‘An Indian summer would definitely suit our new single nicely…’

Brighton-based, jangle-pop collective Raving Beauties are back with a brilliant new single, This is the Train – an optimistic and summery song, with a hint of Northern Soul. It features special guest, James Walbourne (The Pretenders, The Rails), on twangy lead guitar, and was mixed by the Go!Team’s Ian Parton, who also plays organ, bass and glockenspiel on the track.

This is the Train is a taster from the group’s brand new album, Over Yonder, which is out next year. Raving Beauties started out in 2015, as a mysterious fictional band inspired by a short story written by frontman, Belfast-born Brian Bell. In an exclusive interview, he tells us all about the new single, so jump on board…

Q&A

How’s it going? How’s your summer been?

Brian Bell: Well there are a lot worse places to be than Brighton in the summer, especially as it gradually becomes more like its old self, with things opening up again. A big thing for me has been a conversion to sea-swimming and most days I can be found splashing around in the English Channel around sunrise. I love it!

Tell us about your great new single, This is the Train. It’s a bit of a different sound for the band, isn’t it? It’s twangy, rather than jangly, and has a slight Northern Soul feel. Where did the song come from? It was written with band member and multi-instrumentalist, Tom Collison, wasn’t it?

BB: One of the main influences on the album we’re gradually putting the finishing touches to – Over Yonder – is the early ‘70s Island Records vibe, and at one point we’d been thinking about covering a John Martyn or Nick Drake song in a more up-tempo. jangly style. We ended up binning that idea, but This is the Train emerged from me putting a new vocal melody and lyrics to some of the folky chord progressions that Tom had been playing around with during that process.

I love Motown and Northern Soul, so maybe it was a subliminal influence, but I think Ian Parton’s work on the mix, which involved him re-doing the bass to make it more punchy, adding glockenspiel and organ, and doing a lot of work on the individual drum sounds, probably influenced that feel a lot.

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Raving Beauties: Tom Collison and Brian Bell.
Picture by John Morgan.

 

It’s an optimistic and summery song, isn’t it? It came out in early September, so are you hoping for an Indian summer, so it can be the soundtrack?

BB: Yeah – an Indian summer would definitely suit the track nicely, but this time of year is often associated with new beginnings too, and I’ve been thinking about that Dylan quote from the Scorsese No Direction Home documentary, when he says “always be in a constant state of becoming”. It would be lovely if the song evokes that kind of feeling in people.

‘Having James Walbourne play on your single is a bit like Messi being in your five-aside team for a kickaround in the park!’

There’s a special guest on lead guitar, James Walbourne (The Pretenders, The Rails), and the organ, bass and glockenspiel are by Ian Parton (The Go! Team), who also mixed the track. How did those guys get involved?

BB: Back in the spring, myself and Tom had finally got around to doing more work on the album in his home studio in Homerton, and during that time I’d arranged to meet up with James for a coffee while I was in the area. When I mentioned the Beauties recordings, he offered to play on something, which was exciting when you consider what a phenomenal guitarist he is. Sorry for the football analogy, but it’s a bit like Messi offering to be in your five-a-side team for a kickaround in the park!

Anyway, we sent him over a rough mix of This is the Train to add a lead guitar part to. When we heard what he’d contributed, we were beyond delighted.

As for Ian’s involvement, it’s been frustrating how much the pandemic has slowed down progress on the album, but I felt that if we could at least get a single mixed and out there, that would feel pretty satisfying. I’d set my heart on that, but the major snag was that by that stage, Tom had dismantled his studio and was in the midst of the huge upheaval of him and his partner upping sticks from London to their new home in Dumfries.

I know Ian through Bosie Vincent – a film-maker who made the video for the single – and we’re pretty friendly, so in the ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’ spirit, I thought I’d see if he was up for helping out and luckily he was.

Tell us about the promo video. It’s cool – a bit summery and psych, with trains…

BB: As well as being one of my dearest pals, Bosie Vincent is very much part of the Beauties collective, having made all our other videos. For this one, he mixed up cool archive footage with footage that he got of a bunch of us having a sing-song to the tune around a campfire on Brighton beach. As he’s next-door neighbours with Ian, it was also pretty easy to get some nice close-ups of him bashing a customised Beauties tambourine in time to the tune! When I saw the finished video, I was so chuffed with it. I think he’s captured the feel of the song perfectly with those visuals.

