Terence Blacker – singer, songwriter, author, columnist – releases Meanwhile…, his fifth album, on December 2nd.
Let’s digress to a comment by from Bethany Cagnol, the Chair of the French branch of the TESOL teachers’ association. In 2010, she said, “In France, lyrics are crucial – often more important than the music itself. So for the French, knowing the words is important and finding nuances”. By contrast the UK has been seen as the locus of songs where music, “the language of rock” is more important than words. Like all successful stereotypes, there is a limit to the truth of this observation – and like all successful stereotype, there is a truth to this observation.
But then, this isn’t really a digression, Blacker’s albums are full of songs where the lyrics are fundamental, after all Blacker is the man who wrote an entertaining and insightful song about leaving the EU at a time when the UK was fairly well riven by the process (‘Europa Mein Amour’).
Critics have referenced influences such as Georges Brassen, Loudon Wainwright III, Jake Thackray and you can see why. There’s a strand of Harvey Andrews’ songwriting which draws from the same sources. Likewise for Blacker, there is both a humour and a truth on his lyrics, such as this from ‘Pale, Stale, Male’:
“Maybe I am past my sell-by date
Put me out with the trash
I’m old and decrepit
I sometimes forget it
And my mind signs cheques
That my body can’t cash……
This is the tale of the pale stale male”
Entertaining as it is, this verse is merely a precursor to a commentary on modern identity politics which maintains the humour but is as sharp and acute as anything by those other songwriters – or for that matter as sharp and acute as anything in a (humourless) Arena, Panorama or Horizon documentary.
Blacker rather compels you into these unusual comparisons. He says of himself, “Most of my life I have earned my living by writing books and newspaper columns. Since the age of eight, I’ve played a stringed instrument – first a ukulele and then a guitar.
One was work, and one was play. A few years, ago something unexpected happened: the two sides of my life merged… I found myself writing [stories] to music. These days I write for the page now and then, but my daily work and creative energy goes into songs and performing.” Hence we have a fifth album and a cornucopia of tracks – eleven of them on Meanwhile. A flavour below:
‘My Little Blue Book’ references French films and lifestyle on its way to thinking of old sins in “my back pages”; ‘The Way of the World’ is arranged with a debt not just to Thackray but to the songwriters of the 30’s and 40’s as there are rhymes like “a crazy leer” and “the ancient marineer” to tell the tale of the kind of old beggar that Coleridge might have known.
‘Everyday Hero’ is a tale of ‘heroism’ in the pandemic – the song, bookended by a couple of clips from the then Prime Minister, and contrasting Tommies of the past and our task in the pandemic when we had to stay at home, drink and have our TV remote in hand, “sitting on my arse for England”.
‘Not Quite Done’ manages to be perfectly safe to get past old-style censors of lyrics whilst being bout sex, life and death to a tune as jaunty as anything from Flanders and Swann.
….and so on. Eleven songs which are important to the world of 2022, written cleverly. The album is more though, the clarity of the lyrical performance comes also from the skill of Lukas Drinkwater’s production, splendid jazz piano from Dom Pipkin and percussion from Josh Clark. In general these are songs that could be played live, acoustically, and fully engage a room full of listeners.
To go back to where I started, the French laud songwriters like this; the English and Americans seem to see them as off-centre, quaint, quirky. Having touched on the wit and playfulness of many tracks, let me finish with a reference to ‘Other People’s Lives’ (below), a thoughtful tale, gentle in both its lyric (you can see them form on the video) and playing.
Meanwhile… is rather more than quaint and quirky. Just think about the line about a man “sculpted by his troubles”. There’s a brilliance in the music on Blacker’s album which we miss, or underestimate, at our peril.
Artist’s website: https://terenceblacker.com/my-story/
‘Other People’s Lives’ – live: