Alter Echoes, the great new album from L.A-based trio Triptides (led by multi-instrumentalist Glenn Brigman, with drummer Brendan Peleo-Lazar and bassist/guitarist Stephen Burns) is a mix of sun-soaked, ’60s-sounding, psychedelic pop – think The Byrds and The Beatles – and far-out space rock.
It was recorded prior to the pandemic, in Hollywood’s Boulevard Recording studio, which was previously the legendary Producer’s Workshop, where Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan and, er, Liberace made, or mixed, records.
“Liberace’s piano is unfortunately no longer there,” says Brigman, speaking to Say It With Garage Flowers from L.A. “But I think some of the energy from those groups still lingers. Whether it rubbed off on us… well, you be the judge!”
How is it in L.A?
Glenn Brigman: It’s a very unique place and we love it for a lot of reasons. But one of the coolest parts is the amount of incredible music that has been made here over the years. We dig the history.
How has lockdown affected you as a band?
GB: We’ve all been affected one way or another. At this point we are just trying to make the most of our time off the road – we’re writing, recording and learning more about our craft.
I’ve started learning the Sarod [Indian stringed instrument], Brendan has been working on learning more piano and Stephen has been writing a series of musical suites about his cat, Jeffrey. We had to cancel last year’s SXSW appearances and a European tour planned for last September. Hopefully we will be back in Europe before the end of 2021 to make up for it.
Are you worried about the future of live music, post-Covid? What are your hopes and fears for the rest of the year and beyond?
GB: I’m trying not to think about it too much… we’re just taking it one day at a time right now and hoping for the best. I hope that our ability to be flexible and adapt to new situations will help us pull through any difficulties that await us in the coming year.
‘I’ve started learning the Sarod, Brendan has been working on learning more piano and Stephen has been writing a series of musical suites about his cat, Jeffrey’
How have you been coping with lockdown?
GB: We’ve been coping by working on every aspect of the music, apart from the live show. Taking care of each other and staying connected to our friends and family as best as we can.
Let’s talk about your new album, Alter Echoes. When did you make it?
GB: We recorded it in the fall of 2019; long before the word Covid was part of our lexicon.
It was recorded and mixed at Clay Blair’s Boulevard Recording studio in Hollywood. How was that? What were the set-up and the vibes like? How were the sessions?
GB: Clay is a great guy. We had a blast working with him at such a legendary studio. The set-up was fantastic – a beautiful live room that looks like it’s straight out of the ‘70s. There’s a comfortable control room and a little lounge area. Everything one could need to rock.
The vibes were very good. Brendan has known Clay for years, but they sort of reconnected when Brendan moved out to L.A, so it was sort of like working with an old friend. Also, the fact that Clay is from North Carolina and Stephen and I are from Georgia made us feel even more at home. The sessions were great – we had rehearsed the material beforehand, but it still had a very spontaneous vibe to it.
‘The studio set-up was fantastic – a beautiful live room that looks like it’s straight out of the ‘70s. There’s a comfortable control room and a little lounge area. Everything one could need to rock’
The studio was formerly Producer’s Workshop, where Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan made, or mixed, records. Did any of that history rub off on you? Liberace also recorded in the studio. Is his piano still there?
GB: Liberace’s piano is unfortunately no longer there! I think some of the energy from those groups still lingers. Whether it rubbed off on us… well, you be the judge!
The new record definitely has a sun-soaked, psychedelic sound. What influenced it musically, or otherwise?
GB: There’s such a wide range of influences it can be hard to pin them all down – from Coltrane to Hawkwind. So many different groups. But I think being in L.A, working together as a band, touring together – it all influenced how the record came together. We knew each other’s strengths and made sure that we played to them.
The single, It Won’t Hurt You, is one of my favourite songs of the year so far. What can you tell me about it? It’s very Byrdsy. Where did it come from?
GB: I wrote that one in the summer of 2018. It sat around as a drum machine apartment demo for a year or so. When I presented it to the group it worked perfectly with the three-piece arrangement and we decided to record it.
Hand of Time is another of my favourite songs on the record. I think it has a slight Stonesy feel – a swagger, like Street Fighting Man, but crossed with English ’60s psychedelia. Is that a fair description?
GB: I can see that. I think Brendan was thinking about the stripped-down drum patterns from McCartney II. I was probably drawing on Hawkwind or Can. It was just one of those songs that came out of a jam. We were doing a sort of stream of consciousness demo night where we were recording everything to the Tascam 488 tape machine. Suddenly we just started playing it. Listening back afterwards we thought, well that’s going to have to be a song, isn’t it?
Was the spacey track Shining influenced by Pink Floyd? There’s a definite Dark Side of the Moon feel to it. I’m thinking Breathe…
GB: Of course! Shining is a bit of our love letter to our favorite Floyd moments. The lyrics are supposed to be from a disoriented perspective – another realm where things aren’t what they seem. There’s a line where I say, “Relax, you weren’t meant to live,” which was sort of a reference to Nightmare of Percussion, the first track on the second Strawberry Alarm Clock album, where the narrator says: “Don’t worry about dying – you were meant not to live.” I always thought that was really weird and I wanted to include some of that weirdness in the song.
Having A Laugh is one of the lighter songs on the album. It’s poppy and has a McCartney / Beatles feel. Would you agree?
GB: It is and it isn’t. I was trying to comment on how much terrible news people see and hear everyday (“If you really believed half the things they said/wouldn’t be any need to get out of bed”). And this was before the pandemic! At the same time, I was thinking how we need to start taking care of the earth, of each other before it’s too late.
‘We were going for a sort of A Hard Day’s Night meets João Gilberto thing. Something you could listen to on the beach while the sun is setting. The first evening wind after a warm, summer day’
Another lighter, poppier song is She Doesn’t Want To Know – it’s a kind of a bossa nova/ lounge/ Easy Listening tune. Laidback and quite ’60s…
GB: We were going for a sort of A Hard Day’s Night meets João Gilberto thing. Something you could listen to on the beach while the sun is setting. The first evening wind after a warm, summer day.
The last song, Now and Then, is very ’60s. It reminds me of The Zombies and also Cream’s I Feel Free. What can you tell me about it?
GB: For that tune we wanted to go all out ‘60s. We were already in the studio with Clay, who is a huge Beatles fan and an authority on their recording techniques [see video below].
Paired with Brendan, who is an authority on Ringo’s gear, in particular, we couldn’t help but do our own Help-inspired UK beat song. We actually meant to use a Hohner Pianet on the track, like The Night Before, but it was giving us issues that day, so we settled on the Wurlitzer 200 [electric piano].
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
GB: We have some tentative tour plans, but I don’t want to jinx anything. We’ve also got more music to release. Like I said, we’ve been recording quite a bit.
‘I still rock an iPod like it’s 2006’
What music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently? What’s been your lockdown soundtrack?
GB: We’ve all been listening to a ton of music over the lockdown – even more than usual perhaps. I’ve been digging a lot of UK folk recently: Fairport Convention, Michael Chapman, Bridget St John. And digging into some jazzier stuff: Horace Silver, Miles Davis and Gábor Szabó. I also went on a big Bee Gees kick after seeing that new documentary [The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart].
Finally, what’s your preferred way of listening to music – and why?
GB: Records. But driving around and listening to music is a close second. I still rock an iPod like it’s 2006.
Triptides’ Alter Echoes will be released on limited vinyl, and digital / streaming platforms on March 19, via Alive Naturalsound Records.
Loose Canyon, the debut single from Midlands-based band The Gabriels, is one of our favourite songs of the year so far.
A gorgeous, melodic and jangly guitar pop tune that celebrates the legendary Laurel Canyon music scene of ’60s L.A, it’s a far-out and groovy trip (man), that brings a much-needed hit of California sunshine to these dark days we’re living in.
“Loose Canyon was recorded in 2020 against the obvious background of Covid,” says vocalist Gudg, aka Kate Gudgin. “The song is about escapism. This year more than any we’ve all probably felt the need to escape. As a band we love the 1960s Laurel Canyon scene and would have loved to be have been part of it. It was a time where it felt like anything could happen both socially and musically and as a band it’s a big influence on us.”
‘Loose Canyon was recorded in 2020 against the background of Covid. The song is about escapism. This year more than any we’ve all probably felt the need to escape’
All of the full-time members (Gudg /Kate – vocals; Fran Feely – bass,Leon Jones – guitar and Stuart Gray – keys) have been in other acts prior to forming The Gabriels. Gudg previously sang with Pallenberg, Fran was in Elefant Records group, The Silver Factory, Leon was in Blow Up Records’ cosmic country-rockers, Alfa 9, and Stuart played in Fence Collective band, Viva Stereo, and drone/psych act Children of Leir.
The Gabriels cite their influences as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, C86, The Stone Roses and Teenage Fanclub, and they have a shared love of ’60s culture and soundtracks.
In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Gudg (Kate), Fran and Leon about the new single, their penchant for all things ’60s and their plans for this year. Sadly, due to the current crisis, we couldn’t travel to Laurel Canyon for a chat, so we made do with email instead…
How’s 2021 going for you so far?
Fran: Great. The debut single officially comes out on January 31, but it’s pretty much available now. The response has been amazing so far. It certainly helps dealing with the lockdown situation when there’s positivity elsewhere.
Let’s talk about your debut single.It has a great jangly guitar sound and it celebrates the ‘60s Laurel Canyon scene. Why does that era appeal to you so much?
Fran: It’s a real common love of all the members of the band, so it seemed an obvious subject matter to write about. We also got Robyn Gibson from The Junipers in to sing backing vocals, which has worked a treat, as he nailed it.
Kate: Personally I love music from all decades. Although the ‘60s music undoubtedly influences us, there’s tons of great music that’s been released since 1969 that you can’t ignore. That could be something that came later that’s indebted to the ‘60s like the Paisley Underground scene, 1980s jangle pop or even stuff like The Stone Roses, Teenage Fanclub or The Coral. Or something completely different… Fran and I are massive ABBA fans for example, so we hope some of that pop sensibility comes across in The Gabriels’ music.
Leon: That mid-late ‘60s West Coast sound is pretty much ingrained in my psyche. There were a lot of those records in my house when I was growing up – The Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young – so it’s always been there for me, but I’ve never excluded bands who weren’t part of that ‘60s scene.
We decided from the start that we wanted the band to be about great songs and to concentrate on writing songs and recording, as opposed to writing and rehearsing a set of songs and going out and playing a million gigs before thinking about recording anything. That has turned out be a very serendipitous decision, as we’d recorded the bare bones of an album’s worth of songs just as Covid hit. From that we’ve been able to build the songs up, with sessions scattered over 2020, albeit slower than we’d have liked.
‘That mid-late ‘60s West Coast sound is pretty much ingrained in my psyche. There were a lot of those records in my house when I was growing up – The Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young – so it’s always been there for me’
Tell us about how the band came together. You all knew each other socially, but what led to you forming The Gabriels, and where are you all based?
Fran: Over the years we all knew each other from club nights and playing in bands. We were all good friends and Kate asked Leon if he would be interested in playing on some songs I had written. Stu came on at a later stage, as he liked the sound and wanted to join. Fran is originally from Leicester. Stu is Scottish but based in Leicester. Leon is from and based in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Kate is from where Noddy Holder is from.
Leon: We started discussing putting something together a couple of years ago, borne out of a mutual admiration of our other musical exploits and a lot of jangly guitars.
Where did the band name come from?
Gudg: Fran and myself are massive early Genesis fans – the Peter Gabriel period – so the name came from, well, Peter.
There’s an album planned. What can we expect? Is it done and dusted?
Fran: We went about things in a different way. We have written the album already and Leon has his own studio – he is in the process of mixing all the tracks. We feel that each song is strong enough to be a single. That is our goal – to have an album where there are no fillers on it.
Leon: Yep, as Fran says, we’ve approached the release in a different way, almost old-school indie – three great singles followed by an album. We’re just finishing up mixing as we speak and looking to release the album in the summer on the usual download/streaming services and, of course, on good old vinyl.
‘Each song on the album is strong enough to be a single. Our goal is to have an album where there are no fillers on it’
There’s a real sunshiny, positive vibe to the album – hopefully everything will feel a lot more positive by the time it’s released in the summer. We’re all chomping at the bit to get out and do some gigs, but that could be ages away, so we’re keeping an open mind. Again, we’ve been lucky in that we managed to film a few videos in 2020, so we’ve got plenty in the can to put out there over the next few months.
Are you worried about the current situation for live music? What are your hopes and fears for the future? As a new band, is it harder to get exposure at the moment?
Fran: The world is definitely changing, so we will see what happens. To be honest, we are just happy making music and seeing what happens. We don’t expect anything in return, but hopefully folk enjoy the sounds. We’re pretty much making it up as we go along and just hoping people jump on board.
Leon: I think live music is something people have always enjoyed and always will, so no matter what, it will recover. However, the vast majority venues are in a desperate situation, which is heartbreaking. I just hope they can hang on in there. I’m not sure it’s any harder to get exposure at the moment – it’s always been hard! All you can do is write the best songs you can, present them in the best way you can and hope people enjoy it.
Can you tell us some of your favourite music and films from the Laurel Canyon / ‘60s counterculture scene?
Fran: The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Love. Those bands have always been personal faves.
Leon: The Byrds’ first six albums have been a cornerstone of my music taste for as long as I’ve been a musician. I seem to have been on a personal Gene Clark crusade for ever, as he never gets the plaudits I think he deserves both as a member of The Byrds and as a solo artist. I love the Flying Burrito Brothers’ self-titled album – the blue one – which is the first post-Gram Parsons album they did and is really underrated. I’m not the greatest film buff, but I love Beyond The Valley of The Dolls, which has a great soundtrack, and I still love Easy Rider, which I first saw in my early teens.
What music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently?
Fran: I really like a new band called Fur. I think they are great. I really love early Genesis and Caravan are real faves of mine. I listen to lots of music, so it changes. We have a collaborative playlist on the The Gabriels’ Spotify page of stuff we all love.
‘I seem to have been on a personal Gene Clark crusade for ever, as he never gets the plaudits I think he deserves’
Kate: I’ve been really enjoying Swampmeat Family Band’s new album, which is called Muck! It’s such a great album – I saw them a few times in the mid-2000s.
I am also on a nostalgia trip to my youth at the moment, which includes songs that I remember vividly from childhood, such as those by The Everly Brothers and ABBA. I do keep my eye out for new music – there is some great music coming out at the moment by some really talented people.
Leon: I’m really enjoying a lot of the output from Brent Rademaker’s label Curation Records, especially the recent Beachwood Sparks reissue. I really enjoyed the last Whyte Horses album and I’m enjoying La Luz at the moment as well. The latest El Goodo album is great, as you’d expect.
How have you been coping with lockdown?
Kate: I’m loving it! I’m on furlough, so every day is like Sunday for me! I read a lot. If you have a great book in hand, then you are sure to have a great adventure.
Leon: I feel really blessed that I’ve had The Gabriels to keep me occupied and that we managed to get enough material recorded in time to build on.
‘I’m on furlough, so every day is like Sunday! I read a lot. If you have a great book in hand, then you are sure to have a great adventure’
[To Leon]. Are Alfa 9 still going? Would you consider The Gabriels to be a side-project?
Leon: Alfa 9 are taking some time out. We’ve been together in one form or another for 20 years, so I think we’re due a break! We’re like family, so that will never go away. The Gabriels is definitely not a side-project and I’m really enjoying working as hard on it as I have for anything in the past. It’s really energising to work in a situation with different people, taking a new approach and with great songs.
Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, one of the recent albums that has helped us to stay positive during these tough times – and has been a shining light in the darkness – is the aptly-entitled Set Your Sights Towards The Sun, the debut record by UK duo The Lost Doves, who are North West-based singer-songwriters Ian Bailey and Charlotte Newman.
It’s a superb collection of songs that’s in thrall to classic ’60s jangly and harmonic guitar pop, like The Byrds and The Beatles, as well as vintage psychedelic sounds. On the optimistic and anthemic title track, Bailey’s 12-string Rickenbacker rings out like bells (of Rhymney), and it also adds a gorgeous shimmer to the melancholy She’s Waking Up To Close Her Eyes.
There’s a country tinge to the beautiful, acoustic ballad You Stop Me From Falling, a Lennon feel to the haunting Sally Weather, a hint of Eastern mysticism on More Than I and some seriously heavy psych on the dark, trippy instrumental, The Clowns Are Coming To Town.
“I wanted the album to feel like a record you’ve had in your collection for years – warm, inviting and in the vein of the classic West Coast sound of the ‘60s,” Bailey tells us, in an exclusive interview. He’s certainly achieved his goal…
Hi Ian. How’s it going?
Ian Bailey: Well, things could be better gig-wise, as you can imagine, but being able to work and record from home has been a lifeline for me.
I’m based in Leyland, near Preston. Pre-Covid, Preston’s music scene was bustling and bright. The city played host to several fantastic local acts and artists – many of whom I’ve been lifelong friends with – as well as touring bands. All play and perform regularly at great venues, like The Ferret and The Continental.
Have you heard of Preston-based Americana band West on Colfax, who released a great debut album, Barfly Flew By, earlier this year?
IB: Scott [Carey – bass] from West on Colfax was in touch recently, after seeing one of my videos on the Americana UK website. He has invited me to play at their Americana night at The Continental, so I’m looking forward to that once venues can open again.
How has the Covid-19 crisis affected you, and what are your hopes and fears for the future of live music?
IB: I’ve been a self-employed musician for many years. At the onset of the first lockdown, back in March, I was really worried for the careers of fellow musicians, venues and everyone else working within the arts sector – the sound engineers, stage crew, lighting techs, the list goes on… Sadly, it appears to be an industry that was first to shut and looking like the last to open. Encouraging audiences to be confident to attend gigs again is another story…
‘Nobody should be excluded or made to retrain – that’s just the highest insult you can give any creative person. It’s a tough time, but I believe music, arts and culture builds bridges and has the power to heal’
It’s also concerning to see so many people in the arts slipping through the net and not being eligible for financial support, like the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). I know the Musicians’ Union and other organisations are lobbying for it and I really hope something can be done for everyone in the arts world. Nobody should be excluded or made to retrain – that’s just the highest insult you can give any creative person. It’s a tough time, but I believe music, arts and culture builds bridges and has the power to heal. I truly hope the live scene will return bigger than ever.
Let’s talk about your latest project – The Lost Doves. How did you end up working with Charlotte Newman? You both complement each other well – your voices sound great together…
IB: Thank you. I really enjoy working with Charlotte – she’s a real natural talent. We met at a gig on the back of a lorry (laughs) a few years ago, and, a couple of years later, we decided to do something together. We started rehearsing various songs – covers and originals – and subsequently called the rehearsals ‘The Green Tea Sessions’, due to the copious amount we consumed. From thereon, we started recording a few tracks and that’s what spurred us on to create the album together.
