On the occasions I’m asked what might be required of those who desire a career in what is now typically referred to as the music industries plural I tend to invoke the name of a guy I first met as a baby faced 20-something drummer named Stuart Kidd. Still baby faced but well over the hill now (he’s 34), Stuart is the epitome of the excited, engaged and committed renaissance indie popster, equally at home teaching drums, running community music projects, writing and recording better then better again music with The Wellgreen or touring with a range of artists from Euros Childs to Super Furry Animals offshoot Gulp. I’m lucky that one of his many activities is singing and playing the 6-string acoustic guitar with my own Pearlfishers. So there you go, I’ve declared a personal interest, M’lud. I promise that I will drool over his music in a non-biased, ethical way.
‘The Kidd’ seems to make a new album of one kind or another every four or five weeks and the newest of these, recorded under the moniker Poundstore Riot, is a highlight. His partner this time is Welsh musician Ash Cooke aka Pulco, ex of Derrero, collaborator with John Cale and many others. Together they have fashioned a rambunctiously unpredictable, sweet and idiosyncratic gem. A concept album about writing and recording songs then releasing them as a concept album, Writing The Wrongs (Folkwit) kicks off with a blink-and you’ll-miss-it California chorale before giving way to the image of Stuart Kidd with a broken drum strapped to his bike heading off to Bobby’s Basement to lay down some music secretly dedicated to Bobby’s sister, shuffling her feet in the room above. But while this unnamed siren is the main squeeze of Track 2, the true love interest (and narrative core) of the album is the act of home recording itself. The Joy of Fostex if you will. Sounds like a recipe for worldwide chart domination, right? Ah, well, they’ve still time to make their Thriller and the music here is so beautifully realised, so sincere and so full of great melody that it’s easy to forget you’re basically listening to some geezer crooning about sourcing vintage music gear on Ebay. Musicians will sagely nod their heads at the lovely narrative recounted in Green (‘I saw you onstage, lunchtime for charity, I was happy to pay, at the door for 50p’), a stunning sonic summit conducted in the afterlife between Gram Parsons and All Things Must Pass-era George Harrison, while non-musicians will scratch their heads at the equally lovely spoken word History Of Home Fi. And it is the natural tendency of Writing The Wrongs to shift shape, to throw curveballs that finds its finest form in the one-two punch of Roll Tape and Poundstore Riot. The former is a laugh-out-loud spoken word piece recounting Kidd and Cooke’s attempts to buy cut-price CD cases and the latter an exhilarating Stooges-meets-Dinosaur Jnr take on the ensuing Stella-fuelled chaos (there is an entertaining fictional hinterland for this in the form of the Poundstore Riot press release) that neatly encapsulates the freshness, surprise and joy of music made in-the-moment just for the joy of making music in-the-moment.
I wrote about Rowan Ross around this time last year and he returns with indecent haste proffering a new album, which I hungrily accept. Where Kidd and Cooke conceptualise the act of using a Portastudio, Ross conceptualises the state of existence that Brian Wilson once described as being akin to a cork on the ocean, a rock in a landslide or a leaf on a windy day. Fireflight is shot through with the image of the Artist in negotiation with the Universe, most clearly in the opening Heavy Rain where a mythical old man shows a pessimistic singer the liberating power of nature’s dark side and leads him dancing away into a shower of impressionistic, clattering cymbal, glockenspiel and marimba.
Mythical creatures are all around in the world that follows; the fisherman cursed to spend eternal nights on the ocean in Perfect Catch replete with swooning vocal / cello canon and the eponymous Character Actor who storms into town to audition for a play and alternately flatters, taunts and hi-fiddle-de-dees those who use the greasepaint and lanterns to ‘focus their fears’. Alongside these half-hour episodes smaller sketches thrive too and Willow, a simple goodbye lit in late-Autumn marimba and melancholy soprano vocal interludes, is a magical, glowing highlight. The use of a limited sonic palette is effective throughout and the bedrock of acoustic guitar, upright bass, marimba and piano provides a warm cradle for the occasional burst of fire provided by Ross’s own inventive and melodic fiddle playing. There are beautiful colours cast by additional musicians with honourable mention for Rick Standley (upright bass) and Calum Scott (drums, percussion) who understand the tunes and the stories and, I’m sure, the singer. And of course it does come back to the singer; whether cast as the actuarial reckoner of Talk Of The Town or the Chet Baker channelling crooner of the circular Happy Hunting Ground, Fireflight is the work of a singular and authentic voice who understands how to write a great tune and seizes the right moment to take you and I down some unexpected paths. The closing title track finds the Artist finally at one with his nemesis, the Universe, expressing peace and hope with a melody fit to bless the darkest, rainiest night.