Happy Release Day to Ivor Raymonde

Odyssey: The Sound Of Ivor Raymonde Vol II is the follow-up to the critically acclaimed Paradise: The Sound Of Ivor Raymonde. The new compilation, released today via Bella Union, is a further celebration of the great British arranger, musical director, producer and songwriter Ivor Raymonde, who died at age 63 in 1990.

Like Paradise, Odyssey has been compiled by Ivor’s son Simon Raymonde with author, journalist and music historian Kieron Tyler. Simon explains that: “The research Kieron and I did for Paradise showed us that there was still an extremely rich seam of his music to be uncovered. A follow-up volume was increasingly inevitable.”

Paradise told the story of a British musical great for the first time. Classic Sixties hits like Billy Fury’s “Halfway To Paradise”, Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You” (co-written by Ivor) and The Walker Brothers’ “Make It Easy On Yourself” were collected. All were arranged or produced by Ivor and heard alongside just-as-fantastic tracks by David Bowie, Sonny Childe, Cindy Cole, Tom Jones, Los Bravos and Helen Shapiro. 

Odyssey is additional confirmation of the seemingly limitless scope of Ivor’s talents. More hits are featured: the Alan Price Set’s irresistible Top Five interpretation of Randy Newman’s “Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear”, Dusty Springfield’s kinetic “Little By Little”, Frankie Vaughan’s epic chart topper “Tower Of Strength” and the aural drama of Marty Wilde And His Wildcats’ “Endless Sleep”. There are also lesser-known tracks by best-sellers: Los Bravos’ Raymonde-composed soul stomper “Brand New Baby”, Cat Stevens’ moody “Blackness Of The Night” and the extraordinary 1966 Walker Brothers’ album track “Where’s The Girl”, which pointed to where the solo Scott Walker would soon be heading.

Although Ivor Raymonde was a back-room figure, he made the Top 30 in early 1963 as the clandestine vocalist with The Chucks – a studio demo had been made with no intention of it ending up in record shops. Then, it was issued and a band name needed. Ivor plumped for The Chucks and “Loo-Be-Loo” began rising up the charts. On Odyssey, it is at last given its context.

Not everything was a hit. Paul Slade’s epic “Odyssey” missed out on the charts. So did Giles, Giles and Fripp’s baroque psych-pop gem “Thursday Morning”: three-quarters of the band, which featured Robert Fripp, became the first version of King Crimson. One track could never have been a hit: “Twinkle’s “Michael Hannah” was recorded with Ivor in 1971 as a potential single but never released. Now, it is united with 24 other examples of Ivor Raymonde at his best.

Instead of Ivor, the cover image of Odyssey is of Ivor’s wife Nita. As Simon explains: “Since the release of Paradise the love of Dad’s life and my dear mum Nita passed away. I thought it fitting that the cover reflects the huge influence this woman had on him. So often, as was society’s norm in the ’50s and ’60s, the woman behind the scenes rarely got a mention. She raised four children while he made his way in the rapidly changing music business, and definitely helped keep his feet on the ground. Using this beautiful photo of Mum as a cover for Odyssey: The Sound Of Ivor Raymonde Vol II redresses the balance a little. He kept it perched on top of his upright walnut Kemble piano in his study and while Mum took it down when he died, thankfully she put it away somewhere safe. It’s certainly a peculiar and unsettling feeling to be left with no parents to turn to, to call, to rely on, and perhaps this emptiness lead me into such a deep period of soul mining.”

Further going into the reasons for a follow-up to Paradise, Simon adds: “I knew there was more but even a serial curator, late-night trawler like me, at some point thinks ‘the best stuff must now surely be all discovered.’ But finding tracks like Christopher Colt’s ‘Girl In The Mirror’ is like unearthing a rare Donovan track produced by Ray Davies. Probably my favourite discovery was The Martells’ ‘Time To Say Goodnight’ which Ivor produced when he worked at Decca Records. They only released one seven-inch single which sells for over £200, so it’s quite a rarity and more importantly a banger of a track.”

Odyssey: The Sound Of Ivor Raymonde Vol II is issued on CD, double album and as a download. Every track but one was originally issued or recorded in mono: stereo became standard in the pop market in 1968/1969. Keeping the integrity of the compilation in mind, all but one track appears in mono. With tracks issued as singles, the masters used are those of the singles themselves. 

John Grant announces 2020 tour dates

Following a successful year touring Love Is Magic, his critically-acclaimed fourth solo album, John Grant has today announced news of a May UK tour performing as a duo with his long-time piano player Chris Pemberton. For these dates Grant will be taking a stripped-back approach, performing classics from across his career on just piano and keys. The tour also marks the ten year anniversary of his celebrated debut solo LP Queen Of Denmark. Ahead of the ten dates in May Grant also has two recently announced London and Brighton shows performing in the same format, both of which have long since sold out. 

