Let me say this from the start, I've known Gerry Colvin since way back in the 70s when I saw him fronting The Man Upstairs at a Melody Maker battle of the band contest. Since then I've seen him record and perform under a variety of different guises, as Peel favourites Terry & Gerry (now reformed), then as The Gerry Colvin Inexperience, The Atlantics, and, most recently, Colvin Quarmby. Throughout, he's consistently proven not just a true showman and entertainer, but one of the finest songwriters this country has ever produced, his material embracing the caustically political and the melancholically romantic. Further proof arrives with this, his new solo album, a follow up to Jazz Tales of Country Folk, and his first since putting together a new band following Nick Quarmby's decision to retire from the business.
Featuring Jerome Davis on double bass, Lyndon Webb on guitar, Michael Keelan on fiddle and his sister Trish (here rechristened Patricia Power) on accordion and backing vocals, it is, as the title suggests, a musical mixture (country, folk, jazz) but wholly excellent, displaying both his gift for a memorable melody and his skill with a lyric, sometimes playful, sometimes profound, and sometimes piercingly poignant.
Things kick off with a highlight among an album stuffed with them, Keelan's throbbing fiddle introducing the tumbling folk-rock strains of 'The Man With The Watch', a song inspired by the true story of a wristwatch that stopped at the exact moment his then girlfriend left him. Featuring a lovely acoustic guitar middle eight straight out of some Texican cantina, I could hear this in full stadium crowd singalong flood complete with trumpets.
Then it's over the Trish's accordion to lead into 'The Thistle and The Rose', a lovely slow waltzing Celtic hued number he wrote as a reflection on the Scottish Referendum about the ties that bind the two nations, referencing Alan Breck, the hero of Stevenson's Kidnapped, as well as making the wry observation that the former and current leaders of the SNP both have fish sounding surnames.
Things take a poignantly personal note for 'The Waiting Room', another gently lilting number with a slow shanty sway, written about his visits to his dying mother when she was in hospital ("one tiny hand reaches out to me, the person inside still the same") and the awkwardness of having so much to say, but not the words. After the emotional weight here, some welcome light relief comes with the country bounce of 'Johnny Cash Shirt', a suitably Cash-like chug through a song inspired by having met a guy in Nashville who collected clothes and other items that once belonged to country stars (he apparently also had Elvis's inhaler) and subtly commenting on the nature of obsessive fandom.
He stays in country territory to mine the genre's staple theme of the ambivalence of alcohol on the barroom waltzing 'I'm Postponing My Rehab 'till Tomorrow', a song about prevarication that also serves as a lament for the traditional pub (dartboard replaced by widescreen TV) where you could seek refuge, ponder over a pint and buy a snack from the peanut girl as well as featuring the witty word play of "opticsmistically staring at a half empty glass."
With a guitar riff that calls to mind The Monkees' 'Pleasant Valley Sunday', 'Before' has a definite Dolenz feel on a song about those niggles and anxieties that often plague long-term relationships and the wish to get back to how things used to be. It's also, quite possibly, the only song to mention Wile E Coyote from Road Runner.
The mood shifts for the more reflective 'My Country', essentially a love song to England and its people that are its earth etched on a simple acoustic guitar refrain with a gorgeous fiddle solo from Keelan, apparently written in an aeroplane toilet while travelling across America.
Then it's all change again with the frisky hoedown and Grapelli fiddle break bounce of 'God In The Bar', a playful number (that includes namechecks for The Last of the Summer Wine, Benny Hill, Jeremy Corbyn, Usain Bolt and Alfred Hitchcock) about a God (who sports a tattoo of Mary) drowning his sorrows in Satan's Tail, a celestial saloon just south of Eden where the barman's Dean Martin and the waitress Jeremy Clarkson (OK, he's not dead yet, but it's an amusing vision), bemoaning to Gabriel about the big mistakes that seemed like a good idea at the time, like kipper ties, Edward Heath, PPI, ….and mankind.
On a more sober note, 'The Rainbow Season', the longest track at almost six minutes, complete with a na na na backing chorus, is a strummed, agriculturally-themed brooding meditation on how complacency born of years of prosperity has seen a shift in the world economy with the rise of new markets in the East.
The album ends with the dreamily romantic, guitar and accordion arranged and jazz-tinged twilight time of 'The Last Two People Left On Earth Tonight', a song that (inspired, I suspect, by Bill Evans jazz classic 'The Two Lonely People') is almost as lovely as Colvin Quarmby's 'Watching Feathers Fall From Angels', one of the loveliest and most serene love songs ever written. I could hear this being sung by Tony Bennett. Available from Colvin's website, it's unlikely to cross the horizon of the multitudes, but those who discover it, admirers old or new, will find themselves amused, touched and enriched in the listening.
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