Widely considered to be one of the best and most original guitarists of his generation, Ian Carr has worked with many acclaimed artists including Kathryn Tickell, Kate Rusby, Eddi Reader, Kris Drever and others.
Following on from his critically acclaimed album Who He?, released in 2015, February 2020 will see the release of I Like Your Taste In Music, another eclectic mix of musical styles that features Maria Jonsson, Steph Geremia and Gustaf Ljunggren among others.
Ian met Maria Jonsson in Falun, Sweden in 1995. She was making spaghetti for her dinner and he asked her, “Are you boiling cheese?” She replied “No I’m boiling spaghetti!” They eventually learned to communicate with each other and playing tunes and making up new ones proved very theraputic to them both. In 2008 they made a record featuring several of these recordings, together with their friend Mikael Marin from the brilliant Väsen, and not long after they started work on Who He?, along with bassist Staffan Lindfors. Ian met Laura Wilkie and Thomas Gibbs at a jam in Glasgow, Laura played a tune of Ian’s called ‘Gahn Blenk’ and they immediately sounded like the best band in the world. At the release concert for Who He? they played ‘I Like Your Taste In Music’. Ian had the riff for years, and couldn’t stop playing it, soon becoming the tune that he played to check the sound on his guitar before gigs. But it needed words and one day in a hotel room in Skellefteå in Norther Sweden a man appeared and said “Thou Shalt Sing I Trust Your Taste In Men” Ian said “I cannot sing that” and Maria, who was also in the room said “you could sing I Like Your Taste In Music” And thus it was!
Time In The Trees is the second album from indie folk singer-songwriter Serious Child. Set for release on the Spring Equinox, Friday, 20 March 2020, the record is the result of a year spent in the Sussex woods by vocalist and musician Alan Young.
Serious Child grew up in the Weald forest of West Sussex and this body of work reflects a deep connection to the ancient oak and beech woodland. After years of living in cities, Alan escaped back to the woods, embracing their hidden depths and uncovering deep truths about the natural and modern world.
It’s no surprise then, that Time In The Trees transports listeners to a place separate from the buzz of everyday life, where time flows differently. The ten tracks herald an ancient and ethereal vibe – and yet boast an undeniably modern sound. Many ancient and unusual instruments help create the album’s earthy and acoustic qualities including harmonium, dulcitone, vibes, marxophone, accordion, cello and mellotron.
Produced by Boo Hewerdine and recorded by Chris Pepper at Saltwell Studio in Cambridgeshire, the album, like Serious Child’s 2018 acclaimed debut Empty Nest, is a close collaboration between the trio.
The tracks ‘The Oak’ and ‘Bonsai’ both explore how trees live and grow on different scales to humans. ‘The Oak’ is a co-write with Uist musician Jamie MacRae, whose connection to the stones of the Scottish Isles inspired Alan to write this album, and also features celebrated folk musician John McCusker (violin, whistle). ‘Bonsai’ is inspired by sensei Chiako Yamamoto who has dedicated her whole life to the rituals of caring for trees.
The first single, ‘Brambles’, released in November 2019 delves into the world of acclaimed forensic botanist Dr Mark A. Spencer, whose book Murder Most Florid reveals the haunting secrets hidden in woodlands.
Alan said: “The process of creating Time In The Trees was incredibly exciting. We wanted to use ancient and modern instruments to capture the pace and the mood of the trees and the earth, while acknowledging we all live in the modern world. I wanted to take people to a place where time flows differently, and success isn’t measured by how busy you are.”
Alan (vocals, guitar) is also joined on the album by Boo Hewerdine (harmonium, dulcitone, vibes, guitars, keyboards, backing vocals), Chris Pepper (drums, loops, percussion, keyboards, bass) and Gustaf Ljunggren (woodwind, brass, lap steel, organ), and Tanya Brittain (accordion), all of whom also appeared on Serious Child’s first album. John Parker (double bass, beatbox) and Bethany Porter (cello) also feature.
Serious Child released his debut album ‘Empty Nest’ in 2018 to strong critical reviews, drawing references to Richard Thompson, Chris Difford and Scott Walker.
Time In The Trees is out on the Spring Equinox on Friday, 20 March 2020 and will be available in digital, CD and vinyl formats.
Boo Hewerdine never seems to do anything the obvious way and there can hardly be anything less obvious than Before. The basic idea is that the music has been recorded before it has been overthought, hence the title. The packaging is minimalist – an 18th century painting on the outside, plain green on the inside with just enough information to allow you to get started. Boo opens the door a little and lets you peek into the dimly lit space beyond but no more than that.
The fact that the design is minimal doesn’t mean that the music is although, in line with theme, it’s not over-arranged. It began when producer and percussionist Chris Pepper acquired a dulcitone and, from that starting point, the record is almost a guitar-free zone. Boo doesn’t play one at all but there is a pedal steel and a “prepared” guitar played by long-time collaborator Gustaf Ljunggren. It turns out that Gustaf has a sizeable collection of instruments and he plays fourteen of them here, if you count the toy piano.
The album contains ten songs each one separated from the next by an instrumental interlude, some very short, so the record plays like a single composition. Except that Boo breaks his own rule so there isn’t an interlude between ‘Wild Honey’ and ‘Old Song’. The first two songs, ‘Last Rays Of Sun’ and ‘Imaginary Friends’ could be played by a conventional band and sound good, as could ‘Reno’ but ‘Before’, for example, wouldn’t be the same with anything other than the piano and woodwinds that give it a thirties vibe.
One song that you might have heard before is ‘Starlight’, co-written with Eddi Reader. Boo builds it on vibes and glockenspiel – a contrast with Reader’s rich arrangement – and it feels so melancholy. Can I say that I prefer this version? Before is an unconventional album but it hangs together so well. I’d like to think that it will be there come prize-giving time.
Before was recorded in the first weeks of 2019, with supreme Danish multi-instrumentalist Gustaf Ljunggren, Boo’s only collaborator on the set. Whilst this is an album for the times (that echoes the darkness and confusion around us all these days), Before is also a timely reminder of the power of simplicity, Hewerdine’s lyricism set to a subtle backdrop of vintage instrumentation.
“My producer and studio partner Chris Pepper found a Dulcitone last year. A century old keyboard that strikes tuning forks with felt hammers. I fell in love with its delicate sound straight away. We then came by an Indian harmonium, a Vibraphone and several other unusual instruments. My father’s old piano lives in the studio. Using these (and no guitars) I started recording with little intention this would become an album. Since Swimming In Mercury was released in 2017, I have been writing, recording and touring with Eddi Reader, Chris Difford, Kris Drever and Emily Barker among others. I love this! All my significant friendships have come through collaborative creativity. I realised that another friend Gustaf Ljunggren from Copenhagen, also has an amazing collection of strange instruments so I asked him to react to my new recordings and augment them instinctively. He has a unique approach to instrumentation and always offers the song something unexpected (we first worked together on the album Anon back in 2002) I really trust him!
The previous record was the most complex work I had made since The Bible days and I am always drawn to distilling ideas into as minimal a form as possible. I love the painting Cracked Ice by Maruyama Okyo, an incredibly spare work from the 18th century that looks like it could have been created now. It was always in my mind during the writing and so I asked The British Museum and they let me use the artwork on the cover of Before.
This album feels like an opportunity to go back to the source. The way a song might spring into being almost fully formed. Ever since I was a kid there’s been a soundtrack in my head. The song, ‘I Wish Had Wings’ arrived on the way to the studio and I recorded it without any editing or honing. In fact I thought about making the quotation marks a part of the title as I hardly feel I had much consciously to do with its arrival! A song about daft songs popping into my mind. These songs are not as “crafted” as some I have written but I love them for that. This is how I first hear them. These are first drafts. Before”.
The title a reference to a maxim held by the writer Raymond Carver to give everything he had each day trusting that the well would be full again the next, Carver’s Law is Trevor Jones’ fifth solo album, one which features writing collaborations with Boo Hewerdine and David Bridie and musical input from multi-instrumentalist Gustaf Ljunggren and pedal steel maestro BJ Cole alongside long-standing musical partner and co-producer Marcus Cliffe.
As ever, it’s a reflective, meditative affair, the melodies usually anchored by piano, Jones vocals couched in his distinctive dreamily musing delivery, evocative rather than declarative, the album opening with the brief, sparse piano and violin-accompanied ‘Drinking Alone’, one of four Bridie co-writes, pondering whether solitude is better than the dangers fraught in sharing your feelings. The arrangement blossoms on ‘Coleman’s’ (which repeats the image of a rope), steel keening across the lush keyboard framework as, on a lyric exploring forgiveness, he asks “if you lit a candle/Whose name would you mumble?”. Should you be wondering, the title is another Carver reference, inspired by an account by his second wife, fellow writer Tess Gallagher, of an Irish restaurant she wanted to take him too but how he kept being distracted by a Wendy’s or a McDonald’s. They finally got there and the name became a synonym for whether their new poems or stories achieved what they out to do.
‘Have A Sunset On Me’, again complemented by pedal steel with Ljunggren texturing on sax, clarinet and flute, plays a similar thematic note, veined with closure and acceptance of a relationship run its course opening with the line “For want of something better/We went for something worse” and moving to “Seems the dreams that you discover/Were always there to see”.
French for the act of returning, ‘La Rentrée’ moves into waltztime territory on brushed snares for a song about memories, of “the debris of years washed up at my door” and of not being weighed down by the past, but to “try to forget to remember” and to take part in “the dance of the day”.
Featuring Bridie on piano and synth, ‘Gentle Down’ serves as a 56 second lullaby bridge into ‘Morning Pockets’, a song co-written with Hewerdine that has Jones paying tribute to the late British writer and critic AA Gill, acknowledging the influence (“a hounder, a helper, a crutch”) of his mastery of words as he sings “Another man’s pockets is where I belong”.
