Fishing for Owls..
I’ve been sitting on Paul Henshaw and the Scientific Simpletons‘ latest album for a while so I do apologise profusely for the delay in finally jotting down my musings. Fishing For Owls has been on my regular playlist for a little over a month now, and it’s a mixed paced collection of folk-punk goodness – one moment irreverent, one moment deeply moving and at times funny. There’s full band big sound, acoustic moments and all manner of paces.
Middle Finger Thank You is a ballsy opener – drumsticks click a count in to a wall of guitar and percussion before it slows up for the vocals to kick in. Defiant in sound and message – Paul describes it as a ‘bit of an internal battle and ‘fuck you’ to myself, which fits nicely with the sound here – uncompromising, relentless and aggressive instrumentals overlaid with measured and considered vocals for the most part. Don’t let life get you down and deal with your problems is the message here.
A folksier feel with stomping feet and acoustic strumming heralds Wild Turkey – a song telling the tale of a trip to London to play a gig involving perhaps a little bit too much of the titled whiskey for the narrator. Slightly self-sorry in tone, but quite philosophical about it too – I’m sure we’ve all had one of those moments when you feel like there’s nobody on your side and you’ve only got yourself to rely on.
Stones was initially one I struggled to interpret – it has quite an epic-but-gentle intro, very esoteric and dreamy. When I first heard the lyrics ‘I’ll never be the stones’ I thought it might be about never joining Mick Jagger on stage, but quickly re-evaluated and wondered if it might’ve been inspired by a megalithic monument. Wrong again! It’s about one of those moments where you consider your surroundings and realise how utterly insignificant you are – the stones in this case being those in the walls of Paul’s home town.
I think this is my favourite song on the album – both in sound and sentiment as it really does resonate – a reflection that those buildings we walk past that have been there longer than we have – and will be long after we’ve gone. All that remains to us with our fragile and short time is to try to have a net positive impact on the people and places around us – all wrapped up in a lovely guitar and mandolin (or maybe bouzouki) driven folk song with wonderfully clever lyrics. I love it.
You Really Just Wanna Be Me opens with a melody that reminds me a bit of Patience of Angels. Rather than being autobiographical it’s on behalf of a spectator of a gig who danced like nobody was watching, whilst being mocked by some more ‘fashionable’ types – but it turns the tables on this passive bullying – observing that the chap having a dance was the happy one. It’s a catchy one too – and a nice reminder that the pressure people feel to belong can lead to some really rather unpleasant behaviour when others choose a different path.
A bit of recording banter opens up Hometown King which then proceeds to really pick up the pace – a fulsome sound of guitars, bass and percussion doesn’t let up when the vocals kick in either. It’s a biting tribute to someone who perhaps might be a little on the disingenuous side – there’s a lovely guitar solo instrumental in there, definitely lashings of punk and not so much folk in here, a bit of instrumental drop-out for the vocals to take the fore too.
Fay’s Song is drenched in emotion – I’ve been lucky enough to see this performed live by Paul and it wasn’t without a tear in the eye. Acoustic and gentle, it is a tribute to number one fan Fay who devastatingly succumbed to illness – it’s plaintive and beautiful, and a wonderful way to celebrate the life of a person who clearly had a huge impact on the people she left behind. What more fine epitaph could someone have than ‘so when we close our eyes and we cast back our minds we’re just happy you’re someone we knew’.
After that something a bit livelier is a good move – with Quiet Bit / Loud Bit an initial song kicks in only to be interrupted and resumed with a grungish sound. Paul describes the subject matter as three verses covering three separate scenarios which are unrelated – all wrapped up in a Pixies type sound. That’s the kind of succinct description of song structures and sounds that I lack the ability to write, it’s bang on! Ponderous verses with raucous choruses – a bit of a headbanger.
Float Me is a bit more introspective – a bass riff overlaid by an almost Miles Huntesque vocal delivery, with guitar and percussion kicking in for choruses and instrumentals. I’m not sure how much I should give away about the inspiration of the song really – it’s personal and not immediately apparent (or at least it wasn’t to me ’til I cheated and asked!) – but it’s centred around us often being our own most critical of critics in every sense.
The pace is slowed again for another sad song – Kid on a Bridge is a melodious song about a 19 year old lad who threw himself from a bridge Paul had only visited a week before. At once sad, angry, and regretful at not having had the opportunity to intervene – another one that is a particularly impactful one to hear live – powerfully passionate lyrics delivered over relentless acoustic guitar with a bit of picking overlaid. Another moving one.
It’s sweet relief to finish up with humour – I’ll Never be a Pirate is a fast paced fun full band song about basically not really being all that cool (pirates are cool, astronauts are apparently a bit more geeky). Musically it’s reminiscent of Gaz’s Diabete’s Blues with a bit more punk oomph thrown into the mix – lyrically there’s some really funny moments in here. Apparently wrapped up in all this is the realisation that dipping in and out of festivals to play and not staying is a bad idea – amen to that!
And there you have it – a mixture of pace, intensity, numbers of instruments, moods and even genres I’d say – but despite that there’s cohesion in putting them together, I’ve no idea how much thought went into the track ordering (probably loads) but it works cleverly to take to one place and then another without being jarring – and if an album can have you feeling tearful and then laughing within the space of a few songs then it must be doing something right. You can get Fishing for Owls Paul’s website from or the usual digital outlets.