The Flight & Other Stories
Still Small Voice Productions
I thought I had heard the last word in whimsical many years ago, when Bonzo Dog band spinoff Neil Innes’ Whole World were out and about and recording. (Remind me to tell you my Neil Innes story)
But here I am in 2012 listening to an album that is SO out-of-time and out-of-kilter that it could find a place in your heart quite easily, if only you, dear discerning reader got to hear it. Powell is a man born in the wrong era. He would have been perfectly at home as an opener at London’s Marquee or Troubadour clubs, say, downbill to Lindisfarne or Trees or Fotheringay. He is a singer ( almost a crooner, in fact ) who doesn’t shout or scream, with unflashy musicianship present but never pushed into your face. But overall a fund of lyrics that aren’t stamping down Obvious Street hellbent on airplay. Paradoxically, Radio 2 would love a lot of this material and it wouldn’t jar with their beloved Golden Oldies from McGuinness Flint or Stealers Wheel. Time was when a quirky song could be a hit single. I am thinking of David McWiliams’ weird but wonderfully haunting ‘Days of Pearly Spencer’ or better still Brian Protheroe’s ‘Pinball’. Or most of Donovan Leitch’s mid-period output eg ‘Museum’ or ‘Atlantis’. But radio – certainly mainstream radio – nowadays seems to want nothing but medium/brisk synth-stuffed pop where ANYone could be the ‘vocalist’ and AutoTune makes ear-filling soup for the easily satisfied. If you want to be constantly surprised by smart pairings of songs or tunes going all over the place be it pop, soundtrack, folk, blues, electro, jazz, world, rock’n’roll the ONLY place to find it, believe me is French Radio London. Head for their site or the DAB, but be warned it will cost you a fortune, as it has me…..they display artist and title…
ANYway…we have here a somewhat unassuming but disarmingly individual bloke telling arcane stories in a confident way – pleasing himself and maybe you. Now Tim Buckley and Jim Croce did this and David Ackles made a clutch of albums that exemplified this backwater of music. Ackles was never really understood or appreciated, except by other musicians and literature figures, more’s the pity. Buckley and Croce along with Harry Chapin did receive some attention in their too-short lives, so I say the more switched-on listeners out there WILL enjoy offbeat but melodic music IF they get to hear it or read something that steers them towards it. It’s why this site was created.
Powell plays lots of instruments including guitar, mandolin, ukulele, piano, violin but he also has aboard bassist Jamie Neeson, drummer Dan Pressley AND Wales’ greatest singer adding backing vocals…but I shan’t mention HER again in this piece. Co-producing with Gethin John, the aim here seems to have been to keep things mellow.
‘The Flight’ starts like Fairport Convention LP opener but a subtle vocal over soft baroque strings and a quasi-military drumbeat, all kept low-key as a story is told. It’s hard not to see a ‘Bellville Rendezvous’ style animation forming in your head, to illustrate the song ; ‘Brave Captain Mallard’ was a single and was inspired curiously by that plane flop into the Hudson a couple of years ago with the song narrative from the perspective of one of the ducks ! a cover by Katy Perry or Rihanna is not likely. A gentle uke strum of a song which eases into your consciousness, early surrender recommended.
‘Old Black Joe’ misses me by a mile, I just don’t get it. Jealousy ? Paranoia ? Powell knows, I’m sure but I don’t. Neat fuzz guitar figures on this one and bizarrely set to a light Gary Glitter beat ! Curiouser and curiouser and Jonathan sings with great vigour on this cut. Ah well…
‘Edie’ is a delight, skipping tempo, breathy vocal and I would hazard a guess inspired perhaps by French /Italian cinema ? Romantic, sprightly and again individual, time signature switches et al. Oh and subliminal xylophone…
‘The Pursuit’ – nowt to do with Jamie Cullum – has whistling at the start and Powell’s favoured conspiratorial vocal delivery. Another weird story, maybe he spent his early years reading spooky fairy tales ?
‘At Arms’ Length’ paints a relaxing scenario but reeking of sadness, regret and whatever. Very cleanly sung and I reckon he digs James Taylor’s more reflective output. This is where Powell sounds most natural and less intent on putting an atmosphere together.
‘Songbird’ is a tad McCartney Lite for this scribe, but it’s a cool arrangement with just enough dirt in the guitar tones. I’d have put a French horn on this, over the guitar build-up. ‘Puppets’ takes us back to the netherworld and is edge-of-scary. Marionettes coming to life is a well-worn fiction device but this is truly unnerving as a song, the circus bridge and passage underlining the dark vibe.
So, a set of tunes not even trying to be fashionable but with some great moments and consistently musical. Powell sounds content and relaxed, never thought I’d envy anyone spending time in Church though. Oh damn….I said I wouldn’t
Neil Innes - a long time ago my (then) drummer and I were trying to find the right part of Kingston Upon Thames Poly to see a gig. No sign of a show at the first building we went to, so we set off across town to the other centre. At which point an old Riley pulls up and a chap with a hat asks us if we know where a gig is on, we say we think so, he says jump in and navigate please. So we do, it isn’t far.
‘Well, ‘ says the car driver as we pull up at the hall ‘at least you haven’t missed the show..’ It was Neil Innes. Kinda cool as youngsters to be driven to the event by the headliner
Pete Sargeant www.fairhearing.co.uk