KETE BOWERS – Paper Ships (Current Records)

Paper ShipsI first encountered the now Essex-based Liverpudlian singer-songwriter with the release of his single, ‘Northern Town’ and ‘A Town With No Cheer’, two spare tales of the region’s industrial decline and its effect on those that live there. They both now appear on Paper Ships, his second album (only available in physical form via his website), produced by and featuring Michael Timmins alongside his Cowboy Junkies drummer brother Peter and released on his label after the original funding fell through.

Again, it’s very much rooted in themes of loss, depression and despair on both a community and individual level, Bowers’ deep, dark vocal style and intimate delivery calling to mind Cohen, Van Zandt and Guy Clarke, blostered by instrumentation tnat embraces pump organ, pedal steel, accordion and Dobro

It opens with the first of the single tracks to be followed by the slightly more uptempo, melodically brooding desert Americana textures of ‘There Was A Time’, a reflection on people, places and times that have passed, especially those lost to conflict who “sleep now on foreign shores.” It’s a theme that also informs the slow waltz crawl of ‘Winner’, thoughts from overseas where “Summer here can hit eighty five in the day/And take the strength from the strongest man”, “raking through the past” and reflecting on lost friends, lost youth and a lost relationship while clinging to the hope that “all things will become new again/ And my friend me and you again/ Will paint the whole damn town red/Tear down the walls, have a ball”.

Possessed of a hauntingly melodic organ underpinned chorus, ‘Ghosts’ is another deliberate, slow-paced number that, winters “colder than they used to be”, again treats on loss, both personal and the death of once vibrant high streets as “Only old ghosts walk behind you/On that road”.

Its echoes carry over into the stunningly desolate and despairing ‘Town With No Cheer’, followed in turn by the bluesy fingerpicked ‘A Place By the River’, the lines “The men they don’t cry here god forbid and oh the shame/Soldiers of god show no mercy when they fight and kill and maim”, finding the narrator back in the combat zone, where “each day I watch my friends fall”, “boxed in with no way out” and remembering “a place by the river on the bend where the willow grows” while “gambling on a book that says Jesus saves will bring me safe home to you” even though “God’s left his heaven and nobody can hear me at all”. Given the Timmins link, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say this could easily have found a home on The Trinity Session.

Taken at a mid-tempo jogging strum, ‘A Fine Day To Leave’ is, relatively speaking, a more optimistic number in as much as, the old streets now rubble and where “junk blocks the river where we used to sail/ Our paper ships on summer days”, it’s about having nothing to keep him from bidding it all farewell, his lover hopefully joining him on the search for better times.

The autobiographical ‘Northside’ carriea memories of its cobbled streets and “rows of houses all the same”, of being born in the year Elvis recorded ‘It’s Now Or Never’, of growing up in the shadows of the shipyard, walking with his later grandfather on New Brighton Pier, of young boys gone to war straight from school and of seeing “so many good things disappear.” And yet, again that glimmer of hope finds its way through in an uplifting chorus avowing “There will be better times/A light to guide a star to shine”.

Still, you can’t keep a good depressive down for long, and so the album ends with the Clarke-like ‘You Stole My Joy’, where, while “Grandma’s in the kitchen at the stove/ Singing along to the radio/Singing ‘Any old wind that blows’”, he’s confessing he’s “too bad for my own good”, that “The romance has gone like the great Wild West” and how “Nothing much got built after seventy nine/The whole damn town it took a dive”.

Like Cohen before him, Bowers is magnificent proof that melancholy and torment can produce great music and resonant lyrics, there may be ghosts behind us but Paper Ships encourages us to take their hands and walk with them towards the light.

Mike Davies

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Kete Bowers announces new album

Kete Bowers

It’s rare to find a great talent appearing out of the blue with an exceptional album recorded with stellar musicians but Kete Bowers is such a rarity. His songs you won’t forget. His voice is rich and deep. And deep felt. This is a very special artist whose time has come.

Kete Bowers’ second album, Paper Ships, has been produced by Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies at The Hangar studio in Toronto, Canada. Digital single ‘Winner’ was released on May 24th 2019, with the album due on June 28th.

Kete is from Liverpool. He’s been called a ‘Liverpudlian Neil Young’ and compared to Guy Clark, John Prine, and Tom Waits…

“I don’t put myself in one particular genre; I write songs that cross many genres – Rock, Folk, Blues and Americana, etc.,” he says.

“I was born in Birkenhead just across the river Mersey from Liverpool. A year or so before I was due to leave school it became clear that there would be few or no jobs or apprenticeships available. Our school careers lessons were about how to fill in a form and sign on the dole.

These were really hard times. Later on, I went to college to study for a couple of years. And then I had a few temporary dead-end jobs, and eventually ended up on a temporary job at Cammell Laird shipyard. Many in my family had worked at Laird’s in the past, but the yard was on its knees and it employed a fraction of the men compared with the old days.

So I left the North West and headed south, ended up in Suffolk, busking the towns on market days. Been married, divorced. Started writing songs in 2009…”

Paper Ships is Kete Bowers’ first album for nine years, since his debut Road from 2010. The new album features members of The Cowboy Junkies, plus Josh Finlayson of The Skydiggers on bass, plus Tom Juhas on guitar. Kete takes up the story:

“I was contacted by a guy from Toronto who wanted to take on an executive producer role, to finance the making of my planned new album. I then decided to contact Mike Timmins of The Cowboy Junkies and check out if he’d be interested in working with me. I sent him the demos for the album and he liked them. There where many reasons for me choosing Mike to produce my album, one being that I connected with his view that when capturing a song, ultimately performance is king. So the studio was booked with Mike, and I geared up for a few weeks in Toronto.

Just three weeks or so from the project starting, the exec producer guy went missing. He didn’t answer emails from either Mike or myself and paid out nothing. It delayed the album recording by a year. I told this story to Gerry Young from Current Records in Canada. He had heard my songs via a link I sent him. He contacted me and after several emails and phone conversations he told me he would see if he could sort out the recording of my album with Mike Timmins as producer, and find the money to make it happen. A week or so later I signed an album deal with his label Current Records.”

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