Manchester singer-songwriter Nev Cottee’s 2013 debut album, Stations, has just been reissued on vinyl for Record Store Day by his record label, Wonderfulsound.
It sounds like Lee Hazlewood fronting Spiritualized and when Say It With Garage Flowers first heard it, seven years ago, we said: “his atmospheric, late-night laments are steeped in Northern melancholy and laced with psychedelic effects and gorgeous string arrangements.”
We also compared his baritone voice to Scott Walker, Richard Hawley and Leonard Cohen, and named his haunting country-folk song Oslo as one of our favourite tracks of that year.
To celebrate this year’s vinyl release of Stations, we spoke to Nev about his memories of writing and recording his debut album, asked him about his misspent youth trawling Manchester record shops, and got the inside track on his next album – a collection of orchestral songs inspired by Scott 4.
How does it feel to have Stations out on vinyl?
Nev Cottee: It feels very good. I’m in-between albums at the moment – I’m in the process of finishing the next one – so it’s good to keep the momentum going and to keep things ticking over. It never came out on vinyl. For the first album, I wasn’t on Wonderfulsound – I did it off my own back, with a couple of actor mates, Jeff Hordley and Graeme Hawley, who, very generously, paid for some of the recording and for it to come out on CD and digitally. I wanted to get it out on vinyl eventually – it’s always nice to have it on a bit of plastic, with some lovely artwork. It was good timing with Record Store Day – it all came together.
Do you buy much vinyl?
NC: I used to – I buy the odd thing now and again. I dip my toe in. I did all my record buying as a youth. I used to spend an absolute fortune, when I had no money – we all did the same, didn’t we? Scouring the record shops of Manchester – that’s when I was really into it. Then I had to buy them all again on CD… Now I’m streaming and I think, ‘wow – I think I’ve bought this record three times now.’
I like to buy records at gigs – if I go to a gig and see a band I like, I’ll make a point of going to the merch stall. My vinyl days are done, but I DJ a lot and that’s when I get back into playing records – it’s a chance to dust off the collection. That’s when I’m thankful for my misspent youth. At home, I spin the odd record, but I listen to a lot of radio shows on my computer.
Do you have a favourite record shop?
NC: There are two in Manchester that I like – one is Vinyl Revival. It’s run by an old friend of mine, Colin White, and it’s been going for years. It’s a great shop – he’s a lovely guy and really knowledgeable. It’s great to go in, have a chat with him and see what he’s got.
I also like Piccadilly Records – I can remember when it used to be just off Market Street. They were friendlier in Piccadilly Records than they were in Eastern Bloc, where I had a bad experience with a condescending geezer behind the counter. I think everyone’s had an experience like that. I was only a kid – I was 14. He gave me grief for something I bought. I think my brother had recommended a band to me – it might have been The Inspiral Carpets, but I’m not sure. He took the mickey out of me – he was trying to be cool. When you went in Piccadilly there was a lovely, friendly vibe.
Stations was your solo debut. How do you feel about it now? Have you listened to it recently?
NC: I remember seeing George Harrison speaking on The Beatles Anthology documentary series – he said he’d not listened to Revolver since the day it came out. I thought, ‘bollocks – no way! Everyone listens to Revolver every day.’ I’m not comparing myself to George Harrison, but, in recent years, after releasing my own records, I’ve realised there’s no point listening to your own records, because all you hear are the mistakes and you think about the choices you should’ve made, but didn’t. It’s quite a frustrating experience – there’s not much pleasure to be gained from it. Plus the fact that while you’re making it, you’re listening to it continually for the whole process – mixing, mastering… Those songs become lodged in your brain. If you hear them out of context, like when you walk into a bar, it can be pleasurable. Saying that, I think Stations still stands up – it sounds pretty good and it’s quite lo-fi.
There are a few things I might have done differently, like made it a bit bigger production-wise, but maybe that’s its charm. It has almost a demo quality to it – we used a really basic drum machine on some of the tracks. Carwyn Ellis had a retro drum machine app on his phone. I like the feel of it. I wasn’t coming out all guns blazing – it’s a gentle introduction.
What are your memories of writing the songs and recording the album?
NC: Writing the songs was a long process – it’s the same with every band’s first album, isn’t it? They’ve had a collection of songs that they got together when they started the band and they build on that. The songs were from over a five-year period. You’re always trying to second guess the first album, saying it will be the best one ever, but as you move on and do the next album, you’re less questioning – you just get on and do it.
‘I lead quite a solitary existence, so lockdown wasn’t a great shock to me. I was keeping it real and I was very productive. I had my studio set up and I started writing a lot of songs’
Recording it was a very quick process – we did it in Carwyn’s house, in Cardiff – me, Carwyn and Mason Neely, who has produced all my albums. We were up early doors and we did it in five or six days. It was very intense and it was good – we worked hard at it, from nine in the morning to seven or eight at night, but we broke off for a cup of tea every now and again. Everyone was really productive and it was really enjoyable.
Do you have a favourite song from it?
NC: Oslo – it’s the one that really came together and it has some great bass playing from Mason, which elevated what was a folky, picking song to something completely different. When he threw that bassline down, it blew my mind and I saw where we could go. That’s the joy of working with top mates and musicians who come up with great ideas and take songs to the next level. It’s a great collaborative process.
Let’s talk about 2020. How were you during lockdown and the Covid-19 crisis?
NC: I was OK – I lead quite a solitary existence anyway, so it wasn’t a great shock to me. I was keeping it real and I was very productive. I was in Manchester – I had my studio set up and I started writing a lot of songs. For the first few weeks it was quite a novelty, but then you just have one of those days… you’ve not seen many people, or spoken to anyone. We’re social animals and we need interaction – even if it’s just a quick ‘hello’ on the street. It must’ve been terrible for some people.
What can you tell us about the next album?
NC: I’m finishing my new album. I’m hoping to get it done by the end of the year. It has the working title of Solitary Singer. I’ve been listening to a lot of Scott Walker – again. I’m putting strings on it – I’m going big and I’m hoping to go to Prague to work with an orchestra. I hope it will sound like Scott 4. You’ve got to aim high. Watch this space.
For my sins, I’ve also written another album – I’ve created a Lee Hazlewood alter ego and I’m channelling the whole Hazlewood vibe. I wanted to write 10 songs that could stand up in the Hazlewood oeuvre and I’m very excited by them.
Stations by Nev Cottee is out now on Wonderfulsound.
Remember life before lockdown? At the start of the year, all we had to worry about was how to cope with a massive, post-Christmas comedown – little did we know what was around the corner…
Luckily, as 2020 kicked off, here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we had the debut single by UK Americana band West on Colfax, from Preston, to cheer us up. As we said at the time: ‘Influenced by Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Wilco and Son Volt, it’ll put a jangle in your January… 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.’
Now, five months later, after two more singles – the similarly jangly and equally irresistible Misty Morning Blue and the ragged country-rock of Barfly Flew By – as well as an impromptu EP called Lockdown Lowdown, which was hastily put together while the band members were in isolation and showcases a more mellow, acoustic side to their sound, including the gorgeous, banjo-assisted ballad, Back Out On The Run, West on Colfax are gearing up to release their first album Barfly Flew By.
It’s already one of our favourite records of the year. From the ’70s Rolling Stones country feel of The Line, with its bluesy guitar licks and warm Hammond organ, to the late-night barroom romance of Cowgirl of the County (“She was the cowgirl of the county – she leant into me gently. We chose the songs on the jukebox – I don’t think I’ve been as happy”), the twangy Tinsel Heart, the rough and ready, battered and beaten-up road trip of Tyre Marks(“The tyre marks you left across my heart are all that’s now left…”) and the world-weary, yet, ultimately, optimistic, electric piano-led ballad, Light Again, which closes the album, it’s clear West on Colfax wear their classic country, rock ‘n’ roll and Americana influences on the sleeves of their well-worn plaid shirts. These are songs that are best listened to while staring at the bottom of your glass, but they also have a reassuring warmth to them. The band describe their music as, ‘tales of love, life and hard-lived lives but with hope.’
In an exclusive interview, we chat to Alan Hay (vocals and guitar); Scott Carey (bass) and Pete Barnes (lead guitar and vocals) about the roots of the band, get the inside story on the writing and recording of the new LP, find out how these barflys have been coping with the Covid-19 lockdown and ask them to tell us what music has been keeping them sane…
How did the band come together?
Alan Hay: I came across some guys who were looking for a singer – Wilco were mentioned, so I was in! We were just doing cover versions and it was very casual, but, after a while, I approached Scott with the idea of doing some original stuff and taking things a bit more seriously.
Scott Carey: I met Alan when I was in a fledgling Americana covers band called The Low Highway and we needed a singer. Alan answered the ad and although he’d never sung in a band before there was something about him. We became friends very quickly, bonding over our love of Americana music. Someone suggested doing a couple of our own original songs. I was reticent at first, as it’s hard pushing your own stones up a hill.
The covers we were doing were fairly obscure to your average pub punter – Wilco, The Jayhawks, Mudcrutch, Richard Hawley, The Band etc. Alan asked me if had any lyrics? I said, ‘No – but leave it with me.’ That night I sent him the words to The Line, which is the second track on our album, and he turned it into a song that we actually liked.
That opened the floodgates and led to The Low Highway set becoming mostly originals. Since then we’ve written enough for four albums and we’re still going. We had some line-up changes and then Alan and I decided to give it a go [as West on Colfax]. We then found a great lead guitar player, Pete Barnes, through an advert, and changed our drummer three times! We’ve just got together with a multi-instrumentalist called Ian Aylward-Barton, who has provided the final piece of the puzzle.
‘I came across some guys who were looking for a singer – Wilco were mentioned, so I was in!’
Pete Barnes: I joined Alan and Scott in very early 2018. They already had the band name and were working on some originals of theirs with a drummer, Adrian, and keyboard player, Nick. I was looking for something to do musically and their ad caught my eye, as it was very different to the usual – it was specific, pretty straightforward and name-checked some lesser-known bands that I was into, like Whiskeytown. The problem was that the ad was for a drummer, not a guitar player. I answered it anyway, and I thought, ‘well I can probably hire a kit for a bit and I know I can bash out a basic beat’.
As it transpired, the original drummer, Adrian, had re-joined the band in the meantime, so Scott, having discovered I was really a guitar player, asked me to come down and try out on guitar. I quickly relaxed and realised they were a good bunch of guys – the music came together really naturally. We played a few gigs and recorded a couple of songs, Stars and The Line, then, a bit later, Adrian decided playing originals wasn’t really his thing so he left, followed by Nick a few months later. Eventually we found Mike to play the drums, and then Ian joined more recently.
The band name is a reference to the work of songwriter and author Willy Vlautin (Richmond Fontaine, The Delines), isn’t it? The first album by The Delines is called Colfax…
SC: Yes. I had the phrase ‘West on’ for a couple of days and was playing Colfax by The Delines. I asked Alan if West on Colfax would be a cheesy name? He said it wouldn’t. Shortly afterwards I went to a book reading and a performance by Willy Vlautin and The Delines. I told him about the name and he seemed genuinely chuffed. He signed my copy of his novel Don’t Skip Out On Me: ‘To West on Colfax – good luck with your band!’
You’re based in Lancashire – the North West. What’s the Americana scene like there?
SC: We all live about a 20-mile radius away from our base, which is Preston. We have been trying to start a scene there, putting on a quarterly Americana night at The New Continental, whose promoter, Rob Talbot, is really supportive of us.
We’ve built it up with regular people returning and we’ve been making friends along the way with local bands that we’ve put on : Red Moon Joe, The Amber List, Simon James and the River Pilots, and The JD Band, as well as artists from Manchester: Matt Grayson lead singer of The Swells, and Cornelius Crane.
We’ve played with Matt Hill [aka Quiet Loner] – I worked with him in London – and Nev Cottee, who I played with in Seventh House and also in the first line-up of his solo band. We’d like them to appear with us in Preston in the future.
You’ve had a busy year so far. You put out your debut single, Choke Hold, in January, then you followed it up with two more, plus the Lockdown Lowdown EP, and now your debut album is out soon. How has the Covid-19 lockdown affected you as a band? Obviously it’s meant that you haven’t been able to play any gigs…
SC: The album was going to have three different songs on it, but lockdown put that on hold, so we’ve been sending songs to each other during isolation. We’ve been able to look at a more acoustic sound, which we will be exploring more in the future, in tandem with the more upbeat material.
AH: The lockdown has probably affected the band more than any other part of my life – a lot of things have just carried on as normal, but with minor disruption. Yes, we’ve had to rethink our plans for 2020, but I suppose we’re fortunate that we don’t rely on our music to make a living. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to carry on going out to work as normal, so haven’t had the psychological or financial worries that a lot of people have had during lockdown.
‘We’ve been sending songs to each other during isolation. We’ve been able to look at a more acoustic sound’
PB: Lockdown has been strange for us, as it has for everyone. We are all key workers, so we’ve still been going to work, or working from home, but obviously, we’ve had no rehearsals or been meeting up. On the flip side, it has been quite productive, as we’ve produced the Lockdown Lowdown EP, which contains songs that may not have come out yet under normal circumstances. In fact they weren’t originally planned for the LP, but we decided to put them together with some stuff we recorded late last year, to balance the album out.
I think it makes for an interesting listening experience overall. Also it’s a good indication of where the band are at right now and where we may be heading in the future, as there is a broader mix of styles on there than we might have had if it were not for the lockdown changing everyone’s circumstances.
Let’s talk about your album, Barflew Flew By. How was it written and recorded?
SC: Alan and I wrote most of the songs on the album, but I wrote the lyrics for the track Barfly Flew By and Pete turned it into a song. He also wrote Back Out On The Run, which is wonderfully catchy and mellow – it’s our Elizabeth My Dear.
The process is that I write the lyrics, which are mainly about lessons learnt through life and past experiences, or imaginary characters, like in Barfly Flew By and Cowgirl of the County. Then I give them to Alan, who has the hard job of making them into something we want people to hear. For every track that makes it, there are two that don’t.
AH: We didn’t have to write songs specifically for the album – a lot of the songs had been around in the live set for a few years, but some weren’t intended for this record. We had about half the album recorded, but lockdown forced us to re-think. It’s not the album we intended to make, it’s born out of circumstance, but I’m glad about that. I think it’s got more balance to it than it might have had.
PB: Whoever has an idea brings it to rehearsal and we all try to contribute and improve on it. It’s a fairly democratic process and I have found there is a lot of room in Scott and Alan’s songs for me to add things and play quite freely. The arrangements get shaken out a bit during rehearsals and, again, it’s quite open. We seem to have a pretty natural chemistry, so it never feels like we have to force anything – it tends to come quite easily. We’re just moving into me doing lead vocals for my own songs, like Back Out On The Run, which, hopefully, will broaden our sound a bit more.
‘We recorded most of the album straight to tape, so we captured a live performance for the basis of each track – it’s not perfect, but I think that’s good. Imagine the Felice Brothers recorded to a click track – that would be awful!’
SC: We recorded the album with Matt Gallagher and his pal David Shurr, who are both really good artists in their own right, at The Premises in Preston. Wilco are one of Matt’s favourite bands and Sky Blue Sky is his favourite LP – I agree with him on that, so I knew he was the right person to record with. We hit it off instantly.
We recorded most of the album straight to tape, so we captured a live performance for the basis of each track, like bands used to do. It means it’s not perfect but I think that’s good. Imagine the Felice Brothers recorded to a click track – that would be awful! They’re a much better band than us, but we love that vibe.
The first single, Choke Hold, reminds me of Teenage Fanclub…
SC: Yes – we’re huge fans. Teenage Fanclub sound like Big Star, who in turn, wanted to be The Byrds – it’s linear. We’re all looking back to go forward. That said, we believe we have something to offer – we’re more than a tribute act and we are proud of our songwriting. Our other influences are Drive-By Truckers, Richmond Fontaine, The Byrds, R.E.M, Golden Smog…
AH: We have some of the same influences as Teenage Fanclub – The Byrds, Big Star etc. I’m a big fan. Wilco are a huge influence as well – the list is endless, I think all the music you absorb during your lifetime has some influence, whether you realise it or not.
PB: Alan and Scott love Teenage Fanclub – that comparison has been made a lot. They never featured in my imagination much, to be honest, but since joining the band I’ve listened to them for the first time and appreciate them a bit more.
We all have different influences. Aside from the obvious Americana ones we share, like Neil Young, War On Drugs, Wilco, Whiskeytown, The Jayhawks, The Byrds etc, I also listen to other genres – all sorts. I think the other guys are the same. We like anything that’s good, really – we’re all massive music fans. Sixties stuff like Love, as well as folk music, like Bert Jansch and John Martyn, are influences.
‘Guitars are where it’s at for us, but we’ll listen to anything within reason. Influences only get you so far I guess – it’s when you start doing your own thing that it gets more interesting’
I’m getting into Townes Van Zandt and I also quite like some early ‘90s shoegaze-type bands like Slowdive – their most recent album is fantastic. Those very early Verve singles and their b-sides, Gravity Grave, She’s A Superstar and Feel, as well as their first album, A Storm In Heaven, meant a lot to me growing up, along with some some ‘70s punk and New Wave. The Pogues and The Dubliners are in there too, as well as Miles Davis and Can, and some ambient/electronic music too. Guitars are where it’s at for us, but we’ll listen to anything within reason. Influences only get you so far I guess – it’s when you start doing your own thing that it gets more interesting. I think, in truth, we’re all probably more obsessed with our own band than any other.
I think your song The Line sounds like The Rolling Stones at times…
SC: I’ll leave Alan to answer that, but being told we sound like The Stones and Teenage Fanclub is okay by me.
AH: It’s a fair comment. I love The Stones and I wrote the music in an open G tuning, on a Telecaster, so maybe that was inevitable. The Line was the first song Scott and I wrote together. I love the lyrics – there are some great lines in there.
Back Out On The Run is one of my favourite songs on the album – it has a more stripped-down, traditional country/ Americana feel than some of the others. What can you tell me about it?
PB: The song is a pretty dark, small town love story about truth, retribution and freedom. It’s about long-lost lovers brought back together by seismic events. It’s quite a short track on the album, but it’s like a mini movie in my head.
‘I’ve gone through some bleak years, which I thought would crush me, but I’m still going. I’ve leant on songs my whole life. I hope we can prop someone up, if only for three minutes – that would mean everything’
I wrote the song pretty quickly and recorded it at home. It’s really just me playing guitar and singing, with a bit of extra guitar and backing vocals, so it is simple and stripped-back. A bit later Ian put his banjo on and that was it. I really like the energy and simplicity of it. It does sound a bit different to the other songs and it’s a new direction for us, which I’d like to take further and build on.
SC: Pete sings on it and he has just a natural ability to sound melancholy, but be darn catchy while doing it. I wake up with that song and Light Again in my head a lot.
Let’s talk about Light Again, which is the final song on the album. It’s about being world-weary – someone who is being dragged down by the toil of everyday life, but it’s ultimately an optimistic song isn’t it? It feels apt for these times.
SC: Yes – exactly. It’s about depression and how it’s circular. Dark times and good times. It’s a message of hope, of saying: ‘look you’re down now, but hang on, you’ll get through it’. I’ve gone through some bleak years recently, which I thought would crush me, but I’m still going. I’ve leant on songs my whole life. I hope we can prop someone up, if only for three minutes – that would mean everything.
In true Americana fashion, there’s a fair amount of melancholy, heartbreak and drinking on the album. When it comes to the drinking, I’m particularly thinking of the title track and Cowgirl of the County. What can you tell me about those songs?
SC: Barfly and Cowgirl are two sides of one coin. They are about how men in general deal with problems from the bottom of a jar. The character in Cowgirl realises he’s just like his dad but is rescued by love. The Barfly character has no such luck – he’s damaged and broken and lives out his days in a perma-neon lit gloom, where hope is for others. The guy and his ‘friends’ who live this life aren’t hopeless, but have resigned themselves to it – that is all there is for them.
Are you big drinkers?
SC: I used to drink heavily, but not now, as it doesn’t help me.
AH: I’ll give you the same answer I give my doctor – I enjoy a small sherry on the Queen’s birthday.
PB: I think we all like to have a drink to unwind sometimes.
Have you written and recorded any new songs during lockdown?
SC: I’ve written five new lyrics, which I’ve sent to Alan. He’s put them on the pile and I’m waiting to see how they’ll turn out.
AH: We’ve always got songs on the go. We recorded our EP in lockdown but didn’t write the songs at that time.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Will there be another single from the album? Will you be playing gigs when the live music scene returns?
SC: We have some songs we’ve already worked on that are lined up for another album – we’re getting them to a stage where we can record again. We want to play some gigs. There’s a country music festival in Wrexham at the end of August – I just hope it happens. We were looking at doing an Americana all-dayer at The New Continental – it may now have be a Christmas special.
AH: I don’t see another single coming from this album, so the next release will be something new. We had a couple of exciting gigs lined up that had to be postponed, so we’re looking forward to new dates for those.
You’re releasing your material on your own label, Greenhorse Records. Do you plan to sign any other artists to it?
SC: Yes. For now it’s a vehicle for West on Colfax, but I want to put out a compilation of the bands that have played our Americana night. In the future we’d love to put someone else’s record out, if we find the right album.
What’s been your lockdown soundtrack? Any recommendations?
PB: I’ve quite liked the quieter lifestyle to be honest, and having some time to be more relaxed and not rushing about everywhere. Music-wise, I spend a lot of time listening to our band or my own songs that I’m working on. Other than that I’ve been listening to The Jayhawks’ Tomorrow the Green Grass for the first time in a long while, and I’ve heard a bit of the new Jason Isbell album [Reunions], which is quite good. I’ve also been listening to Tennessee Square by Whiskeytown and I’ve really got into Sunflower Bean over the past couple of years. I think they’re a brilliant group – a fantastic rock ‘n’ roll band and great musicians and songwriters.
‘Our label, Greenhorse Records, is a vehicle for West on Colfax, but we’d love to put someone else’s record out, if we find the right album’
I heard Elephant Tree on the radio recently for the first time and I really like their new album Habits – it’s a bit like Alice In Chains meets Slowdive. It’s not very Americana, but I’m into any genre really, as long as it is good music and moves me.
I briefly met Joana Serrat after she supported The Delines in Bury last year and I picked up a copy of her record Dripping Springs, which is a great album. The songs are simple but well arranged and accompanied. It sounds very natural and immersive – she has a beautiful voice.
AH: There’s so much good, new music around and it’s so accessible that it’s hard to keep up. My daughter bought me the re-release of OK Computer on vinyl, which has rekindled my love of Radiohead so, yeah, I’ve been listening to a lot of Radiohead.
SC: Of late I’ve been listening to Dropkick – we want them to come to Preston, so we’ve discussed gig swapping in the future. I’ve been watching Peter Bruntnell’s home gigs streams, as well as Wilco gigs on YouTube, and I’ve been listening to Jeff Parker’s new LP, as well as various old stuff. I’ve made a Spotify playlist – some of the tunes that are helping us keep sane.
You can listen to West on Colfax’s lockdown soundtrack here.
Barflew Flew By (Greenhorse Records) is released on June 17.
From a haunting and cinematic masterpiece about love, loss, grief and existentialism to power-pop, New Wave, pastoral country-rock, Americana, lo-fi Beachboys sounds, psychedelic blues and dark disco, Say It With Garage Flowers chooses its favourite albums of 2019…
2019 was an emotional year for me – I became a dad for the first time. In March, my wife, Susie, gave birth to beautiful twin boys, Ronnie and Roddy, and our world changed forever… I’ve always been over-sensitive, but such a major life event left me feeling even more sentimental and soft-centred, which undoubtedly had a major influence on which album I would choose as my favourite record of the year – Ghosteen by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.
The first record he’d wholly written since the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015, and the third album in a loose trilogy, Ghosteen is a haunting and cinematic masterpiece.
Its lyrics tackle love, loss, grief and existentialism and are set to minimalist, otherworldly and ambient soundscapes for synth, piano and strings. At times, the songs are extremely harrowing, but also moving, beautiful and optimistic. A double album, Cave said of the record: “The songs on the first album are the children. The songs on the second album are their parents. Ghosteen is a migrating spirit.”
When I first heard it on an overcast October morning, I was astounded by the stunning opener, the mesmerising Spinning Song, reduced to tears by the second track, the piano ballad BrightHorses, and by the third song, the plaintive and hymn-like Waiting For You, I was in bits…
The album’s closing epic, Hollywood, which clocks in at just over 14 minutes, is one of the most astonishing pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s stripped-down, brooding and atmospheric, with eerie electronic effects, a ghostly choir and low, rumbling bass in the background – like waiting for an oncoming storm to strike… Ghosteen is truly stunning – a career high point.
Several of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite artists put out great albums in 2019. We’ve highlighted just a few of them below. There’s also a list of our 40 best albums of the year at the end of the article and an accompanying Spotify playlist – we’re really spoiling you…
English husband and wife duo The Rails – James Walbourne and Kami Thompson – released their best long-player yet. Cancel The Sun – their third record – was produced by Stephen Street (The Smiths, Morrissey, Blur) and saw them moving further away from their folk-rock roots – Kami is the daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson – cranking up the electric guitars and embracing power-pop and New Wave, (Call Me When It All Goes Wrong, Ball and Chain, Waiting On Something); ‘60s-style country-soul (Something Is Slipping My Mind) and Beatlesy psychedelia (the title track).
‘Hollywood is one of the most astonishing pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s stripped-down, brooding and atmospheric, with eerie electronic effects, a ghostly choir and low, rumbling bass in the background’
Their gorgeous trademark harmonies were still in place and there were some folky ballads (Mossy Well and Leave Here Alone), but this time around, James, whose other job is as the guitarist in The Pretenders, really cut loose and pushed his extraordinary playing to the fore.
Cancel The Sun was very instant and direct – it didn’t mess around and had a harder, poppier feel than their last two records. Speaking to us earlier this year, Kami said: “This time, we didn’t rule anything out – we just wanted to make a bigger record.”
Commenting on working with Stephen Street, James said: “We wanted someone a bit different – who would take it forward – and who had perhaps more of a rock edge. We were thinking of the sound of Graham Coxon’s [Blur guitarist] solo records – in-your-face guitar.”
When we told James that we thought they’d made their best yet, he said: “That’s very kind of you – I appreciate that. After you make a record, there comes a point when just you don’t have a f***ing clue about what you’ve just done. This record is a truer reflection of what we listen to.”
James also cropped up on two of Say It With Garage Flowers’ other favourite albums of 2019 – he played guitar on two tracks on Spread The Feeling, the long-awaited new record by the Pernice Brothers, which was a brilliant mix of Smiths and New Order-like jangle-pop, ’80s US New Wave and melancholy Americana, and also turned in a neat guitar solo on the country-folk song You Can Help Me, which featured on Manchester crooner Nev Cottee’s latest album – the superb River’s Edge, which was influenced by ’70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Waits, and had an optimistic, mellow and pastoral feel. Produced by Mason Neely (Wilco, Edwyn Collins), River’s Edge was a beautiful album. Highlights included Nightingale, a nocturnal, Tom Waitsian lullaby with piano and brass, and the Nancy and Lee-esque ballad Roses – a duet with mysterious guest vocalist Veronica, who sounded like Nico. The first single, Hello Stranger, was cinematic psych-rock, with a [Cortez the] killer, Neil Young-style electric guitar solo.
‘Nev Cottee’s latest album, the superb River’s Edge, was influenced by ’70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Waits, and had an optimistic, mellow and pastoral feel’
Talking to Say It With Garage Flowers about the album, Nev said: “I wanted to do something that was acoustic-based and had a few piano songs – to take it into Neil Young territory, but, in the end, it didn’t end up like that, as other influences got in the way. Ultimately, what I found out is that only Neil Young can do Neil Young songs and I’ve got to do mine…”
Cottee was part of the stellar cast of artists who contributed to this year’s two albums by the Monks Road Social collective – Down The Willows and Out Of Bounds – headed up by Blow Monkeys frontman Dr. Robert.
Recorded over two 10-day sessions in the residential Monnow Valley Studio in Monmouth, Wales, the records are two of the most eclectic collections of songs you’re ever likely to hear – from jazzy comedown ballads to Balearic beats, to soul, psych-rock, folk, drum and bass, country, blues, indie-rock and funk, they’re a melting pot of musical ideas and feature a seriously impressive line-up of guests.
Over the two albums, Dr. Robert’s collaborators include – wait for it, take a deep breath… singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams; Matt Deighton, guitarist and frontman of ‘90s acid-jazz outfit Mother Earth, who’s played with Paul Weller and Oasis; keyboardist Mick Talbot of The Style Council; drummer Steve White (The Style Council and Paul Weller); UK blues singer Angelina; Dick Taylor of ‘60s rockers The Pretty Things; Northern Irish artist Pat Dam Smyth; Brand New Heavies vocalist Sulene Fleming; London-based singer Samantha Whates; Midlands mod-soul band Stone Foundation; Nev Cottee; orchestral arranger Ben Trigg (Richard Ashcroft and Dexys Midnight Runners) and percussionist and programmer Steve Sidelnyk – to name but a few…
Dr. Robert oversaw the production of the albums and was also responsible for writing – and co-writing – many of the tracks, some of which are new versions of songs that have appeared on his solo albums, while others were penned especially for the project, or brought to the table by those involved. The Monks Road Social collective are playing their first ever live show, in London, at the Jazz Cafe, in 2020, and Say It With Garage Flowers hopes to be there.
‘The Monks Road Social records are two of the most eclectic collections of songs you’re ever likely to hear – from jazzy comedown ballads to Balearic beats, to soul, psych-rock, folk, drum and bass, country, blues, indie-rock and funk, they’re a melting pot of musical ideas’
Telling us about the making of both the records, Dr. Robert said: “We recorded both albums in separate 10-day sessions in Monnow Valley Studios, down in Monmouth.
“They were pretty intense sessions, but since my only vice these days is coffee, I was up for it! I did quite a bit of preparation beforehand, because I knew it would be crazy, and, if I didn’t have a plan, it could have all gone a bit Pete Tong…”
He added: “As we began to assemble the players, something kicked in and we were drawn together by intrigue and a mutual love of playing music for its own sake. That bit was important – there has to be joy and a spark – the gold dust is in the groove…”
Isle of Wight-based singer-songwriter Angelina – part of Monks Road Social – released her second album, Last Cigarette, this year.
Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, it was raw, visceral, menacing and angry – a heavy and psychedelic, garage-rock blues record that was a lethal cocktail of dirt, dust, diesel and Louisiana swamp juice.
Scorching opener, Throw Petrol At The Sun, had an oily, clanking rhythm and manic, trippy flute, first single, Devil’s Wishing Well, was built on a funky, Beck-like groove, See Through Dress was a smouldering, late-night tale of getting revenge on a soon-to-be ex-lover – she takes his last cigarette and stubs it out on the dress he bought her – and the riotous, rock ‘n’ roll gospel-soul of God Bless The Road was inspired by playing a gig in a Berlin biker bar, with bonfires burning outside.
‘Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, Last Cigarette was raw, visceral, menacing and angry – a heavy and psychedelic, garage-rock blues record that was a lethal cocktail of dirt, dust, diesel and Louisiana swamp juice’
The album saw Angelina reunited with Rupert Brown (drums, percussion, auto harp and backing vocals), who worked on her debut album, 2016’s folky and rootsy Vagabond Saint, but this time around she recruited ace electric and slide guitarist Barrie Cadogan (Little Barrie, Primal Scream, Edwyn Collins), and The James Hunter Six’s Jason Wilson on double bass.
Session musicians Joe Glossop (keys) and Gary Plumley (flute) were also along for the ride, as were five singers from the People’s Choir of St Louis.
Speaking about the influences behind the album, Angelina said: “I love the sound – and the truth – of those early blues artists, like Blind Willie Johnson, Ma Rainey and Charley Patton, but it wasn’t a conscious design to make a blues record – that was just what came out naturally…”
She added: “I always try and walk on the sunny side of the street, but I do have a habit of finding the shadows…”
Another artist who is no stranger to the darker side of life is gravel-voiced Mark Lanegan, who released his eleventh studio album, Somebody’s Knocking, in 2019.
On the track Penthouse High, he sang: “There’s ghosts inside this house…” It sounded as if the place was haunted by the spectre of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, as the Manchester post-punk band – and the outfit they morphed into, New Order – were two of the most obvious influences at work on this record. Name and Number was powered by a doomy, Peter Hook-style bassline, which also sounded like The Cure, Playing Nero was all ’80s synths and drum machines and Dark Disco Jag had a sinister electro groove.
Lanegan also made another album this year – Downwelling, which was attributed to Not Waving and Dark Mark. A collaboration with experimental producer Alessio Natalizia, it explored dark electronic territory and served as a great companion piece to Somebody’s Knocking.
Now for something a bit lighter… Summer Deluxe, the fifth solo album by Hampshire-based, UK singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Mike Gale, was one of the most gorgeous records Say It With Garage Flowers heard this year.
‘On the track Penthouse High, Lanegan sang: “There’s ghosts inside this house…” It sounded as if the place was haunted by the spectre of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis…’
Adding samples of strings, piano and organ to drum machines, synths, guitars and harmonies, Mike, formerly of Americana band Co-pilgrim and, before them, cult noughties indie-slackers Black Nielson, crafted a blissed-out, lo-fi summer soundtrack that was heavily influenced by The Beach Boys.
There were pure pop moments (Jump Start My Heart and Shoot Shoot The Needle), wonky synth sounds (You Know How I’m Feeling Now) and jazzy tinges (Every Cloud Has A Cloudy Lining), but lurking beneath the sunny, surf’s up melodies, there was an undertow of sadness and world-weariness.
‘There were pure pop moments and jazzy tinges, but lurking beneath the sunny, surf’s up melodies, there was an undertow of sadness and world-weariness’
This year’s follow-up, Time Out For Tomorrow, was another album that we fell in love with. From the Dylanesque country-rock of first single Canvas of Gold – with slide guitar and organ – to the melancholy, piano-led ballad That Ain’t Here, the blues-folk of Burchell Lake – inspired by a ghost town in Ontario – and the haunting and cinematic mountain tune, Survived Like A Stone – with fiddle and saw – these were raw, powerful and emotional songs.
Asked about the sound of the new album, Jerry told us: “It’s a nice, short and sweet, lean and mean record. Two records I really dug the sound of that I wanted to capture on this record were Nick Lowe’s TheImpossible Bird and one of my favourite Lou Reed albums, Coney Islnd Baby – I love that dry drum sound and the real directness of it. Some of the songs just coast along. I also like a lot of Nick Lowe’s older records with Rockpile, where he doubled the electric guitar solos. I doubled my vocals on some songs.”
Here There’s No Sirens, the debut solo album by Pete Gow (ex-Case Hardin) was a brilliant collection of stripped-down, intimate and very personal songs, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, brass, piano, drums and organ.
Produced by multi-instrumentalist Joe Bennett, (Dreaming Spires, Co-Pilgrim, Raving Beauties / Paul McClure) at Farm Music Studios in Oxfordshire and released on Clubhouse Records, it was both beautiful and unsettling. Opener One Last One NightStand set the tone for most of the record – it was a big, honest, relationship ballad with a breathtaking cinematic backing, while the song Mikaela sounded like early Ryan Adams, but with mournful horns and sweeping strings.
‘Here There’s No Sirens, the debut solo album by Pete Gow, was a brilliant collection of stripped-down, intimate and very personal songs, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, brass, piano, drums and organ’
There were also character songs – the majestic Some Old Jacobite King was steeped in the storytelling tradition and was inspired by a trip to the remote Isle of Skye, while Strip For Me centred on a guy who treats women in a thoroughly unpleasant way – and it name checked porn actress and stripper Stormy Daniels, who was involved in a scandal with U.S. President Donald Trump. Pete Gow also released a limited edition seven-track mini album called The Fragile Line in 2019 – it too was one of our favourite records of the year.
Another Americana album we enjoyed this year was Carousel, by UK singer-songwriter Luke Tuchscherer. A stark and moody solo acoustic record – guitar, voice and harmonica – that was laid down in one day at a studio in New Jersey, it didn’t shy away from addressing political and social issues and was inspired by Neil Young and Bob Dylan.
Opener, My Darling England, dealt with social issues, including class and national identity – the song was written 15 years ago, but, in these troubled times and with the spectre of Brexit looming over us, it was eerily prescient: ‘Now the streets are filled with shadows, every house has its own ghost. The people are growing restless – never getting what they want the most…’
Violets tackled domestic abuse, Potash was penned during the Iraq War and The Night Tom Petty Died documented how one of Luke’s musical inspirations passed away just as he’d moved to New York from the UK: ‘Sitting at the bar in the Tribeca Tavern, on the jukebox was Learning To Fly – a beer cost more than I could spend. I wished that I was home…’
‘A stark and moody solo acoustic record that was laid down in one day at a studio in New Jersey, Carousel didn’t shy away from addressing political and social issues’
Luke cited Neil Young and Dylan, specifically The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album, as his reference points for the record, as well as Townes Van Zandt and Elliott Smith, but, at times, it also reminded us of Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 masterpiece Nebraska – our favourite album by The Boss.
2019 was a decent year for new music, but a bad one for politics, however, some good did come out of the current dire state of the UK, as West Midlands-based singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar was inspired to write While You Still Can – a socio-political album that took a wry look at the situation the country found itself in. This time around, he made a harder, darker and rockier record with a political edge and plenty of social commentary, but he didn’t dispatch with the vintage pop culture references that we know – and love – him for.
Man Out Of Time was rollicking country-blues with a lyric about the ’70s glam rock years of his youth, while Culture Vulture’s Led Zep-inspired riffs were a nod to his Black Country rock roots. The synth-heavy Ministry Of Fate concerned itself with government media blackouts, Scarecrows was Bowie-esque, robotic funk meets plastic soul and the post-punk, heavy indie-rock of Pop Music For Ugly People tackled political opportunism and personal greed.
‘2019 was a decent year for new music, but a bad one for politics, however, some good did come out of the current dire state of the UK – Vinny Peculiar was inspired to write While You Still Can – a socio-political album that took a wry look at the situation the country found itself in’
Question Time – Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite track – was a Smiths-like, jangly pop song, but with a lyric about a missing female politician, told from the point of view of a suspect under interrogation.
In an interview with Say It With Garage Flowers, Vinny said: “It’s impossible to avoid politics nowadays – things are so polarised, opinions so righteous, news feeds ever omnipresent… This album is a reaction, in parts, to all that and from speaking to people on the sharp end of this Government’s austerity programme – teachers, nurses and shop workers. These are torrid times.”
With Brexit looming, who knows what 2020 will bring, but, rest assured, I’m confident that, like 2019, it will be another great year for new music. I’ve already had a sneak preview of three albums that are due out in 2020 – no spoilers here – but it’s safe to say that they’ll be high up on Say It With Garage Flowers’ list of our favourite records of next year…. In the meantime, here’s our 40 best albums of 2019 and a Spotify playlist to go with them. It’s been emotional…
Say It With Garage Flowers: Best Albums of 2019
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
The Rails – Cancel The Sun
Nev Cottee – River’s Edge
Pernice Brothers – Spread The Feeling
Peter Bruntnell – King of Madrid
Richard Hawley – Further
Pete Gow – Here There’s No Sirens
The Delines – The Imperial
Jerry Leger – Time Out For Tomorrow
The Lilac Time – Return To Us
Morrissey – California Son
Pete Gow – The Fragile Line
Vinny Peculiar – While You Still Can
Those Pretty Wrongs – Zed For Zulu
Monks Road Social – Out of Bounds
PP Arnold – The New Adventures of PP Arnold
Angelina – Last Cigarette
Mercury Rev – Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited
Mark Lanegan – Somebody’s Knocking
Monks Road Social – Down The Willows
Mike Gale – Summer Deluxe
Luke Tuchsherer – Carousel
The Rockingbirds – More Rockingbirds
RW Hedges – The Hills Are Old Songs
Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
Steve Gunn – The Unseen In Between
Nocturum – The After Life
Wilco – Ode To Joy
The National – I Am Easy To Find
Elbow – Giants of All Sizes
Jeremy Squires – Poem
Whoa Melodic – Whoa Melodic
Not Waving & Dark Mark – Downwelling
John Howard – Cut The Wire
Edwyn Collins – Badbea
Iggy Pop – Free
GospelBeacH- Let It Burn
Lucette – Deluxe Hotel Room
Hannah Rose Platt – Letters Under Floorboards
Hurricane #1 – Buddha At The Gas Pump
•Please note – at the time of writing, Spread The Feeling by Pernice Brothers, The Fragile Line by Pete Gow and More Rockingbirds by The Rockingbirds are not available on Spotify.
Is there a doctor in the house? There is, actually – it’s Dr. Robert from pop-soulsters The Blow Monkeys, but, this time around, he’s here to tell us about his latest project, masterminding the loose, musical collective that’s Monks Road Social, who’ve made two of the most diverse and richly rewarding albums of 2019…
Down The Willows and Out Of Bounds, the two albums released this year by the Monks Road Social collective, headed up by Blow Monkeys frontman Dr. Robert, have been on the Say It With Garage Flowers office hi-fi a hell of a lot over the past few weeks.
Recorded over two 10-day sessions in the residential Monnow Valley Studio in Monmouth, Wales, the records are two of the most eclectic collections of songs we’ve ever heard – from jazzy comedown ballads to Balearic beats, to soul, psych-rock, folk, drum and bass, country, blues, indie-rock and funk, they’re a melting pot of musical ideas and feature a seriously impressive line-up of guests.
Over the two albums, Dr. Robert’s collaborators include – wait for it, take a deep breath… singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams; Matt Deighton, guitarist and frontman of ‘90s acid-jazz outfit Mother Earth, who’s played with Paul Weller and Oasis; keyboardist Mick Talbot of The Style Council; drummer Steve White (The Style Council and Paul Weller); UK blues singer Angelina; Dick Taylor of ‘60s rockers The Pretty Things; Northern Irish artist Pat Dam Smyth; Brand New Heavies vocalist Sulene Fleming; London-based singer Samantha Whates; Midlands mod-soul band Stone Foundation; Mancunian crooner Nev Cottee; orchestral arranger Ben Trigg (Richard Ashcroft and Dexys Midnight Runners) and percussionist and programmer Steve Sidelnyk – to name but a few…
Dr. Robert oversaw the production of the albums and was also responsible for writing – and co-writing – many of the tracks, some of which are new versions of songs that have appeared on his solo albums, while others were penned especially for the project, or brought to the table by those involved.
Say It With Garage Flowers got an appointment with Dr. Robert, who lives in Spain, and asked him to tell us the inside story of the Monks Road Social sessions…
How did the Monks Road Social project come about? Was it your idea?
Dr. Robert: It’s the brainchild of Richard Clarke, the owner of Monks Road Records. I am but a humble midwife. He asked me if I thought it would work. I said ‘no’, but, then, as usual, I slept on it and changed my mind.
I wasn’t sure what ‘it’ was, but, as we began to assemble the players, something else kicked in and we were drawn together by intrigue and a mutual love of playing music for its own sake. That bit was important – there has to be joy and a spark – the gold dust is in the groove…
Both of the albums are very eclectic – there’s folk, soul, blues-rock, psych, Balearic beats, pop, drum and bass… Was the idea to put everything into a melting pot and see what came out, or did you have a definite plan?
DR: No plan. Just let the music lead you. You can’t go wrong, as long as the intention is right. Music for its own sake – then let the universe decide.
Crispin Taylor [assistant producer and drummer – Galliano] plays a vital role in all this, too. He lays down a phenomenal groove, which is a great place to start, but he’s also more than that. I’m always bouncing ideas to and fro with him – he has great instincts.
You’ve worked with a lot of musicians on the project. How did you choose who to collaborate with?
DR: I had a core of friends in mind that I knew would work – people I knew I could get first takes from and who were prepared to wade in a little deeper than was comfortable: Crispin, Mick Talbot, Ernie McKone [bass player – Galliano] and Jacko Peake [saxophonist].
Steve Sidelnyk used to play with The Blow Monkeys, before going on to bigger things, and then there was the masterful Steve White, who I’ve known and worked with many times over the years, and the fabulous Matt Deighton, who I barely knew, but became great friends with.
They are all friends and brilliant musicians. And then I got to meet and work with so much exciting new talent, which I love the most. It shouldn’t work, but it does, as long as everyone buys into the collective idea and lets the music lead them.
How were the recording sessions for both of the albums?
DR: We recorded both albums in separate 10-day sessions in Monnow Valley Studios, down in Monmouth. They were pretty intense sessions, but since my only vice these days is coffee, I was up for it!
There was lots of laughter. Matt Deighton, in particular, is a hoot, and Mick Talbot is a master of the understatement and a fount of knowledge. My main concern was to keep things flowing – there were so many songs and artists in such a short period.
I did quite a bit of preparation beforehand, because I knew it would be crazy, and, if I didn’t have a plan, it could have all gone a bit Pete Tong…
‘They were pretty intense sessions, but since my only vice these days is coffee, I was up for it!’
There’s a mixture of new versions of old songs, including some written by you, as well as brand new material. How did you choose which songs made the final cut?
DR: Well, if I’m honest, one of the things that initially attracted me was the idea of having different singers try my songs, as well as other people’s.
I would talk through the selection with Richard and in the end it was about instinct. Matt brought some great material to the sessions and then people like Pat Dam Smyth and Angelina have their own distinctive writing styles.
Miles Copeland from [record label] Wonderfulsound got involved too, with his unique perspective and his trusty Omnichord.
Is it strange effectively masterminding new versions of your songs and having them reinvented and reinterpreted? Do you enjoy it?
DR: I love it. I always thought Stone Foundation would be perfect for The Coming Of Grace and it was a thrill to hear a song like This Is Nowhere come to life with the beautiful voice of Samantha Whates. It’s the same with Sycamore Tree – Angelina was born to sing that song!
As for OK! Have It Your Way, Sulene Fleming tore it up! Like some lost Northern Soul classic. She also did an amazing job on Bottomless Pit, which takes a certain sensitivity to sing. She has such a range.
Also, I’ve got to mention Kathryn Williams, who popped in for a couple of days. She’s such a genuine person and a great songwriter. It was lovely to sing with her on I Ain’t Running Anymore.
Do you have some favourite songs from the project?
DR: I was knocked out by the version of Lost In Rasa we did. Ben Trigg, who does the strings, is a genius and Matt’s lead guitar on that track is magical. Golden Day, too, with Angelina…what a voice.
From the new album [Out of Bounds], it’s If It Was All Down To Me from Hague & White – I love Joel’s voice. Also, Honey Rise by Romy Deighton – a neo-soul classic. Matt’s daughter is an amazing young talent. But, honestly, my favourite changes every day. The diversity on the albums is a strength, not a weakness.
Nev Cottee is someone I’ve written about a lot – he’s a great singer-songwriter and a brilliant vocalist. How was he to work with? Can you tell me more about the two songs he sings lead vocals on: Still Got A Lot To Learn and Nobody Knows Anything? They’re two of my favourites from the sessions…
DR: Nev is a bit of a mystery to me. He ghosted in one day to sing on Still Got A Lot To Learn and did an amazing job, so I wrote Nobody Knows Anything with his baritone voice in mind.
He sang it remotely from some distant island in the Indian Ocean, apparently… at least I like to think so… Again, he did a fantastic job. His voice is a wonder – people will make comparisons, but he’s unique and it’s from his heart.
Angelina is another great singer and songwriter…
DR: She was a real light around the place and she makes fantastic cakes, too! I just love her voice – it’s like an Appalachian blues-country singer, from China, via the Isle of Wight.
We bonded over a love of blues and we could sit and jam on two acoustic guitars all day. In fact, we plan to one day soon and record the results.
The Coming Of Grace is one of my favourite songs of yours? Can you tell me more about it? How was it to tackle it again, with Stone Foundation?
DR: I wrote it back in 1993, when Michele [my wife] and I and our two very young kids left London to live in a remote hamlet in Oxfordshire called Newbottle. It was an appropriate name, as I was drinking too much.
The song was originally called Dylan Thomas In Reverse, as I wanted to play with his ‘rage against the dying of the light’ line.
I was out of my depth, really, but somewhere in my subconscious I knew that the ego-driven destiny would lead me up the garden path. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn.
I love So Long Soho, from Down The Willows. It sounds like the best song Ray Davies never wrote…
DR: It was written by the wonderful and very talented Pat Dam Smyth and was a piano demo he had that we all added to.
Crispin did an amazing job playing drums over the original demo. Lyrically, it’s brilliant. You’re right about the Ray Davies influence, but it’s way beyond pastiche – it’s heartfelt and special.
Is there another Monks Road Social album in the offing? Volume Three?
DR: Yes – I’m just mixing it now and it’s a corker. It was recorded here in Spain at my friend Youth’s studio, at the height of the Andalusian summer. I can’t say too much yet, but there are some major surprises on it.
‘Brexit was an emotional response and I get it, although I disagree vehemently with it. The retreat to nationalism is depressing and we have to fight it’
As a producer, who else would you like to work with – and why?
DR: Tom Waits. I’d just look and learn.
So what’s next for you? Have you got another solo record planned, or a new Blow Monkeys album?
DR: A Blow Monkeys album, I think. I’m in the mood and I still love playing live with the band – it’s the best thing about it all.
Earlier this year, you released the Cosmic Mayhem EP, which was made up of songs you’d written and played on a vintage Casiotone keyboard. Will you be firing up the instrument again anytime soon?
DR: I may sneak out a Casiotone part two EP, as I enjoyed it so much. I’m lucky – I can do whatever I like right now.
As someone who lives in Spain, and who’s written political songs, what’s your take on Brexit?
DR: Brexit was an emotional response and I get it, although I disagree vehemently with it. The real problem was years of neglect and austerity – not Europe or immigration. The retreat to nationalism is depressing and we have to fight it.
Finally, what music – new and old – are you currently enjoying?
DR: Sons Of Kemet blow me away. I’m rather keen on Sarah Vaughan, too.
The Monks Road Social albums Down The Willows (Wonderfulsound) and Out Of Bounds (Monks Road Records) are out now.
Manchester singer-songwriter Nev Cottee’s new album, River’s Edge, is a beautiful, pastoral record that’s influenced by the countryside, ’70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Waits.
He tells Say It With Garage Flowers why he’s had enough of the city and how he likes to write songs sat in his garden, strumming his acoustic guitar, listening to the birds…
When we last spoke to Nev Cottee, in 2017, the Mancunian singer-songwriter with a rich baritone voice that plumbs the same depths as Lee Hazlewood, had just made Broken Flowers – his darkest album to date.
Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, it wasn’t an easy listen. Heavy at times, it was moody, melancholy and psychedelic, with lengthy songs swathed in dramatic orchestral arrangements and haunting vintage synth sounds.
This time around, for his fourth album, River’s Edge, he’s in a much better place emotionally, and the music reflects that. A pastoral record, it sees Nev getting back to nature and at peace with himself. It’s much lighter than its predecessor.
Produced by regular collaborator Mason Neely (Wilco, Edwyn Collins), it’s a beautiful album. Opener, the nocturnal, Tom Waitsian piano and brass lullaby Nightingale takes the listener down to the river’s edge and from there we’re on a journey into gorgeous, Nancy and Lee-style balladry with Roses, which is a duet with guest vocalist Veronica, who sounds like Nico; and then plunged into cinematic psych-rock, with the first single, Hello Stranger.
The sublime I’m Still Here is laced with late-night pedal steel by Chris Hillman (Billy Bragg, Ethan Johns), while The Hollywood Sign recalls vintage Neil Young, The country-folk of You Can Help Me, featuring James Walbourne (The Rails, The Pretenders) on guitar, also mines ’70s Laurel Canyon, with its Crosby, Stills & Nash three-part harmonies, and the chilled-out, optimistic Morning Sun sees Nev leaving the darkness behind to embrace a brand new day… “Here I am, back in the game,” he sings, over a warm backing of simple acoustic guitar and tinkling piano.
In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers quizzes him about the making of the new record…
Q & A
This album is a lot mellower and much lighter than its predecessor, Broken Flowers. You sound more contented on this record…
Nev Cottee: If you compare it with Broken Flowers, this album is easier on the ear – it’s less arranged and orchestral, and the songs are shorter. It’s more concise – the songs follow a traditional pattern. I wanted to get away from that Broken Flowers thing – I’d done that – and the songs just came that way. It was time to move on.
The four albums are a bit of journey – out of a relationship and reaching a promised land, a place of sanctuary. I had that idea in mind – the river’s edge is a place where everyone wants to be, whiling away the afternoon, as the water trickles by.
I’ve reached a plateau where I’m content, but that doesn’t necessarily create great art, does it? Let’s see… I can only do what I can do.
So how did you approach this record?
NC: In a way, I just wanted to make a Neil Young record. I was listening to Comes A Time, On The Beach, Zuma and After The Goldrush – that classic ‘70s Neil Young period.
Comes A Time is a really underrated album – it was a massive inspiration. Some of the songs aren’t finished on that record – on first listen, you think it’s a bit throwaway, but the songs are so good…
I wanted to do something that was acoustic-based and had a few piano songs – to take it into Neil Young territory, but, in the end, it didn’t end up like that, as other influences got in the way. Ultimately, what I found out is that only Neil Young can do Neil Young songs and I’ve got to do mine.
With Neil Young, it’s all about the voice. Obviously the tunes are great, but once you put his voice on them… It would be interesting to see what his songs would sound like with a normal range vocal on them. Would they be as good? Probably not – they wouldn’t be as unique, would they? Anyway, I digress…
Would you say River’s Edge is a concept album?
NC: It’s not a concept album – they always run away from you… There are those classic ones, where the mood is maintained and it’s a concise piece that all adds up, but, if you’re just writing songs, you have to restrict yourself if it’s going to be a concept album. In the end you just go off in several directions… It’s loosely based on a pastoral, bucolic idea behind the songs, but then you’ve got Hello Stranger, which is completely different to the title track… You’ve just got to follow each individual song to where it takes you.
Let’s talk about Hello Stranger. It’s the first single from the album. Ironically, it’s one of the moodier songs on the record. It sounds like it could’ve come from Broken Flowers, with its cinematic, psych-rock feel…
NC: Yeah – I had a few two or three tracks that were quite acoustic and piano-based, but I wanted a few songs that we could go for it on and get the electric guitars out! In the end, I lost a couple of them because they didn’t sit well on the album – they’re in the vaults, so I might drag them out.
Hello Stranger really worked – I love it. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album. I like the lyric – it explains the moving on from Broken Flowers – it’s all about the past fading away and all those memories becoming less intense…
I think the song has real power. We got the guitar nailed on that – we were taking inspiration from Neil Young and trying to channel him. The guitarist is Alex Foote, who played on the last album. He’s American and a friend of Mason Neely’s – he just gets my thing.
Nick McCabe from The Verve played on the album sessions. Is he on the record?
NC: He’s on the two tracks that I dropped – he did some amazing stuff, that was classic McCabe, but he’s not on the album. I’ve spoken to him about doing some gigs – he’s always up to something. Fingers crossed – that could be one for the future. Get him up on stage and see what happens. Watch this space.
‘The river’s edge is a place where everyone wants to be, whiling away the afternoon, as the water trickles by’
Earlier, you mentioned the pastoral and bucolic feel that some of the songs have. You live in a city – Manchester. Are you a country boy at heart? Was this album a deliberate reaction to your urban living?
NC: It definitely was. I’ve lived in Manchester for 20 years on and off. I’ve had enough of the city – I think it’s an age thing. The city is a young man’s game – I want to get out. I don’t really go out much – I do like the hustle and bustle of the daytime, but more often than not, when it’s a decent day, I get out of Manchester. It’s a very dark, foreboding and shadowy city – you’ve got to get on a bus or a train and get out of there. I’m a child of nature – I’ve got a garden and I love going walking in Derbyshire. It’s definitely more of an inspiration at the moment, but who knows?
You wrote some of Broken Flowers while you were in India. Where did you write this album?
NC: In Majorca and in my garden, which is out of town [Manchester] – there’s no river there, but that’s my equivalent place. I like playing the guitar outside – it’s different from strumming in a room and you get the birds singing. A lot of the songs were written out in the open, so maybe that was an unintentional influence.
‘Manchester is a very dark, foreboding and shadowy city – I want to get out. I’m a child of nature’
Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album… Nightingale opens the record. It’s gorgeous and has a late night, Tom Waits feel. I love the brass and the piano…
NC: Yeah, Tom Waits, as well as Neil Young, is a massive influence. There’s a triple album he did called Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards. For me, it’s one of his best albums. The Bawlers part of the album is up there with anything else he’s ever done – there are some stunning tracks on there – loads of outtakes that he had never released. I always listen to it late at night. I kept listening to it and listening to it. He’s one of the great songwriters. I wanted the opening song to set the scene and take you down to the river’s edge, with the moon, the nighttime and birds singing.
Roses is one of my favourite songs on the record. It’s a duet with a mysterious girl named Veronica and it reminds me of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. I also think the female vocal sounds like Nico…
NC:Roses is going to be the second single – a 7in on Wonderfulsound. I was going to get Tess Parks to sing on it. She did a vocal on an early incarnation of the song, but it didn’t have the right flavour. I befriended the mysterious Veronica, of whom we know very little, other than that she is a Nico-inspired chanteuse from Madrid. I got her to sing on it – it’s a really delicate, sweet vocal. I really like the juxtaposition. It’s the first time I’ve done a duet, but there maybe more to come from Veronica…
I’m Still Here is a country song and features Chris Hillman (Billy Bragg, Ethan Johns) on pedal steel…
NC: This was originally supposed to be a Dylanesque jazz boogie like Spirit On The Water [from Modern Times]. We had a nice version and then Chris Hillman got his hands on it and ruined it! Hah! No – he slowed it all down and did an amazing version that was even better. It’s lovely and it’s a great performance – the best one on the album.
The song The Hollywood Sign mentions ‘prairie wind’ in the lyric. Is that a nod to the Neil Young album and song of the same name?
NC: It’s my homage to Neil Young – it also has a Crosby, Stills & Nash Helplessly Hoping vibe, with the guitar picking. It’s a nod to the great man, Neil Young – everyone goes on about Dylan, but if you look at Neil Young’s back catalogue, he’s definitely the greatest rock ‘n’roll singer-songwriter there is. No one else has written a song like Old Man and a song like Like A Hurricane – a well-crafted country tune and a rock ‘n’ roll song with amazing wig-out guitar.
‘I befriended the mysterious Veronica, of whom we know little about, other than that she is a Nico-inspired chanteuse from Madrid’
You Can Help Me has a Neil Young and Crosby, Stills & Nash feel, too, and James Walbourne (The Rails and The Pretenders) plays guitar on it…
NC: I wanted to get that Crosby, Stills & Nash three-part harmony. James was playing in Manchester and he managed to whack an overdub down. I’d love to do something live with him, but he’s the busiest man in showbiz – he’s in about 40 bands! Let’s see, eh? One day…
You’ve been working with some great musicians recently….
NC: You’ve got to search out the great players – Hillman, McCabe and Walbourne… That’s not a bad line-up, is it? We need to get a supergroup off the ground and call it Hillman, McCabe and Walbourne – keep it old school.
You recorded the album in Manchester in two weeks. How were the sessions?
NC: I had the demos for quite a while. I’m quite meticulous, in that I’ll demo, then I’ll do another demo and fine tune it… I keep going, crafting it… I sent the songs to Mason and he said we had two weeks to do it – 9 to 5, clocking in. We worked throughout the day, drinking loads of tea – we worked really hard, we kept it real and we got a lot of stuff done. We did it at Vibe Studios in Manchester, which is owned by Martin Coogan [The Mock Turtles], who’s a mate of mine. It’s New Order’s old rehearsal room and Doves used to rehearse there, as well. It was great – Mason is a grafter and I trust him implicitly in that he will know where to take a song. That’s the job of a great producer – to make suggestions, throw you ideas and see if you can do them. The man came up with the goods.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any gigs?
NC: Yes – there will be gigs. I’m hoping to play Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and London. There’s a gig in Madrid lined up and I think I’m going to go to Paris.
You contributed to the recent Monks Road Social album, Down The Willows, – singing a Dr Robert [The Blow Monkeys] song called Still Got A Lot To Learn. Any more collaborations in the offing? How was the Monks Road Social project? The album has a lot of great musicians on it, including Matt Deighton (Mother Earth), Dr Robert, Steve White and Mick Talbot (The Style Council)…
NC: They’re a good crowd – all really nice people. We recorded it in Wales, in Monnow Valley Studio and I’ve also done another song with Dr Robert – he sent it over and I added the vocal. I don’t know what the plan is with that yet. I think there’s going to be another Monks Road Social album and there’s talk of doing a gig with guest singers. Robert’s great – it’s kind of weird, having grown up in the ’80s and seen him on Top Of The Pops. He’s a genuinely talented, warm and nice geezer.
What music are you listening to at the moment, old and new?
NC: Good question. I was listening to Aldous Harding the other day and getting into that. I’ve been listening to a lot of Gruff Rhys – he never gets the credit he deserves, does he? His last album [Babelsberg] was brilliant. I’ve also got into Kurt Vile’s last album [Bottle It In] and Kevin Morby, and I got into a bit of Joni Mitchell recently. Also, check out Matthew Halsall – a jazz guy from Manchester. He’s good.
Finally, you’re stood at the river’s edge – do you jump in?
NC: Never jump in – you don’t know what’s in there. It could be dangerous. For me, it’s safety first, fun later. I’m a side of the river guy – I’m sat there watching and listening. I’m not one of those wild swimmers. You won’t catch me naked in a river.
This year has been a remarkable one for new music – in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the greatest in the history of Say It With Garage Flowers, which launched in the summer of 2009.
Most of my favourite contemporary singer-songwriters and bands unleashed new albums in 2017 and I was lucky enough to interview several of them to find out the stories behind the songs.
Sadly, I haven’t been able to arrange an in-depth chat with the man whose album has made the top-spot in this year’s ‘Best Of’ list, although we did come very close to doing an interview a few weeks ago, but it got postponed at the last minute. I live in hope that we can rearrange it for next year – both of us dearly want it to happen…
In the meantime, I will have to be content with listening to his latest record, A Short History of Decay, which is my favourite album of 2017.
The second solo record by John Murry – an American singer-songwriter who was raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, but now lives in Kilkenny, Ireland – A Short History of Decay is the follow-up to his 2012 masterpiece, The Graceless Age – one of the greatest records of the last few years.
Back in 2012, I said of The Graceless Age:‘It’s a deeply personal work that deals with the darker side of life, including drug addiction, loss and loneliness – it’s one of those records that’s meant to be listened to on headphones, alone, late at night, as it draws you in with its lush orchestration, gorgeous, spiralling melodies and twisted tales. Misery seldom sounded so sublime.’
Five years later, Murry finally released its successor. It was always going to be a tough act to follow such a brilliant record as The Graceless Age, but for Murry it was doubly difficult. Since its release, he’d had personal problems and demons to deal with, including family issues and the death of his close friend Tim Mooney, of American Music Club, who had produced his first album.
Michael Timmins from Canadian alt-country act Cowboy Junkies came to Murry’s aid. He’d seen him supporting his band in Glasgow and was captivated by his performance – I’ve seen Murry play live 13 times and he is one of my favourite artists to watch in concert. His shows are intense and extremely powerful – you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s always one hell of a ride. He is an extraordinary performer.
‘It was always going to be a tough act to follow such a brilliant record as The Graceless Age, but for Murry it was doubly difficult – he’d had personal problems and demons to deal with, including family issues and the death of his close friend Tim Mooney’
Timmins and Murry talked about making an album together – Timmins wanted to capture the rawness of Murry’s songs – and the result is A Short History of Decay.
It was recorded over five days in Timmins’ Toronto studio with a band comprising of his brother Peter (Cowboy Junkies) on drums and Josh Finlayson (Skydiggers, Gord Downie, Lee Harvey Osmond) on bass. John brought along Cait O’Riordan (The Pogues, Elvis Costello), whom he’d met in Ireland – she contributed backing vocals to the album.
Talking about the sessions, Timmins said: “I felt that it was important that John got out of his own way and that we set up a situation where he would just play and sing and the rest of us would just react, no second guessing, just react and capture the moment. It was a very inspired and inspiring week of playing and recording. Very intense. And I think we captured the raw essence of John’s writing and playing”.
They certainly did – A Short History of Decay is looser and much more raw than its predecessor. The wonderful first single, Under A Darker Moon, has fuzzy, fucked-up guitars and punk-rock sensibilities, but, at its heart, is a killer indie-pop tune.
My favourite track on the album is Wrong Man. A dark, stripped-down, Springsteen-esque ballad that deals with the breakup of Murry’s marriage – “I’m the wrong man to ride shotgun on your murder mile” – it makes for uncomfortable listening, but is such a beautiful song, with a simple, sparse keyboard and guitar arrangement.
A Short History of Decay has its fair share of gallows humour, too. Despite its title, One Day (You’ll Die) is one of the album’s lighter moments – a weird, mutated, but very catchy, pop-reggae (!) groove, with a guitar solo that sounds like it’s been lifted from the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll instrumental Sleepwalk by Santo & Johnny.
Similarly, Countess Lola’s Blues (All In This Together) is another song with an irresistible, sing-a-long melody, but when the dirty garage guitar comes in, it kicks ass.
The album’s closing track is a stunning cover of What Jail Is Like by The Afghan Whigs. “I will scratch my way out of your pen, just so that I can claw my way back into it again,” sings Murry, over psychedelic guitar sounds.
2017 saw them follow it up with the brilliant We Are Millionaires – an album that I played to death this year.
As I wrote back in the summer, ‘like its predecessor, it’s full of deadpan humour and dry wit. With influences including John Barry, The Velvet Underground and Lee Hazlewood, and lyrical nods to movies The Third Man and The Birds, it’s like a soundtrack to an imaginary, downbeat, British, black and white kitchen sink-drama-meets spy-film – part Hancock, part Hitchcock – but this time around, there’s even some optimism.’
And while we’re on the subject of Lee Hazlewood, the legendary moustachioed maverick is a huge influence on Manchester singer-songwriter Nev Cottee, whose third album, Broken Flowers, was another highlight of this year.
His darkest record to date, it was written in the aftermath of a failed relationship. Nev’s rich, baritone voice is backed by lush, cinematic strings and the album moves from twilight country music to bluesy psych-rock and spacey, hypnotic grooves. First single, Open Eyes, sounded like Lee Hazlewood hanging out in Cafè del Mar.
Staying with Manchester melancholy, Morrissey came back in 2017 with Low In High School – his strongest album in years – but, sadly, the record was overshadowed by controversial comments he made in the press. Songs like the brassy, glam rock swagger of My Love, I’d Do Anything For You, the electro-tinged I Wish You Lonely and the epic Home Is A Question Mark would easily find their place in a list of his greatest tracks.
Ex-Only Ones frontman Peter Perrett surprised everyone by releasing a superb solo album, How The West Was Won, which was loaded with wry songs in the vein of Dylan and Lou Reed.
Husband and wife country duo – and Say It With Garage Flowers regulars – My Darling Clementine – returned with the excellent Still Testifying. Their third album saw them building on the Southern soul sound that they explored on their 2013 record, The Reconciliation? More Delaney & Bonnie than George & Tammy, and with gospel leanings and luscious horn arrangements, it could’ve emerged from Memphis, Alabama or New Orleans, but it was actually made in Tooting, South London.
Another husband and wife duo who are no strangers to country music – The Rails – impressed me with their second album, Other People.
Recorded in Nashville and produced by Ray Kennedy [Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams], it was a darker, heavier and more electric record than their critically acclaimed 2014 debut Fair Warning.
Moving away from the band’s traditional folk roots – it had ‘psychedelic’ tinges and ’60s organ – it wasn’t afraid to speak its mind and deal with modern social issues.
Gravel-voiced Mark Lanegan’s Gargoyle was also high up on my list of 2017 albums of the year. The latest in a long line of great releases by him, it continued to mine the seam of dark, brooding electronic rock he’s explored over his last few records.
Singer-songwriter Richard Warren – who’s played guitar for Mark Lanegan and Soulsavers – returned with his latest album, Distentangled. It was less dark than some of his previous releases – more soulful and stripped-down – but still with a nod to the ’50s sounds of Sun Records, melancholy, late-night ballads in the vein of Nick Lowe, Roy Orbison and Richard Hawley, and twangy guitar instrumentals that could be soundtracks to arthouse films that don’t exist yet.
A debut album that I fell in love with this year was This Short Sweet Life by Nottingham’s Torn Sail – coincidentally an act linked to Richard Warren, who played with them in a previous incarnation.
Written and produced by singer-songwriter Huw Costin, it was a haunting and gorgeous record – sad, but also uplifting and spiritual – an intimate, late-night soundtrack for the lost and the lonely that reminded me of Jeff Buckley at times.
Two of my favourite albums of 2017 weren’t actually from this year! Soul legend P.P. Arnold and Neil Young both released ‘lost’ long-players.
Arnold’s album The Turning Tide was a collection of songs from ’69 and ’70. Produced by Barry Gibb and Eric Clapton, the album was aborted and remained unfinished. Thankfully the master tapes were finally located, the tracks were completed and the album was issued 47 years later. It’s a great collection of groovy soul-shakers – her blistering versions of Traffic’s Medicated Goo and The Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want are guaranteed floor-fillers – and tender ballads, like the lushly-orchestrated gospel song Bury Me Down By The River.
Young’s intimate Hitchhiker – it’s just vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica – was recorded in a single night, in Malibu, California in 1976, but didn’t see the light of day until September this year. I’m so glad it did – it’s up there with his best work.
The dark and menacing title track is jaw-dropping – a staggeringly honest autobiographical tale, which sees Neil on a road trip with just his drug stash for company, before things take a turn for the worse and he ends up a paranoid wreck who has to escape from the L.A. rock ‘n’ roll scene and hole up in the countryside…
L.A. is the home of singer-songwriter Marlon Rabenreither, who, under the name Gold Star, released his excellent second album, Big Blue, this year, and, funnily enough, it often sounds like ’70s Neil Young, as well as early Ryan Adams.
I’d like to say thanks to Alex Lipinski who invited me to his album launch at Pretty Green in London’s Carnaby Street in November this year – I loved his latest record, the raw and bluesy Alex, with its mix of Dylan and the La’s.
And finally, I must mention the UK label Sugarbush, which continues to put out great jangle-pop, power-pop and psych albums on vinyl – both new releases and re-issues. This year saw Scottish guitar band The Carousels, who are on Sugarbush, release their gorgeous second album, Sail Me Home, St.Clair, which was heavily indebted to the sound of the Byrds’ 1968 country-rock cult classic, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
I’m listening to it now, as I write this article and sail off into 2018…
• Here’s a list of my favourite albums of 2017 and a Spotify playlist to go with it:
This Short Sweet Life, the debut album by Nottingham’s Torn Sail, is one of my favourite releases of 2017, but it’s been a long time coming – it took eight years to make!
Written and produced by singer-songwriter Huw Costin, it’s a haunting and gorgeous record – melancholy, but also uplifting and spiritual – an intimate, late-night soundtrack for the lost and the lonely.
It’s an album that can you lose yourself in – a collection of six songs that form a cohesive piece of work. You need to listen to this album from start to finish in one sitting and immerse yourself in its other-worldly beauty.
On Leave This World Behind,Treasure and Gains on gains, Huw Costin conjures up the ghost of Jeff Buckley, while opener Birds is a stunning, stripped-down, folk-country song which builds into a soulful, pedal steel-driven epic – complete with Hammond organ and gospel-tinged vocals.
Torn Sail features members of Spiritualized, The Selecter, Bent, and Soulsavers, and the album includes contributions from Mark Lanegan and BJ Smith (Smith & Mudd).
Lanegan described This Short Sweet Life as ‘a masterpiece’ – and you can’t argue with him. He lends his backing vocals to Ricochets – a moody, organ-soaked song in the vein of Tindersticks, Nick Cave or, indeed, his own dark, bluesy barroom ballads.
I spoke to Huw Costin to find out why one of thebest albums of 2017 was eight years in the making…
Q & A
It’s coming to the end of 2017. How’s the year been for you?
Huw Costin: Complicated, hard work at times and rewarding. It’s a great relief to finally get this first album out.
This Short Sweet Life is one of my albums of the year. How do you feel about that?
HC: Good. I get so close to my work that I can easily lose a broader perspective, so it’s a nice feeling when someone else is receptive. It can be a lonely game.
The album came out in December, but you released the opening track, Birds, in 2011! No one can accuse you of rushing your debut album can they?
HC: Um, no.
Why did it take so long to get the record out?
HC: Well, I released another album in 2013 – Something/Nothing – under my own name, which took a bit of time. And I like to try things out – different overdubs, instrumentation and harmonies… A lot of stuff gets recorded, and then changed, then deleted again – it all takes time. A lot of the time there are more questions than answers – a lot of blind alleys.
I also spent a year or so approaching labels and chasing answers. In the end I did it myself. It took a lot of research, and a lot of time. I have a family, have to pay the bills, get the car fixed, so you know, I have to be patient.
I was introduced to Torn Sail by our mutual friend – Matt Hill [singer-songwriter Quiet Loner]. You both come from Nottinghamshire, don’t you? How did you get to know Matt?
HC: I think it was through my friend Emma, who puts on music nights in Retford. Perhaps we played the same night? Eventually he came and played a night I set up in Nottingham. He was brilliant on so many levels. It was one of the best nights I’ve put on, thanks to Matt.
I‘m a huge fan of Mark Lanegan – he features on the track Ricochets, along with E.R. Thorpe, on additional vocals. How did you come to work with Mark? Are you a fan?
HC: Yes, but really only after I got to know him a little bit. The initial incarnation of Torn Sail was a band called The Cold Light Of Day, which Richard Warren set up to be the Soulsavers, featuring Mark Lanegan. The idea was that we’d support with our own material, and then play the Soulsavers stuff with Mark and a few other musicians. That never happened, but we did spend a week rehearsing with Mark for the All Tomorrow’s Parties bash at Butlins in Minehead.
Can you explain the background to Torn Sail? How did it come about?
HC: As The Cold Light Of Day we recorded several tracks and played a bunch of gigs. It was a great band – we recorded some of my songs and some of Richard’s. We got a deal with TV Records, but Richard quit the band and did the record solo instead – and then went off on tour with Soulsavers. I was stunned at the time really, as we’d worked really hard, and Richard is really good at selling a dream…but you know, I get it now. He had to follow his mojo, and all the clues are in the lyrics he and I were singing at that time.
Anyway, the band and I decided to carry on, spent a few weekends laying down some recordings and, eight years later, here we are…
‘I can trace the roots of this album back to sitting on the stairs, strumming an E minor chord, when I was about 14, and a light melancholy that’s been with me on and off since then’
The album is a beautiful and haunting record. What was the starting point for it? Despite being made over a number of years, it feels like a cohesive record – a mood piece. What were you setting out to achieve with the album? Did you have a definite idea of what you wanted it to sound like? How did it all come together?
HC: Thank you. I can trace the roots back to sitting on the stairs, strumming an E minor chord, when I was about 14, and a light melancholy that’s been with me on and off since then.
There were six or seven tracks that didn’t make the record – faster, busier tracks. They jolted a little in the mix and it was important to me that this record could be sunk into – that there was a grace to the movement and that the album could be enjoyed as simply as a good song – no matter how dark the colours, or sad the melody.
Something/Nothing was, in a way, a series of tangents, so, in part, This Short Sweet Life is a coming back together – the same musicians are playing all the songs and are at the core of the record, so even if their parts might be mixed really quietly on a track, or even removed, their essence is there, or the space left instead of their parts is significant in itself.
‘I spent some formative years living in villages out in Rutland, just me and my guitar and a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, but it was cold and, ultimately, lonely’
Nature is a recurring lyrical theme on the album. Are you an outdoors type?
HC: When I have time, yes – it’s the antithesis of my studio recording process really – locked in a little room in an old terrace on an industrial estate in the city. I spent some formative years living in villages out in Rutland, just me and my guitar and a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, but it was cold and, ultimately, lonely.
Musically and vocally, the album reminds me of Jeff Buckley at times. How do you feel about the comparison?
HC: I’ll take it as a great compliment, but, to be honest, I haven’t listened to Jeff for a long time. There was a time when he, and Nick Drake, were the only people I listened to. Their music takes me back to a place I’m not ready to revisit yet, but I’m sure you can hear their influence.
What have been your favourite records of 2017? What music – new and old – are you currently enjoying?
HC: Three of my favourite records this year are The Cut by Tenebrous Liar – all their albums are stunning, but I think this is their best – Broken Flowers by Nev Cottee is gorgeous, and E.R. Thorpe’s Lion EP is spellbinding.
Otherwise, this year I’ve been rediscovering Jefferson Airplane, have really got into John Martyn – too late – and Thomas Dolby, especially The Flat Earth.
Also Hats by The Blue Nile. Simon Fisher Turner’s soundtrack for the film The Epic of Everest has been a calming soundtrack while I’m trying to get the kids out to school, and Dethroned by Jesu – late at night.
Mark Lanegan played a stunning set in Oxford recently, David Thomas Broughton was really clever, funny and moving at the Maze in Nottingham, and Sleaford Mods were invincible at Rock City.
‘There was a time when Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake, were the only people I listened to. Their music takes me back to a place I’m not ready to revisit yet’
Finally, what are your plans for 2018 and when can we expect another Torn Sail record?
HC: I’ve a few gigs coming up and I’m always on the lookout for more. I’m not sure yet if I’ll be doing them solo or with the band. All being well, Nu Northern Soul will be releasing a 7in of Disconnected from the Huw Costin/Torn Sail 2 EP released earlier this year.
I’ve collaborated on a track called Love Not Sex, which will be out on a 10in, on Paper Recordings, I think. There are a few mixes of Treasure from the Torn Sail album coming out on Tummy Touch and Best Works,
I’ll keep working on the two Torn Sail albums that have been on the go for the last two or three years…
This Short Sweet Life by Torn Sail is out now on Cwm Saerbren Records.
As we approach the end of the year and overindulge in festive celebrations, hangovers are a daily occurrence.
They also played a major part in the making of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite album of 2015 – Minesweeping by O’Connell & Love.
One of the most eclectic and richly rewarding albums of recent times, it’s a collaboration between Larry Love, the lead singer of South London country-blues-gospel-electronica outlaws Alabama 3 and songwriting partner Brendan O’Connell.
As Larry told me when I interviewed him about the making of the record: “What was interesting with Minesweeping was the use of hangovers in the recording process. Brendan was financing the project and, basically, at the end of the night, we’d chuck some drunken ideas down, but the most important stuff was done in the morning after. I knew that unless I did some songs in the morning, Brendan wouldn’t buy me a pint in the afternoon.”
Reviewing it earlier this year, I described it as, ‘a hung-over road trip through the badlands, stopping to pick up some hitchhikers on the way – namely guest vocalists Rumer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, June Miles-Kingston, Tenor Fly and Pete Doherty.’
The record opens with the moody, Cash-like, acoustic death row ballad,Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock, visits Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood territory for the drunken, playful duetHangover Me(feat. Rumer), travels across Europe for the sublime, blissed-out, Stonesy country-soul of It Was The Sweetest Thing,hangs out by the riverside for the gorgeous pastoral folk ofShake Off Your Shoes(feat.Rumer) and heads out to the ocean for the Celtic sea shanty-inspiredWhere Silence Meets The Sea.
It’s an album that wears its influences on the sleeve of its beer-stained shirt – it’s like rifling through a record collection of classic rock and roll, folk, blues, country and soul.
There are nods to late ‘70s Dylan (The Man Inside The Mask), Motown (Love Is Like A Rolling Stone– feat.Tenor Fly ), Leonard Cohen (Come On, Boy– feat. Junes Miles-Kingston) and The Band (If It’s Not Broken).
I’m really looking forward to seeing O’Connell & Love play this record live in 2016 – according to Larry, there are plans for a UK tour.
In the meantime, I’m going to pour myself a large glass of something dark and strong and lose myself in Minesweeping.
One for the road, anyone?
As albums of the year go, singer-songwriters, alt.country, power-pop and Americana dominate my list.
Richard Hawley turned in a classic with Hollow Meadows, which was less psychedelic than its predecessor, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, and largely rooted in country, folk and the lush, late-night, ‘50s-tinged melancholy ballads that dominated his earlier albums. Although there was still room for some bluesy-garage rock (Which Way) and anthemic, widescreen guitar pop (Heart of Oak).
I was lucky enough to meet Richard after one of his gigs this year and when I told him that I preferred his new album to the one before, he simply said, ‘Well – you can’t please everyone, Sean…’
Other singer-songwriters who released great albums this year included Manchester’s Nev Cottee – Strange News From The Sunsounded like Lee Hazlewood on a spacewalk – and Vinny Peculiar, whose Down The Bright Stream was a witty, funny and moving collection of brilliantly observed pop songs, steeped in childhood nostalgia, teenage memories and wry social commentary.
John Howard’s new project – John Howard & The Night Mail– was a wonderful record, full of quirky, witty, intelligent, theatrical and nostalgic songs, from Zombies-like psych-pop to slinky retro mod-soul, glam-rock and observational Ray Davies-style tales of people’s everyday lives.
Dead Flowers – who topped Say It With Garage Flowers’ album of the year list back in 2013 with their debut, Midnight At The Wheel Club, didn’t disappoint with their new record – Minor & Grand, which was often louder and much more electrified than their first album.
Manchester band Last Harbour made Caul– a brooding, cinematic masterpiece that recalled Bowie’s Berlin period, the industrial, electronic atmosphere of Joy Division and the gothic splendour of Scott Walker and Nick Cave.
Instrumental duo Steelism, with their spy film guitar licks and surf-rock riffs, came up with a record (615 To FAME) that harked back to the glory days of ’60s instrumental rock & roll, but also threw in country, soul and blues – and even a touch of krautrock – to create their own dramatic soundtracks.
Sadly, not everyone who released superb albums in 2015 lived to tell the tale. Gifted, but troubled, singer-songwriter Gavin Clark (Sunhouse, Clayhill) died in February, but he left behind Evangelist – a project that was completed by James Griffith and Pablo Clements, members of UNKLE/Toydrum and the owners of the Toy Room Studios in Brighton.
Loosely based on Gavin’s life, it was a dark, edgy, atmospheric and psychedelic-tinged trip that made for uneasy – yet essential – listening.
And finally, here are some nods to acts who didn’t release studio albums this year, but put out some records that I loved.
I’m not normally a huge fan of live albums, but Johnny Marr’s Adrenalin Baby was brilliant and really captured the feel and atmosphere of his gigs – it’s worth it just to hear his outstanding, europhic version of Electronic’s Getting Away With It.
And talking of live shows, UK folk duo The Rails gave away a seven-track acoustic EP called Australia at their gigs this year.
It served as a good stopgap until their next album and featured a killer, stripped-down cover of Edwyn Collins’ Low Expectations.
Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Steve Roberts followed up his 2013 concept record Cold Wars Part 1 EP with the five-track sequel – What Would You Die For? [Cold Wars Part Two].
The standout track This Is A Cold War was a stately, Beatlesesque piano-led ballad. Lennon and McCarthy?
And while we’re on the subject of spies, being a huge James Bond fan, I really enjoyed A Girl And A Gun – a 34-track tribute album of 007 songs and soundtracks by artists including Darren Hayman, Robert Rotifer, Ralegh Long and Papernut Cambridge.
Say It With Garage Flowers will return in 2016…
Here’s a list of my favourite albums of 2015 and a Spotify playlist to accompany it:
O’Connell & Love – Minesweeping
Richard Hawley – Hollow Meadows
Vinny Peculiar – Down The Bright Stream
John Howard & The Night Mail – John Howard & The Night Mail
Nev Cottee – Strange News From The Sun
The Dreaming Spires – Searching For The Supertruth
Dead Flowers – Minor & Grand
Evangelist [Gavin Clark & Toydrum] – Evangelist
Duke Garwood – Heavy Love
Mark Billingham & My Darling Clementine – The Other Half
Nick Piunti – Beyond The Static
Case Hardin – Colours Simple
Last Harbour – Caul
Steelism – 615 To FAME
Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
Marc Carroll – Love Is All or Not At All
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Gaz Coombes – Matador
Wilco – Star Wars
The Sopranistas – Cutting Down The Bird Hotel
Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – Angels & Ghosts
New Order – Music Complete
GospelBeacH – Pacific Surf Line
Sarah Cracknell – Red Kite
Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth
Ryley Walker – Primrose Green
Hurricane #1 – Find What You Love And Let It Kill You
Manchester singer-songwriter Nev Cottee’s new album, Strange News From The Sun, sounds like Lee Hazlewood on a spacewalk and also recalls the gorgeous country ballads of ‘60s Scott Walker and the Spaghetti Western themes of Ennio Morricone.
I spoke to him about retro synths, otherworldly vibes and capturing the sound of sweet sadness…
Nev Cottee: I’m good. Cold, but good. Just waiting for the Manchester Ice Age to pass and to feel the sun on my face again.
And talking about sun, you’re gearing up for the release of your new album Strange News From The Sun. Have you heard any strange news recently?
NC: It’s all strange, isn’t it? Doublespeak has won the day – truth is portrayed as fiction and vice versa. What’s strange is how people don’t seem to be that bothered. Sorry, were you after something light-hearted?
It’s a great album title. Can you explain it?
NC: The title is a reference to JG Ballard and his ability to find wonder in even the most banal circumstances. There’s no need to look anywhere else for inspiration – there’s all you need in your head. Although I am open to alien communication…
On my first album Stations, the lyrics were preoccupied with other things, but with this album they’re more earth bound and more about us lot down here.
You say that, but, musically, the new album does have an otherworldly quality to it. The first track I heard from it – the epic, psychedelic single If I Could Tell You – sounds like Lee Hazlewood on a spacewalk…. Is that a fair description?
NC: I’ll use that one on the poster if that’s ok with you? So the lyrics are more earthbound, but the music is bigger this time around. More cinematic and more synths. I think anytime you use a synth it’s always going to sound like the future isn’t it? Even retro synth sounds – Moogs and the like… That’s why Kraftwerk still sound ‘modern’, no?
I think some of your songs have a Scott Walker feel to them. Annie reminds me of one of Scott’s ’60s country ballads, like Duchess, from Scott 4. Is he a big influence on you?
NC: Without a doubt – and that’s a good reading of that particular track. I wanted to write a song that had that classic Walker vibe – without it being a complete rip off, just a partial one… If I can get anywhere near those classic Scott albums, I’d be a very happy man indeed.
There’s more of a country feel to this album than its predecessor. What was your intention with this record? What sounds were you after? At times, it has a more expansive sound than the first one, doesn’t it?
NC: I didn’t particularly want a country sound. I think a few of the tracks go that way because of the pedal steel – it’s the opposite of a synth, no? Put a pedal steel on a track and it instantly becomes a country song… The guy playing those wonderful parts by the way is Chris Hillman – not the Chris Hillman [from The Byrds], but a great musician coming out of Manchester. I’ve got him in the band as well, which I’m very happy about. They’re a rare breed – the ones who can actually play as well as he does.
Me and Mason Neely, who produced the album, decided pretty early on that this album was going to have a more expansive sound and have a lot more instrumentation going on. He’s done a great job on the album…
Last year, you went to San Francisco for a while. Did that rub off on the new album? Did you write any songs while you were there?
NC: I wrote some of the lyrics out there, but, if anything, I wanted them to be more English than American – it can all get a bit clichéd if you’re looking to California for inspiration. Before you know it, you’re singing about highways and the like. Maybe it gave me a good contrast – writing about ‘cold English lanes’ [on the song Follow The Sun] while wandering around Big Sur. I love it out there, so maybe the freeway album is one for the future…
Musically it’s kind of inevitable that it seeps into the record, because I love all those classic west coast bands – The Byrds, Neil Young, Love etc.
Can you talk me through the recording & writing process for the new album?
NC: I had about five songs ready by the time Stations was released [in 2013], so I knuckled down to get five more finished. Just me at home with my acoustic guitar. Then last July I went to Cardiff where Mason has a small recording space. We got the main structures down to tape with Carwyn Ellis popping in to do some keyboard parts here and there. Then we had a period where Mason sat with the songs for a while and we started a back and forth process of adding and fine-tuning what we had. It’s a collaborative way of working that I like – you just have to be open about something and not rush to a judgement. Sometimes it can take a while, but it’s worth it.
Who did you work with on this record – musicians, engineers, producer?
NC: So, Mason is all of those things… As I’ve said Carwyn Ellis on keyboards, Chris on the pedal steel, plus Rod Smith, who is my right hand man in the band, on guitars and backing vocals.
Follow The Sun is my favourite track on the record – a gorgeous country-pop song that reminds me of Lee Hazlewood, The Velvet Underground and Glen Campbell. I love the twangy guitar solo, the gospel-tinged backing vocals and the pedal steel. Can you tell me more about this song?
NC: I guess it is the most traditional, straightforward song on the album – just a simple chord sequence – and I definitely had the likes of Glen Campbell in mind. Rod really brings a lot with his backing vocals. He’s way up there, which is the perfect counterpoint to my low tones…
Lyrically it’s got quite an uplifting sentiment. The girl is going but I’m just saying ok, good luck, go follow the sun. There are loads of Neil Young songs I like which have the same sentiment. Have you seen the film Inherent Vice? There are lots of Neil Young on the soundtrack and I read that the director Paul Thomas Anderson was trying to make a film that felt like a Neil Young song – so it had that sweet sadness to it. That’s the vibe on Follow The Sun – sweet sadness.
Opening track When I Was Young is very dramatic and cinematic, with a nod to film soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone. What was the inspiration for this song?
NC: Rod wrote this song and we used to play it with his band – completely differently. I had an idea to make it more cinematic, dramatic and, yes, Morricone it up. Morricone conducted at the O2 recently and I missed it. You can’t go wrong taking inspiration from all those wonderful compositions. I’m just trying to convince Rod to really go for it live with those shrieking vocals Morricone had on his records…
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
NC: We’re going to do an album launch – one in Manchester and one in London. Then there’s a few festivals later in the year. All to be confirmed…
What music – new and old – are you digging at the moment?
NC: Ryley Walker’s Tim Buckley vibe is good. I also like Hiss Golden Messenger’s new album. I saw him live and it was even better – JJ Cale southern rock and roll. To be honest, though, I’ve been going through Tom Waits’ career, album by album – about a week on each one. It’s just unbelievable how good he is and how he always keeps moving forward.
Have you started thinking about your next record already? Any ideas?
NC: I’m stuck into it already. As soon as the last one is recorded, you have to move on and start writing again. I’ve actually got two on the go. One is acoustic, looking towards John Martyn, Nick Drake and Bert Jansch, just with a guitar and double bass, and the other is more electronic with long repetitive loops. Maybe the two will come together. It’s early days…
Nev Cottee’s new album, Strange News From The Sun, is out on June 1, on Wonderfulsound.
Manchester singer/songwriter and guitarist Nev Cottee has made one of the best debut albums of 2013. Describing his sound as ‘Lee Hazlewood fronting Spiritualized’, his atmospheric, late night laments are steeped in Northern melancholy and laced with psychedelic effects and gorgeous string arrangements.
I spoke to him about writing and recording the record, hanging out with Noel Gallagher at The Hacienda, supporting Neil Young, stealing a bottle of rum from Richard Hawley’s dressing room and why he’s a brown sauce man…
Congratulations on your great debut album Stations and the single, Oslo, which is one of my favourite songs of this year. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind Oslo?
Nev Cottee:Thanks for the kind words, Sean. Oslo was written about five years ago. I’d been out there in 2006 to visit a Norwegian girl I’d met while I was travelling in India. It was a disaster.
When we’d been in India, being on the beach and swimming in the sea every day, everything was easy, but reality hit when I landed in Oslo in January and it was -17 degrees! We quickly discovered that we had little in common and so it was quite a sad time. I was just wandering around on my own for three days. I guess that’s the basis of it – being really down, melancholy and thinking ‘what am I doing here?’, yet, at the same time, being confronted with this weird, magical place, full of bizarre buildings and a frozen sea. Lyrically, I was trying to write something that was a bit more abstract and non-linear. I was trying to get away from the standard love song thing.
I’d love to go to Oslo – it’s on my list….
NC: You should definitely go, although it’s £9 for a beer. Everyone goes to the shop for some bottles, then sits at home and has these little gatherings. It’s cool, actually. Everyone I met was extremely friendly and helpful – even that girl. Cool people, beautiful place.
Your deep, rich singing voice reminds me of Lee Hazlewood and Leonard Cohen. Are they big influences on you? I can imagine Lee singing Oslo…
NC:That’s a big compliment. Who doesn’t like Laughing Len? I saw him in Manchester a few weeks ago and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. What a lyricist, what a songwriter and what a performer!
I couldn’t believe it – the guy’s almost 80 and he’s down on his knees giving it his all. He’s not belting it out, but he’s putting it all in there. There were about 20,000 people there and he was almost whispering. He is the man and he has an amazing voice, which is so low these days, you almost can’t hear it. It’s not as easy at it seems – the low singing thing – and Cohen and Hazlewood are two of the best.
I’m a huge fan of Lee Hazlewood and I’m looking forward to hearing the new deluxe box set that’s coming out later this year. What do you love about him?
NC: Hazlewood was just a freak and I mean that in the kindest way – his look, the moustache, and his whole vibe. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Something like Nancy & Me – it’s just really honest and poetic and all beautifully put together with the strings and the guitars. The guy was a musical genius and he passed it off with an air of panache. It’s all there in the voice. Listen to Some Velvet Morning – it’s totally unique.
Tell me about your album Stations? How was it written and recorded?
NC: It took five years to write and a week to record. I’m a slow writer. I’m working on it. The next one won’t be so long. It was recorded inside The Magic Lantern, which is a small space in [musician] Carwyn Ellis’s home in Cardiff. I think that comes across in the sound – the intimacy of it. Mason Neely [who produced the album] and Carwyn are very talented musicians – they can play pretty much anything and they both know when not to play too much. After I’d sent them my demos, they came up to Manchester and the first thing they said was ‘Why are you singing so high?’ I’d never even thought about it too much – I just sang as I thought I should. They said ‘just sing like you’re talking’ and that was really a breakthrough moment, because I found my voice, which is quite low.
I saw Carwyn the other day and I said to him: ‘thanks for introducing me to myself…’ I’m basically a vocalist, guitar player, and sometime bassist – Mason can put together a string arrangement to melt your heart, or pick out an instrument that defines the mood of a song. I owe those two a lot. They gave me my sound.
It’s a very atmospheric record – often melancholy in tone…
NC: You just have to follow your instinct and use everything you’ve soaked up. As the record was developing, I said to Mason, ‘this is pretty sad stuff,’ and he said, ‘Yeah – great!’
I’m not 21 anymore. Those days are over for me, you know. I’m not into fake rebellion anymore – ‘I don’t need an attitude/Rebellion’s a platitude.’ I was just trying to make an honest record with no tricks. I wanted to make an album that might stand up with some of the people we’ve spoken about [Lee Hazlewood and Leonard Cohen].
The album has been described as sounding like ‘Lee Hazlewood fronting Spiritualized’, which is a brilliant comparison. It also reminds me of Richard Hawley at times…
NC:Hazlewood fronting Spiritualized? Now, that would be worth hearing. That’s just an in to get people’s attention. Hawley’s ace. I’ve met him a few times and he’s hilarious – a proper comedian. I was in his dressing room and he caught me nicking a bottle of rum. He was just laughing, saying: ‘Go for it’. He’d just sold out Shepherd’s Bush Empire and was driving home to Sheffield to take his kids to school in the morning. He’s a true gent. Everything he’s ever released is brilliant. The other time I met him he gave me a bottle of limited edition Richard Hawley Henderson’s Relish. Apparently it’s been made in Sheffield for over 100 years. It tasted awful. I’m a brown sauce man myself…
What other music are you into?
NC: Tom Waits, Scott Walker, Cohen and then people like Tony Joe White and Link Wray – old school, hard living dudes. That’s for vocals and songwriting. Musically, I love Jason Pierce and anything he’s ever done – i.e Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized. I also like The Byrds, The Flaming Lips, John Barry, Bill Callahan… plus all the big guns…
Close Your Eyes is one of the album highlights for me. Can you tell me more about that song? I think it’s beautiful. It has a ‘60s Scott Walker vibe, with gorgeous strings and rain sound effects.
NC: Yeah – I can see the Walker influence. It’s just a simple riff that builds and builds. Mason did a great job arranging it, with the bells at the end and the Mellotron choir. Wonderful stuff. It’s this idea of sweet melancholy. I’ve got a love/hate thing with Manchester and it’s just saying… the rain – it’s just a state of mind, don’t let it get to you.
Hot Air and Devils have a folk feel to them….
NC: Hot Air started off as a John Martyn guitar echo thing that just developed as we went along. Devils is a tune that we used to do with my old band, which we completely reworked.
Some of the songs, like I Want You and Nothing Is Certain, are quite psychedelic….
NC: That’s the Spacemen 3 thing. I got really into the repetitive psyche/trance/call it what you want thing a few years ago. I saw a band called Black Mountain at The Green Man Festival in Wales and it was like a door opening. I was in the zone – completely sober and straight, of course… Then there was my mate Nolan who played with Spectrum (Pete Kember from Spacemen 3) for a few years. I used to go to see them and I really got into his whole aesthetic. He’s a genius. Then I started listening to Suicide, 808 State and loads of other stuff… It all goes back to Kraftwerk, of course. I think my brother must have played Trans-Europe Express for about two years continually, when I was growing up.
You were in Proud Mary, weren’t you? What was that like? They were a Noel Gallagher-endorsed, country rock band as I recall…
NC: Yeah – a country rock band from Oldham! Get on it! Everyone was going to crappy nightclubs and listening to bad dance music, but we were at home listening to The Band, Gram Parsons and Creedence. We used to go to the Hacienda and be stood with Noel in the bar, having a beer and talking about T-Rex and Crosby, Stills and Nash, while everyone else was gurning and dancing very badly to something or other. We were very set in our ways. We did ok, but we should have gone to America. We supported Neil Young and he came over, shook our hands and said he’d been listening to the album. That was enough for me! We went out with Crazy Horse after the gig and they were these gnarly old dudes in baseball caps saying: ‘You gotta keep the flame burning, man. We’re getting old…’ and we were like, ‘Yeah, we can do that…’ Noel was very supportive – another true gent – and it was great gigging all over the place, thinking we were in The Faces. We were a good band and Greg Griffin [from Proud Mary] was – and still is – an amazing front man. He’s a natural.
After playing in bands for so long, why have you decided to go solo?
NC: I’ve been in various bands over the years – Proud Mary, The Second Floor – that’s Nolan’s band, who I mentioned before – and Folks, whose guitarist and songwriter Michael Beasley directed the video for Oslo. He’s a good friend and a very talented songwriter. Their debut album I See Cathedrals is a classic. I only work with the best…
I did a solo record because it was time. The band thing is over for me. I’m on my own now and I’m just getting going. I’m in it for the long haul…
So, what’s next? Can we expect a tour and some live dates?
NC: Not a tour, but some choice dates for the album launch. I’ve got a couple of excellent musicians backing me up and I’ll hopefully be playing some festivals next year. Watch this space.
What would you like to achieve with this record and in the future? Have you got big ambitions?
NC:Like I said before – I just want to make some music that’s true, which has something to say and that sounds amazing. I’m under no illusions about the state of the music industry. So long as people like you are digging it and spreading the word, then let’s see where it goes…
Nev Cottee’s debut album Stations is released on October 28.