Phil Matthews a.k.a. The Village is a man rooted in the land and legends of his home region – the rural East Midlands. Superficially, The Bells Of St. Wystan’s would seem to be more of the same but Phil is no Tolkien wannabe nor a “hello sky, hello trees” type and this album is firmly anchored in the present.
The first track is the chunky rock of ‘The Question’ – the question being, to paraphrase, what the blistering blue barnacles is going on and what can we do about it? Like a lot of us Phil is totally bemused by the state of the nation. ‘This Island Earth’ (great film, by the way) continues the theme framed as a valediction for planet Earth. Except that the planet is singing its own threnody.
The Village plays every note on the album which is quite a feat as there is a lot going on. He is a rock band at the core of the record decorating the songs with a plethora of sounds; probably keyboards but the source is immaterial.
‘Jerome The Gnome’ sounds a bit like a piece of whimsy except that there is a steely core to the song. Is it about loneliness? Is it about the realisation that there must be more than this? Is it about the fact that there really is no place like home? You decide. ‘Poison Dwarf’ is a choogling blues about our recently departed Prime Minister – I have news for you Phil, things have got worse.
‘The Marmalade Cat (He Observes Everything)’ brings a hint of optimism but the lurking question remains – whose fault is this? The instrumental ‘Who Cares?’ says a lot without any words. It might be the theme of the majority who just like a jolly tune. ‘Childhood’ is a serious piece of nostalgia which is an unspoken comparison to modern life: “Simple pleasures that were so much fun”. Phil and I are about the same age and I remember those pleasures, too. The title track continues the nostalgic theme. St. Wystan’s in Repton is the church in which Phil’s parents were married and he describes the village as he remembers it, and its people, as it was.
‘Briefly’ sees “hello trees” on the horizon but it’s skilfully avoided in a song that reiterates the confusion in what’s gone before and finally we have ‘Elegy For GB’. As far as I’m concerned it is a song about Brexit and answers the question posed in ‘The Question’. That’s a brilliant theory but totally erroneous – I’m only a critic so what do I know? The song is actually an elegy for Procol Harum singer and pianist Gary Booker who died earlier this year.
The Bells Of St. Wystan’s is, I think, the best of the Village’s albums that I’ve heard. I like his myths and stories but, in these troubled times, we need something with a bit more bite and Phil has his finger on the nation’s pulse.
Artist’s website: www.thevillage.me.uk
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