Once upon a time, almost a decade ago, there was a six-piece London-based folk-rock outfit called The Eighteenth Day Of May, who released an exceedingly promising album and then - inexplicably, we all thought - split. Now, after a lengthy sabbatical, four of the band's core members - Alison Cotton (viola/vocals), Ben Phillipson (guitar/vocals), Karl Sabino (drums) and Mark Nicholas (bass) - have got together again and, it seems, are on a mission to carry on their musical explorations more or less from the point where The Eighteenth Day Of May left off. I've only recently discovered that the foursome had in fact released a "taster" 7-inch single back in 2010, enterprisingly coupling the famous mining-tragedy ballad after which they've been named (still not sure why tho'!) with a cover of the 1969 Judy Henske & Jerry Yester song Raider (from their obscure but ace psych-Americana album Farewell Aldebaran which has recently been reissued by Omnivore - and reviewed on this site earlier in the year).
TGE produce a thoroughly credible, authentic and defiantly retro electric-folk sound as roughly defined by seminal acts of the Liege And Lief era (eg. early Steeleye, Trees, Mellow Candle) but with added rock-cred from early Velvets and High Tide and very possibly also more recent acts such as Trembling Bells. They're well recorded too, with subtlety in the inner detail, if sometimes a little opaque, even occasionally a touch unexpectedly so. For a self-styled "improvising psych-folk ensemble", though, TGE can surprise in the variety of their moods, taking us unashamedly through the gamut of the above reference points but also with a canny deference to subsequent musical developments.
Twenty-Four Hours, which kicks off the album, initially sort of recalls the opening figure of Shoot Out The Lights, but the winding melody of this Phillipson original feels somehow more akin to Pink Floyd, an impression possibly accentuated by the droning chord changes. The TGE take on Poor Wayfaring Stranger was, apparently, worked up when the band were "blissfully unaware that it had been recorded by nearly everyone"; here it crashes in with a pummelling Led Zepp drum beat, before the verse exhausts the singer and gives way to an extended instrumental passage featuring interweaving violas. Phillipson's tender, limpid Go Down With The Ship is a really attractive, if slightly gawky country-waltzer with clunky drum part. After which, there's a reverberant, ambient instrumental miniature of sub-Satie-esque brevity (Four) that doesn't even quite qualify as an interlude, which prepares us for the album's magnum opus-cum-centrepiece, a retelling by Cotton of classic Child ballad The Bonnie Banks Of Fordie that's propels itself along like an inexorable juggernaut complete with blistering electric guitar solo and builds, ebbs and flows majestically over its stately, unhurried ten-minute span. I really liked the next of Phillipson's originals, Do You Cry When You're Lying Alone?, another tenderly perceptive opus with a strong melody, to which the strange discords of the same writer's next offering, Christians' Silver Hell, come as quite a shock and form a marked contrast - ushered in by a riff that conjures I'm Waiting For The Man, this rawly-recorded number kinda crosses Kinks and Smiths with clunky garage and climaxes with a cataclysmic electric guitar solo. Between this track and the almost as devastating crashing rockfish hoedown of Heading For A Fall comes another of the disc's standouts, an atmosphere-laden, coolly passionate yet almost detached rendition by Cotton of Ted Edwards' powerful mining ballad Weeping And Wailing. The linking instrumental Another Twenty-Four Hours serves as a Pepper-esque "reprise" before launching into the album's equivalent of A Day In The Life (well, maybe that's stretching the analogy a bit too far), Phillipson's Glass And Sand, which takes its verse melody from the traditional Lemany. This is one of those maddeningly familiar, if slightly enigmatic narratives, set to an approximation of the modal psych-rock of the Velvets, which falls into some distinctly Thompsonesque figures on its crucial, expansive central guitar solo (it's also a little reminiscent of the buildup of Sloth from Full House perhaps).
This is a fantastic record, stylish and genuinely realised, but I remain mildly puzzled at some of the engineering, whereby on several of the songs Messrs Sabino and Nicholas seem resolutely determined to mix the vocal part too far back, with resultant loss of clarity of the lyrics (and so we could've done with these being printed out). Weeping And Wailing doesn't suffer in this respect, and gains in impact as a result. And I also appreciate the band's creative approach to what is in effect a comparatively restricted instrumental palette (again, though, more Velvet doom than Fairport folksiness in the final analysis - but no shame in that!). I do hope we hear more of TGE soon without having to endure another disappointing hiatus.
The album comes in an unusual format - CDR with A5 booklet (definitively skewed, acid-tinged artwork by Peckham-based illustrator Luke Drozd) with a limited-edition appendage of cassette/digital download of some live and studio improvisations.
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