Fireside lullabies..

I picked up a lovely email in the wake of posting a review of Paul Henshaw and the Scientific Simpletons excellent new album from a fellow called Josh Lobley. Someone I’ve yet to encounter on the musical rounds, but with such luminaries as the aforementioned Paul, Nick Parker, Davey Malone, John Leonard and Ben Sydes as friends in common on Facebook hopefully in live terms at least that’s an omission I’ll be able to put right in time.

He wanted me to review his new EP – Fireside Lullabies – which is set for launch on 25th January (with an accompanying event that day hosted at Albert’s Pour House in Shrewsbury). It still freaks me out a bit when people ask me to do that, I’m not a musical expert – I only really started this blog to help build the profile of a little known band called Ferocious Dog, after all – haha!

But I do still muse upon releases of artists I’m more familiar with occasionally, so it’s really humbling when someone reaches out – and it’s a responsibility I take quite seriously. With my limited dabbling in creating music I know how much hard work it is even to get to my ham-fisted skill level, so it’s quite the privilege to be asked my view on something someone has poured their hard work, creativity and passion into.

Five tracks quickly winged their way into my email and I’ve been immersing myself in them for a few days now – mercifully (selfish of me, I know!), I really love these heartfelt tunes. It’s brave to put your music out there regardless, doubly so when the lyrical content is really personal – or broader musings about the state of the world, which I think will probably resonate with most of us!

The EP is bookended by the soothing crackling sound of a fire, very in keeping with the title. Digital Age starts with gentle guitar and vocals lamenting our fixation with our digital lives – obsessions with Facebook likes, Twitter followers whilst neglecting real life. Definitely something I fall foul of (not that I really care how many likes or follows I get, but certainly I spend an inordinate amount of time using social media).

Official video from a previous EP release

Percussion kicks gently along with backing vocals to build up a few layers. Vocally Josh reminds me a bit of Doozer McDooze – not in a soundalike kinda way, I guess he must have a similar vocal register! There’s a whiff of Paul Henshaw in there too (I suspect they are geographically close in origin so maybe that’s just an accent thing!). As the song builds bass kicks in and some background singalongable ‘Whoa-oh ohs’ and what sounds like some kind of pipes as it builds up to a tumultuous climax, finally calming down back to a gentle finish.

15 Years On starts with some lovely melodious guitar picking, and reminiscing about the difficulty in dealing with parents getting divorced during childhood. Mercifully not something I can relate directly to – eventually percussion and accompiment arrive and the passion in the vocals picks up. It feels like an overdue opportunity to address something that perhaps you’re not equipped to as a pre/early teen.

Keep that in Sight follows – again we kick in with picked guitar and vocals, ruminating on our tendency to chase the dollar as we get entrenched in the rat race. As the rest of the instrumentation kicks in you’re treated to one hell of a catchy chorus – don’t feel the need to go so high, you may realise in your sombre eyes things lower down are alright – with an all too welcome reminder that it’s all too easy to get lost in that kind of ambition and drive for money, and forget the simple things in life like being kind.

Percussion builds with some grungy acoustic guitar for a change of mood with This Maze, the mood is darker although the vocal delivery offers a shred of optimism. Josh told me that the focus is around anxiety and how that feels, and there’s certainly that kind of dystopic feel to it. Self doubt and self pity is a prominent feature – although once the electric guitar kicks in with a jangly lilt it definitely offers more than a glimmer of hope, with a promise to help others who might find themselves in a similar place.

Finally acoustic guitar strumming and some gorgeous strings backing it up brings us to the gentle lull of Fireside Lullabies, which does feel like a nice positive ending point. Rife with messages of inclusivity and acceptance and – perhaps most crucially – the importance of spending time with people. There’s affirmation for aspiring artists in there too to keep plugging away. It’s a nice uplifting end to close what have been some challenging topics.

The track fades out to more comforting crackling fire sounds. Colour me relieved – I’ve genuinely enjoyed listening to these songs over the last few days, which has made writing a review all the more easy! So keep an eye out for release on 25th January next year (I’d recommend giving Josh’s page a like so that you’ll get a helpful reminder!), he has a couple of existing EPs out already too which you can check out.

Freeborn Al / 18th December 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Videos

Five Compass Lighthouse

I’ve been playing Paul Henshaw and the Scientific Simpleton‘s new album, Five Compass Lighthouse, for a few weeks now ever since the album launch night at Katy Fitzgerald’s.

It kicks off, much like the gig did, with spoken-word poetry Where I Was set to a soundscape – words that are later referenced in the lyrics of the songs that follow, and as the percussion kicks in launches straight into the punchy chords of Heads, Hearts and Voices.

This brought a couple of things to mind, both quite randomly, the ‘daaah daaah daaah daaah’ chord progression reminds me of Levellers’ Broken Circles (things reminding me of Levellers is usually a good thing, this is no exception!), but the lyrics oddly brought to mind the scene in Dirty Dancing where there holiday camp owner leads the singing of a song that features ‘join hands and hearts and voices’ – which probably betrays how many times I endured that particular film beloved of my first girlfriend more than anything!

It’s a great way to launch into a gig, and indeed, an album!

Throwing Lines is a bit gentler starting with acoustic guitar before the electric kicks in with decisive up-strums (I’m sure there’s a technical term for this). The tone for this one is much lighter and optimistic – evoking the idea that sometimes you just can’t control what’s going around you so might as well just go with the flow as best you can.

Waves is a bouncy cheery sounding song too, acoustic strums accompany the tongue-twisting vocals with some bouzouki accompaniment before the band kicks in. From reading Paul’s notes it’s actually about him selling his childhood home and moving away, this track gives the album its title too (which you can research yourself 🙂 ) – so it’s actually documenting a rather traumatic experience, but ultimately with a positive outcome. The song feels optimistic to me anyway!

The Last Day Before Bedlam has a much grungier feel which I like a lot – an empassioned chorus rife with self-criticism, it’s really energetic and really rather dark. But that gets betrayed a bit by how much fun it looks to play live (especially Matt, ha!). It kinda works on both levels really – it gets those feelings out there, and in a way that’s clearly fun to perform. This might be my favourite.

I’m Still Empty brings the intensity down with gentle acoustic guitar and more soulful lyrics. Quite philosophical lyrics, and eventually there’s layers of sound introduced from the rest of the band – and a great singalong opportunity with some ‘Whoa oh oh ohs’ which was enthusiastically taken up by the crowd at Katy’s.

The Road to Krumlov is actually really charming – a lament to the loneliness of touring, in this case in the Czech Republic. This song probably delivers the most heartbreaking lyric I’ve heard in ages: “… so I type in my postcode to the Sat Nav to kill a few moments, and I’m saddened to see that I’m more than a full day away.” You can just imagine some poor fella sat in a car park waiting until he can load his gear in missing a familiar face or two.

Glasgow starts with recorded background noises (from Glasgow, Paul’s blog informs me) before the song kicks in. It’s a cheery tribute to a trip to – wait for it – Glasgow! It’s made me want to visit now, as much like Paul my only visit here before has been fleeting – for a Ferocious Dog gig perhaps unsurprisingly – it was fun enough, but hotel, pub, gig, hotel, home is probably not the best way to showcase what a city might have to offer!

Twenty One Trains starts with moody acoustic guitar before the band joins in then the lyrics kick in. Apparently there are actually 21 trains featured in the recording too, Paul asks if ‘you get what I’m trying to say’ – I must admit I don’t, it’s not a happy song – the instrumentation reminds me almost of Joy Division which probably explains why it sounds unhappy if that’s what I associate it with. The lyrics are really personal and deal with insomnia, hopelessness and even potential suicidal thoughts. It’s really rather moving.

Wren is another dark moody track. Bird-related songs will always pique my interest and the throbbing bass and incidental guitar stabs only heighten the tension. It’s actually documenting something as routine as trying to save a wren that had been caught by a cat and failing to revive it. It sounds trivial – it’s the sort of thing that would absolutely haunt me for ages, so I find it satisfying that it’s inspired this epic grungy number running at almost six minutes.

Promised Lullaby is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a song Paul promised to write. It’s beautifully gentle, which a lullaby should be really. Gentle layers of accompaniment to the acoustic guitar and vocals are perfect without distracting – the tone is of reassurance and nurturing – its placement on the album after the trauma of the garden bird massacre is perfect.

fAR REACHING Rage is a rare foray into politics – actually, in kinda isn’t, it’s really a fairly self-evident appraisal of one particular figure who arguably isn’t actually a politician anyway, just a self-serving rabble rouser (okay, so maybe that is a definition of politician). The clue is in the capitalisation of the track – this is actually, subject aside, a really fun song, with another corker of a lyrical masterpiece in the chorus “The country is a better place with the absence of your face, I hope they blast you into space, why don’t you go away?” – all set to a chunky rock soundtrack.

Bible Chords issues a challenge of “so you think you understand this song” – in truth, no, sorry Paul! It feels like it’s quite a personal rant – a bit of a reckoning, a rise from a slumber of over-familiarity and realising there’s a need to chart a new course. I think we’ve all been in that place at one time or another – self-imposed isolation, and eventual realisation there’s an alternative to that. This features lots of recordings of people Paul asked to contribute some ‘Whoas’ – Facebook’s algorithms clearly denied me the opportunity to join in. Bastards!

Nothing O’Clock starts with sea noises, and who I suspect might be Frank the dog yapping happily around. Gentle acoustic guitar and vocals start to paint a picture of the scene by the seaside, lilting into philosophical musings – the guitar picked melodies are lovely. There’s almost Nick Parkeresque observational lyrics of people-watching. Just before half way percussion gently joins the party, then a little while later the picking gives way to strumming as the percussion gets heavier and finally with a cymbal crash the tumultuous arrival of the rest of the band for a frankly triumphant finale.

Except it’s not quite a finale – the track ends with more sea noises, with the return of the guitar picking and a final spoken word piece, weaving together lyrics from the songs we’ve just heard. It’s affirmative and positive – bookending what does feel like quite a journey, whilst maybe not entirely autobiographical or chronological – there’s a sense that this album has developed over a seismic period of Paul’s life and has in that sense provided a documentary of kinds of that journey. And mercifully it feels like a journey that’s heading in the right direction.

A fantastic and brave achievement – amazing songwriting, and awesome work from the other Simpletons in giving them the depth and intricacies they need – which translate brilliantly to a live setting too. It’s been out more than a month now so hopefully you have it already, if you don’t, then you should remedy that omission posthaste.

Freeborn Al / 8th December 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Is this the end of it all?

It feels like it sometimes doesn’t it? The 12th December is certainly a decisive moment for the sentiment – not just because of the general election, certainly the most divisive and in my time as an eligible voter it feels like the most important and scary – but because Lawrence County (formerly DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show) are launching their new single.

Hauntingly melodic and foreboding in equal measure – it strikes the perfect tone for how many are feeling in as the countdown to the election looms nearer. The polls – whilst not always a reliable bellweather – predict a continuation of the policies that have led us to where we are.

The world is on a knife-edge of recoverability from human abuses, domestically we have ever increased disparity in wealth and, whether you favour EU membership or otherwise, a ruinous and calamitous divorce and years of negotiations from a weakened and desperate position that puts our very health service at risk is probably not what the majority of ‘the majority’ voted for back in 2016.

But anyway, I didn’t start this blog to talk about politics – there are plenty of others out there that do a much more thorough job, and I’m not self-important enough to think my musings are likely to make anyone think any differently to how they do already – this is about music, and here is some!

So come the evening of 12th December if you fancy something other than sitting in and worrying about the outcome of the ballot box counts, then you could pop yourself down to the single launch event at The Running Horse and sink a few consolatory pints.

Freeborn Al / 8th December 2019 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Politics, Videos