EDD DONOVAN – Anchovy (own label EDD004)

AnchovyAnchovy is the fourth album from Edd Donovan, a singer-songwriter labelled ‘the singing social worker’ by The Guardian because of his day job. Edd has never been afraid to address serious topics, and since this this is another album with origins in the opportunities for thought and reflection afforded by lockdown, it’s not surprising that this is a very thoughtful album. As deep, you might say, as the oceans where the anchovies swim. Among the complex subjects that Edd addresses in his lyrics are the state of the planet, the limits of human understanding and the link between ancient deities and the subjection of women. Please don’t let that put you off though, because it’s more accessible than it sounds and, if the album’s lyrics are ambitious, so is the music.

Edd is a talented singer-songwriter and musician, with a fine singing voice. He’s also acquired an impressive backing group, The Wandering Moles, consisting of six instrumentalists and his partner, Emma Parker, as a backing vocalist. Between them, they’ve produced a very enjoyable and impressive album. Edd’s music is rooted in Americana and indie-folk, but he takes influence from a range of sources. Anchovy has elements of Jazz, Reggae and Motown, with touches of psychedelic folk.

Anchovy opens with ‘Echoes Of The Sea’. The complex lyrics are about the flow and finding liberation from fear and seeking. It also tells of a journey back to a true source of love, joy and peace. “Flow river flow, show me what you know and take me home.” Appropriately, the Americana influenced tune has a gentle and lilting feel, evoking the Cornish beaches that Edd loves. Diane Arthurs supplies some very nice flute accompaniment.

The title track follows, evoking the enormity and beauty of the oceans. Much of this is similar to ‘Echoes Of The Sea’ in its dreamy quality and gentle flute, while Chris Cundy’s soprano saxophone adds a jazzy feel. There’s more to this track though. The oceans are beautiful but also fragile and threatened. Throughout, this track is more rhythmic, with prominent percussion, and in the middle section, man’s attempts to conquer the sea are represented by sounds that represent the creaking of old wind powered vessels. The lyrics are beautifully simple, listing the creatures and other elements found in marine ecosystems. Special prominence, of course, goes to the anchovy.

St. Ives has a strong nostalgic pull to Edd, who spent childhood holidays there. A recent visit with his own family inspired the next track, called ‘St. Ives’. In particular, inspiration comes from a book, on the coffee table at their guesthouse, in which “There are pictures of sailors, their children and wives” and much more from Old St. Ives. But change is in the air, “There’s a graveyard above us, we’re being watched by the dead.” This is a more pared down track, driven by Edd’s acoustic guitar, with a lilting tune that evokes both nostalgia and a touch of sadness. A beautiful and moving song.

That marks the end of what might be called the maritime section of Anchovy, as ‘What You Know’ takes us into deeper philosophical territory. It’s more about what we don’t know as it tackles, the limits of human understanding, in the vastness of everything. It has a lively and rhythmic tune, with ambient touches. Emma’s backing vocals are prominent, duetting with Edd on this track.

On ‘Be The One’, the indie folk tune is regularly interrupted by a striking reggae chorus. It has an infectious and deliberately optimistic feel as it celebrates optimism and courage, while issuing a call to action.  Not that the lyrics pull any punches about the challenges we face; “There’s so much for us to be scared of, The system is run by people who don’t give a f_ _ K”. There’s not hiding though, because “No one else but you gonna clean it up”.

That sounds daunting, but the following track celebrates people who really have made a massive difference. ‘Unspoken Heroes’ was inspired by an article, with the same name, by American writer Katie Serena. Musically, we move on to a Motown style horn arrangement, by Edd and Wandering Moles’ percussionist and mandolin player Paul Arthurs. ‘Unspoken Heroes’ is dedicated to NHS staff.

‘Aphrodite’ is named for the ancient Greek goddess, initially of war and seafaring, but later converted to the goddess of beauty and lust (her Roman equivalent is Venus). This, and the gradual replacement of female by male deities in major religions, is the starting point for a song about the subjection of women through the ages. It’s a big subject, handled with defiance rather than pessimism, helped by a dose of ironic humour. The lively tune has a Sixties feel and Emma is joined by three guest backing vocalists for a complex vocal arrangement.

There’s a mystical, psychedelic folk feel to ‘Get It Out.’ That’s appropriate because this is perhaps the most obscure song on the album, exploring the subconscious mind and the benefits of bringing it to the surface. I suspect that’s easier said than done, but it’s another good tune.

A standout track follows, ‘God Be With You.’ Edd tells us that goodbye is a modern shortening of God be with you, and this documents the destruction of God’s creatures by saying goodbye. It’s simple and beautifully poetic;

Goodbye to the marshlands and the meadows
To the critters and the wondrous butterfly
Goodbye to the starlings and the sparrows
Your mocking words and your lullabies

It’s a sad and disturbing song, with its impact enhanced by its very simplicity. A sad but gentle tune beautifully sets it up. It’s all enhanced by some fine flugelhorn playing by Pete Beck, who also plays trumpet of ‘Unspoken Heroes.’ A lovely track.

The final track is appropriately titled ‘The Last Song.’ The opening words, “This might be the last song I ever write, Might be the last song I ever sing,” could sound gloomy, but that’s not the point. The message here is to be grateful for what you’ve got and to live in the present. On an album that explores some tough subjects, this feels like a good way to end. The Americana influenced tune is beautifully bittersweet, with a simple arrangement – Edd on acoustic guitar, Emma with backing vocals and Betti Porter on cello.

Anchovy is a self-released album, performed and created by Edd and his collaborators. Its ambition – lyrical and musical – is a testament to the talent of all those involved. All the songs are written by Edd. As a lyricist, he occasionally goes close to being preachy but never descends into a rant. At his best, the simplicity enhances his impact. As a composer, he’s clearly versatile and gifted. Anchovy is an impressive and relevant album. That relevance seems likely to last for some time.

Graham Brown

Artist website: edddonovan.co.uk

‘Echoes Of The Sea’ = official lyric video: