His stage name lifted from a line in John Cale’s ‘Paris 1919’ and at times reminiscent of Robert Wyatt, the refreshingly eccentric singer-songwriter from Birmingham with a keen ear for despondent whimsy and melody makes his album debut with, William William Rodgers Sings The Yellow Pages, a delightful collection of songs that range from the opening organ drone of the wearied swaying shanty folksiness of the ageing-themed (“Are we heading for the scrapheap/Or will life start again at sixty five”) ‘Are We Still On’ sung in the voice of a woman urging her lover to not see her at her early morning worst (“I awake with a start and the air hangs heavy/Stinking of sweat and factor fifty lotion/Now I don’t want you to see me like this/I don’t want you to treat me like this/I don’t want you to see the bitterness/That’s smudging my birthday mascara”) to the funky minor to major staccato rhythm ‘Gone Shrimping’, about, well, going shrimping with a mate, and the dreamily reflective romantic bittersweet acoustic ‘Mermaid Tattoo’ (“scarf weather again/I left a bag of green on a memorial bench/perched high up on the cliffside, grey-faced and lonely/in the arsehole of the year/all of the place was barred against intruders/as I was getting ready to pack up my suitcase/I went down to the strand to scratch my initials/you came like a wave, washed them away/and life would never be the same”) where he namechecks Sonny & Cher.
The album’s veined with melancholia, particularly to the end with, preceded by the brief acoustic instrumental Dickens-alluding ‘Bleak Hut’, the flute-coloured jazz-folk jittery rhythmic ‘77 Walking Sticks’ which relates an unexpected encounter with an old flame (“I rounded the corner/I thought you’d been buried/fathoms deep in my diary like a first year crush or common room grudge/a push then a shove/the sea takes a bite wipes its mouth, draws it tight”), and the lovely acoustic regret and poetic lyrics of ‘Sigh’ (“now I know we haven’t spoken since I spilled the beans/and it somehow got back to you/I remember stars went falling all around my ears were they falling round yours too?/I could see I’d been the villain but didn’t have the strength to admit that it was you who’d been wronged and that for someone so committed to dodging every shower you were drenched to the bone”).
It ends on a similarly bittersweet note, returning to thoughts of growing older and mortality with the viola-tinted strummed guitar, accordion and piano ballad ‘If I Die Before You’ (“and if I die before you/won’t you burn my letters please/stoke the fire with postcards and jaundiced diaries/and if I die before you won’t you check my books with care there’s a petal from our wedding day and a lock of Charlie’s hair”).
There’s also one cover on the album, a choice that underscores his own very English sensibilities as a writer and musician, ‘The Slow Train’ being the 1963 song by comic songs duo Flanders & Swann, a lament for the rural and suburban railway stations lines lost in the cuts inflicted by The Beeching Report, here chiming with the theme of loss and regret that permeates his own work.
William William Rodgers Sings The Yellow Pages is an album of wit and world-worn wisdom, it’s a disarming delight, so let your fingers do the walking.
Artist’s website: www.williamwilliamrodgersbandcamp.com
‘Are We Still On?’ – official video: