Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Bevis Frond – The Leaving Of London / Paul Roland – ‘Masque’

OK, so this week we've had 'one record that's not remotely space rock' and then 'two stonking releases from leading space rock bands' so what we need is three... well, it'll be two great psych-pop albums to be honest but the first album in seven years from Nick 'The Bevis Frond' Saloman is effectively the length of good old-fashioned double album so I think we'll count that in and try and suggest that brings the symmetry to this sequence of blog entries.

In fact I'm not going to blog at too much length on the Frond album right now, since I'm reviewing this one in print and have interviewed Nick this week for the same place – I'll shout about the piece and the relevant magazine when it appears of course – but I really can't let it pass by without passing comment here since in a year where there were quite a few new records that I liked very much this one arrived a few weeks ago and really cemented its claim as the crème de la crème from the opening bars of 'Johnny Kwango' onwards. That lament to the late wrestler, and I guess really generally a lament to things past, is a particular highlight on this exceptional collection of songs but really the whole is a thing of beauty ... the brooding, almost gothic 'Reanimation', the reflective title track, the world-weary but easy and comfortable keep-on keeping-on of 'Preservation Hill', the up-tempo restatement of creative burn that kicks-off 'Stupid Circle' juxtaposed with its frustration and anger as it drives onwards.

I think what I'd really say is that, partly because I've had a little bit of a break in print work, I've had the time to luxuriate in The Leaving Of London – so much of writing about music is chasing your tail from one record onto the next, getting an impression and forming a view and enthusing or otherwise and then filing the album away ready for the next task so that it does become, not a chore, but at times like a 'real' job and I do often wonder what great stuff I've run through, enjoyed, written-up and stacked away perhaps to only re-emerge or rediscover after the passing of time if at all. It seems like receiving an album and playing it to death because it's that good, as I would have done as a teenager, is a long lost pleasure. But that's how I'm enjoying and playing The Leaving Of London; it's on my computer, it's in my personal CD player, it's blasting from the car's music system. It's just marvellous.

And then again, here I am unfurling the career and back-catalogue of a most singular artist and that's another particular pleasure because I remember when I first discovered Hawkwind and that was about really getting my teeth into an extensive history, so that it's not discovering an album but finding a reference on the map and then following the lines to the starting point while taking in the sidetracks and minor pathways that lead off from the main road, and that's how I feel about the work of Paul Roland, which I've written about several times since encountering his work a few years back with his Re-Animator album.

Fortunately, while I follow Paul's new records with admiration and enjoyment, he's on his own voyage of discovery into his extensive history and that exploration of past works has arrived at his 'Masque' album which was original released on the New Rose label in France and that presents a continuous supply of archive material that I'm discovering with each reissue. Now, I've only had this one a few days; I've not yet got under the skin of this record in the way that I have with Nick's new album and so I'm only at that impressions stage in learning about 'Masque' – hence this isn't a full review at this point - but I've already discovered the track that I find a delicious anticipation in uncovering in each of Paul's collections and that's the track that is so infectious that it temporarily stalls the travel of the listener through the songs because it leaps out and demands the repeat button. On Re-Animator it was 'Swamp Girl', for instance. On A Cabinet Of Curiosities it's the simply delightful 'Walter the Occultist', on Paul's recent foray into the stories of the Brothers Grimm, Grimm, it's 'Rapunzel'. Here on 'Masques' the track that I was waiting for appears third in the running order; it's the beguiling 'Candy Says'.

It's interesting that Paul's approach to his reissues is distinctively to re-evaluate what he's achieved and to not be afraid to push around what in time's hindsight seem to him to be the necessary tweaks and changes – I guess a 'Director's Cut' in a way which sees him bringing the haunting 'The Rat Catcher's Daughter', and 'The Sea Captain', into the main running-order of the album when previously he recalls himself, "relegating them to a bonus EP," while at the same time original tracks 'Matty Groves' and 'Grantchester Fields' are moved out of the principle sequence and reclassified as bonus tracks.

Roland describes 'Masque' as being his "token Regency baroque folk-rock album" – I bring it into the psych-pop posting in this challenge of sequential blogging partly because it still fits, partly because that's where Roland is most-often placed in context and partly because in chat with Nick Saloman I note both Roland and himself as being two of those brilliant songwriters perceived to be in that genre whose songwriting just really ought to be in front of the mainstream audience because of its skilful accessibility and genuine pop sensibilities.

Ordering details and a more detailed explanation of the changes Paul has made to this reissue can be found here while I see that Nick's Bevis Frond back catalogue can be purchased from his bandcamp page.

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