THE VILLAGE – Escape From The Witchwood (own label)

Escape From The WitchwoodThe Village is the pseudonym of Phil Matthews; singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and Derbyshire native. Actually he doesn’t hide his real identity that well; surely he knows that classic super-heroes valued that above all else. I only mention this because one track on Escape From The Witchwood is called ‘Trapped Inside The Phantom Zone’ and mentions Supergirl. Phil says that these songs are inspired by English folk myths but I think he stretches that inspiration a bit.

Having said that, Escape From The Witchwood is fine album of one man folk-rock. I made the initial mistake of approaching it as a concept album which it isn’t and once I got past that I really enjoyed it. The title track, which opens the set, is a classic nightmare set in a dark wood with the protagonist running for his life. It has the sort-of-expected twist that he wakes up but is still in his dream. ‘Will O’ The Wisp’ is a more specific story of the fairy-fire misleading a traveller at night and Phil seems convinced that it is really a malicious spirit.

‘Stars That Light The Meadows’ is a guitar instrumental with a decidedly 50s vibe and signals a change in the record’s direction. After it comes ‘Trapped Inside The Phantom Zone’ and then ‘Random Brandon’ which must be about someone Phil knows but is he being empathic or is this character assassination? ‘Memories Of Summer’ is a genuinely happy song and the first single taken from the album and ‘Caretaker Of Your Heart’, co-written with Patricia Bishop, is a lovely story of longed-for love. Now we’re firmly into contemporary subjects.

‘Hello Chums’ is another jolly song ostensibly about the happiness that friends bring but suddenly I was struck by the thought that it could be about an imaginary friend – maybe I‘m just weird. The second instrumental is called ‘The Twang’ and sounds a bit Eddie Cochran but not quite enough and then we’re back to myths and legends with the closing ‘The Devil Went To Derbyshire’. Most of the Derbyshire stories about Old Nick concern Chesterfield church spire or Peak Cavern, a.k.a. “The Devil’s Arse” but this one is different and I’ve failed to track it down as yet. I’d love to know if it is a genuine old story or a product of Phil’s fertile imagination.

There isn’t a lot of information on the album sleeve but I reckon Phil plays guitars, keyboards and drums – the brass sounds feel as though they’re synthesised but that doesn’t matter. He manages to produce complex arrangements all by himself in his home studio and that’s quite an achievement.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Memories Of Summer’ – official video: