Horses of the Gods; We Wish You Health

I once reviewed a cassette with a photocopied punk-paste zine style picture of Mr Blobby as the cover, where a distraught male voice screeched, “take an overdose, ginseng!” continuously over some white noise. Thank heavens that’s in a long-lost past!

Fortunately, I’ve never had anything quite so bizarre to review since, not even this week when, Erin Bardwell messaged; “one of the drummers I do things with, Matty Bane, has a side duo project and wanted to let you know about their latest album.”

Sure, I’ve heard of Matty, seen him listed as one of Erin’s collective, trekking with them to Jamaica in 2003 to record with Recoldo Fleming at Dynamic Sounds. Further research shows he’s drummed in Bad Manners for over ten years, and is now part of Neville Staple’s From the Specials setup, headhunted from days as part of the Special Beat tour with the original rude boy.

Given this, I was naturally expecting said side-project to be reggae, stands to reason. What might’ve eased the surprise was to have pre-known of Matty’s own band The Transpersonals, a minimalistic, psych-rock outfit lounging somewhere between Pink Floyd and Spaceman 3. Still, nothing was going to prep me for what I got; We Wish you Health by Horses of the Gods.

There’s only one reason for facetiously mentioning the eccentric Mr Blobby cassette, because this is unusual too. The likeness ends there, though. “Bizarre” can connote excruciating, as with the cassette, but, as with We Wish you Health, can also imply uniquely stimulating and inimitably disparate. So much so, it’s astonishingly good. For those seeking the peculiar, those at their happiest dancing barefoot in Avebury’s morning dew, or for whom reaching the summit of Glastonbury Tor before sunrise is priority, will adore this, with jester’s bells on.

Matty teams up Mike Ballard, a media and games lecturer with a penchant for folk. And essentially this is what we ought to pigeonhole Horses of the Gods as; Somerset folk, is as near in modern terminology you’re going to get. But for comparisons I’m going to have to max my flux capacitor way beyond my usual backtracking.

If I relish in music history without the technical knowledge, I understand one has to either accept four-time pop, or untrain their ear to acknowledge other musical metres, in order to appreciate folk, classical, even jazz, but particularly the kind of sounds We Wish you Health is embracing. There’s something medieval, least pagan mysticism about the influences here, of shawms and hand-cranked hurdy-gurdies, miracle plays, and Gallican chants of plainsong. And it’s swathed with chants and poetry as if in variant West Country Brittonic tongue.

We have to trek beyond futurist Francesco Balilla Pratella’s Art of Noises theory, to an olden ambience of nature, of birdsong, storms and waterfalls. The opening track starts as a spoken-word toast and ends akin to medieval court jester entertainment, over a haunting chant. Equally passe but equally amicable is a sea shanty called Down in the Bay. Then a clocktower chime follows; left wondering if this was Dark Side of the Moon recorded in 1648. Sow In uses mellowed hurdy-gurdy to mimic what the untrained ear might deem an Eastern ambience. With a solstice theme, it’s so earthy it makes the Afro-Celt Sound System sound like Ace of Base! (Joke; I love the Afro-Celt Sound System!)

In many ways the next tune Ostara follows suit, more eastern promise yet slightly more upbeat. Consider George Harrison’s collaborations with Ravi Shanker. As the album continues, experimentation with traditional abound, obscure instruments are thrown into the melting pot; the Victorian circus sound of The Thing and I, the rural west country ditty of Digger’s Songs, in which you can almost smell spilt scrumpy as folk rise from haystacks to jig.

Throughout you’re chopping randomly at influences, this medieval court running theme, blended with an oompah band styled sound on The Whole World Goes Around, will make you want bells on your shins like a drunken Morris dancer at the village fete. Else you’re haunted by the chill of evocative soundscapes, unable to pinpoint an era this falls into. I’ll tell you now, it was aptly released at Samhain last year.

We Wish you Health may be bespoke, and some wouldn’t give themselves adjustment time, yet Sgt Pepper and Pet Sounds were famed for pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in contemporary pop. This is a fissure to the norm, a testimony of yore, for while there’s a demonstration of newfound passion within ancient realms, it is fundamentally timeless. Though I suspect there’s myth and history behind each track, which extends the album from a set of songs to a research project for the listener.

The finale, for example, has a reference in Wikipedia; John Barleycorn, a personification of the importance of sowing barley and of the alcoholic beverages made from it, beer and whisky. Though in the House of Gods, cider gets a mention. John Barleycorn is represented as suffering indignities, attacks and death that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation. It goes onto reprint a Robert Burns version from 1782, though stating countless variations exist; Matty and Mike use an earlier version:

There was three men come out o’ the west their fortunes for to try, And these three men made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn must die, They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in, throwed clods upon his head, Til these three men were satisfied John Barleycorn was dead.

I’ve rushed out this review to make you aware of it, and because I’m so utterly astounded by its uniqueness, but fear I’m only teetering on the edge of its fascinating historical references myself. Thus, is the general nature of folk music, to dig out lost fables which once would’ve entertained young and old, and bring them to new audiences, and The Horses of the Gods does this in such a way, the negative confines and stereotypes commonly associated with folk music just melt away.

Link Tree to album


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Skates and Wagons: Path of Condie

If I’d one criticism of Britpop, during its heyday, least that which the pop charts threw at us, was, in an era of progressing technological electronica, embedded deep in my psyche, Britpop, to me felt regressive. I argued at the time, if The Beatles were still together, in their prime, they’d be producing techno or drum n bass, for they were trailblazing, innovative and progressive. Whereas, picking on Oasis, particularly, being they seemed to strive to be a Beatles tribute as far as I could see, were relapsing to a previous generation.

Then the crossover crossed back over. If waning was a heady dawn of the nineties where rock fused electronica on the Madchester scene, towards the end of the decade The Prodigy were advancing with an almost punk slant, and Noel Gallagher was lending his vocals to the Chemical Brothers. To pick the era apart now is futile, no one remembers what the fuck was going on most of the time!

Let’s agree to disagree, put it in the past and note today, retrospection is big business, and there’s nothing wrong with songs which hark back to the sixties, for it was pioneering but more importantly, divine and inspiring. Particularly when, rather than regenerating cover songs, but acting as a base of inspiration. We see a lot of this; from the sixty’s British blues scene to bubble-gum pop, but perhaps not produced with as much passion as Skates & Wagons.

Skates & Wagons

They sent me a link to their album, Path of Condie on Boxing Day, so apologies it was put on the backburner but I had Scrabble tiles to lay and Quality Street to puke. The EP I reviewed previously appears to be taken down, and I’m unsure why. The album, is akin to all I mentioned about the EP, only more so. If regenerating Britpop is tiresome and monotonous to you, you need to check this Oxford duo, because they manage it with the precision, innovation and splendour of classic pop-rock and blues of that sixties period, with bells on.

I mean sure, it opens with an interesting approach, Chevron Waltz proves this is going to be no everyday indie-Britpop ride, it is indeed as the name suggests, a waltz. If we’re going to revel in compassions, I’ll cite The Kinks or Small Faces, The Spencer Davis Group, The Troggs, but predominantly the Beatles, more than Oasis. Plus, we’d need to break it down with the fab-four’s individual preferences. Opening then is experimental, merging traditional styles of music is certainly McCartney, yet the majority, like Indian Summer rolls smooth, like the later Beatles, Sane Again is anthemically mellowed; very George Harrison.

But this is an album which builds progressively, just like the sixties did. The earlier tunes, initiate sixties pop, and sit at radio-friendly three-to-four-minute timings. Mr Wake Up, for example, explains how it’s going to roll for the time being, beat-based shards of classic pop-rock. But things liven up at Conversation with God, the walt reprise towards the end nuances the album is progressing the entire decade and we’re midway. Waste of the Sky is subtly psychedelia, like the opening to the beatnik period.

It’s this equidistant section where Skates and Wagons really shine, it’s as if we didn’t need the 1980s, we were fine where we were. Catchy tracks like The Man Who Never Sleeps and All the Love mirror the advancing changes of the middle of the decade, and bring us in line with classic seventies rock bands like Genesis and ELO.

It leaves you dripping for the concentrated, lengthier compositions the trend which followed via Floyd and Hendrix et all, and Skates and Wagons deliver. As Path of Condie develops it builds to more ending with a beautiful eight-minute composition, Yesterday’s Love. It’s beguiling and timeless splendour, catchy as pop, definitive as classic rock.

If we’ve seen a relived trend with scooterists and mod culture recently, these guys are a hot contender to front such a movement, as opposed to a Britpop throwback band going through archaic motions. Though there’s often a dispelling, or more, overlooked aspect with the current trend, in the interesting and natural progress to the late-sixties beatnik and flower-power movements; scooterists don’t go for that, and while there’s nothing so “way-out” as Zappa on offer through Skates & Wagons, it does reflect those initial, optimistic changes of the mid-sixties. And in this notion, is what divides the duo from the bulk standard; yeah, fab, love it!


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Gull Able

Ah, hope you enjoy my new Sunday series, something a little different…. To Be Continued………