I always found I could get by with very little sleep when in California – it must have been the sunshine.
The record is one of highs and lows – there are musically upbeat songs, like The One And Only Lost Boy and Don’t Sleep Alone, but it’s often a melancholy, reflective record, isn’t it? What kind of frame of mind were you in when you made it?
RB. My default song setting was melancholy, at least up to that point, so I’m glad I was able to produce some upbeat songs. It was a relatively carefree time if you could ignore all the wars and so on…
Let’s talk about that. The Iraq War was happening at the time you were making the album and it inspired some of the songs, like I’m A Soldier and Nation At War, which are folky protest songs. What was your take on the war at the time and what was it like being in the US while it was happening?
RB: The TV was still filled with images of the post-9/11 Middle Eastern wars and Dubya was still President. The heavy post-9/11 security measures were very much in place and paranoia was in the air. We must have watched plenty of TV because the news filtered through into the songs. I remember sitting in a café and writing out the lyrics to Nation At War in a matter of minutes. I’m A Soldier covers the plight of returning veterans and is simple, but it holds up well, I think.
You Can’t Fool All The People (All The Time) is one of my favourite songs on the record. It has a country rock feel…
RB: Country rock loomed large in our lives, having recently got deep into Sweetheart of the Rodeo [The Byrds] and The Flying Burrito Brothers, etc. We loved going to thrift stores and Mexican markets to pick up quirky shirts – they were hard to get hold of back then. It fascinated me to be in the same spot, making records as those individuals, as indeed it did no doubt for excellent local bands like Beachwood Sparks and The Tyde.
Darren from The Tyde and Bobby Bones play excellent guitar lines on the track, which makes the song. Rob Campanella’s brother Andy stepped in on drums, and his more languid style suited the song, with its unpredictable timings. As I recall, I played piano and sang live vocals on almost every song, apart from the acoustic picking numbers.
There are quite a few guests on the album…
RB: Jason ‘Plucky’ Anchondo was one of two drummers in The Warlocks, who were staples of the shoegazey revival scene, alongside The Brian Jonestown Massacre – we encountered numerous members of both bands. We’d met on our first trip when The Warlocks and Mark Gardener/Goldrush played in New York and we all jammed a version of Tomorrow Never Knows. I’d like to hear a recording of that!
Bobby Bones was a mysterious but delightful character, who looked like he could easily have been in The Rolling Stones. Darren Rademaker from The Tyde joined us too and contributed some wonderful guitar lines.
Back in England, I felt some female vocals would improve things – I was perhaps enjoying Emmylou Harris’ contributions to the Bright Eyes album – and asked Piney Gir, who was a friend, and part of our Truck Records roster, to come and sing on a few tracks. Furthermore, Cat Martino, another US singer from Brooklyn, who became a great friend, sang on Nation At War, which was actually recorded in England that summer, when she visited.
What happened to the album at the time? Did it have a proper release and did you tour to support it?
RB: It didn’t have a major release – it came out on the label Truck Records, which I ran with friends. Most of the effort in 2005 went on tours to support the US and European releases of Goldrush’s Ozona album. I did play some really fun shows, however, and put together a great UK band including Loz Colbert from Ride on drums, Andrew Mitchell from Ralfe Band, Garo and Nick (Growler) from Goldrush and Rowland Prytherch on bass. We often joined by Piney as well, and sometimes later on by Danny Wilson – we’d just started becoming friends. There were plenty of others who jumped in on occasion – almost too many to list!
The songs were simple enough to show people in a few minutes and usually it came off well. We played at The Social and The Borderline [in London], at a festival in Devon with Mojave 3, and quite a few other places. There were also a couple of gigs in L.A. with some of the original band, or perhaps just one – it’s shown in the video for The One And Only Lost Boy.
The album was credited to Dusty Sound System, rather than Robin Bennett. Where did the pseudonym come from?
RB: ‘Dusty’ was a nickname given to me be a friend from the village where I grew up – it was short for Dusty Bookworm, on account of how I liked to read and my dad was a bookseller.
By the time of the album, quite a lot of people called me Dusty, so it seemed a suitable pseudonym. I guess I wasn’t quite ready to perform under my given name. I really can’t remember how Sound System got added – it meant that there didn’t have to be a fixed band, or it could just be me. The pseudonym gave me freedom to have fun.
Let’s leave 2005 behind and fast forward to 2020, to talk about Bennett Wilson Poole.
