12 Apr 2012

Desert Island Discs Selected By Stephen From The Rowan Amber Mill

This week's Desert Island Disc selections have been made by the Rowan Amber Mill's Stephen Stannard, and good taste that man : there are at least 3 albums on here that almost made it onto my own list ( which is coming soon, should anyone be interested... )

 Don't know the Rowan Amber Mill? Then listen to this :
and then run ( or the cyber equivalent thereof ) to their website (here) to buy their two ridiculously under-priced, not to mention great CDs ( the first of which I reviewed here )

Over to you Stephen:

"If I were marooned on a desert island, these are the albums I could happily listen to for the rest of my days..."

Looking For A Day In The Night by The Lilac Time (1999):
Stephen Duffy is still, after half a lifetime of crafting some of the most splendidly beautiful songs to have come out of these shores in the past 25 years, the most under-rated songwriter around. I can only assume this is because we have not yet properly forgiven him for inventing new romanticism and, worst of all, convincing Duran Duran band mate John Taylor that he was cool. Duffy’s post Duran, post “Tin Tin” canon is, pretty much to a song, flawless. I’ve followed his career from Indie folkster, to urbane americana song-slinger, sunflower-field pop-pyschedelicist, post-ironic classical folkist, power popper and, via the odd diversion, back to resident underground singer-songwriter genius. Throughout this time, his output has maintained such a terrifically high quality that it is difficult for me to choose one from half a dozen of his best albums. But Looking For A Day… I believe is his most complete album. Every single one of these wonderfully crafted songs on the album are delivered with such (seemingly) effortless beauty, such truth and honesty, all strung together with genuine emotion and wistful flickers of melancholy and regret. I think both lyrically the poetry, added to the craftsmanship within the music, combines in the songs in such a way up that they are the equal of the output of the 60/70’s singer-songwriter royalty at the height of their respective powers. The man is a genius.

Nuada by Candidate (2002):
I first heard Candidate sometime after their debut album had been released and by the time I’d heard Tiger Flies (their 2nd album) I was entirely smitten. In my naivetĂ© I thought they were going to be huge, perplexingly and, absolutely undeservedly, they managed to remain just below the radar. Nuada was an album of music inspired by the film The Wicker Man’, with the film’s own formidable soundtrack itself an underground classic, Candidate wisely never strayed too close to the formula of the original songs from the film. The spirit of the film however channels itself into Nuada, and hints to the listener of older forces at work beyond their ken, within its grooves. Not only are the songs majestically written, the arrangements are also a joy to behold. The album includes a whole lotta acoustic guitar, gorgeously delivered vocals, a splash of banjo, a cool side slice of Mellotron and a basket full of assorted lo-fi instrumentation. There is not one single thing not to love about the album – and there aren’t too many albums I could say that of. It also has a guest appearance by Bert Jansch, and features the majestic ‘Song Of The Oss’ (latterly made famous as the theme tune to the stoner sitcom ‘Ideal’).

Comments Of The Inner Chorus by Tunng (2006):
With the nu-folk revival underground gaining momentum, Tunng’s 2005 debut ‘mother's daughter and other songs’ was deservedly one of the touchstone albums of that movement. An intoxicating mix that was pretty much unputdownable and remained constantly atop my stereo until it was replaced by this follow up. Its mix of un-fussed, ultra-catchy, folk-pop songs, swimming on an unmade bed of lo-fi electronica with added sampled clips, blips, beats, beets ‘n bleats was both innovative, deftly crafted, and infectiously captivating. What Tunng also had over their compadres, were that they were also not only a superb singles band - ‘Woodcat’ and ‘Jenny Again’ gracing many an iPod playlist of the time, but also they were a magnificent live band. I was lucky enough to have been swept away witnessing the band playing some extraordinarily well received gigs at all manner of venues (arts centres, festivals and parks) during those summers of folk.

The Lick On The Tip Of An Envelope Yet To Be Sent by Circulus (2005):
Circulus had been knocking around for some time quite unbeknownst to me. When I saw a review of their debut album The Lick On The ….. and an accompanying photo of these cosmic, proto-prog, medievalist minstrels all, I ordered the album and hoped that the music could, in some small way at least, live up to the image. Within the first minute of hearing the opening track I was absolutely hooked and with its mix of the olde (medieval instruments Saz, Cittern, Crumhorn et al) and the newly olde (the faithful Moog synth). The album delivers the listener a delightful mix of the medieval with a fizzy synth, raspy-horned, bongo-infused confection, underscored with a layer of, only very slightly, tongue in cheek nods to the nu-age. After listening to the album a number of times one after the other, I checked out their website and found that they were playing a gig over the other side of the county (in a small village hall in rural North Devon) that very weekend. After a whirlwind romance with the music of Circulus I thought I was ready to get to know their music more intimately, but nothing could have quite prepared me for that evening. With Wicker Man-esque costumes, masks, scythes, a green man wreath, assorted greenery, an eclectic audience, a minstrel wielding an Epiphone Sheraton, a stage not big enough to accommodate the band, and a whirling dervish sound man that couldn’t stop spinning long enough to tweak a single fader, I knew the night was going to be some journey. The gig was like a tornado that picks you up in its vortex from the very first bar, and sometime later drops you back down to dry land, dazed and confused, but glad of the ride, as the feedback gently fades and your senses begin to return. Then we floated back home. The album is very much like that too.

Espers II by Espers (2006):
I stumbled upon Espers through the cyber equivalent of a Psych-folk paper chase through various folkster bands on, the now sadly all but demised, Myspace. Their first album was like nothing I’d heard before and I played the hell out of it, and it relegated my Devendra albums et al into hitherto unfamiliar places at the back of the shelves. Then the highly anticipated Espers II came out and in its seven tracks it cross-wired some fuzzy electrics direct in to my overworked acoustic neurons. Every song on the album is a mini masterpiece, at turns spooky, dreamy, dark, foreboding, magical, moonlit, and truly progressive (in the very best sense of the word). The individual members of the band (Baird, Weeks, Espvall et al) have all made some wonderful albums on their own since, but the music they made under the Espers moniker, I consider to be the crowning achievement thus far of the psych-folk movement.

Don’t Stand Me Down by Dexy’s Midnight Runners (1985 original release / 2002 re-release):
After two such brilliant, and such stylistically diverse offerings as Dexys’ first two albums ‘Searching for The Young Soul Rebels’ (Geno etc) and ‘Too Rye Aye’ (Come On Eileen, Celtic Soul Brothers, Jackie Wilson Said etc) and a flawed Kevin Rowland solo album, I picked up this re-released album and absolutely fell in love with it right from the first listen. On paper this album really doesn’t look like a good bet. Most of the eight tracks contain scripted conversations between either, Kevin Rowland and guitarist Billy Archer, or between Kevin Rowland and his inner psyche. These narrations are integral to the songs and surprisingly do not detract in any way from the music, and, more surprisingly, do not become irritating after x number of listens (I would hate to think how many times I have listed to this album over the last 10 years). The songs themselves are of the very highest quality and have a power, a delicacy, a masterful sense of dynamic and above all an absolute truthful passion contained within them (just like the first two Dexys’ albums in fact).

The Courage Of Others by Midlake (2010):
I’d really liked the mix of sounds that greeted me on Midlake’s debut album ‘Bamnan And Silvercock’, but the follow up album, the enigmatically titled ‘Trials Of Van Occupanther’ , was something else again, an amazingly good album of even more fantastic songs and much less reliance on the quirky sound palettes of the debut. It was a very long wait for the third album, but ‘The Courage Of Others’ pulled off the feat of topping its superb predecessor. The relative simplicity of the pared down, yet atmospheric arrangements, allowed the brilliance of the basic songs themselves to come to the fore. Simplicity is genius, and this album is a perfect realisation of that sentiment.

All Alone In An Empty House by Lost In The Trees (2010):
This album was recommended to me by a musician friend who’d warned me about it being a ‘worryingly good’ album and definitely my kind of thing. It is indeed a completely stunning album. I loved the part folk, part pop, part classical leanings that were pretty much exactly what I’d wanted to hear in an album. The lyrics (sung in an unfashionably straight-forward way but fitting the songs perfectly) are not always a comfortable listen, with a dark, and at times claustrophobic quality to them, coming off like a soundtrack to a genuinely un-nerving arty indie thriller flick. The album has genius written right through it and their 2012 follow up album ‘Church That Fits Our Needs’, is similarly superb.

Bait by Bait (1989):
This one’s a bit obscure but it is the one album that opened my eyes to just how wonderfully broad music could (and should) be. Nick Duffy was in (the aforementioned) The Lilac Time, and wrote and played on the instrumental tracks that were such a part of my love of The Lilac Time’s music. He was also involved in a concurrent side project named Bait. Bait’s almost entirely instrumental output was an exotic blend of, amongst other things, oboe, trumpet, banjo, accordion, old time piano, finely strummed guitar, whistles and various vocal and hand percussions. It was the sound of pastoral country folk song imbibed with subtle piquant accents and fragrant exotic flavours. I’d never heard anything quite like it. It would be hard to imagine anything further removed from the zeitgeist of the late 1980s music scene than Bait, but to these teenage ears still in their delicate formative years, these songs, with their impenetrably enigmatic titles, spoke of a recently bygone world of dusty orange and green penguin paperbacks, of poetry corners in quiet pubs and of sleepy rural church gates swinging rhythmically and gracefully in the late summer breeze. The album Bait was initially only available on lo-fi cassette format direct from the band's PO Box address, but as time passed the Bait tracks appeared as the Lilacs’ b-side tracks, and eventually the album was made available in its entirety as extra tracks on the 2006 re-release of The Lilac Times’ Paradise Circus (by that time I’d gone through two cassettes that had collapsed into warbling heaps through overplaying). Utter perfection.

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Are you interested in submitting an entry to our Desert Island Discs? E-mail me at nford150@gmail.com
You don't have to be an expert on anything - you've just got to know what you like.

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