It’s been at least twenty years since I last heard anything by the Lichfield-born ex-pat, now based in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Little known here, he’s established a substantial following in France, which seems rather ironic given his music is quintessentially English pastoral singer-songwriter pop, often reminiscent, both vocally and melodically, of Stephen Duffy from the equally English Lilac Time.
Also featuring guitarist Mike Rhead, Luke Hodkins on drums, pianist Tim Bradshaw and Remy LaPlage on bass, it’s a welcome reaquaintance, his tenth album being a piano-based collection of generally romantic-hued ‘small operettas’ about under and over-achievers, lavished with string arrangements. It opens with the softly sung ‘Ioland’a, what would appear to be, at least in part, a tribute to Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti, an Egyptian born actress and singer who, launching her musical career in Paris in 1956 under the name Dalita, sold 140 million albums and singles worldwide before developing depression and committing suicide in 1987.
The piano work evocative in places of Nillson, ‘Lullaby’, which slips in a lyrical reference to Smokey Robinson’s ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’, finds him reminiscing on an old relationship, back home by the canal “where the dreams came apart at the seams” while, introducing drums, electric guitars and a 60s Gallic pop groove, ‘The Last Temptation of Brussels’ is, rather than some Brexit ditty, another ode to a lost musician (“we’ll never, never, never see your like again”), though exactly to whom he’s alluding is open to speculation.
The moods swing between introspective balladry and more upbeat shuffles. The former can be found with the plaintive, almost Lennonesque ‘Thanks’, the lyrically enigmatic ‘Garibaldi’ (which namechecks Paris’s romantic Saint Martin Canal, Rue Bichat, one of the scenes of the 2015 terror attacks, and the celebrated Café Adel) and, moving the geography from France to Stoke-on-Trent (Cobridge Road) and Lichield (Maple Hayes), the piano tinkling childhood memory-themed ‘Mothertown’ with its nostalgic reverie of when “it was golden.”
Turning to the latter,there’s the jaunty ‘Tricksey (which may or may not have an allusion to Paris-born philosopher and activist Simone Weil), a call to youthful impulsiveness (“wearing jeans like that is just so risqué”) to slow down (“what’s the hurry cos life for you has just begun”), a theme that possibly extends to ‘Lanterns’ (“You threw a ball in a park/That hasn’t hit the ground yet”), and the waltzing ‘Grow’ with its disarmingly lovely lyric about growing old together as he sings:
Age really suits you
A coat that protects you
A cover to cling to
I’ll make life long promises create a window
I’ll prepare your exit and applaud your floorshow, you’ll grow
And when I can’t run I will wander sedately around all the
memories we have created and grow.
There’s just a touch of darkness in the form of the twangy guitar post-break-up ‘Tuesday Morning’ with “those black filled wasted moments/Tuesday morning head in hands as Lucifer sings/On an out of tune piano” as “you sit in an ashtray that was of your own making” reading a note saying “I’ve forgotten what I’m missing”, but mostly this is a warm and upbeat celebration of life past, present and future. One that, butting up to its closing ‘Piano Sunstrokes’ instrumental outro (there’s an earlier interlude), finds its perfect expression with the joyous Forever’, a companion piece to ‘Mothertown’, and a snapshot of “a town called forever/Where the taxis are sweets and it’s all fizzing beats and the shimmering ghosts are the welcoming hosts”.
Rolling Stone called him “the J.D. Salinger of pop”, which I guess makes these songs his Catcher in the Wry, after all how can you resist an album that rhymes ‘ analyse’ with ‘curly fries’!
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Artist’s website: www.billpritchardmusic.com
‘Forever’ – official video and the current single: