A round-up of recent and forthcoming EPs and singles
This year, Armistice Day, November 11, also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of, not just WWI, but all history with over one million wounded or killed. Among the Tommies who fought and gave their lives in the fight for freedom, were at least 13 of the 22 gardeners from Heligan, the Cornish country seat of the Tremayne family. Of these, only four survived. Before they left to do their duty, in August 1914, the men signed their names on the wall of the Thunderbox Room; however, with the gardens quickly falling into decline with the workforce absent, everything was soon overgrown. It was not until 1990, that the gardens were rediscovered and excavations and restorations begin on what would become known as The Lost Gardens of Heligan. During this, buried under fallen masonry in the corner of one of the walled gardens, the tiny room was discovered, on its wall, etched in pencil, the signatures of the men who had tended them. In 2013, the Imperial War Museum recognised Heligan’s Thunderbox Room as a ‘Living Memorial’ to ‘The Gardeners of Heligan’ and a plaque, a Cornish shovel and a WWI helmet now mark the spot .
A further tribute has now been made by THE CHANGING ROOM, a Cornish folk collective fronted by guitarist and singer Sam Kelly and accordionist Tanya Brittain, who, in a joint project with The Lost Gardens of Heligan, have recorded Names On The Wall (TCR Music TCRM75044), a four track EP (the inner sleeve of which features a photo of the gardens’ staff) headed up by the Brittain-penned hymnal title number that, featuring chiming mandolin and piano, movingly recalls the men (“our husband and our brothers, our fathers and our sons”) who went to war (“they read their Bibles whilst in hell and they said their last farewell”) and warm brass from Jason Hawke adding to the poignancy.
The other tracks maintain the theme of lives lost to the war, the stark ‘We Will Remember Them’ written and performed by Kelly and Brittain and taken from their recent Picking Up The Pieces album, while, with military drum percussion from Gareth Young, the latter does vocal duty on her own traditional-styled ballad ‘He Died With His Boots On’ which, touching on those who, returned from the war but traumatised by their experiences, found it hard to adjust to normal life and, like her great grandfather, ended up committing suicide as the tells of the soldier, medals proudly pinned on his chest and bible in hand, prepares to die with dignity. The fourth number returns to the title track, this time sung, fittingly and even more affectingly in Cornish, the whole EP a magnificent tribute to those who served and those who paid the ultimate price.
There are very few Indonesian folk-pop duos on the scene so STARS AND RABBIT may be unique. Their first official single will be ‘Man Upon The Hill’ released next month but in the meantime ‘The House’ is available as a free download. It opens with acoustic guitar and Elda Suryani’s lead vocal, somewhat reminiscent of the gymnastics of Bjork. Guitarist Adi Widodo has a distinctive style but before you can fully appreciate the nuances of his playing the record is taken over by a big band. To employ a word that should never be used: interesting.
SAM JORDAN is a former builder and ballet dancer (go figure) who leads a musical collective known as The Dead Buoys. ‘My Nirvana’ is taken from their forthcoming EP, Thoughts of Paradise, their follow-up to When Golden Morning Comes. Sam describes it as love song if you don’t listen too hard and their experimental approach makes it more rock than anything else with some screaming electric guitar and heavy-duty drums. It’s beguiling enough to make you want to hear more.
SAM BROCKINGTON is a much-travelled singer/songwriter now based in Bristol and Peace Of Mind is his debut EP. The title track is soulful, almost rocky and that’s followed by his previous single, ‘Follow’. Sam has a very distinctive vocal style with which he twists and sometimes truncates words. ‘Follow’ opens with a clever guitar part – it sounds like an electric played as though it were an acoustic – but by the end he’s pulled out all the stops. ‘Manta Ray’ probably stems from his time in Australia, ‘Cold Feet’ is a gentle finger-picked song, at least at the start, and ‘Unstitched’ follows a similar pattern. Sam has definitely got something here.
‘Stitches’ is the pretty new single from MARIA KELLY from County Mayo. Based on acoustic guitar it is awash with strings but still leaving Maria’s voice out front. I wish the words were clearer: a couple of the refrain lines are easy to pick out “Here I go again” and “I don’t know what to say to you” but too much of the rest is lost. The sound is lovely and you can enjoy the record on a superficial level but if a singer-songwriter has something to say it should be readily discernible.