What’s Left is available to download now
Here’s a wee bit of background info for each track on the album – to help you get the most out of your listening experience…
This short instrumental originally formed part of the ‘Spring section’ of a quartet for acoustic guitar and strings. It was inspired by David Hockney’s paintings of trees in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Obviously it was longer then than the 59-second piece it is now, but the lightness of the music doesn’t suffer for its brevity here.
The three titular persons are: David Hockney (obvs), Robert Kirby (when you hear the strings, you'll know why) and Ivor Cutler. There’s a prize for anyone who can work out why Ivor is there – maybe wait until you've heard it before you start guessing!
“I wash our clothes in the kitchen sink, still them at school say I stink.
At just 12 years old, life’s a soiled and heavy load…”
A song about one of the UK’s 200,000-ish Young Carers. This little fella’s Dad has gone AWOL and his mother’s gone off the rails. What makes the situation worse is that he looks a lot like his old man, so the harder our boy tries to be there for his mum, and keep house and home together, the worse it gets for both of them. Track 11, Mother’s Ruin, gives you the mum’s perspective.
All profits from the release of this song as a single will go to support Barnardo’s work with Young Carers.
“An a.m. pint with a short of hope,
A bottle of black milk for a blue Monday…”
There’s no way the dude in this song is going into work on Monday morning. Not after weekend he’s had. There's only one thing for it: get rid of the shakes and start some trouble in the hope that someone will belt some sense into him.
This song was originally titled ‘Wallow, Tit, Wallow’ – after the song of the suicidal bird in The Mikado – but my SEO head won out.
All profits from the release of this track, which will be the album’s second single, will go to support the helpline of charity CALM, because the biggest single killer of men aged 20-45 in the UK is suicide. So the most likely thing to kill me right now, is me.
A sobering thought.
“I’ve seen him ‘neath the Golden Arches, prison whites blazing away.
A bargain-bucket Caesar, stinking of Post Office aftershave…”
We’ve all lived underneath a drug dealer, right? Shit kicking off all the time. Not knowing what to do. Plastic bags full of coke landing in the back garden night and day. Police dogs in the house. You get the picture…
“Aching and cross, desperate because something you can’t replace just got lost…”
So you thought you’d split up but it turns out she thought the pair of you were just ‘on a break’.
You’ve split up now, for sure, after what you’ve done. Even the Khat chompers drooling on the pavements of Streatham seem to have more integrity than you. So you start walking.
And you end up in Whitstable, staring at the Maunsell Forts…
“When your heart’s as big as all of outdoors, it’s hard to keep it dry,
And you’ve wrung it out so often, you’ve forgotten why you try…”
Unique, aren’t we? Every single one of us. Not a clue what anyone else is feeling. None of us.
Someone clever once said that the tragedy of the human condition is that we cannot feel another person’s pain. Maybe. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying…
“All the dirty fingers, the grubby hands, can’t wash off the feelings with bottles and cans…”
Growing up in West Yorkshire in the 70s and 80s, two men cast a dark shadow over my childhood: Peter Sutcliffe and Jimmy Saville. I schooled with David Peace and his Red Riding Quartet (Peter Mullen, Rebecca Hall, Sean Bean, Andrew Garfield etc.) is evidence that I am not alone.
Walking around Camden today, hearing northern accents and seeing the cry-for-help body art, I wonder what these people have run from. Or maybe they’re just tourists…
“So I say ‘Here’s to all that burns through the blues’…”
This is the theme tune for a sit-com that’s in development, hence the structure: first half – opening credits, second half – closing credits. Nice bit of flute too (channelling a bit of Taxi, there). A group of disparate men go camping every November (hence the title of the song) to escape the rat race, gather wood, make fire, get hammered, that kind of thing…
“You list your interests as drinking, tears and porn,
Are you sure you’re better on your own?”
A while back, a good friend ‘went missing’. He was eventually found by a couple of ramblers – up a tree, on a cliff-top, covered in blood and clutching a bag of 8 Ace lager. Or so the rumour goes. It turned out that posting his house keys through the letterbox and disappearing without a word wasn’t anything to worry about. Sometimes you’ve just got to get off the hamster wheel and go bush.
“The young kin that visit him, dressed in Man U’s red and black,
Think Stanley Matthews farms turkeys.”
The referee blows full time on an ex-pro footballer. A reminder that kicking a bag of air around a rectangle of turf is not the be-all-and-end-all – even if you do get paid £150,000 a week to do it.
“Reaching out, reaching up, reaching through the longing, it’s so hard.
I wonder can he see, his love is crippling me.”
Lidl Briton opens the album proper and here is the companion song, from the point of view of his mum. The string swell before the singing begins is my favourite piece of music on this record. Tony Woollard (cello) and Charlie Brown (violin) take a bow (lolz).
The Big White Taxi Service was the unofficial forum for UK ambulance drivers and this closing instrumental is about a journey I took, many years ago, in one of their vehicles. I sat up front, while the paramedics worked on my dad in the back. I didn’t want the journey to end because that would mean the confirmation of what I already knew. He was gone. ‘Don’t look back son,’ the ambulance driver told me. And I didn’t. But I’ve been looking back ever since.
100% of the money I receive from the downloading/streaming of the single ‘Lidl Briton’ will go to support the Young Carers work of the UK charity Barnardo’s.
Slow-scoring right-handed opening-bat and orthodox medium-pace in-swing bowler. More than 10 years older than Leonard Cohen was when he released his debut album (and they said he'd left it too late). Strong cheese. Peter Reading. Inspector Morse. The Blue Nile. Raw onion. Margot. Seamus Heaney. Beer. Maigret. Huddersfield Town. Socks. Peas out of the pod. Teenage Fanclub. Cardigans. Etc.
On a custom Q Drum Co. kit, Binzer Brennan (The Frames, The Waterboys, Concerto for Constantine, Little Matador).
STUDIO BANTZ: When asked to come up with a stuttering, fractured drum intro for a song, Binzer simply got up and walked out of the room. We could hear him grimbling on the snare mic though: “Give me a bag of cans and a click track and I’ll give you a feckin’ fractured intro. Fractured intro. Jaysus…”
On Fender Precision Bass, Robbie Malone (LiR, Hothouse Flowers, Damien Dempsey). Since 1999, Robbie has been working with David Gray, co-writing and co-producing David’s last three albums. (I know. He must be friggin’ minted, right?). He’s also a bass tutor at Bimm Dublin.
STUDIO BANTZ: Sometimes Robbie puts a bit of sponge (maybe even the sort yer nan sticks on her bunyons) under the strings of his bass, just by the bridge. He says it makes him feel ‘jazz’. I pity the sound guy he’s having an ‘eye word’ with here…
On to guitars and Bill Shanley (Ray Davies, Roy Harper, Mary Black, Sinead O’Connor). By the age of 12, Bill was playing six or seven nights a week in Shanleys Bar alongside old pros like Eric Bell, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding. More recently he’s been writing new material with Ray Davies.
FICTIONAL FACT: Bill was voted Ireland’s nicest man for nine years running. He lost his title last year to Glen Hansard. Here he is in Cauldron Studios, Dublin, looking like he owns the place. Which of course he does.
Now on to the man who played keys, arranged the strings and produced the album – Andrew Holdsworth (Primal Scream, Bluetones, Paradise Lost, Goldie). Andy’s a Tonmeister and arranger par excellence. For me, the most beautiful part of the album is a string swell just before the start of verse one in track 11. How beautiful is it? You'll have to wait and see.
ACTUAL FACT: During hard times, Andy’s mum used to send his dad’s old Y-fronts down in the post for Holdsworth Jnr to wear. It’s true what they say: you can take the lad out of Yorkshire, but you can’t stop his parents posting things to him.
Here he is intuiting a hairline crack in one of Binzer’s cymbals…
Now on to the other vocalists on the album. First, Deepti S. Bulsara, star of the first single, Lidl Briton. Deepti’s a classically trained Indian vocalist and it was she who adapted a Faiz Ahmad Faiz verse for the song’s mantra.
The best way, I think, of describing Deepti’s voice is that it’s like receiving a aural sports massage from a young Emmanuelle Béart (bit sexist, that. Sorry). Here’s Deepti with her sitar and with one of her trusty harmoniums…
The second of the ‘Sithee Threes’ is Abiona Omonua. Abi’s on quite a few songs but my favourite is Last-minute Winner (track 10). She has some voice too – and she’s been on the telly. Here she is in Channel 4’s Cucumber…
And last, but far from least, on the vocal front, Johnnie Fiori. You might have seen Johnnie ‘up West’ in Hairspray, Vernon God Little or The Sunshine Boys? Or even on UK’s Most Haunted, as a guest medium. She’s a character alright.
To the wind instruments and, on flute, Jack Peake. If you’ve listened to Paul Weller’s Wild Wood, you’ve listened to Jacko. He plays flute and horns on quite a few of PW’s solo albums, mind. Notoriously camera shy, it was hard to find a pic of him on the flute but here he is on a tiny sax.
On sax, Nigel Hitchcock. How many musicians can say they’ve played with Joe Cocker, Teenage Fanclub, Tom Jones, Kate Bush, Ray Charles and The Sugar Cubes – amongst hundreds of others? Probably just Nigel…
On to the strings and cellist Tony Woollard. I’m not going to say anything about Tony, other than the lad has a tone that could make a stone weep. Don’t believe? Listen to this…
On violin, Mr Charlie Brown. After whacking down some dope fiddle for me and destroying Tony’s khazi, Charlie skipped off to do the latest Bourne soundtrack. He played Lyre and violin on The Lord of the Rings soundtrack too (not sure what a Lyre is, TBH). Anyway, here he is with Tony Woollard (remember him?) and Mark Northfield / Cherry Mint Koala (Mark made the video for the first single, so more on him later).
This is nice, this is…
To the brass and Trevor Mires on euphonium, trombone, bass trombone and sousaphone.
Now, Trev’s live and recording credits are longer than a docker’s tea break, so I’ll pick out the highlights: JAY Z, Beyoncé, Van Morrison (Official), Radiohead, Alicia Keys – there’s lots more of this kind of thing. Here’s a pic of him in Raezor Recording Studio, squeezing out some ‘brown notes’ on his trombone (oh the glamour of cash-in-hand)…
Cornet and flugelhorn next. They were provided by Mr Tom Walsh, who you can see here giving the drummer some sit-down respect (for a bit, anyway)…
Finally, Mr Greg Miller on Harmonica. Here he is on a boat playing some pretty impressive harp. Well worth a watch…