You recorded it at your home studio, between late 2019 and pre-lockdown this year. How were the sessions and what’s your set-up like at home?
IB: They were all great sessions – quick and productive. Most of what you hear on the album were first takes. My studio, Small Space Studios, is in fact my daughter Sacha’s old box bedroom – it’s very small. I inherited the valuable space when she moved to Liverpool to start university.
A couple of years ago, I bought a 360 12-string Mapleglo Rickenbacker, which is the guitar you hear on the album. I use a jangle box with the Ricky, which is basically a compression pedal. It gives the guitar sustain and ‘that’ sound, and I just go straight into the desk with it. I bought some half decent mics, an £80 keyboard, an old Boss BR900CD [portable multi-track recorder] complete with flash cards, a drum machine, an old amp and monitors. That’s it really.
You co-produced the record with Charlotte and you both played all the instruments, apart from the drums, which were by ‘local legend’ Little Bobby Rockin’ Box. Tell us about Bobby…
IB:Well, Bobby is the pseudonym for my wonderful old Alesis drum machine that I bid for and won on eBay. We used Bobby’s talents throughout the album, before adding tambourine and shakers to complement his impeccable timing. We thought that by giving him credit and accolade as a local legend he’d be up for doing another album!
‘I wanted the album to feel like a record you’ve had in your collection for years – warm, inviting and in the vein of the classic West Coast sound of the ‘60s’
How did you approach the album? What kind of sound and feel were you going for?
IB: That’s a really good question. When we embarked on the project, I was going to keep everything stripped-back and understated, but it soon became apparent that it would be a big mistake to leave out things like Charlotte’s wonderful lead guitar playing, our built-up harmonies and the way we blended the instruments, so I started to look at the majority of the album being full ‘band’ tracks, but with the occasional stripped-back song in there to give some balance.
With regards to the sound, I wanted the album to feel like an album you’ve had in your collection for years – warm and inviting. I guess I was always trying to create an album that was in the vein of the classic West Coast sound of the ‘60s.
Were all the songs written especially for The Lost Doves project, or did you already have some of them?
IB: Not all the songs were written specifically for the album. You Stop Me From Falling is one I wrote several years ago, but after performing the song in rehearsal acoustically with Charlotte, it felt natural to include it on the album.
See Saw and She’s Waking Up To Close Her Eyes were originally written for my stripped-back, acoustic album Empty Fields, but I really wanted to give them a bigger sound and production, so it felt right to include them on the album too.
Where did the name The Lost Doves come from?
IB: I was originally working on a psychedelic ‘60s-style name, you know like Jack & Jill’s Incredible Grooving Satanic Barber Shop Bungee Jumping Santa Machine, but I was having no such luck coming up with something that had any relevance.
So I basically went back to the drawing board and hit upon the idea of two white doves escaping from a magician’s cage and flying for days, possibly weeks, over the sand and sea, to find a new home in the sun, away from the conjuror’s clutches, but, unfortunately, getting lost and losing their bearings somewhere along the way. I liked the way it also worked with The Byrds theme.
On that note, the jangly title track, which is one of my favourite songs on the album, has a definite Byrds feel, with 12-string Rickenbacker, harmonies and a great poppy melody…
IB: It feels very relevant for the hard times we’re living in. It’s a hopeful song about bringing some light into the darkness. It’s one of our favourites too.
What inspired it? Was it written in response to the Covid crisis?
IB: It was written pre-Covid and lockdown – in fact it was the first track we finished for the album. I wanted to write a song that delivered a positive message on life. It’s about helping each other, not looking back, and finding that even the smallest chink of light in the darkest room can bring hope – the bad days will pass. Its sentiment means more now than ever. I like the way the album hangs off the back of it too.
Several of the songs deal with hope and looking towards a better, brighter time. Was that intentional? They feel like they have a common theme…
IB: I guess it wasn’t intentional, but it seemed to flow that way. I’ve found that listening to certain music, using certain instruments and working with certain musicians brings out different sides to my songwriting and it’s confirmed to me that it’s good to be around positive folk.
‘I wanted the guitars to sound like Crosby and McGuinn in the left and right speakers, and the harmonies to sound like Crosby, Stills & Nash’
She’s Waking Up To Close Her Eyes is also very Byrds-like…
IB: Yes indeed, I wanted it to sound like The Byrds had just got back together. Musically I think it has a Chimes of Freedom feel. I like the words – they’re pretty melancholy really. It’s about a couple going their separate ways, but he wants her to stay and pleads with her, but how can he possibly change her mind? Will she believe him that it will all be different, when all she’s felt is loneliness and neglect day-after-day? I wanted the guitars to sound like Crosby and McGuinn in the left and right speakers, and the harmonies to sound like Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Why do you like the Rickenbacker sound so much? Are you a Byrds and Beatles fanatic? Who are your main influences?
IB: I’ve loved The Beatles and The Byrds since I was at school. I got my first Rickenbacker 12-string when I was 18, from Hobbs Music in Lancaster, after falling in love with the look and that unmistakable jangly sound. My dad was kind enough to sign the never-never form and I paid him back £10 a week. I still have the guitar to this day. I have a few different guitars, but the Rickenbacker always comes out of the case first.
My friends and I formed our first band together while we were at school and eventually turned ourselves into a great mod band, playing the scooter rallies in and around Lancashire. Bands like The Jam, The Who, The Small Faces and The Kinks all featured heavily in those days.
As the years went by, I was listening to artists like The Moody Blues, Simon & Garfunkel – in fact most of the stuff from my dad’s record collection. Little Richard, John Denver, Cat Stevens, Don McLean, Bread, Procol Harum, Traffic – those kind of artists. Later I was introduced to the such greats as Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newbury, David Olney, Emmylou Harris….the list goes on.
Your song Sally Weather has a Lennon/ Beatles feel…
IB: It was based on a riff and an idea I’d had for around 20 years. The lyrics are based on a person I knew who had fallen into an abusive relationship. I’m glad to say she is now happy and loving her life again.
I always think it sounds like a cross between Girl and something else I can never quite put my finger on, but I guess something from the Revolver-era. The keyboard solo was inspired by House Of The Rising Sun by The Animals. I like the lines “insanity’s a point of view, so close your eyes you’ll miss the truth.”
You Stop Me From Falling is more stripped-down. It’s a gorgeous acoustic ballad. Where did that song come from?
IB: It was written and dedicated to a dear friend who helped me through some rough times. It was my way of giving them something back.
It’s been through a few different guises, but, primarily, when I was writing it, I had in my head the scene from The Shining, where all the ‘ghosts’ are in the big concert room in their 1920s regalia and the band are playing. It’s slightly odd I know, but you can never tell what will inspire a song sometimes.
The Clowns Are Coming To Town is a heavy, psychedelic instrumental. I really like it, but it feels a bit out of place on the album. Is it your Revolution 9 moment?
IB: I wanted a track that would crash down and create some waves. I love the whole psychedelia scene from the late ‘60s onwards – it had a big effect on me. I remember hearing White Rabbit [by Jefferson Airplane] for the first time and immediately heading into town, straight to Action Records [in Preston] and buying it.
‘I wanted a track that would crash down and create some waves. I love the whole psychedelia scene from the late ‘60s onwards – it had a big effect on me’
Watching the Monterey Pop Festival and seeing Hendrix setting his guitar on fire, and hearing Tomorrow Never Knows, Eight Miles High, Soft Machine, Piper at The Gates of Dawn and Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast all had a big influence on me.
We had a lot of fun recording The Clowns Are Coming To Town – we were bouncing guitars along tables, pinging rulers, reversing organs, radios and guitars, backwards pianos, distorted bass, sending political leaders’ speeches backwards… that sort of thing. It started its days by being loosely based around The Byrds’ Stranger In A Strange Land, but it quickly turned into Revolution 9 part two.
More Than I also has a Beatles feel, as well as some slight Eastern vibes, as does the final track, which is a short, backwards, psychedelic instrumental, entitled Isolation. Is that you embracing your inner George Harrison?
IB:More Than I was written for my daughter while we were on holiday in Cornwall. We had gone down to the beach – the weather was beautiful, the sun was high, the sky was blue and I just had the line “Like a child on the sand who doesn’t feel the land as its fear” running through my head. I love Charlotte’s harmonies on that song.
Musically it’s inspired by Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’, The Beatles’ Across The Universe and George Harrison’s Here Comes The Moon. I use an electric sitar on it, just tickling through in the mix. I’m greatly inspired and influenced by George Harrison’s music and his spiritual values. He was a great man.
There are two cover versions on the album – and they’re both songs I love, the standard, Autumn Leaves, and Scott Walker’s Duchess. Why did you choose them?
IB: When Charlotte and I started rehearsing, we had one of those ‘OK, what songs have you got?’ moments. She played me Autumn Leaves and I was astounded. It was beautiful. I knew then it just had to go on any future album we made. I like to call it the ‘candlelit room with a glass of wine, next to a crackling California fire and looking out onto the setting sun’ moment on the album.
Scott Walker’s Duchess was played to me around 20 years ago after a long studio session. I’d never heard anything quite so enchanting, beautiful and dark. I would play it on repeat for months after and still do. It felt like the perfect choice to honour and celebrate this wonderful song and the great Scott Walker.
Waves, which is the only song written by Charlotte on the album, has the sound of the sea from Barbados on it. Were you tempted to put any sound effects from Lancashire on the album? What would you have chosen?
IB: Charlotte loves travelling and she has a real sense of wanderlust. While she was away playing the cruise ships around the Caribbean, we stayed in touch and one cold, frosty morning she sent me a video recording of the Barbados sea lapping against the sun-drenched sandy shore. When she returned, we recorded Waves and I secretly added the waves to the final mix. She was delighted. Charlotte plays the beautiful lead guitar throughout that song – it reminds me of Lindsey Buckingham’s playing. What North Western sound effect would I have chosen? Probably the wind and the rain.
Can you tell us about your musical background? You’ve had four solo albums out since the ’90s…
IB: I was born in Blackpool in 1969 and spent my formative years living in various parts of The Fylde before moving to Preston in 1980. I started playing in bands when I was at secondary school, although I had a Bontempi guitar as a five-year-old and dug Blockbuster by The Sweet. When I left school, I got my first job as an apprentice at Fylde Guitars in Kirkham. During that time, I formed a mod band called Class A. It was taken from a Marlboro packet I seem to remember.
We went through various guises, but as the mod flame dimmed to a flicker, we attempted to resurrect ourselves. Sometimes we were psychedelic and sometimes gothic, but never with direction. We stuck together right through the early ‘90s until around ‘96/’97.
During that time, I met and married my soulmate Rachel and we had two wonderful daughters, Jose and Sacha. Rachel and the girls keep me on track through thick and thin. In 1998, I met Gary Hall through a mutual friend, Lee, who I was playing with in our band MellowDrive. We recorded our debut album and everything else after with Gary, in ’98, and he soon became a friend, producer and mentor.
He introduced me to great music I’d never heard before and songwriters whose lyrics cut deep. I recorded four solo albums with Gary and we both produced other artists over a 11-year or so period at his Voodoo Rooms Studio. That was a valuable experience for me and gave me the knowledge and tools to pave the way for me to start recording and producing from my own homegrown studio.
As well as Charlotte, you’re also working with singer-songwriter, Daniel Wylie, the former frontman of Cosmic Rough Riders. You’re releasing an EP of co-written songs, aren’t you? I’ve had a sneak preview of two tracks, Take It Or Leave It, which has a ’60s, jangly pop feel, with keys and brass, and Slow Down River – another summery, Byrdsy song about the sun. What’s the plan for the EP?
IB: I’m loving working with Daniel. We’ve been Facebook friends for several years. His songs, music and stories, and his ability to pull brilliant melodies out of the air are inspiring.
During lockdown, I began recording some new solo songs – Dangerous Clowns and TV Land. My daughter, Sacha, acted as video producer for my lockdown sessions. I sent Daniel the videos and he loved them. We got chatting about music we both enjoyed and I suggested we should do a co-write at some point. He was really into the idea and he sent over four song ideas.
The first track we finished was What’s Happening Now?, followed by Take It Or Leave It, and then Slow Down River. We are both really pleased with how they are all sounding. We plan to do more co-writes after this EP.
I’m producing and performing the songs in my home studio and I’m finding it to be such a great way to work. Daniel and I really are both enjoying the whole process. It’s also bringing out a different side to me as a songwriter and producer, which I’m loving. Daniel has been playing a couple of the tracks to a few record company friends and getting some great feedback. Nothing is finalised yet regarding the release, but we’re excited about it.
As you mentioned, you’ve been putting out some solo songs on YouTube. Any plans for another solo album? If so, when will it come out and what can we expect?
IB: Yes – so far I’ve recorded two tracks which will be on my new solo album. I have a bunch of songs ready to go and record. You can expect more jangle from the Rickenbacker, and a possible duet or two. There’s no release date as yet, but hopefully it will be towards next summer.
What music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently? What have been your favourite albums of 2020?
IB: That’s a great question. Well, recently I’ve been tuning in to a great American radio station called Radio Free Phoenix, which plays some fantastic music.
On my recent playlists there’s been The Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash, The Doors, Townes Van Zandt, The Cure, Ravi Shankar, Buddy Holly, Dylan, Lennon, R.E.M, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Daniel Wylie, Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, Syd Barrett, Black Sabbath, Soundgarden, Janis Joplin, The Mamas and the Papas, Creedence, George Harrison, Steve Hillage, Bob Marley, Little Richard, Mickey Newbury, The Who, Van Morrison, Richard Thompson, Bert Jansch, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, The Moody Blues, Vaughan Williams, Tom Baxter, Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, Crowded House, Miles Davis, Vivaldi, Steve Marriott, Martin Simpson, and, worth mentioning again, The Byrds!
I enjoyed the coverage on the radio for John Lennon’s 80th birthday too and I’ve had Ray LaMontagne’s Monovision on repeat. There’s some real gems on that album. My daughter Sacha introduced me to a band called Flyte – I love the harmonies and they are great musicians. I’ve been enjoying Homegrown by Neil Young. I also listened to the new Paul Weller album [On Sunset] the other evening. I really like the album before it, True Meanings, too.
Finally, what are your plans for Christmas? Will your 12-string Rickenbacker be ringing out?
IB: Well, I would usually be busy gigging in December, but I think this year it will be nights by the fire, finishing songs, spending time with my family and recording the new album. I’m sure the Ricky will be making an appearance. I might even record a jangly Christmas carol for you.
Set Your Sights Towards The Sun by The Lost Doves is out now on Green Tea Productions.
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 Choke Hold, 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 UK Americana, to Canadian country-blues, Staffordshire psych-pop, Spaghetti Western soundtracks and, er, a concept record about Worcestershire, Say It With Garage Flowers chooses its favourite albums of 2018…
Bennett Wilson Poole have had a great year.
The UK Americana and jangle-pop trio formed by Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive, Danny and the Champions of the World) and Tony Poole (‘70s rockers Starry Eyed and Laughing – ‘the English Byrds’), released a critically-acclaimed debut album, played sell-out shows across the UK and were nominated twice in the UK Americana 2019 Awards – for UK Album of the Year and UK Artist of the Year. And if that wasn’t enough, they’ve also scooped the prize for Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite album of 2018.
When we told Danny Wilson the news, he said: “What an honour! I didn’t think it would be your album of the year… I wouldn’t have dreamed of it! I loved making the album with the other guys and I think it’s a great record.”
It certainly is! When we first heard the record at the start of the year, we said it would undoubtedly find itself high up on Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite records of the year list come late 2018…
‘High on harmonies and brimming with glorious melodies, it’s a stunning collection of instantly memorable and brilliantly crafted songs that are steeped in classic ‘60s and ‘70s rock and pop, but don’t shy away from tackling contemporary social issues’
Produced by Tony Poole – the king of the 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitar – in his home studio in rural Oxfordshire, it’s a totally cosmic trip that takes in Byrds-meets-Tom-Petty/ Traveling Wilburys jangle-pop (Soon Enough), gorgeous, soulful balladry, (Hide Behind A Smile), mystical country (Find Your Own Truth), sunny Americana (Wilson General Store), shimmering psychedelic sounds (That Thing That You Called Love) and moody, powerful protest rock in the vein of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Hate Won’t Win and Lifeboat (Take A Picture of Yourself).
High on harmonies and brimming with glorious melodies, it’s a stunning collection of instantly memorable and brilliantly crafted songs that are steeped in classic ‘60s and ‘70s rock and pop, but don’t shy away from tackling contemporary social issues.
Speaking to us earlier this year – we were the first publication to interview Bennett Wilson Poole – Tony said: “With our songs, like Hide Behind A Smile, the chords are quite simple and the tunes are quite jangly, but if you dig a little deeper, there’s more under the surface.”
He added: “A lot of people have said that you can keep listening to the album over and over again and you hear new things, which is great – that’s a good sign. If it makes you feel good, we’re adding to the sum of human happiness…”
Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we totally agree – Bennett Wilson Poole’s long-player has been on heavy rotation on our hi-fi and it’s been our feel-good soundtrack of 2018. And the good news is that there’s a follow-up planned for 2019. It can’t come soon enough…
Another Americana release that impressed us this year was Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger’s Nonsense and Heartache.
Produced by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, who worked on our favourite album of 2017, John Murry’s A Short History of Decay, it’s a double album, but, essentially it’s two distinct collections of songs.
The first half – Nonsense – is a raw, primal, bluesy, electric rock ‘n’ roll record, while the second instalment – Heartache – is a stripped-down, alt-country affair, with intimate ballads, lap steel, piano and fiddle.
Put them together and you have an album that reminds us of those classic early Ryan Adams long-players Heartbreaker and Gold – yep, it’s that good…
Jerry has a new album due in the autumn of 2019 and will be playing dates in Europe and the UK in the spring.
Pieces, Luke’s third solo album, is his best yet. An angry, heavy, often political album, it rocks like Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Batten down the hatches, it’s like a hurricane out there… There’s even a nine-minute, epic rallying call (Requiem), which attacks social injustice in the UK and comes across like Luke’s very own Rockin’ In The Free World…
It’s not all big guitar anthems, though – there are some quieter moments in the eye of the storm, like the apologetic ballad Charing Cross and the sublime, Springsteen-like country-rock song Ghosts, which sees Luke revisiting his childhood haunts.
Luke wasn’t the only US-based, UK singer-songwriter to make a political album this year – Nashville resident Ian Webber brought out Op-Eds, which tackled social issues including women’s rights, fake news, war-torn Syria and the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy.
Musically, it’s a very stripped-down record – mostly just Ian and his acoustic guitar – and it makes for intimate and sometimes uneasy listening, as he shares people’s stories of hardship and struggle.
Opener Follow Me and its parent song, The Regime, are haunting tales inspired by reading news stories about families suffering in Syria, while Frontline is a protest song that has its roots in ’50s rockabilly.
Radio Zero is an ode to the healing power of great music – while the world is going crazy, sometimes you just need to switch off from all the doom and gloom and crank up some classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes. Ian sings the song in a Bowie-like croon that sounds like it’s been beamed in from outer space.
‘Musically, it’s a very stripped-down record – mostly just Ian and his acoustic guitar – and it makes for intimate and sometimes uneasy listening, as he shares people’s stories of hardship and struggle’
Fellow Bowie fan, UK singer-songwriter and Say It With Garage Flowers regular Vinny Peculiar released the latest in a long line of great albums in 2018. Return of the Native was a concept record inspired by moving back to Worcestershire after 23 years living in Manchester.
A brilliant collection of witty, reflective and deeply personal songs, it features a whole host of weird and wonderful characters, including a burnt-out rock star, the ghost of a Civil War re-enactment enthusiast, Eminem hopelessly lost in Droitwich, ’70s M.O.R. singer Clifford T.Ward, DJ Tony Blackburn and comedian Rik Mayall.
Musically, the album takes the listener on a journey through Worcestershire that’s soundtracked by glam-rock, jangle-pop, psych, Pet Shop Boys-style electro and New Order-esque, Northern melancholy.
Jangle-pop and psych sounds both featured heavily on the 2018 albums by London cosmic-country-folk five piece The Hanging Stars and Staffordshire band Alfa 9.
With Songs For Somewhere Else – the follow-up to their 2016 debut, Over The Silvery Lake, which was our favourite album of that year, The Hanging Stars made a record that was even better than its predecessor and was a much more varied and adventurous collection of songs – there was the beguiling and soporific Spiritualized-meets-Byrds groove of On A Sweet Summer’s Day, the heavenly, Big Star jangle-pop of Honeywater, menacing Spaghetti Western soundtrack Mean Old Man, the country-rock romp For You (My Blue Eyed Son) and the woozy and playful 1920s-style jazz-blues of Too Many Wired Hours.
Alfa 9 are also fans of Spaghetti Western soundtracks – their album My Sweet Movida was full of Ennio Morricone influences,retro rock, cosmic-psych-country road trips and ’60s-inspired jangle-pop.
Back in April, guitarist Leon Jones told us: “We love Morricone and that kind of melancholy there is in a lot of his work. I’m fascinated by the Mojave desert in California and the Joshua Tree, particularly. For someone from the Midlands, it’s a very strange environment…”
Another fan of Morricone is Frank Sweeney, whose band of London renegades The Magic City Trio turned in one of the best debut albums of 2018.
Amerikana Arkana has wonderful orchestral arrangements that recall the dramatic ’60s pop of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, (Black Dog Following Me), Morricone’s moody Spaghetti Western soundtracks (Cousins’ War) and Mexican Mariachi music (Trav’ler), but these story songs are also steeped in the dark traditions of murder ballads, old country and folk laments, outlaw tales and hillbilly blues.
For more Spaghetti Western sounds and gun-slinging action, may we also recommend another great debut album from 2018 – Sarah Vista’s Killing Fever. Look out for an interview with London-based singer-songwriter Sarah on Say It With Garage Flowers soon…
Whether your year has been good, bad or ugly, we hope that you’ll take time to listen to some of the albums that were our soundtrack to 2018.
Here’s the full list of our 35 favourite albums of the last 12 months and a Spotify playlist to go with it*.
My Sweet Movida, the new album from Staffordshire four-piece Alfa 9, is one of my favourite records of the year so far – I love its retro rock, cosmic-psych-country road trips, Spaghetti Western soundtracks and ’60s-inspired jangle-pop.
Produced, written and arranged by the band, it was recorded at Tremolo Studios, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and The Room, Stoke-on-Trent. I spoke to guitarist Leon Jones to find out why it’s taken five years to come out.
While we were chatting, the subjects of love, sex, betrayal, coincidence and chance also came up in conversation, which was nice…
Q & A
Hi Leon. Alfa 9 have been on my interview hit list for a while and now we’ve finally found the time to sit down and have a chat… How do you feel about it?
Leon Jones: I feel that you’re a perceptive man, Sean, and one of more than good taste. I know you’re a Byrds, Bond and Morricone fan. Do we need to get deeper?
LJ: It’s flattering to be talked about in the same circles as those bands. It’s got to be encouraging hearing others who are aiming at something similar and making it sound relevant. It does feel like there’s a momentum building. Our album’s out, The Hanging Stars and El Goodo have new records out… I really like The Carousels as well…We’re playing with The Hanging Stars in Leicester on June 30 [at The Firebug].
Your new album, My Sweet Movida, is one of my favourite records of the year so far. How does it feel to have it out there? Are you pleased with it?
LJ: It’s been a long process to write, record and do everything to release the album, but that’s kind of how we work…we like to let songs meld and develop, so it takes time. Maybe for our next record we’ll do the whole thing in one take…
It’s your third album – the follow-up to 2013’s Gone To Ground. Why has it taken five years to come out?
LJ: We were doing a lot of gigs following the release of Gone To Ground and then there were babies and cats and stuff like that happening…We’ve got 15 songs written already for the next album, so we’re aiming to be a bit quicker next time
How did you approach this album?
LJ: Well, I think we felt really comfortable with things – we’ve found a great mix in the band and really play off each other, plus we had moved on as songwriters, so it was exciting. After we got a couple of songs going, the album started to get a character of its own. We weren’t afraid of allowing our influences to come through, but we were also confident that it still sounds like us.
‘We’ve got 15 songs written already for the next album, so we’re aiming to be a bit quicker next time’
You wrote, produced and arranged the album yourselves. How was the experience of making this record? Was it an enjoyable one?
LJ: Yes – we love being in control of the process and we’ve always had our own recording set up, starting with a four-track Portastudio. Technology gives us a lot of flexibility that 20 years years ago would not have been possible.
We’re lucky that there’s a studio about a mile from my house with a great old 16-track tape machine. We’ve recorded there on and off for years, so it’s a very comfortable environment for us. We did the basic tracks there, then recorded guitars and other stuff at our place – The Room – then went back there and did vocals.
What can you tell me about the first single, Smile Dog? It’s very psychedelic…
LJ: That was kind of the start of the new album – a jam that took on a life of its own. Those kind of songs are the purest expressions of the band – they just happen.
What influences shaped the songwriting and the sound of the new album?
LJ: It’s pretty clear who we like – The Byrds, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Paisley Underground, Neil Young, Ennio Morricone, Nuggets, Pink Floyd, Stone Roses, Creation Records – that hasn’t really changed since we’ve been together. That stuff’s the bedrock. I think with this album, we felt confident with the songs and getting them to sound how we wanted them to.
The second single, Movida, continues Alfa 9’s penchant for Ennio Morricone-esque soundtracks, doesn’t it? It has a Spaghetti Western feel…
LJ: Yes – definitely. We love Morricone and that kind of melancholy there is in a lot of his work. I’m fascinated by the Mojave desert in California and the Joshua Tree, particularly. For someone from the Midlands, it’s a very strange environment
The song Darkest Sea has a country feel. How did that track come about?
LJ: I wrote an opening theme for an imaginary western soundtrack-type thing that we wrote ages ago and then we eventually added words. We tried a few different arrangements. I think we were listening to a lot of the Handsome Family at the time we recorded it.
I love the song Different Corner – it’s gorgeous jangle-pop and very Byrdsy. What can you tell me about that song?
LJ: It’s about love, sex, betrayal, coincidence and chance…the dark end of the street.
‘I’m fascinated by the Mojave desert in California and the Joshua Tree. For someone from the Midlands, it’s a very strange environment’
Fly – the final track on the album – is an epic closer. Were you aiming for a ’70s Pink Floyd-style, psych anthem? It certainly sounds like it…
LJ: That was another song that wrote itself – we were aiming for nothing, but it just kind of appeared in the room. We’re massive Floyd fans, but I think there’s also a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young thing happening on it as well.
You have a few gigs coming up this year. What can we expect?
LJ: It sounds like a cliché, because it is, but I think we sound better now than we ever have done. We’ve got a lot of songs worked up – we could do about four hours!
What’s on the Alfa 9 hi-fi at the moment? Any musical recommendations – new and old?
LJ: Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band, The Hanging Stars, Gene Clark, El Goodo, Cowboy, Rain Parade, The Gosdin Brothers, The Easybeats, Spindrift, New Riders of The Purple Sage…
Finally, will we have to wait another five years for your next album?
LJ: Nope – life’s starting to feel very short…
My Sweet Movida by Alpha 9 is out now on Blow Up. It’s available on heavyweight vinyl, CD and download.
The band play The Troubadour in London, 263-267 Old Brompton Road, SW5 9JA on April 7, supported by Usselman.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Some things are meant to happen. The coming together of Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive, Danny and the Champions of the World) and Tony Poole (‘70s rockers Starry Eyed and Laughing – ‘the English Byrds’) to form UK Americana supergroup Bennett Wilson Poole is one such thing…
Fate led to a meeting of minds and musical talent – and thank God it did, as it’s resulted in a wonderful, self-titled debut album that will undoubtedly find itself high up on Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite records of the year list come late 2018.
Produced by Poole – the king of the 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitar – in his home studio in rural Oxfordshire, it’s a totally cosmic trip that takes in Byrds-meets-Tom-Petty/ Traveling Wilburys jangle-pop (Soon Enough), gorgeous, soulful balladry, (Hide Behind A Smile), mystical country (Find Your Own Truth), sunny Americana (Wilson General Store), shimmering psychedelic sounds (That Thing That You Called Love) and moody, powerful protest rock in the vein of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Hate Won’t Win and Lifeboat (Take A Picture of Yourself).
High on harmonies and brimming with glorious melodies, it’s a stunning collection of instantly memorable and brilliantly crafted songs that are steeped in classic ‘60s and ‘70s rock and pop, but don’t shy away from tackling contemporary social issues.
I met up with Bennett Wilson Poole in a North London pub after their second ever gig – at Islington’s Union Chapel – to find out why this collaboration was always on the cards, how the record was made and why they love working – and playing – together…
Q & A
You’ve formed a supergroup. Are you the new Traveling Wilburys or Crosby, Stills and Nash?
Danny Wilson: Yes! The name Bennett Wilson Poole does kind of have a similar feel to Crosby, Stills & Nash. People have been mentioning the Traveling Wilburys quite a lot. The supergroup thing is mad…
Back in the ‘70s, ‘80s and even the ‘90s there was a trend for supergroups, but it seems to have died off…
Danny: Maybe we’ve brought it back. Howard [Mills – the band’s manager] said that us getting together was inevitable because of where we’re coming from – we all write the same kind of music and we’ve done stuff together before.
So how did you all meet each other?
Robin Bennett: When I had the band Goldrush, we opened for Grand Drive a couple of times and we were fans of theirs. That’s when I met Danny – I then played with Danny and the Champions of the World and on their first couple of albums.
Danny: I made a record with Tony – he produced Hearts and Arrows [by Danny and the Champions of the World].
Tony Poole: I know Danny through a guy called Peter O’Brien, who had a magazine called Omaha Rainbow and who was a fan of my band, Starry Eyed and Laughing. He was a teacher at Danny’s school. Starry Eyed and Laughing played at the school, in Wallington, but Danny probably wasn’t born then…
What year was that?
Tony: 1872! No – it was about 1974.
Danny: Rock photographer Tom Sheehan’s first ever professional photography job was taking pictures of Starry Eyed and Laughing at my school!
So, it was fate that brought you together – it was meant to be…
Tony: Yeah – it’s kind of weird. I was a fan of Danny’s and he asked me if I’d work on Hearts and Arrows. I couldn’t say no – at that point I was doing lots of stuff with bands like Steeleye Span and it was so heartless. I loved mixing music, but I hated what I was doing. We did the Hearts and Arrows album really quickly and everything came together – it was easy. I loved doing it and I loved the music. It was a rediscovery for me.
‘I was doing lots of stuff with bands like Steeleye Span and it was so heartless. I loved mixing music, but I hated what I was doing’
Robin: I was playing a Dreaming Spires gig in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, Tony was there and we got talking.
Tony: I went to their studio in Steventon to listen to some tracks and they put an electric 12-string Danelectro guitar in my hand… I ended up adding some stuff and mixing some of the tracks – it worked out really well.
So what prompted the move to form a supergroup and write and record your debut, self-titled album?
Tony: I got a call out the blue from either Robin or Danny to say they’d been writing songs together on FaceTime – that’s the modern world, isn’t it?
Danny: I go in the kitchen, drink a bottle of wine, get a guitar, FaceTime a mate who has a guitar and you have some new songs! It’s good. We’d written some songs and we both said that Tony would be perfect for them – we rang him and he was up for it.
Tony: How could I not be? Everything was so fast – they’d written most of the songs and when they came to my studio, I had some bits of songs that I’d started. All three of us finished them in the room in about 20 minutes – that had never happened to me before. It was unbelievable. We did two recording sessions and then one for overdubs – the spirit of it is the live thing that we did. It’s like Crosby, Stills & Nash – we were sitting around with three guitars and three voices and we recorded it. That’s the meat of it.
‘I go in the kitchen, drink a bottle of wine, get a guitar, FaceTime a mate who has a guitar and you have some new songs! It’s good’
The cover artwork of the album is a nod to the first record by Crosby, Stills & Nash, isn’t it? You’re all sat on a sofa, outside a saloon at Truck Festival, and, just like the Crosby, Stills & Nash cover, the names of the band members don’t match the order that you’re sat in the picture…
Tony: The Crosby, Stills & Nash photo is by Henry Diltz – the picture was taken before the band had decided on the order of the names. When they went back to reshoot the pictures, the house had been torn down.
Robin: What’s even more appropriate is that the structure in our photo also no longer exists…
Tony: The saloon at Truck has been destroyed…
There’s definitely a whole Crosby, Stills & Nash vibe to the record – in more ways than one..
Tony: We didn’t do it consciously, but it seemed natural. When we on our way to do a shoot with photographer John Morgan, we passed the saloon… He took four or five shots and that was it.
Maybe for the next album, you could recreate The Notorious Byrd Brothers cover and replace one of you with a horse?
Tony: It will be me!
Is it fun working together?
Robin: I kind of pinch myself – I just love these guys’ music.
Danny: The same here.
Tony: It’s so natural.
[To Tony]: You produced the album. How was that?
Tony: I take the Jeff Lynne role – I’m a bit of a control freak, but, luckily, everything I do, they like – mostly anyway.
Danny: We love working with Tony. Not only are we all good friends, but me and Robin are massive, massive fans of Starry Eyed and Laughing and Tony’s production is so brilliant. He kept sending us stuff when we were working on the album and asked us for comments. We said ‘it’s brilliant – we love it!’
Robin: That’s not how things usually work…
‘I take the Jeff Lynne role – I’m a bit of a control freak, but, luckily, everything I do, they like – mostly anyway’
Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. The first single, Soon Enough, came out in early February. It’s a classic jangle-pop tune, isn’t it? It’s very Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty and The Byrds. You filmed the video at the Didcot Railway Centre museum. How was that?
Danny: The video is a knowing nod to the Traveling Wilburys song End of the Line – we wanted it to be like that.
Robin: It’s also quite A Hard Day’s Night. Quite a lot of our songwriting reminds me of that mid-’60s thing.
The track Hide Behind A Smile is a gorgeous, soulful ballad, but, lyrically, it talks about coping with depression and anxiety…
Danny: Me and Robin wrote that song. I think everyone will understand it – it’s something we all do. We all put on a brave face to mask things – a smile is obviously a facade at times.
The song Wilson General Store, which was written by Robin, was inspired by Danny’s family history. Danny’s grandparents had a shop in Melbourne, Australia called Wilsons Emporium…
Danny: That’s where my mum and dad met.
Robin: In the middle of our writing session, I went to bed and woke up with the idea – we’d been talking about the shop. By the time we started writing again the following morning, I’d already finished the song.
Danny: My folks are huge music fans. I gave my dad a copy of the album, but I forgot to mention Wilson General Store. When he heard it, he said, ‘Is this our song?’ He loved it – it’s his favourite on the album.
You’ve filmed a promo video for your PledgeMusic campaign in which you feature in a Two Ronnies-inspired comedy skit…
Danny: With that video and the one for Soon Enough, we’re quite happy to be humorous and have a laugh. I think it takes something to be removed from your ‘day job’ project and to give you the distance, so you can show your personality – there’s no trying to be cool. It just is what it is and it frees you up – it’s been a pleasure because it’s not too important. Sometimes the precious things that you hold on too tightly to can be crushed…
Hate Won’t Win is one of the songs on the album that has a darker edge. It’s a protest song and was written in response to the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, in 2016. Musically, it’s a nod to Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s classic counterculture anthem about the Kent State University shootings in 1970, isn’t it?
Tony: Yes – when I heard the news about Jo Cox it was a Thursday [June 16, 2016]. I remember sitting in the garden with a guitar and I thought about the story behind Ohio. Neil Young had written the song, Crosby got them in the studio and the song was out a few days later.
My tune came from the same place – I wrote a verse that was kind of reportage and was quite vicious. I sent Danny and Robin a phone recording of it and when they turned up at mine on the Saturday, Robin had written another verse and we finished it off and recorded it – it was out on YouTube on the Monday [as Hate Won’t Win (Song For Jo Cox)]. It was an echo of the time of Ohio. What can you do? We can’t change the world, but we put it out there… On the album, we purposely haven’t used the subtitle (Song For Jo Cox), as it’s now universal, but it’s still a nod to her – she inspired the song.
With our songs, like Hide Behind A Smile, the chords are quite simple and the tunes are quite jangly, but if you dig a little deeper, there’s more under the surface. But it’s not like ‘we’ve suffered for our art, now it’s your turn’ – we don’t do that.
Danny: Interestingly it’s the flip side of what I was saying about doing the videos. Working with these guys on a song like Hate Won’t Win is something that I wouldn’t approach in one of my normal projects – it gives me an extra dimension. It’s not a career move – it’s just something I really love doing. You can afford to be a bit more serious, or, like in the videos, a bit funny.
Robin: With this record we were able to do some things that we might not feel brave enough to do with our other projects.
The album closes with Lifeboat (Take A Picture of Yourself) – another song that tackles a social issue. Tony, you started writing it after seeing a photo of a refugee boat in the Mediterranean adjacent to an article on selfies…
Tony: It was so vivid – the world we’re living in and the other world. I had the idea – picture yourself in that lifeboat. You can’t explain things too much – they just come out.
It’s a great song – with the heavy electric guitar, it’s very Neil Young-sounding. The lyric even mentions the phrase ‘on the beach’, which is the title of a 1974 Neil Young album…
Tony: We were sitting in the recording studio with a pad and it took five or 10 minutes.
Robin: I couldn’t tell what Tony was singing, so I just wrote down what I heard.
Tony: I was singing phonetic stuff and he turned it into words for the chorus.
‘With this record we were able to do some things that we might not feel brave enough to do with our other projects’
You’ve played a couple of gigs as Bennett Wilson Poole – one in Oxford and one in London, at the Union Chapel. What it’s like playing the album live?
Tony: It’s taken it to a new level – as we’re playing it, we grow into the songs. As we get further along, we’ll get right under the skin of them. It was quite a fast recording process, but it’s somehow like a record that was made by somebody else. I keep listening to it… Vanity, eh?
Robin: We are slightly distanced from it – it is like hearing someone else’s album. You’re not hearing your own voice all the time.
Danny: When I do a new album with the Champs, it’s so raw to me – I hate all of my vocals and the songs! It’s so difficult to listen to it, but with this album, I listen to it everyday! I don’t know what that says about me…
That you’re in the wrong band?
Tony: A lot of people have said that you can keep listening to the album over and over again and you hear new things, which is great – that’s a good sign. If it makes you feel good, we’re adding to the sum of human happiness…
[To Robin]: I’d like to ask you about the song Find Your Own Truth, which you wrote. It’s not the first time one of your songs has dealt with the subject matter of looking for the truth. I’m thinking of the title track from the Dreaming Spires album Searching For The Supertruth…
Robin: The evidence is piling up! I don’t know why… I wrote Find Your Own Truth in five minutes, which doesn’t happen very often. It’s one of my more cosmic songs. I’ve been working on a solo album – I had a list of songs and that was one of them, but it really felt like it could be a Crosby, Stills & Nash thing.
Tony: Robin sent his home demo to me and we put some harmonies and electric guitar on it. The idea was for it to be a song like Helplessly Hoping [by Crosby, Stills & Nash] – that was my vision for it.
You’re launching the album with three gigs at the Betsey Trotwood in London – March 21-23. That’s a London residency…
Robin: When Danny suggested three nights at the Betsey, I thought he was insane, but they’re all sold out.
Can we expect a triple live album?
Danny: Good idea.
Robin: We are recording the shows – the Betsey is our spiritual home. We’ve all played there.
Tony: The lovely thing about doing three nights there is that even though we’re only playing to 30-40 people each night, it’s got the feeling of three nights at Wembley. Some people have bought tickets for every night, so we’re going to mix it up.
When you’re watching us, you can relax because we’re pals and you can see we’re all getting on. There are three times in my life I’ve had that happen – my band, Starry Eyed and Laughing; when I produced The Men They Couldn’t Hang in the ’80s; and with this band. Sometimes when you watch a band, you can see that they’re not getting on and it makes you feel bad…
So, can we expect a second album from Bennett Wilson Poole?
Robin: I think we could do it.
Tony: Absolutely. We’ve got an extra track that’s not on the album – it’s really good. It’s like a rare Beatles track.
•Bennett Wilson Poole release their self-titled debut album on April 6 (Aurora Records).
For information on their PledgeMusic campaign, please click here.
They will play three album launch shows at The Betsey Trotwood, in Clerkenwell, London – March 21-23. All three shows are sold out.
Bennett Wilson Poole will also appear at The Ramblin’ Roots Revue, Bucks Student Union, High Wycombe: April 6-8.
Songs For Somewhere Else, the new album by London cosmic-country-psych-folk five piece The Hanging Stars, is the follow-up to their brilliant 2016 debut, Over The Silvery Lake, which was Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite record of that year.
The band’s latest release is even better than its predecessor and is a much more varied and adventurous collection of songs – there’s the beguiling and soporific Spiritualized-meets-Byrds groove of On A Sweet Summer’s Day, the heavenly, Big Star jangle-pop of Honeywater, menacing Spaghetti Western soundtrack Mean Old Man, the country-rock romp For You (My Blue Eyed Son) and the woozy and playful 1920s-style jazz-blues of Too Many Wired Hours.
I met singer-songwriter/ guitarist Richard Olson and bassist Sam Ferman in a basement bar in Soho to find out the stories behind these Songs ForSomewhere Else. Topics for discussion included the joy of listening to The Byrds, importing Ennio Morricone-style whistling from Portland, Oregon and funereal horns from Majorca, and why the flute is nothing to be scared of…
Q & A
How does it feel to have the new record done and dusted and out there?
Sam Ferman: It’s great – it’s funny, really because people who hear it will think that there’s been a two-year gap, but we started recording it before Over The Silvery Lake came out. It’s had a long gestation, but it’s the first one we’ve done with both Patrick [Ralla – guitar, keys and vocals] and Joe [Harvey-Whyte – pedal steel, dobro], who are now full-time members of the band. It’s a reflection of that set-up, whereas with the first one, there was a lot more toing and froing with members.
Richard Olson: Those days of saying ‘we’re going to make a record, write some songs over six months and record them in two weeks’ just don’t happen anymore. In some ways, maybe that would be nice, but it’s an ongoing, growing thing – it’s painstaking. Trying to get five people to do the same thing at the same time is hard enough – Sam and me have got bloody heads from banging them against the wall and trying to get things going and sew up this tapestry that we try and do. There are so many threads that need to be right. It’s almost surreal when you know the record is going to come out – sometimes you think that we’re going to make such fools of ourselves.
Why do you say that?
Sam: It’s self-doubt.
Richard: That’s the whole process – it’s painful as hell, but then a week later you think, ‘fucking hell – we’re very talented people!’
You are… and you’re very prolific…
Richard: We’re already halfway through the third record!
Sam: When Rich and me came to sequencing this album – which songs would go on it and in which order – that really put into perspective the arc of history over that two-year period. We listened back to stuff and realised how we’d changed in that time. It’s interesting how certain songs were recorded in a certain style.
For example, Pick Up The Pieces, which is on the album, was a song that we recorded for the first album, but, for a number of reasons, we felt that it didn’t work on that record.
Richard: It didn’t fit.
Sam: There was something missing at a certain point on the new album – it needed some energy – and putting Pick Up The Pieces on it gave it some more life.
This album was all recorded in Bark Studio, in Walthamstow, wasn’t it?
Sam: Apart from Pick Up The Pieces, which was done in L.A.
Richard: It feels like we’re getting a really nice reception for this album, which is amazing.
The new album is richer and more eclectic than the first one. Was it a conscious decision to include a variety of musical styles this time around?
Richard: I tell you what was a conscious decision – we really wanted more of a collaborative effort and that’s one of the reasons… On A Sweet Summer’s Day – which is the first song on the record – is, musically, all Sam, but I put lyrics to it. I was like, ‘this is stunning – let me have a go at it.’ We’d never really worked like that before. I was really pleased with it. I was like, ‘that worked’.
‘It feels like we’re getting a really nice reception for this album, which is amazing’
I have shedloads of songs lying around – playing with Joe and Patrick, who are both younger guys than me, has opened things up – it’s so much fun playing with those dudes and we all felt that we wanted to step up. They’ve made us up our game. For You (My Blue Eyed Son) is an old song of Patrick’s from a band he was in called the New County Flyers, and Honeywater was a collaboration between Patrick and me.
Sam: Doing the recording session for Honeywater really sticks out for me – we did everything in a day and then we mixed it a week later. It was really satisfying – we’d all been in the zone and put something down and there’s nothing I’d change about that song.
Sam: Thank you.
Richard: The gods were with us in the studio that day.
Sam: It was a ‘hairs standing up on the back of your neck’ moment. We thought, ‘this one’s a real goer’.
Richard: It’s a cliché, but I felt like we’d won the Lottery, but trust me, we didn’t… It was like we’d been given a present – it was amazing.
Sam: One of the great things about this album is that you hear Patrick and Joe’s influence.
And it’s more of a representation of what you sound like live…
Sam: Exactly. They’re brilliant musicians and they’ve been involved in the writing process.
There are several other collaborations on the album – you’ve worked with guest musicians, including your US friends Collin Hegna (Federale, Brian Jonestown Massacre), Miranda Lee Richards – on the duet How I Got This Way – and Christof Certik (Brian Jonestown Massacre, Winter Flowers), as well as Alison Cotton on viola (Left Outsides, Eighteenth Day Of May), Luke Barlow (Nought) on flute and Thomas Wake on clarinet…
Richard: It’s so much fun – it’s lovely to play in a group and to play on bills with different people. One day, the Brian Jonestown dudes are in town and they’re staying at my house, or Miranda’s in town…. The fact that we can do that makes it great – it’s the sum of all the parts.
‘I love celebrating our own little scene. That’s what it’s all about. We embrace it’
You have the nucleus of the band, but it’s like an extended family – a collective…
Richard: Exactly – I love the idea of that and I’m proud of those people. I’ve known a lot of them for a long time. I love celebrating our own little scene. That’s what it’s all about. We embrace it.
Let’s talk about some of the songs. On A Sweet Summer’s Day has a hypnotic feel – it’s like early Spiritualized meets The Notorious Byrd Brothers…
Richard: Lazer Guided Melodies is one of my favourite records and there’s very much a Byrds thing going on, too.
Sam: When I first started playing with Rich, I was 24 – I’m 30 now – he said to me, ‘have you listened to The Notorious Byrd Brothers?’ I hadn’t – there were no famous hits on that record. I remember going out the next day and getting it on CD. It really made me think about how a lot of the music that I thought was quite left field was actually really middle of the road. It’s a really far-out record.
Richard: But it’s still so gentle on the ear – sonically and songwriting-wise, it’s so pleasing, When you discover it, it feels like one of those records that, wherever you are, whatever age you might be, it will make a mark on you – it’s like Love’s Forever Changes.
Moving on from The Byrds, what can you tell me about Mean Old Man, which is one of my favourite songs on the new album? It sounds like an Ennio Morricone Spaghetti Western soundtrack – it has cool whistling on it…
Richard: Collin, who plays bass in the Brian Jonestown Massacre, has his own band called Federale – they’re pure Spaghetti Western – and he’s a proper, shit-hot whistler. He’s on that track – he sent us his whistling from Portland.
The Good, the Bad and the Oregon?
Richard: Oh my lord – I can tell you’re a journalist…
Sam: It also has some Soviet rock oohs and aahs in the middle eight.
Too Many Wired Hours – the second track on the album – is a 1920s, jazzy, bluesy stomp. It has a clarinet on it and it reminds me of The Kinks and The Coral.
Richard: Yeah – I don’t mind that. The clarinet was Sam’s idea. In my mind, it sounds like David Lindley’s Kaleidoscope.
Sam: It totally does, but that’s a pretty niche reference.
Richard: I’m a big fan of Kaleidoscope.
The most country-sounding song on the album – and another of my favourites – is For You (My Blue Eyed Son). It’s like The Byrds, circa Sweetheart of the Rodeo, or The Flying Burrito Brothers…
Richard: It’s Patrick’s song, but I wrote quite a lot of the lyrics for it. It sits so comfortably on the album and with who we are – and it’s shitloads of fun to play!
Sam: It feels magical when we do it live.
Dig A Hole has a colliery brass band arrangement on it…
Richard: That was one of the songs that we worked the hardest on. It’s a story song… The brass was done by a friend of ours called Leon Beckenham, who was in the band Fanfarlo. He’s a fantastic horn player and he lives in Majorca – he did a great job.
So this album has whistling imported from Portland and horns from Majorca on it…
Sam: I can remember Rich playing the song to me on acoustic guitar in the backroom of his old house in Tower Hamlets Road about three years ago. I thought it had such a beautiful transition from a very melancholic, plaintive, beautiful verse to a countrified chorus.
Richard: We call it shoegaze-country.
Sam: With the horns, it sounds like a cross between a Northern English brass band and a New Orleans funeral march. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album – I think it’s absolutely beautiful.
Richard: It’s a story about a failed relationship and trying to escape from it…
‘It sounds like a cross between a Northern English brass band and a New Orleans funeral march. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album’
A lot of the songs on the album have references to drinking in them…
Richard: There’s a lot of regret and excess on this record – and the day after the excess… I write most of the lyrics. I worked really hard at it and I’m pleased with a lot of them.
The final track on the album, Water Song, has a flute on it. It’s not the first time a flute has been heard on a Hanging Stars album, is it? You’re not afraid to use a flute, are you?
Richard: There’s no reason to be afraid of a flute.
Don’t fear the flute!
Sam: I get Love, or Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter vibes on that track.
Richard: I would say Genesis – Selling England by the Pound. I’m not afraid to say that. Water Song is a lullaby.
Was the flute played in Walthamstow?
Sam: It was.
So, there’s whistling from Portland, horns from Majorca and flute from Walthamstow…
Sam: This album was nearly half flute-based! There are five songs that didn’t make the record and they were all flute-based.
You could release a mini-album of flute songs…
Sam: The idea has been floated.
Or should that be fluted?
Richard: [laughs] Jesus Christ!
‘There’s no reason to be afraid of a flute’
Sam: In sequencing the album, we had 16 or 17 songs… some of which might make the next record. We can’t be sure at the moment. The great thing about being in this band is because we’re constantly working and recording, every time it comes round to doing an album, there are songs that didn’t make the previous one and there are songs on the next one that might not make it. We are building a body of work. It’s about having the albums speak to us rather than having to cram stuff in.
Richard: I like that! Let the album speak to you.
The album title, Songs For Somewhere Else, sounds like you’re saying that this record is a means to escape from the troubled world we’re living in…
Sam: That makes sense – it is about escaping. The world is horrible and it always has been. Why do humans engage with music, art and literature? To rationalise the horror, or to escape it entirely. This record treads a line between coping and escaping. All the music that I really love is sadness viewed through a prism of beauty. Some people will say it’s a coping mechanism to deal with the horrors of life, but I think it’s a way of seeing stuff that’s happened to you – or that you think about – in a new way.
‘This record treads a line between coping and escaping. All the music that I really love is sadness viewed through a prism of beauty’
Where would you suggest that this album is best listened to?
Richard: On headphones, in the comfort of your own home. With any album that I’m involved in, all I want is for it to take you somewhere. I discover music all the time – it’s all about goosebumps and getting a present that you want to go back to. You just want to listen to it again – whether you’re at work, or at home, or wherever you are. That’s the stunning beauty of music – it’s magical.
You’ve achieved that with this record.
Richard: Thank you so much.
After the interview, Richard pulls out his phone and a pair of headphones and lets me listen to a rough demo of a new track that could be destined for the third Hanging Stars album. It’s another gorgeous, country-tinged gem, but it’s not for now – it’s a song for somewhere else…
• Songs For Somewhere Elseby The Hanging Stars is released on February 16 on Crimson Crow.
The band play an album launch party in London, at The Victoria, Dalston, on February 22.
What better way to banish the post-Christmas winter blues than by blasting out some sublime jangle-pop… and there’s plenty of it about.
Three of my favourite new albums of 2018 so far ring like the Bells of Rhymney and owe a large debt to the chiming, 12-string Rickenbacker sound of The Byrds.
Coincidentally, as I’m sitting down to write this article, it happens to be ‘Blue Monday’ – (January 15), supposedly the most depressing day of the year, so it’s a perfect time to lose myself in some gorgeous, shimmering sounds.
Songs For Somewhere Else, the brilliant second album by London psych-folk-country band – and Say It With Garage Flowers favourites – The Hanging Stars – opens with the beautiful On A Sweet Summer’s Day, which creeps up on you like the first rays of the morning sun – a hazy, lazy ballad with pedal steel guitar and a hypnotic, Spiritualized-like groove.
The album’s first single, Honeywater, has a Big Star feel, the galloping Gram Parsons country-rock of For You (My Blue Eyed Son) could easily sit on The Byrds’ cult classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo, while Mean Old Man doffs its cowboy hat to Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western soundtracks.
Look out for an interview with The Hanging Stars – and a more in-depth piece about the album – on Say It With Garage Flowers soon.
Staffordshire four-piece Alfa 9 could be cosmic cousins of The Hanging Stars – they both share a love of psychedelic sounds and if you compared their record collections, I’m sure you’d find they both own plenty of albums by The Byrds and The Beatles, as well as cool, cult ‘60s film scores.
My Sweet Movida, the third album by Alfa 9, immediately takes the listener on a trip back to 1966 with the first song Smile Dog – think Revolver-era Fab Four, but with a harder, rockier edge.
Different Corner is a killer jangle-pop song and the moody Movida is The Byrds doing a Spaghetti Western theme – McGuinn meets Morricone. You certainly get your fistful of dollars’ worth with this album – there are yet more cinematic cowboy sounds on Darkest Sea, which is haunting gothic country.
The Byrds are also circling over the superb self-titled debut record by Bennett Wilson Poole – a supergroup formed by Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive, Danny and The Champions of the World) and Tony Poole (Starry Eyed and Laughing, who have been called ‘the English Byrds’).
Created in rural Oxfordshire, it was produced by 12-string Rickenbacker maestro Poole. High on harmonies and brimming with backwards guitar effects and soulful songs, it’s a shining light in these dark times that we’re living in, but it doesn’t shy away from tackling social issues – the blistering, anthemic protest rock of Hate Won’t Win addresses the murder of politician Jo Cox and brings to mind Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Ohio, while the beautiful, sensitive, stripped-down ballad Hide Behind A Smile deals with depression.
‘High on harmonies and brimming with backwards guitar effects and soulful songs, it’s a shining light in these dark times, but it doesn’t shy away from tackling social issues – the blistering, anthemic protest rock of Hate Won’t Win addresses the murder of politician Jo Cox’
Things lighten up with the irresistible, bouncy sunshine pop of Wilson General Store, but the record ends with a brooding, dark and stormy, ragged Neil Young-style epic guitar workout called Lifeboat (Take A Picture of Yourself) – its lyric even name-checks Young’s 1974 album On The Beach.
It would be wrong to write an article on jangle-pop without mentioning UK label Sugarbush Records, which continues to put out great, vinyl-only releases by bands whose ‘60s and ‘70s musical influences tend to be found in the ‘B’ section of a record shop – namely The Byrds, Big Star, The Beatles and The Beachboys.
Carlisle group Kontiki Suite fall firmly into that category – their 2015 album, The Greatest Show On Earth, which is the follow-up to their 2013 debut, On Sunset Lake, has been re-released on limited edition vinyl by Sugarbush, and is an essential listen if you dig psychedelic jangle-pop.
Harking back to the 1968 masterpiece The Notorious Byrd Brothers, there are gleaming guitar lines (Bring Our Empire Down), cool, country-rock cuts (the harmonica and pedal steel-flavoured My Own Little World and Pages of My Mind) and cosmic voyages (Burned), but also a hint of late ‘80s indie with the sweet, blissed-out Here For You Now, which sounds like it’s been hanging out in The Stone Roses’ Mersey Paradise.
Set the Rickenbackers for the heart of the sun and welcome to the jangle…