The band line-up has changed since we last spoke. Scottish folknik and acoustic guitar maestro, Callum Johnstone, has joined. How did that come about?

BB: It sounds like something out of our ‘fictional band’ past but it’s actually true. We met at a Transcendental Meditation weekend and when we got chatting, it emerged that he was really into the Bert Jansch/Davy Graham school of finger-style acoustic guitar playing, which I was really keen to incorporate into the new album. When he checked out some of the previous Beauties stuff, he was impressed enough that he was keen to get on board. Let’s just say I ended up ditching the Maharishi but kept Callum!

It’s a nice bit of serendipity in that the original Raving Beauties album was a Belfast-Edinburgh alliance, with singer/songwriter Gordon Grahame, which has now neatly been re-established, as Callum is a proud Edinburgher. If you look closely at the Beauties logo, there’s a Shamrock and Thistle entwined, so I’m really glad to keep that Scots-Irish aspect alive.

Completing the new line-up is drummer Grant Allardyce. What’s his story and how does he fit in? Isn’t he a jazzer?

BB: Grant is another exiled Belfast boy on the local music scene and I’ve known him for donkey’s years. He plays with a fantastic alt-country folk band called the Mountain Firework Company, but he’s primarily a jazzer and is part of a jazz trio called the Lost Organ Unit. It was a massive influence on Grant’s style that he was originally tutored by a guy called Keith Copeland, who was renowned on the New York jazz scene. I wanted a looser, jazzier feel to the album, which is why I got him involved, and Tom came down to a wee studio in Lewes a while back to record all Grant’s drums.

‘We’re tantalisingly close to finishing the new record, but a 2022 release is looking more likely. We’re aiming for it to be just as melodic as the previous records, but with more of a loose, early ’70s vibe’

How’s the new album coming along?

BB: We’re still working on it, and aiming to reconvene at Tom’s new place in Scotland in the autumn, if we can fit that in with his other commitments, as he’s very much in demand as a gigging multi-instrumentalist.

I think we’re tantalisingly close to finishing the record, but a 2022 release is looking more likely now. Sound-wise, we’re aiming for it to be just as melodic as the previous records, but with more of a loose, early ’70s vibe, with lots of instrumental segues provided by Callum, who’s become such an invaluable asset to the project.

I’ve put together a Spotify playlist that’s full of the type of stuff that’s influenced the record:

On that note,  what music – new and old – are you currently enjoying?

BB: I love Fleet Foxes’ Shore –  it’s been a constant since it came out this time last year. I think Robin Pecknold is an incredible talent. Other than that, I’ve been on a bit of a John Fahey tip lately. There’s something about his playing that really gets under your skin. His Days Have Gone By album is a big favourite.

In recent times I think we’ve needed music to lift us and if ever there’s a tune that does that, it’s Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir, Like a Ship (Without a Sail), which you hear quite often popping up on 6 Music – what a belter!

Finally, when was the last time you took a train and what was it like?

BB: We went on a trip to Hastings a few weeks ago – there are some very nice Sussex Downs views and coastal scenery on that line. Also, when I get there, I always make a wee pilgrimage to John Martyn’s old gaff on Cobourg Place and imagine Nick Drake striding up those steep steps to West Hill, which he’d have done many times when he came down to visit John and Beverley.

This is the Train by Raving Beauties is out now as a digital-only single on Clubhouse Records.

http://www.clubhouserecords.co.uk/

 

‘We haven’t got the budget for playing in full, late ‘60s West Coast regalia and Roger McGuinn wigs!’

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The Raving Beauties – photograph by John Morgan

Late last year, jangle-pop project The Raving Beauties, the brainchild of Belfast writer Brian Bell, who is now based in Brighton, teamed up with Oxford band The Dreaming Spires to release Raving For Bap, a 10in limited vinyl EP dedicated to singer-songwriter Bap Kennedy, who died in late 2016.

The record features five of Bap’s songs, which The Raving Beauties have made their own. The opening track, Walk In Love, is a joyous, chiming guitar anthem that’s befitting of The Byrds, while Moriarty’s Blues is a gorgeous, folky shuffle. The Way I Love Her is infectious, organ-driven power-pop, Hard Street is a down and out ballad with a country feel and Lonesome Lullaby is another Byrdsian belter – 12-string guitars, heavenly harmonies and a life-affirming chorus.

I spoke to Brian to find out more about the EP and to clear up some confusion over how the mysterious ‘fictitious’ band, The Raving Beauties, came into being…

Q & A

Let’s talk about your recent five-track EP, Raving For Bap, which was a tribute to Belfast singer-songwriter, Bap Kennedy (Energy Orchard), who died from cancer in 2016. Proceeds from the record are being donated to Belfast’s Marie Curie Hospice. How did the EP come about?

Brian Bell: I’d known Bap since the early Noughties, when a mutual friend, James Walbourne [The Rails, The Pretenders] introduced us on the basis that because we both came from Belfast, we’d probably get on, which we did, very much so. Aside from being such a talented guy, Bap was a very genuine, kind person and great company – his self-deprecating wit and killer one-liners were something to behold.

Before meeting him, I’d been aware of his music and really admired it. I really loved and connected with songs like Sailortown and Sweet Irish Rose, off the first Energy Orchard album, and I’d bought his Domestic Blues album when it first came out.

In the years that I was seeing Bap most regularly, I’ve fond memories of his legendary Sunday gigs at the Boogaloo in Highgate, North London, where he’d be mixing up his own stuff with Elvis and Hank Williams covers. Everybody would be lapping it up and the craic was tremendous.

In more recent years, I’d kept in touch with Bap when he moved back to Holywood in Northern Ireland and always looked forward to meeting up with him whenever I was back home visiting family.

‘I’ve fond memories of Bap’s legendary Sunday gigs at the Boogaloo in Highgate, where he’d be mixing up his own stuff with Elvis and Hank Williams covers’

When we lost Bap to cancer, in November 2016, it was obviously a very upsetting and difficult time for everyone who knew and loved him. In the months after his passing, he was on my mind a lot and I guess my appreciation of his songs had deepened, which is probably when the idea for a tribute record started hatching. Bap’s widow Brenda has been doing an amazing job of looking after his legacy and continuing to share and celebrate his music, so I hope we can add to that in some way. It was also important from the outset that the record would be a fundraiser for the Marie Curie Hospice in Belfast, as Bap’s family think the world of the staff there for the care they gave Bap towards the end of his life.

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The EP is a collaboration between The Raving Beauties and Oxford band The Dreaming Spires. What’s your relationship? How did you end up working together? 

BB: In 2016, The Dreaming Spires included The Raving Beauties track Arrows on the guest artist side of their Paisley Overground 12in mini album and we were on the same label – At The Helm – at the time. We did a launch gig for the record together in Brighton, which went really well.

My friendship with the guys started there and we ended up doing another gig together as The Raving Beauties at Truck Festival in 2016, which was a lot of fun. I’d chatted with Joe Bennett [from The Dreaming Spires] about recording some new songs together, but with Bap being on my mind so much, I felt a tribute EP was what we should do next.

Luckily, Joe and the rest of the guys – Robin Bennett, Tom Collison and Fin Kenny – were well up for it, so we all got together at Joe’s studio in Oxford last Spring to start working on it, with Joe producing. There was a great vibe and a lovely spirit of camaraderie, which I hope comes across on the record.

With the EP, you and The Dreaming Spires have put your own spin on Bap’s songs – there’s a US West Coast, ‘60s jangle-pop feel to some of the songs. How did you approach the tracks and how did you decide which ones to cover?

BB: Joe, wisely I think, didn’t want to get too swayed by listening to Bap’s originals – he just wanted me to turn up with the chords and lyrics, so we could try to put our own stamp on them. You’re right about the American West Coast influence, and I suppose the idea was broadly along the lines of imagining how Bap’s songs might have been interpreted by a Californian guitar band in the late ‘60s. I can’t be too coy about the likes of Spirit, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Monkees, Love and The Youngbloods all being an influence.

In terms of choosing songs, it was a case of picking songs I particularly loved that I imagined could also lend themselves to being done in a different way. There are other Bap songs that I love just as much, but I don’t feel would necessarily suit being re-worked in that style.

ARaving-Beautiescrop

I want to ask you about the origins of The Raving Beauties. I’ve heard a rumour that the band doesn’t really exist – it’s fictitious… Can you clear this up?

BB: In the last 10 years, I’ve got into writing fiction – I did a Creative Writing MA and had a pulp fiction novella – Die Hard Mod – published under the pen name Charlie McQuaker.

One of my short stories that I’d read at spoken word nights in Brighton was called The Unsung Classic, which was about an ill-fated retro band of the ‘90s called The Raving Beauties. I remember a lot of ‘60s time warp guys hanging around Brighton, who’d based their whole image on Gene Clark circa 1967 – that scene inspired the story. I then had the idea to make an EP of what this fictitious band might have sounded like and managed to convince Gordon Grahame – an incredibly gifted Scottish singer-songwriter/producer – to collaborate with me on some recordings.

‘I remember a lot of ‘60s time warp guys hanging around Brighton, who’d based their whole image on Gene Clark circa 1967’

In 2015, The Raving Beauties released their debut album of ‘60s-inspired guitar pop….

BB: The original plan was to put a vinyl EP out as a ‘benign hoax’, purporting to be the lost recordings of some long-forgotten retro band called The Raving Beauties, but when I sent the tracks to Jim Walker, after his At The Helm label had just been launched, he said he loved the songs, but would only release something if we made a full album.

That gave myself and Gordon the impetus to go back into his home studio and, in a relatively short time, we came up with something that I’m still pretty proud of.

The finished album was a mix of my songs, Gordon’s songs and a few co-writes that came together really quickly. My abiding memory is of it being a huge buzz, like being a teenager again. We had this in-joke when something was going particularly well, when we’d just look at each other, do the double thumbs-up and say ”Brilliant!” in a comedy Scottish accent.

I knew at the time that Gordon was doing me a big favour by indulging me with this strange project and it was always pretty much with the understanding that it would be a one-off for him, but we’re still mates and it’s totally got his blessing that I’m keeping the project going. The plan is to make another album this year with the musicians from Raving For Bap and other collaborators.

The Raving Beauties have a gig coming up. You’re playing the Ramblin’ Roots Revue festival in April (6-8, Bucks Students Union, High Wycombe). What can we expect?

BB: The plan is to do the Raving For Bap EP, plus some songs from the first album – The ‘Spires boys have kindly signed up to be honorary Raving Beauties.

I wish I could say we’ll be doing the set in full, late ‘60s West Coast regalia and we’ll all be sporting Roger McGuinn wigs, but, unfortunately, we haven’t budgeted for that!

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The Raving Beauties – photograph by John Morgan

Any plans to hold a tribute gig for Bap?

BB: Yes – we’re hatching a plan and hopefully will be able to confirm something soon. Fundraising-wise, we’ve joined forces with Bap’s sister, Marian, who has already raised over £2,000 for the hospice, and we’ve set ourselves the target of raising a grand total of £5,600 by June 17,when Bap would have been 56

What does the rest of 2018 hold for The Raving Beauties?

BB: Some Girls from The Raving Beauties’ first album is getting another lease of life thanks to You Are The Cosmos including it on their next 12 String High vinyl compilation. which is due out in April/May. I always felt that song could make an impact if it reached the right ears, so fingers crossed, it will happen this time around… I’ll also soon be starting work with the guys on the new Raving Beauties album. We want to retain some of the jangle, but get a lot more adventurous, too.

Finally, what music – new and old – are you currently digging?

BB: I tend to mainly listen to instrumental stuff, particularly ‘50s jazz, so the likes of John Coltrane, Oliver Nelson, Miles Davis and Chet Baker are on the stereo a lot. For anyone who likes that kind of thing, I’d recommend the soundtrack to Listen Up Philip by Keegan DeWitt.

‘We want to retain some of the jangle, but get a lot more adventurous, too’

Another soundtrack that I keep coming back to is The Hired Hand by Bruce Langhorne, which is such a sparse, haunting and beautiful piece of music.

I’m always hoping to hear a new killer pop song on the radio, but, to be honest, the last one that really jumped out at me was Mean Streets by Tennis from a few year back.

I think Fleet Foxes are probably the band that has impressed me most in recent years, closely followed by Temples. I’ve loved Nick Drake and John Martyn since I was a teenager and that’s something I’ve been coming back to a lot recently too.

Bap’s album The Sailor’s Revenge has been another constant. It’s his masterpiece and deserves to be in any ‘Top 10 Greatest Irish Albums of All Time’ list.

 

Raving For Bap by The Raving Beauties is out now on Farm Music – more info here.

The band’s self-titled debut album is currently available from At The Helm Records. 

The Raving Beauties will be playing at The Ramblin’ Roots Revue, Bucks Student Union, High Wycombe: April 6-8.

More information here:  https://www.bucksstudentsunion.org/ramblinrootsrevue/