Last year, you had to postpone your headlining London show, at the Islington Assembly Hall, as Tony Poole was unwell, and, this year, you were due to appear at the Ramblin’ Roots festival, which had to be postponed due to Covid-19.Are you hoping to gig later this year – all being well – and how’s Tony doing?
RB: Tony seems well currently, which is great. I’ve spoken to him a few times during lockdown. The first thing we did when we heard about the virus, even pre-lockdown, was cancel a Bennett Wilson Poole rehearsal – we need to look after Tony, in particular.
‘The second Bennett Wilson Poole album is written, recorded and mastered – we’re just waiting to work out how to release it in the present circumstances. We can’t wait for everyone to hear it’
I’m not very optimistic about indoor concerts taking place anywhere during 2020, so we may have to wait a little longer.
What’s the current state of play with Bennett Wilson Poole? Is your eagerly-awaited second album written and recorded?
RB: It’s written, recorded and mastered – we’re just waiting to work out how to release it in the present circumstances. We can’t wait for everyone to hear it.
One of the great things about Bennett Wilson Poole for me is the songwriting partnership Danny Wilson and I have developed. After it became impossible to write with Danny Power, I didn’t know if I’d find the same thing again, but we have struck up a similar ability to write songs and write them quickly. We both love the excitement of songwriting.
At this year’s Ramblin’ Roots, The Dreaming Spires were also due to play. Do you think there will be another Dreaming Spires record in the future?
RB: It’s hard to say. We are all still good friends and enjoying getting together to play now and then. We’re very proud of the albums we did. The songs all fit together as a set, so, if there was a new album, it would have to have some different subject matter.
As a professional musician and also a festival promoter what are you most worried about because of the Covid-19 crisis? Are you optimistic about the future?Will things get back to normal? What’s your take on it? What will have to happen in the ‘new normal?’
RB: I suppose, like most people, I am worried about my health and that of those close to me – and it’s clearly going to have a heavy impact on the live music business – indeed it already is. Looking for a positive, I think that connection and culture have grown in importance for us all as we’re stuck in our homes, and I have realised how precious those things are. That gives me confidence that we will find a way to rebuild the music scene. It’s hard to say exactly what that will look like, as we are still learning about how the virus operates.
‘Connection and culture have grown in importance as we’re stuck in our homes. I have realised how precious those things are. That gives me confidence that we will find a way to rebuild the music scene’
Clearly, some of the remote working and live streaming events will continue in the future, and we will be wary of cramped gatherings for a while. I’ve always been drawn to locally-oriented events, and perhaps there will be more of those as people resist long-distance travel. Also it’s opportunity to make sure all that back catalogue stuff is out there and available.
What are you most looking forward to doing once lockdown is lifted?
RB: Going to play, or watching a band in a cramped pub, preferably The Betsey Trotwood. I might have to wait quite a while for that to happen, so in the meantime a socially-distanced cup of coffee in a café will do.
Looking for something to help you cope with the post-Christmas comedown? New UK Americana label Greenhorse Records, which is based in Preston, Lancashire, has just the thing – Choke Hold, the debut single by alt-country four-piece West on Colfax.
Influenced by Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Wilco and Son Volt, it’ll put a jangle in your January. “The love we once found was just a fever going round,” sings vocalist Alan Hay, which is very apt, as it’s a highly infectious tune – two and a half minutes of life-affirming guitar pop that sounds like a long-lost Creation Records release from the early ’90s. They may hail from Lancashire, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that West on Colfax grew up on a Glaswegian council estate, reared on a diet of Irn-Bru and Byrds records.
The band’s debut album, Barfly Flew By, will be released later this year, but, in the meantime enjoy Choke Hold. In these dark and uncertain times we’re living in, it’s solid, it’s reliable and it’ll make you smile – it’s like catching up with an old friend you’ve not seen for ages. What a great way to start the New Year…
From UK Americana, to Canadian country-blues, Staffordshire psych-pop, Spaghetti Western soundtracks and, er, a concept record about Worcestershire, Say It With Garage Flowers chooses its favourite albums of 2018…
Bennett Wilson Poole have had a great year.
The UK Americana and jangle-pop trio formed by Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive, Danny and the Champions of the World) and Tony Poole (‘70s rockers Starry Eyed and Laughing – ‘the English Byrds’), released a critically-acclaimed debut album, played sell-out shows across the UK and were nominated twice in the UK Americana 2019 Awards – for UK Album of the Year and UK Artist of the Year. And if that wasn’t enough, they’ve also scooped the prize for Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite album of 2018.
When we told Danny Wilson the news, he said: “What an honour! I didn’t think it would be your album of the year… I wouldn’t have dreamed of it! I loved making the album with the other guys and I think it’s a great record.”
It certainly is! When we first heard the record at the start of the year, we said it would undoubtedly find itself high up on Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite records of the year list come late 2018…
‘High on harmonies and brimming with glorious melodies, it’s a stunning collection of instantly memorable and brilliantly crafted songs that are steeped in classic ‘60s and ‘70s rock and pop, but don’t shy away from tackling contemporary social issues’
Produced by Tony Poole – the king of the 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitar – in his home studio in rural Oxfordshire, it’s a totally cosmic trip that takes in Byrds-meets-Tom-Petty/ Traveling Wilburys jangle-pop (Soon Enough), gorgeous, soulful balladry, (Hide Behind A Smile), mystical country (Find Your Own Truth), sunny Americana (Wilson General Store), shimmering psychedelic sounds (That Thing That You Called Love) and moody, powerful protest rock in the vein of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Hate Won’t Win and Lifeboat (Take A Picture of Yourself).
High on harmonies and brimming with glorious melodies, it’s a stunning collection of instantly memorable and brilliantly crafted songs that are steeped in classic ‘60s and ‘70s rock and pop, but don’t shy away from tackling contemporary social issues.
Speaking to us earlier this year – we were the first publication to interview Bennett Wilson Poole – Tony said: “With our songs, like Hide Behind A Smile, the chords are quite simple and the tunes are quite jangly, but if you dig a little deeper, there’s more under the surface.”
He added: “A lot of people have said that you can keep listening to the album over and over again and you hear new things, which is great – that’s a good sign. If it makes you feel good, we’re adding to the sum of human happiness…”
Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we totally agree – Bennett Wilson Poole’s long-player has been on heavy rotation on our hi-fi and it’s been our feel-good soundtrack of 2018. And the good news is that there’s a follow-up planned for 2019. It can’t come soon enough…
Another Americana release that impressed us this year was Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger’s Nonsense and Heartache.
Produced by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, who worked on our favourite album of 2017, John Murry’s A Short History of Decay, it’s a double album, but, essentially it’s two distinct collections of songs.
The first half – Nonsense – is a raw, primal, bluesy, electric rock ‘n’ roll record, while the second instalment – Heartache – is a stripped-down, alt-country affair, with intimate ballads, lap steel, piano and fiddle.
Put them together and you have an album that reminds us of those classic early Ryan Adams long-players Heartbreaker and Gold – yep, it’s that good…
Jerry has a new album due in the autumn of 2019 and will be playing dates in Europe and the UK in the spring.
Pieces, Luke’s third solo album, is his best yet. An angry, heavy, often political album, it rocks like Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Batten down the hatches, it’s like a hurricane out there… There’s even a nine-minute, epic rallying call (Requiem), which attacks social injustice in the UK and comes across like Luke’s very own Rockin’ In The Free World…
It’s not all big guitar anthems, though – there are some quieter moments in the eye of the storm, like the apologetic ballad Charing Cross and the sublime, Springsteen-like country-rock song Ghosts, which sees Luke revisiting his childhood haunts.
Luke wasn’t the only US-based, UK singer-songwriter to make a political album this year – Nashville resident Ian Webber brought out Op-Eds, which tackled social issues including women’s rights, fake news, war-torn Syria and the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy.
Musically, it’s a very stripped-down record – mostly just Ian and his acoustic guitar – and it makes for intimate and sometimes uneasy listening, as he shares people’s stories of hardship and struggle.
Opener Follow Me and its parent song, The Regime, are haunting tales inspired by reading news stories about families suffering in Syria, while Frontline is a protest song that has its roots in ’50s rockabilly.
Radio Zero is an ode to the healing power of great music – while the world is going crazy, sometimes you just need to switch off from all the doom and gloom and crank up some classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes. Ian sings the song in a Bowie-like croon that sounds like it’s been beamed in from outer space.
