Woolverstone is a village on Suffolk’s Shotley Peninsula. It’s a small place, but I was able to find out about it – it’s various listed buildings and a marina on the River Orwell – without much searching. The same can’t be said about the band who share its name and have released their debut album, Grey Eyed Dandy. Their online presence is restricted to a Bandcamp page, with only limited information, and a few minor mentions elsewhere. When I also found that the line-up – core members Chris S (vocals/guitar) and Lou H (flute) with Tali Trow (bass/keys/guitar) and Davide L. Rinaldi (drums) – are all new to me, I realised that this was going to be a journey into the unknown.
The Bandcamp page didn’t tell me much, but three things intrigued me. First, the album was produced by John Wood, who has worked with Richard Thompson, Nick Drake and John Martyn. That was a good sign. Then there was the interesting list of tags – folk, alt folk, blues, folk rock, folk psychedelic, grunge and jazz. Finally, there was the eye catching and disturbing cover image, which suggested a folk horror theme. After listening, I wouldn’t use that phrase to describe this. Its often cryptic lyrics tell about the sufferings of real life rather than scary mythology, but Grey Eyed Dandy is certainly dark. Very dark.
The album begins and ends with two short tracks, ‘Tabanidae I’ and ‘Tabanidae II’. The opener is a 39 second instrumental piece, dominated by a haunting flute melody. In ‘Parted Ways’ the narrator warns that they can’t be trusted having parted ways with truth. It sets the tone for the album both lyrically – dark and soulful – and musically. With acoustic guitar accompanying atmospheric flute playing, I immediately thought of the folk psychedelic sound of the early 1970s. The era of Nick Drake and John Martyn, who worked with the same producer. Other influences are there, but this psychedelic feel is a thread that runs through the album.
‘Emerald Train’ has a rockier feel, with a touch of Americana. I couldn’t work out what it’s about, but themes of disappointment and futility seem to be present, with repeated line in the chorus “It seems that they were fake magic beans”. The acoustic, psychedelic feel returns on ‘Somebody’s Fool’, a powerful track . The lyrics remain dark and slightly tormented; “Oh how the tide is always turning/ Oh how it’s turning in my head/ Hold my hand don’t wanna lose her/ Hold my hand until I’m dead”.
‘Holden Farragut’ has quite a jaunty tune, but the lyrics seem to deal with the emptiness and superficiality of fame and success. The Americana feel then returns, this time with a hint of rockabilly, in ‘Mouse’. It’s an interesting song, ostensibly telling of the trials and dangers of being a mouse, but it clearly has human relationships in mind.
‘Foie Gras Tin Tapping’ is a very strange name for a strong track, that takes us in a new musical direction. This has a heavy jazz feel, with some good electric guitar work and very fine piano solos, contributed by Dave Milligan. The lyrics talk of cruelty in human relationships and, as the production of foie gras is undeniably cruel, I wondered if there is some symbolism in the title.
Another jazzy track follows, this time with some funky touches. ‘Olde Dog’ has some more animal analogies for human life and relationships, “I’m like your old dog, you keep me on the floor”.
The title track has the most traditional sound, with a hint of the medieval. The flute and acoustic guitar are prominent, and it’s also characterised by a military sounding drumbeat. It all works very well together, with the drumming adding an unnerving feel. The lyrics are in keeping with other tracks, suggesting the disappointments of life; “All that’s left are borrowed words on your epitaph”. You’ll have gathered by now that there aren’t many laughs on this one!
That said, the title of the next track,’ Three Smiles in the Mirror’, sounds surprisingly cheerful and it has a gentle tune. Could some light have finally found its way in? Well, I’m afraid not. The number three quickly becomes more sinister, as it changes to three sets of footsteps, following the outnumbered protagonist. But are the footsteps really there? The lyrics talk of delusional thoughts, so maybe they’re not real.
‘Tabanidae II’ concludes the album. It’s a second longer than “Tabanidae I,” with a haunting electric backing and lyrics that consist of one disquieting sentence; “Taking you into my silent fever dreams, barely holding on”. Tabanidae is the Latin name for the horse fly, which is interesting, but what it tells us about the album, I have no idea!
As journeys into the unknown go, this was interesting and often rewarding. There are some very good tracks on Grey Eyed Dandy. The vocals are softly spoken and heartfelt, complementing some impressive musicianship. Some of the lyrics are imaginative and interesting, but they’re often quite impenetrable. That might be the point though. I’d have also liked a bit more information about the band and what they’re about.
Of course, this album won’t please everyone, and some more traditional folkies might not appreciate it so much. This has an alternative feel and falls within a broader definition of the genre. If, on the other hand, you’re up for something a bit different, that draws on an eclectic range of influences, and you enjoy folk with a more disturbing edge to it, Grey Eyed Dandy is well worth a Listen.
Artists’ website: Grey Eyed Dandy | The Woolverstones (bandcamp.com)
‘Emerald Train’ – official video: