A lovely ramble in DH Lawrence country..
I’ve heard people be pretty dismissive of Skiffle as a mere novelty or something not to be taken too seriously. I don’t profess to have vast experience of it, but I do know humble skiffling gave rise to the Beatles. Researching a little further I found a definition of ‘Jazz, folk or country music played by performers who use unconventional instruments such as kazoos, washboards or jugs, sometimes in combination with conventional instruments’ – which sounds fair enough.
DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show fuse this, perhaps sans the jazz, with a healthy slug of Folk, Bluegrass, Americana and North Nottinghamese (I take exception to UpNorthicana as they call it, we are midlanders after all!) to create something really rather magical. I saw them performing at Splendour earlier in the year, where washboards, kazoos and a ‘skiffle boot’ nestled with a banjo, double-bass (and but for availability an absent violin) to mesmerise us with folksy bluegrassy ballads and rowdy tunes coupled with engaging crowd participation.
So it was pretty exciting when Al got in touch to offer to send me an advance copy of their forthcoming album – Sons and Lovers – to have a listen to, which is what I’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks. Once I’d got it on my phone I lined it up to listen on my way to work – time enough for two run throughs since the traffic was bad. It felt a bit like a first date that had gone well – excitement, a little bit of uncertainty but a keen desire to reacquaint myself with my new beau and get to know her better.
To that end I’ve been spending a lot of time in the company of Sons and Lovers, the title alone already referencing DH Lawrence’s probably best-known and most critically acclaimed of novels. We even had a listen on the way back from Carlisle on the Ferocious Dog bus – a rambling journey (I’ll use journey a lot, this is like a journey – not Journey, silly!) of Americana fused with Nottingham, taking you on rambles from Parisienne walkways, Timbuktu to Bagthorpe, Eastwood or a wander through the Misk Hills between Hucknall and Annesley.
I won’t go track by track – I’m not sure it’s the best way to try to get across a collection of songs like this, but I will call out a few as I go. I’ve been really enjoying the last couple of weeks with these wonderfully meandering and evocative tunes for company. I’d love to know the back stories to some of them, opening track You Saw Me Fall is ludicrously catchy and charming despite the dark underlying themes, I think a lass ends up stuck down a well in the narrative, but I could be wrong.
There’s love songs in here but usually of sinister consequence or lamenting missed opportunities like in Pretty Song telling the frustration of a songwriter trying to do justice to how he feels about his beau, the very dilemma I feel when trying to write about music to be fair! Then we have a spoken word section, in a deliciously rich and unashamed North Notts accent, leading into the first real exposure to kazoos (a divisive instrument – this is tastefully done, I promise) in Vaudeville Show which brought images of Goose Fair into my head.
If you like well crafted and melodic acoustic folk with clever lyrics this is for you – don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all airy fairy stuff though, whorehouses, drinking (lots of drinking) and dashed dreams litter the subject matter. If you go a’ramblin with DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show you’re going to find yourself lost in some beautifully written and performed work. It’s a hauntingly evocative work that has happily found its way onto a few of my playlists now to surprise me on commuting music shuffles.
The album is released on 11th December – I’d most certainly recommend getting your mits on a copy. Their self-depreciating descriptions of themselves as mere kazoo and washboard players belies their beautiful songwriting and performing, much like their live performances too (they were slightly under-strength when I saw them at Splendour too). An act I am looking forward to getting the chance to see much more of whenever I get the opportunity.