THE LILAC TIME – Return To Us (BMG)

Return To UsThe first new music since 2015’s No Sad Songs, Stephen, Claire and Nick Duffy return with their first release for a major label (not that they seem to be doing much to promote it) since 1990, the cover of Return To Us is a pencil sketch reprise of their 1987 debut.

Opening with ‘(I’m) A Believer’, a song of optimism in hard times when the world went stupid that namechecks Cecil Beaton, it’s comforting reassurance that musically all is as ever in their world with gentle, pastoral folk and country tinged pop couching the often acerbic, subtly political lyrics and assorted references to Stephen’s Birmingham origins. As for example on the harmonium and pedal steel backed swaying ‘March To The Docks’, a song about the D-Day landings (“we didn’t know we were landfill”) that mentions Constitution Hill.

The six-minute ‘The Hills Of Cinammon’, Nick on muted banjo, is a particularly gorgeous number, simple acoustic strum providing the intro to a nature-imagery infused, Americana tinted love song, mentioning Spitfires and The Beatles, as Stephen talks of family photographs, retail parks and asks “can I kiss you in the portacabin?” in a world where “there’s just money but there’s nothing to be shared”.

A yearning for more innocent times runs through the album, ‘The Simple Things’ speaking of life when you could listen to the silence and not be deafened by the noise of modern life while the jaunty pedal steel-led title track conjures a guide back to a golden age on the wings of song, a human chain out of the blackout where “the seas are rising and it’s not our country any more, ready for a civil war” and with bigotry and racism on the rise in an attempt to “stop them turning back the clock much further”.

The call for change is there too on the softly sung ‘The Bridge & Down’ with its simple military beat as, in a world where “Everything’s for show/And no one lets you know what they’re on/Till it’s gone” and it’s a case of “you either swim or drown” he reminds that “With nothing but a song in your heart/You can make a start to change your world.”

Again, on the woodwind textured, Brexit alluding (“no one voted to remain, they all went to the other side for a thousand years again”) ‘A River That Runs Both Ways’, he says “if you live your life the way you want you can be barefoot in this town”.

Nestling midway and closing with sleigh bell is ‘The Needles’, a song about change pivoting round Christmas and New Year which, nodding to ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ in its opening lines, asks if the feeling of being alone is “the present you can’t get out of /Or the future you can’t postpone” and, while a love song to his parents, wife and five-year-old daughter, the line “You and your child don’t give up” could also be read to carry religious undertones and the trust in faith and the possibility of change when “the heretics who once slept on your floor/Are singing carols at your door”.

The album ends with the tumblingly rhythmic instrumental ‘King Kopetsky’, anchored by bass, percussion and tinkling synth notes with wordless vocals, named for the auditory processing disorder and the difficulties in recognising and interpreting sounds against background noise, a perfect musically encapsulated metaphor underpinning the themes that run throughout the album.

As it says in the opening song, this is an album to make you “Fall in love/Rise above/Be a believer”.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.stephenduffy.com

‘Return To Us’ – official video:

Ady Johnson – TELL THE WORRY DOLLS

Having fronted Colchester’s organ driven rock ‘n’ roll band FuzzFace for some years, Ady Johnson now embarks on a solo acoustic project with the launch of his debut album TELL THE WORRY DOLLS. This self-released album has already been recognised as a possible “first contender for album of the year… deserves to be massive” in a glowing 9/10 review by James Robinson for the Press Association: “This low-key, no-label release by Colchester singer-songwriter Ady Johnson might well be the first contender for album of the year. Johnson’s voice and face are both similar to Harry Nilsson’s, while the sound, an acoustic guitar-led barroom skiffle, is resonant of Badly Drawn Boy’s first record – plus, he has fantastic tunes to match. It’s refreshing to hear music in the folk genre being so dynamic and upbeat. Tell The Worry Dolls deserves to be massive. An excellent start to 2011”

Ady Johnson performs live regularly and has played numerous festivals, including headlining the Castle stage at the 2010 Colchester Free Festival and has supported bands such as Cornershop, The Godfathers, the Telescopes, Tom Hingley, Chris Helm and Ben Howard and even played live in the middle of a pop up maze in London’s Trafalgar Square!  A particular highlight came last year when Ady was busking at 6Fest, the London festival organised to celebrate the successful campaign to save BBC 6 Music from closure. While busking, Ady was asked to open 6Fest after one of the acts had not turned up; an opportunity not to be missed.

This experience was summed up on the day by DJ Shaun Keaveny who said “What a story that is… that’s typical of 6 Music.” The following week the London Metro ran a story ‘Busker bags festival gig after band cancel appearance!’

Tell The Worry Dolls is not your usual bland acoustic, ‘woe is me’, introspective fair. Johnson writes dynamic songs which range from heartfelt whispers to aggressive, soulful hollers! His distinctive vocals, deft guitar work and a sympathetic backing band, make Johnson’s recent recordings sound like Graham Coxon’s Spinning Top colliding with Tom Waits’ Bone Machine. Add some Steve Marriot vocals to the mix and you’re someway to describing Ady Johnson’s sound. This stunning solo debut release was recorded live where possible with a backing band at Long Track Studios through an old Neve mixing console John Peel used at Maida Vale Studios

The album is inspired from Johnson’s personal life experiences and deal with a range of subjects and emotions that we are all confronted by, or can relate to. This is reflected in the song writing and the honesty and conviction of his performances. Johnson’s songs are dynamic and diverse; he can pull on the heart strings but also brings balls to the acoustic cannon. Johnson explains, “Each of the songs express some kind of worry, concern or angst, and in committing these songs to the album, I like to think I’ve finally completed the cathartic process you go though as a singer/songwriter- much like the folklore which surrounds the Guatemalan Worry Dolls; you tell the dolls your worries before you go to sleep and in the morning you find that they’ve taken them away.”

Stand out tracks on the album include the glorious opener 20,000 Miles From Home, reminiscent of the writings of Stephen Duffy in his Lilac Time period, the superb Pink Flamingos and his crooning rendition of Jewelly Box is truly outstanding. If you want a comparison of Johnson’s vocal delivery, Paolo Nutini would be fairly close. All ten tracks are self composed and to be honest there is not a filler track to be found.

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For more information and the latest tour dates please visit www.adyjohnson.co.uk