Ivor Game is something of a quiet British institution. Since branching out solo at the age of 20 he has played all over England, Ireland, Europe and parts of the USA, as well as releasing numerous CD's which have garnered him much airplay.
'A New Start' is, I think, Ivor's eleventh release since his first in 1996, all recorded in his home studio. It is difficult to be certain about lots of things with Ivor as information in the public domain is at a premium. I am not sure if this is modesty, privacy or a refusal to play by the standard rules of promotion but the normal forums of Facebook and Twitter are sadly neglected and his website is only marginally more enlightening. There does seem something quintessentially British about the process of gigging and recording prolifically, whilst at the same time apparently trying to keep it all as secret as possible!
Luckily, I have some first hand experience of Ivor. Five or six years ago when I was still driving my Son around, he spent about eighteen months playing the 'Acoustic Night' circuits in the London pubs and bars. These tended to be a step up from Open Mic nights but a shade below a full paying gig. Nevertheless, an important developmental career step and often the standard of performers were dauntingly good. In this time, I think my Son probably shared the bill with Ivor on seven or eight occasions and this was always a treat for us. I recall him as a beautifully fluid acoustic guitarist with a lovely combination of intricate picking, sweet alternating bass lines and a meaty, percussive backbeat. His songs were short, witty, pithy and tuneful and I remember a particular favourite of ours was 'I Like Being At Home' with it's list of domestic enticements! He always went down well with the crowd and was a very engaging performer, a hard act to follow on Showcase night!
So, fast-forward a few years to 'A New Start'. All nine songs are Ivor Game originals and I am fairly sure it is a solo, guitar and voice recording. At times there does sound as though a double bass may be lurking about somewhere but I think it is probably just Ivor's dexterous bass lines filling out the sound. It is a good recording, capturing a nice separation between the guitars bass and treble strings with Ivor's vocal sitting just on top of the mix. Dave Blackman at Hitltongrove and Steven Wilkinson at Roseacre shared the mastering duties.
Opening track 'Welcome' sets the tone for the album, all sweet guitar lines, infectious melodies and quirky lyrics musing on relationships many vagaries. Vocally and stylistically, Ivor puts me in mind of Neil Hannon and The Diving Comedy but he also has ageless, slightly clipped mannerisms that equally conjure up images of Noel Coward and on other occasions, the courtly delivery of Lyle Lovett.'At Least I Tried' is an early favourite with another great hook and idiosyncratic lyrics such as 'tonight I said I loved you casting fear aside, I may not be the one for thee but, at least I tried'. Great stuff, not often you see 'thee' in a pop song!'A Love So True' boasts a Johnny Cash 'Folsom Prison Blues' type guitar strum that fairly drives along and Ivor sings the 'maybe there's a love so true' refrain with his best Elvis sneer.
So, three songs in, all bursting with ideas and creativity but less than six minutes playing time gone as they clock in at around two minutes or under each. I think part of Ivor's appeal as a live performer is the way he rattles through his set keeping the audience focussed and engaged, and of course, if you don't like the current number, the next is never far away. In addition, there is undoubtedly great skill in delivering something worthwhile in less than two minutes. However, I would have liked to hear some of these songs stretched out and worked a bit more. Without exception, at the point of stopping or fading out, each number felt to me like it had a lot more to say. The one standard length song 'There Is A Distance' that comes in at three minutes thirty five seconds is something of a revelation, having space and time to develop its themes as well as showcasing some particularly fine playing from Ivor.
Other stand out tracks are 'Shadows' with its jaunty guitar and vocal and 'When You Come Home' that combines the day to day quandary of whether to throw a 'welcome home' party or not with some outstanding alternating bass lines and jazzy, ragtime picking. Even 'Oooh', which only features a few 'Oooh, oooh' vocal sound effects over the guitar, manages to be charming.
There is a real sense that Ivor is very much his own man and does what he does, in the way he does and is not for changing. Personally, and as a fan of his music, I think that is a shame and if the only compromise he ever made were to write one longer song for every short one, then I think many people would be very happy. For an album this good to speed through at under eighteen minutes is a missed opportunity in my view. If the single criticism here is that of wanting more, then it is no bad thing!
'A New Start' is another very good Ivor Game record. Nine tracks of witty, musical comment, each a little 'kitchen sink' vignette that turns the ordinary into something rather lovely. Factor in some sublime playing and melodies that prove the perfect foil to these domestic tales and Ivor continues to occupy a unique piece of little England.
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