Indeed, Jones’ love of the poetry of words and their evocative power is manifested in the spoken’ Every Dream A Shadow’ which, contradictory to sentiments elsewhere, values the treasure of memories, of “the faces that have loved you” and of how “what you get is what you give”.
Opening with the sounds of ships’ bells, ‘Blackshore’ continues the thought with a simple fingerpicked number about inspiration, of drawing on experience, of “the beauty of it all” and “the blessings of the ‘in between’” in order to “turn your back to the shore” and move on to uncharted seas and create your own waves.
Another lullaby-flavoured number comes with ‘And The Moon Led Me Home. in which he acknowledges that “You’ve got to be lost to be found”, a reverie of home and hearth that references Rupert Brooke’s 1912 poem, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, in its line about there being honey still for tea.
Opening with clarinet, at just over five minutes ‘What’ll I Do’ is the longest and most musically muscular track, Jones’ dramatic Meatloaf moment, an end of a relationship number that glories in going out in style (“If that was our goodbye then girl/It’s as good a goodbye as can be”) and how we only tend to see things clearly when it’s too late.
Bridie on piano, it’s back to the sounds of water with the words-tumbling ‘Le Mercury’, an observation of two lovers in a moment of emotional crisis (“She is pale, he is tanned/Seems nothing is going as planned”) and the resolution to go with the figurative dance (another recurring image), giving away to another piano-backed spoken number, ‘Dust In My Throat’, that again addresses the theme of memory and the ghosts that he can never let rest in peace, “a box of dead crows he can never release”. Once again, the resolution here delivered in an almost Shakespearean declaration, is to learn from the lessons life teaches and that “Nothing is settled/ If nothing is lost”.
Two short pieces, Cliffe’s piano instrumental ‘Hook and Tumble’ and the closing piano, cello and violin epiphany ‘Woebegone’, which returns to the conclusion of the opening track, sandwich the country-tinged, steel yearning, hymnal waltzing ‘Folderol’, a bittersweet song of “all the hurt that kindness brings”, of lovers grown apart (“I’m for whiskey, you’re for wine”) and of holding on when you should be letting go, not of parting in anger but a goodbye “light as a sparrow”.
Tender, compassionate, sad and veined with hope for better tomorrows, it’s yet another album from an artist who remains frustratingly little known and underappreciated. Here he’s poured out the best of what he has, but we can rest assured that the spring will replenish because, as he says, “I have a song/That will keep singing/Until the darkness has gone”.
The core of Serious Child – or as the CD sleeve has it, SERIOUS CHiLD – consists of Alan Young on guitar and vocals, Carla March on vocals, and Steve Welch on bass. However, a fine selection of well-performed songs by Alan Young is further lifted on the CD Empty Nest by the support of an impressive number of highly-rated musicians. Among the names you may well recognize are Boo Hewerdine (who produced the album, and indeed persuaded Alan to record it in the first place) and Neill MacColl of The Bible, John McCusker, Gustaf Ljunggren, and three members of The Changing Room. The overall feel of the album is nearer to soft rock than folk, but none the worse for that: this is a quality performance.
‘Blue Is Only A Colour’ is an affecting ballad, particularly well sung. While Alan Young has a style all of his own, I could almost imagine the Walker Brothers singing this rather well.
‘Paul The Bag’ is a rock-flavoured and somewhat alarming song about an ageing gangster with something to prove: based on a real-life encounter.
‘Time Keeps Rolling’ is a reminiscent song about comfort through personal ritual and the passing of time, loosely tied to Paul Robeson’s recording of ‘Ol’ Man River’.
‘Kind Man’s Bluff’ features The Changing Room’s Tanya Brittain on vocals and accordion, on a moving song about a mother’s feelings as her child leaves home. “But no one dies of heartbreak, so let me help you pack…“. This one could be a keeper.
Most of the way through, ‘I Don’t Remember Venice’ sounds like a pleasant piece of poppy nostalgia but features a sharp twist to the lyric towards the end. Clever.
‘Cinnabar’ seems to reflect a changed relationship filtered through Alan’s childhood obsession with crimson moths. Interesting.
‘The Last Chance’ is a little more conventional, but catchy, particularly in the chorus.
While most of the tracks here are not particularly folky, ‘Three Hail Marys’ has an instrumental line-up that would fit in with many an Irish folk group, with prominent whistle, bodhran and banjo, and a lyric that wouldn’t disgrace the Pogues at their best.
I guess we’ve all kept checking our phone for a message that someone somehow hasn’t left. ‘No Missed Calls’ seems to recall that hollow ambivalence, and has a nice guitar-dominated arrangement.
‘Open Skies’ has a slightly country-rock feel.
‘Speeding’ for some reason reminds me of John Miles. In a good way.
‘You Wear The Smile’ is a slow ballad that finishes the album in fine style.
Alan Young has long been known as a talented and versatile vocalist, but it turns out that he’s also rather a good, late-flowering songwriter – apparently he’d never written a song until he was 50. Hopefully, now that he’s discovered this extra string to his bow – um, guitar… – we’ll hear more of his songs in the future. Empty Nest is scheduled for release on the 22nd of June.