Despite the Councils increasing departure from supporting anything remotely cultural in Swindon (the loss of Big Arts Day, price hikes on room hire etc), there is still a small band of people who with a labour of love work ethic make good things happen. A classic example of that is the monthly Lazy Sunday Afternoon shows that have been taking place at The Arts Centre Café, thanks to Steve Cox and Mr Love and Justice, and which alongside the acoustic shows at The Running Horse, has become the major showcase for acoustica, folk and roots music. This compilation brings together the acts to be found at those shows and represents the pick of the crop from that part of the local scene.
The album kicks off with a band that I am already a major fan off, Rumour Shed. The River, take from their wonderful e.p. Postcards For Mother is a song that displays their essence, despite since evolving into a full band. Sensual and hushed vocal tones mix with delicate guitar work as a mournful cello wanders through the background, the result is a song that is poetically rich, dreamlike, ethereal and quietly majestic.
Ethemia offer a cleaner limbed though no less evocative approach, more traditional to the acoustic folk genre. Fingerprints On Me works so well because the duo knows how to combine two vocals and two guitars without getting in each other’s way. Imagine if The Civil Wars instead of being seeped in the lore of Nashville and the music of the deep south were instead forged of The West Country and a more idealized pastoral tradition and you then have a useful handle on this duo.
One band that manage to effortlessly wander between Celtic, Americana and the English folk theme is Bateleurs, though this track, Go React, sees them at very much west of the Atlantic shore and south of the Mason Dixon line. Steel pedal guitars and simple country rhythms define the song, which combines space, groove and accessibility in one neat little package.
Also in some way informed by a background American vibe, albeit a psyched out west coast wash, Mr Love and Justice’s contribution, Watching Water, is a chilled, psychedelic underground pop classic. There are times when the band immerses themselves in left wing politics, historical themes and a social awareness that seemed to have been lost in modern music. Here though they are happy to use more vague imagery and more subdued tricks to paint their musical picture. What a great picture it turns out to be.
Taken from an album that is described as a“dancers take on life…for lovers of words, rhythm, roots, rhyme and reason” Run Away To Extinction is perhaps the most experimental of all the tracks featured here. Kim Coupland delivers spoken word over a minimal Cajun or chilled zydeco musical backdrop where the pattern of the words seems to define the shape of the song. The hypnotic musical cycles coupled with the maritime descriptions that overlay them make for a very different yet fascinatingly memorable experience.
Having evolved from a pickup band into a stable and permanent line up, aural candy are more or less a pop band, but a pop band that follows a heritage that links bands such as XTC, Julian Cope, Robyn Hitchcock even the later Beatles outputs rather than anything the term suggests today. Down, Down, Down is a slice of chilled pop-rock that combines accessible music with a dark lyrical message. Nice.
Blake is the one act on the album that is truly new to me and one that I will definitely be checking out further. Lush vocal harmonies and chiming guitar rhythms seem to be the hallmark, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Too Dark, Too Deep is built of layers of lush instrumentation, accordions take the lead breaks as the sound of balalaikas add an exotic air to this wonderful slice of soulful folk-pop.
Sweet William by Jess Vincent is probably the most authentic folk piece on the album, by authentic I mean it’s the one piece that would conform to the stringent rules and regulations set down by that shadow outfit known as the Folk Police. In a Kate Rusby sort of fashion it takes a timeless sounding song and gives it a contemporary production, the result is a song that could have been written anytime in the last three hundred years but with the benefit of modern instrumentation and studio techniques, so the best of both worlds really.
The album bows out in the hushed manner with which it kicked off. Tim Graham understands the meaning of space and is not afraid to use it, which he does to glorious affect on Too Good To Burn. The song seems as built as much on anticipation and atmosphere as it does on vocal delivery and music and the overall affect is fantastic. Again delving into an English folk tradition and reminiscent of the likes of Nick Drake or Bert Jansch, this is a song that really explores the less is more concept and a perfect swansong for the album.
As an overview of the roots and acoustic scene that forms a significant part of Swindon’s musical activity, this is an essential album and showcases just what a great pool of bands we have to work with. Aside from it’s showcasing qualities, it is also simply a great collection of songs and as is says Volume One under the title, I am looking forward to the appearance of a second selection of bands. Well done to Homeground Records, Steve Cox and all concerned.