Jon Palmer is a fine songwriter and a good bloke to have a pint with – both of which endear him to me. One Fine Day is the third studio album from his band, now an octet, which belies its name by having Baz Warne of the The Stranglers playing electric guitar on three of the twelve tracks. Producer David Crickmore also adds to the electricity as does Nick Settle but I’m not going to quibble. I am going to stick my neck out and say that this is the band’s best album so far.
As a songwriter, Jon can be a bit political but he’s also a skilled storyteller and one of the delights of the album is listening as the songs unfold, often in unexpected ways. The opening track, ‘Music Town’, is really upbeat and I’d like to think it’s about Jon’s home town of Otley but it’s also about any place where music can be found be it club, session or the back room of a pub. ‘One Fine Day’ begins in the same up-tempo style, with Matt Nelson’s whistle and Wendy Ross’ fiddle leading the way and finishes in a wild instrumental coda. But as you listen you get the sneaking suspicion that the story won’t have a happy ending.
‘Great North Road’ is one of Jon’s great story songs. You’ll think you know what it’s about and you’d be mostly right…but at the first mention of a horse you have to adjust your viewpoint. There’s any number of traditional songs that tell the story that Jon wraps up in the second verse. ‘Bridges Not Walls’ is the first overtly political song – do I need to explain its inspiration? Thought not. ‘Vagabonds & Rogues’, in a deceptive waltz time, could be another traditional story and it suggests something Steve Tilston might have written although I don’t believe that Steve would have risked the maidenhead joke.
‘Hey Now!’ is a folkier follow-up to ‘Music Town’ with a neat bit of name-dropping but I wonder how the Acoustic Band like being called “a bunch of reprobates”. I think I’d be proud of that. ‘Little England’ is Jon’s inevitable Brexit song delivered more in sorrow than anger. ‘The Knife Thrower’s Assistant’ – “I never miss, well, only sometimes” – is another story with a delicious twist. Actually, there are twelve great songs here and, although I’ve mentioned a couple of the players, One Fine Day is great ensemble piece, tightly played.
One Fine Day isn’t officially out until April but, guess what, go to Jon’s website, cross his palm with silver and I’m sure he’ll sell you a copy.
Will someone please explain why Otley’s finest folk-rock band are not huge stars. The Silences In Between is their third studio album – there’s also a rocking live set – and is as good as anything they’ve done.
There’s plenty to enjoy here. ‘I Don’t Know’ is about love as in “I don’t know much about love …but I’m gonna to find out” – there’s a Richard Thompson song that would follow it perfectly – and ‘Haul Away’ sounds like a rollicking old shanty. I love ‘Barleycorn Boy’ which is plainly not a folk song because “nobody dies and nobody drowns and no-one gets lost at the fair”, a typically witty Jon Palmer lyric adding a modern twist to an old idea. Two songs have appeared before on the live album: the title track and the traditional ‘Pay Me My Money Down’. The former is a love song with all the drive that the band can muster and could be a single if such things still mattered and the latter gets a more considered treatment than it does as a live show closer.
The line-up remains determinedly acoustic with guitars, double bass and Jon’s son Tom on cajon as the only percussion. Instrumental breaks come from Wendy Ross on fiddle and Matt Nelson’s mandolin, whistle and saxophone. My first impression was that there is more poetry than politics in The Silences In Between. The one obviously protest song is ‘There’s A Cold Wind Blowing (Over This Land)’ which sort of updates Billy Bragg’s ‘Between The Wars’ and that’s no bad thing since nothing much has changed since Bill wrote it.
There’s also a measure of unrequited love. ‘Hour Glass’, featuring the only guest appearance from singer Rachel Goodwin, is one such. Like several of Jon’s songs, it’s deceptively simple, but there is something oddly post-apocalyptic about it and the line “Burn the cathedrals” is the one that sticks in the mind. After one or two plays I think I understand why Jon didn’t include the lyrics with the record – the feel of a song is more important than detailed textual analysis – and there is little profit in trying to unpick his words.
The bottom line is that this is a superb album of 21st century folk-rock. Go out and buy it in thousands and make the Jon Palmer Acoustic Band rich and famous.
You’ll be relieved to know that Jon Palmer and his chums weren’t in court for sentencing, although if protest ever becomes illegal it’s just a matter of time. Live At Otley Courthouse was originally recorded just to be sold to the faithful at gigs but the response was so positive that the band decided to let the rest of us buy it as well.
They kick off with two contrasting songs. ‘Brown Eyed Northern Girl’ is a song of contentment as the singer reflects on life with the woman of his dreams while ‘London Town’ – “where the streets are paved with credit cards” – is just the opposite. They follow that with ‘Joyful Noise’ just to remind us that music is supposed to be fun, too.
The Jon Palmer Acoustic Band have been compared to all manner of folk-rock bands from Levellers to The Waterboys but the word acoustic is important and they have resisted the temptation to crank up the volume. Matt Nelson’s mandolin and whistles and Wendy Ross’ violin are crucial ingredients of their sound. There is a solid core of politics at the heart of what they do and, if pressed, I’d liken them to their colleagues across the Pennines, Merry Hell. Songs like ‘Stuffed Their Mouths With Gold’, ‘Working For The Gangmaster’ and ‘Eton Mess’ have obvious messages but Jon shows his subtler side with ‘Where The Mountains Meet The Sea’, a song about forced Irish emigration. The set wraps up with three covers: a dirty rocking ‘Dirty Old Town’, ‘Meet On The Ledge’ shorn of the sentimentality Fairport now imbue it with and the traditional ‘Pay Me My Money Down’.
The sound is beautifully clear and although the audience is clearly present they don’t overwhelm the mix. There are guest appearance from female vocal trio, Yan Tan Tether, also from Otley and Rachel Goodwin, an emerging singer from Harrogate. If you haven’t the band yet (and why haven’t you?) this is a damn good starting point.