‘Musically, it’s a very stripped-down record – mostly just Ian and his acoustic guitar – and it makes for intimate and sometimes uneasy listening, as he shares people’s stories of hardship and struggle’
Fellow Bowie fan, UK singer-songwriter and Say It With Garage Flowers regular Vinny Peculiar released the latest in a long line of great albums in 2018. Return of the Native was a concept record inspired by moving back to Worcestershire after 23 years living in Manchester.
A brilliant collection of witty, reflective and deeply personal songs, it features a whole host of weird and wonderful characters, including a burnt-out rock star, the ghost of a Civil War re-enactment enthusiast, Eminem hopelessly lost in Droitwich, ’70s M.O.R. singer Clifford T.Ward, DJ Tony Blackburn and comedian Rik Mayall.
Musically, the album takes the listener on a journey through Worcestershire that’s soundtracked by glam-rock, jangle-pop, psych, Pet Shop Boys-style electro and New Order-esque, Northern melancholy.
Jangle-pop and psych sounds both featured heavily on the 2018 albums by London cosmic-country-folk five piece The Hanging Stars and Staffordshire band Alfa 9.
With Songs For Somewhere Else – the follow-up to their 2016 debut, Over The Silvery Lake, which was our favourite album of that year, The Hanging Stars made a record that was even better than its predecessor and was a much more varied and adventurous collection of songs – there was the beguiling and soporific Spiritualized-meets-Byrds groove of On A Sweet Summer’s Day, the heavenly, Big Star jangle-pop of Honeywater, menacing Spaghetti Western soundtrack Mean Old Man, the country-rock romp For You (My Blue Eyed Son) and the woozy and playful 1920s-style jazz-blues of Too Many Wired Hours.
Alfa 9 are also fans of Spaghetti Western soundtracks – their album My Sweet Movida was full of Ennio Morricone influences,retro rock, cosmic-psych-country road trips and ’60s-inspired jangle-pop.
Back in April, guitarist Leon Jones told us: “We love Morricone and that kind of melancholy there is in a lot of his work. I’m fascinated by the Mojave desert in California and the Joshua Tree, particularly. For someone from the Midlands, it’s a very strange environment…”
Another fan of Morricone is Frank Sweeney, whose band of London renegades The Magic City Trio turned in one of the best debut albums of 2018.
Amerikana Arkana has wonderful orchestral arrangements that recall the dramatic ’60s pop of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, (Black Dog Following Me), Morricone’s moody Spaghetti Western soundtracks (Cousins’ War) and Mexican Mariachi music (Trav’ler), but these story songs are also steeped in the dark traditions of murder ballads, old country and folk laments, outlaw tales and hillbilly blues.
For more Spaghetti Western sounds and gun-slinging action, may we also recommend another great debut album from 2018 – Sarah Vista’s Killing Fever. Look out for an interview with London-based singer-songwriter Sarah on Say It With Garage Flowers soon…
Whether your year has been good, bad or ugly, we hope that you’ll take time to listen to some of the albums that were our soundtrack to 2018.
Here’s the full list of our 35 favourite albums of the last 12 months and a Spotify playlist to go with it*.
It’s been an amazing year for Bennett Wilson Poole, the UK Americana and jangle-pop supergroup formed by Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive, Danny and the Champions of the World) and Tony Poole (‘70s rockers Starry Eyed and Laughing – ‘the English Byrds’).
Their self-titled debut album has received great reviews – it’s Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite record of 2018 – and the band has played a string of well-attended shows, been nominated twice in the UK Americana 2019 Awards – for UK Album of the Year and UK Artist of the Year – and played live on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC TV and Robert Elms’ BBC Radio London show.
In an exclusive interview, Danny Wilson reflects on the group’s success, chooses some of his favourite albums of 2018 and gives us a sneak preview of what Bennett Wilson Poole have planned for next year… Could there be a second album on the way?
Q & A
I’m delighted to tell you that your record, Bennett Wilson Poole, is my favourite album of the year… I’m going to publish the full list later this month, but I wanted to give you the heads-up…
Danny Wilson: What an honour! I didn’t think it would be your album of the year… I wouldn’t have dreamed of it! I loved making the album with the other guys and I think it’s a great record.
It’s been a great year for you, hasn’t it? There’s a lot of love for Bennett Wilson Poole out there…
DW: There is – it’s touching. It’s really lovely. I’m a bit surprised at how well it’s gone – not because the music isn’t good, but because you just never know… You can spend years in your main bands trying to push an elephant up the stairs and it’s tough… I think all of our combined histories have helped – they’ve made it more palatable and immediate for people to get into.
It’s not easy for anyone, but the shows have been selling – when the wheels are greased a little, it’s really nice. We’re not turning up to shows and wondering if anyone’s going to be there, which makes life a lot easier. Things have gathered a bit of steam.
You’ve been nominated for two UK Americana Awards – the winners will be announced in January 2019…
DW: I’m totally thrilled that we’ve been nominated – it’s amazing. I really hope that we win one – Danny and the Champs won a few and it does have a knock-on effect in terms of bums on seats – you can’t argue with that. We’re really honoured to have been nominated – if we get given the thumbs-up by people, that’s a lovely thing.
When you appeared on the Robert Elms radio show recently, you played a great new song called I Wanna Love You (But I Can’t Right Now). It has a very poignant lyric and an instantly addictive melody. It’s a song about falling out of love with America because of the current political situation, but it also celebrates some of the great things that America has brought us, including Andy Warhol, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, De La Soul, Aretha Franklin, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and Martin Luther King…
DW: It’s a love song to America. – Robin and I wrote the song together. Weirdly, Bennett Wilson Poole is the only act I’ve ever been in that’s overtly political in any way. I like protest songs and political music – Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Billy Bragg; Paul Weller; Elvis Costello – even Simply Red – but I’ve never felt in a position to do it.
It’s fairly obvious that everyone involved in the Bennett Wilson Poole project are humanists – they want the best for people who aren’t getting the help they need, but that’s about as far as I’ve ever gone in terms of being overtly political – being a friendly person. I think everybody should be like that, regardless of their politics, but with Bennett Wilson Poole it’s the first time I’ve done political songs.
‘Bennett Wilson Poole is the only act I’ve ever been in that’s overtly political in any way. I like protest songs and political music, but I’ve never felt in a position to do it’
So can we expect a second Bennett Wilson Poole album next year?
DW: I think so – there’s lots of material. It’s been really easy – they are around 17 new songs we’ve written that are all tailor-made. There’s a really good feeling – we’re inspired by Tony and the reception that he’s getting at this stage in his career.
Will you be playing any new songs at your upcoming gigs in Oxford and London this month?
DW: Yes – It’s very Byrdsian and it’s lovely. Someone from outside of the band suggested that we do it. We have mooted the idea of a covers album – we’ve written a list of songs for it. I wrote an exhaustive list. I don’t know where to go with it – whether it should be like Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs’ wonderful covers albums, where every song is a classic, or to make it much more obscure, but that might be one nerdy step too far… I’m thinking of stuff by The Beau Brummels and some songs from Dion’s folk-rock period, but we’ll see.
What are your favourite albums of the year?
DW: Ryley Walker’s The Lillywhite Sessions is totally amazing – it’s a reimagining of a Dave Matthews Band album that was unreleased. Damien Jurado’s new album [The Horizon Just Laughed] is fantastic and there’s one particular record by Dios [Life Between The Tides] that’s like a shoegazing cross between Neil Young and The Beachboys – it’s a really great record, but no one has been banging on about it. I also liked the new J Mascis album [Elastic Days]. I bought a lot of records this year, as I own a record shop [Union Music Store in Lewes, East Sussex]. I like all the stuff on Loose too – they’re going from strength to strength. They’re my friends and I respect and admire them – they’re amazing.
Finally, any plans for a new album by Danny and the Champs?
DW: Yeah – I think so. We’ve got some gigs booked in Spain and I’ve been just putting together a playlist for the guys of stuff that is informing my thinking on the next Champs album and it’s really not what anyone would expect. It doesn’t mean the album will sound like that, but there will be elements of it.
If the next Champs album turns out like I think it will – although it never quite does – it will be trying to push the envelope in certain directions. I’m really excited about it. I don’t want to make another Champs record that sounds like any of the others – there’s no reason to.
I guess I’m getting my serious folk-country-rock fix from Bennett Wilson Poole at the moment, so I don’t need to add to that. At some point there will be a folk-rock-Americana logjam and I don’t want to contribute to that – I’d rather take a left turn. I’m also going to do a solo album at some point – I don’t what I’m going to do with it, but it will either be an acoustic singer-songwriter record, or I might do a jazz album!
•Bennett Wilson Poole’s self-titled debut album is out now on Aurora Records. The band are playing shows this month at The Bullingdon Arms in Oxford (December 7) and Kings Place, London (December 8).