Just the Start..
Ah, the impossible review – how do you go about reviewing an EP that your other half is the lead singer for? I shall attempt to do so dispassionately, after all, this whole blog generally documents and is named after a band who’ve all become my mates over the years – so I should be able to do this without bias. Morganella have been on the scene a little over a year, forming to play an open mic slot at Something to Smile About last year, and comprising of Morgan on guitar and Ella on vocals.
The way they work is pretty interesting and I guess I get a unique view of that – there’s a pretty big distance between where they live, Morgan is still at school, Ella can’t drive (yet) which makes regular practices well, pretty much a no go. So when they started out with acoustic covers it’s relatively understandable they could work in isolation then bring things together with a quick run through somewhere quiet before a performance, but to come up with original material – surely that’s a step too far?
Apparently not. And I’ve seen how it happens – Morgan will sit and come up with the instrumental parts of the songs, he’ll video them and send them to Ella who will have ideas around themes or subjects for the lyrics and then fit them to the music – they can back and forth this a bit and come up with something that works, then next time they’re in the same place they’ll fine tune it literally just before going on stage, and invariably smash it. That’s pretty much the story for three of the five songs on Just The Start.
So with three songs in the bag and performed on festival stages the EP pre-order opened, two more songs needed – lots of procrastinating over the summer months. Ella and I were in Scotland, not much writing seemed to be happening (I try not to get involved in that stuff, always happy to be a sounding board but don’t want to be a negative factor), with studio time looming in Tring things tipped into action – the same process as above, but no live-tests or run-throughs until they got together in a cellar converted into a studio run by Neil.
As I bumbled into the room they’d already nailed one song, the next one only took one take, a couple of takes for the third – Simon, Nick and I decided to nip for a pint whilst they tackled the fourth – trickier, they’d never played it together, and by all accounts pretty much rewrote it on the fly in the studio. Probably the more interesting moment of the session, but still, it was a nice pint and chat so never mind – we returned and they’d finished the bugger! That just left one more track, which was over and done with in two or three takes.
Rather than record tracks separately they did it ‘live’ – Ella utilises Morgan’s nods and expressions to know when to come in with vocals, so the initial set up of back to back didn’t work, but set up opposite one another they took to the recording studio like ducks to water – Neil, experienced in this kind of thing, marvelled at how tight they were together, amazed at how little opportunity they have to practice (and given how much practice we need to do other people’s songs with The Star Copiers, I find it amazing too).
With just a guitar and vocal track recorded mixing the tracks and mastering them doesn’t take Neil long at all – once we’d had that first mix a few tweaks were needed, and once done really got the balance just right between the vocals and the guitar – so that’s what I’ve been lucky enough (perhaps unsurprisingly!) to get hold of in advance digitally to listen to and write a review. The necessary stuff has been sent off to the CD manufacturer now – so those of who who’ve pre-ordered will have them soon, those who haven’t can buy one at Rockstock and Barrel.
Opening track Daisies and Sunshine has become somewhat of a signature tune for Morganella – their most established original track, it’s uplifting and empowering – Morgan’s guitar kicking in with fast pace then just providing the beat for Ella’s vocals, clear and almost countrylike with an uplifting call to action reminding you that even when the world seems like a bleak place you can power on through to positivity. There’s a clever break in there too that always trips me up when singing along in the car – and this one’s an earworm, you’re gonna want to sing along!
Fight Your Own Battles is another more established song – a grungy acoustic intro (is that a thing? it is now!) starts up, betraying Morgan’s love of heavier rock music – a more sombre tone on the vocals lambasts the cause of wars, and the unresolved consequences particularly for those participants who return to home shores to find no support. A familiar subject for most readers here I imagine, and a subject link that resonates strongly with Ferocious Dog. Poignant and moving – it’d be really interesting to hear an electric guitar imagining of this!
Fade Away is a tough one – because I find myself the subject of a song, which is never a position I expected to be in! I can remember when Ella received the track for this and we had a natter about potential subjects / tones for it – I didn’t expect what it became when she dropped it at Farmer Phil’s for the first time (okay slight artistic license, I’d had a sneak peak). Finger picking opens before the main guitar riff intro kicks in – so you get a good 45 seconds of instrumental before the vocals kick in unlike the earlier songs.
Here Morgan is actually accompanying Ella much more overtly on guitar – the lyrics are drenched in references to songs we both really love, I’ll leave it to you to see if you can identify them. Intensity builds in guitar and vocals, then drops off again – it is a beautiful composition, and for obvious reasons means a great deal to me. It’s a real singalong song too when the chorus kicks in. I do take exception to taking any credit whatsoever for making someone who they are though – perhaps I am happy to celebrate someone for who they are rather than being responsible for the formation!
So that song’s been playfully dubbed Present Alan by the Morganella crew, and if I don’t watch it then Refuge has been jokingly referred to as Future Alan. It actually starts with an almost jaunty guitar riff – but the vocals are a lot more muted and accusatory, charting a less than successful relationship now thankfully in the past, with a self-affirming message at making it through to the other side. So we’re not taking navel-gazing grumping about things – we’re talking personal growth and a move into self-confidence. There’s some great guitar work in here too – an instrumental section with richness and seemingly far too much tone for just one instrument. Clever bugger, Morgan is.
The final track, Standing Stone of Onich is inspired by our recent time up in Scotland. We saw a photo of the stone in the museum at Fort William, all moody skies and a loch in the background it looked like a really inspiring place. We googled it and found out it was on private land and the lady who lived there had come to get irritated by visitors. It turns out the stone was visible from the road, and not nearly as imposing as how a clever photographer had made it look – so we didn’t feel too bad about not being able to get up close.
It sparked research into local folklore though – and whilst Ella found some she kinda ended up creating her own reimagined tale linked to the stone, which is also known as the stone of vengeance. A gentle intro, almost Leylines-like (but not quite), starts with picking and intermittant strums and then evocative ethereal vocals kick in – starting off ponderous, then kicking into an empassioned chorus. It brings to mind plenty of imagery but well, you’ll have to ask Ella what the full story is behind the song! There’s definitely some influence from all those road trips listening to Emma & The Professor in here.
All in all, an awesome collection of songs – considering the limitations on their ability to work together a lot all the more impressive (not that that is really relevant to a review of the CD, but it’s of interest I think). In Morgan’s guitar work you can detect influences from countless familiar grassroots artists – there’s bits of Brian Stone, bits of Leylines, bits of Gaz Brookfield, but then there’s grungey influences and his own intricate additions that when they’re all deconstructed and mashed back together they become, well, Morgan. Ella’s vocals alternate between light-hearted, gentle and passionate. This is an impressive debut in the studio.
Morganella have a new website up and running too, so be sure to check that out as well!