Ren Harvieu announces new album ‘Revel In The Drama’

Having earlier signalled her return via the track “Teenage Mascara”, which was both Lauren Laverne’s Track of the Day and Jo Whiley’s Single Of The Week, Ren Harvieu has today announced news of her long-awaited new album Revel In The Drama, due for release 3rd April via Bella Union and available to preorder here. The album is a brilliant and bolder take on her timeless pop classicism, a compelling diary of a struggle with self-belief and a celebration of liberation and survival, seven years after her Top 5 debut album and having overcome a life-threatening injury. Think of Revel In The Drama as Harvieu’s second debut album; a new beginning. To celebrate the news Harvieu has shared a new track titled “Yes Please” which she describes as “A slow sensual dance of desire. I wanted to write about the art of seduction and the teasing power of being an unapologetic sexual being.”

Harvieu’s defiance against the odds and her willingness to lay herself open to make what she believed was within her is baked into every groove of the record, across every stylistic turn: the giddy pop of ‘Strange Thing’, the gothic swoon of ‘Cruel Disguise’, the smokey seductiveness of ‘Yes Please’ through to the stirring torchsong finale ‘My Body She Is Alive’.

Harvieu has come a long way from the 17-year-old who was signed to Island Records and who had no intention of becoming a singer-songwriter. Even when she made her debut album “Through The Night”, her confidence was low. “I did help write a few of the songs on that record, which I’m still very fond of, but I felt more of a mouthpiece for someone else’s talent, which eats away at you especially because I had so much to say lyrically I just hadn’t learnt how to as yet.”

Her injury – a broken spine following “a freak accident” between recording and releasing her debut album – undermined Harvieu even further. Likewise, Island parted ways with her six months after it’s release, despite a Top 5 chart entry, making the BBC’s Sound Of 2012, a 5-star live review from The Guardian and TV exposure. What followed was what Harvieu describes as “some very dark years” which she addresses in songs like ‘Spirit Me Away’ and the 50’s ballad-evoking ‘You Don’t Know Me.’ A split with her long term partner, her manager and then her beloved Salford. “In one fell swoop everything was gone. I knew I had to get away, start again, rebuild myself.” 

It wasn’t until 2015 to be exact, when she met Romeo Stodart, the Magic Numbers frontman and songwriter who had emailed after seeing her perform on Later… With Jools Holland, to ask if she’d consider writing together. “When we started, the energy was immediately different to anyone I’d worked with before, there was this insane instant musical connection” she says. “I loved that Romeo really embraced who I was and encouraged it, I was starting to realise that I didn’t have to be anything other than myself.”

The pair spent the next two years co-writing: “I wasn’t in a massive hurry, because at last I was having fun” Harvieu says. ‘We’d stay up all night drinking, dancing and playing music, I felt like I was re-discovering a girl who had been hidden, quietened. I’d tell Romeo, I don’t just want to paint pretty pictures I want to revel in the drama of my life, the good and the bad, before I was afraid to say something in my lyrics, but no longer. I felt free.” 

The album was co-produced by Romeo Stodart and Dave Izumi Lynch, owner of Echo Zoo studio in Eastbourne where recording took place. “It was a truly magical experience working with Dave & Romeo, they are two absolute nurturing musical wizards.” says Harvieu. 

Harvieu’s lyrical confidence is evident throughout the album and has you leaning in to absorb line after line. Her voice, soaring and caressing in equal measure, is matched in force by her flirtatious personality. From the album’s opening lyric “Let me put my paws on you, strange thing” through to the feminine bite of ‘Curves And Swerves’ “I’ve got some curves and some swerves, what you gonna do about it?” which crackles with sexual tension and an aching vulnerability.

Among Harvieu’s new songs are messages of hope to her younger, anxious self. To the teenage goth Ren in ‘Little Raven’, she says: “I want you to know, that I’m starting to feel, but its gonna take time, but I’m ready to heal”. ‘Tomorrow’s Girl Today’ is to the Ren “who would make bad decisions… we can all be very self-destructive, but will we make it this time?” 

So what now, Ren Harvieu? “I’ve created a second chance for myself“ she says. “And I will keep creating second chances for myself, because this is my life and I’m not afraid to revel in it anymore.” Revel In the Drama of Ren Harvieu – finally we all can too…

New Releases: The Flaming Lips, Susanne Sundfør & The Low Anthem

On this Autumnal Friday we have releases from three of Bella Union’s finest. The first of which is a live album from the incredible Susanne Sundfør who performed a recorded show at the Barbican last year. The album is available as a deluxe limited edition super-heavy Cornflower Blue double Vinyl including B/W fold out collage poster and deluxe CD including B/W fold out collage booklet. Order HERE.

“Innovative and genuinely captivating… a musician who has truly mastered her field” The Independent

“Scandinavian magical mystery tour induces euphoria” Evening Standard

Secondly we have another live album from legendary Oklahoma band The Flaming Lips, who performed with the Colorado Symphony. The album is available via Bella Union on Digital and CD from today, to then be followed by a vinyl release in January. The Flaming Lips performed their universally acclaimed 1999 album The Soft Bulletin in its entirety with the Colorado Symphony at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. This particular event has been regarded by those in attendance as one of the most awe-inspiring, moving and magical moments of a lifetime. Order HERE.

“This is one of those albums people are going to obsess over for many years to come.” Pitchfork

“A joyous, celestial celebration of sound.” NME

And last but by no means least, The Low Anthem are releasing a tenth anniversary edition of their  2008 album ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’. To celebrate the reissue, The Low Anthem will be heading out on tour across the US and Europe in 2019, which will include a London show at the Union Chapel tonight. Order HERE.

“These are magical songs laden with imagery and poignancy.” The Guardian

“The musical cadences employed in their songs leave the listener awash with comfort and the sense of homecoming.” Drowned In Sound

the innocence mission debut ‘This Boat’

Having recently announced their new album See You Tomorrow, due for release 17th January and available to preorder here, Pennsylvania trio the innocence mission today share a gorgeous new single titled ‘This Boat’. Speaking of the track, lead vocalist Karen Peris had to say… ” This Boat – among other things, how words can take on a different relevance with time. The word “change” for example, has had such a wide arc of meaning for us over the years. Strangely, it happened that for this song we returned to the high school band room where we first met each other, and played and recorded the grand piano and timpani there.”

Sufjan Stevens, who has covered the innocence mission’s classic ‘Lakes Of Canada’, once called their music “moving and profound. What is so remarkable about Karen Peris’ lyrics is the economy of words, concrete nouns which come to life with melodies that dance around the scale like sea creatures.”

The band recorded See You Tomorrow in the Peris’ basement (and the dining room where the piano sits). Karen wrote and sang ten of the album’s eleven songs, and plays guitars, piano, pump organ, accordion, electric bass, melodica, mellotron, and an old prototype strings sampler keyboard. Don contributes guitars, drums, vocal harmonies, and one lead vocal on his song ‘Mary Margaret In Mid-Air’. Fellow founder member Mike Bitts adds upright bass to four songs including ‘On Your Side’, the album’s first single.

Thematically, See You Tomorrow evolves from ‘Sun On The Square’, touching on the major changes that happen in the life of a family. Karen says, “Great love of course contains great anxiety, for the safety and health of the loved ones, for one’s own ability to be a good enough helper and companion, for the future. And the intense desire to hold the present moment of togetherness, at the very least to store it up in vivid detail, so that it can be not lost at all.” This desire can be felt in the song ‘Movie’, whose piano accompaniment echoes both the flickering of film and the unstoppable rush of time, and in ‘St. Francis and the Future’, which relates the tiny, perfect detail of a Jan Van Eyke painting to the human longing to hold off change, to keep it in the unflawed distance. Karen relates, “We were thrilled to come upon the painting ‘St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata’ long ago on a family day trip, and a kind attendant at the art museum gave our children a little magnifying glass to view it, and in the distance was a tiny city, birds in the sky, just barely visible. I’ve found in recent years that I was writing poems about that moment, but that the background of the painting had taken on a relation to the inevitable changes that I, as a mom, was mentally trying to hold off.”

Each successive innocence mission record marks the passing of time, and how we handle, and learn from, our experiences. “As time goes on I suppose we keep looking more toward connectedness, and feeling more gratitude though also more challenge about life, and wanting to find a language to define it somehow and wondering how others experience it,” says Karen. “The thought that these are universal concerns makes me feel more drawn to write songs, to join in a conversation, even though the conversation itself is sometimes about being at a loss for words.”

Two examples are ‘John As Well’ – “to crave knowing other people deeply, and being more truly known by someone” – and ‘At Lake Maureen’: wondering aloud about what the other person feels, for example the specific colours that they encounter in the natural world at a given moment, and how that combines with their emotions at the same moment.” The song contains one of Don’s favourite lyrics: “Make my soul come clean, a sail above Lake Maureen, sing into storms, sing into storms. This day is going.”

“There is a longing there to be transformed and a hopeful expectation that it is possible,” he explains. “I find joy, or a similar type of joy, in all of the songs,” he concludes. “A humble recognition of challenges and hardships, the acknowledgment and comfort in knowing that they are both personal and universal, and the expression of light and hope” – which is one way of summing up the perfect marriage of melody and words that is See You Tomorrow

Wrangler announce ‘A Situation’

Following their critically acclaimed collaboration with John Grant on last year’s Creep Show project, Wrangler today announce news of their new album, A Situation, released 28th February via Bella Union and available to preorder here. The band have also announced 2 x headline shows, in London and Manchester, in late February. Dates/info HERE.

To celebrate the release the band have shared an extraordinary digital video for “Anthropocene”, a track about the collapse and fall of human civilisation. Of the track Wrangler say: “We have left our mark on the world on which we walk. This is a soundtrack for the urban age. Sounds to lift us above the detritus which envelops and strangles us.” Of the video director Akiko Haruna adds: “The effect humans have on the planet is something that I am conscious of daily. Anthropocene shows our world, compressed onto the Wrangler logo. Over it looms three ugly heads, representing the human ego and how we might view ourselves as deities or Gods; the overseers of our world. Within the Wrangler world, we show a range of things happening in our current world such as sweat shops, deforestation, farming, fracking, sustainable energy, transport, etc. It was an immense privilege to work with 3D animator Ben Chan, who helped this world come to life. The situation is a serious one and I am very afraid, so to keep things bearable I like to force a slice of humour in everything. The space ship at the end is a little light relief from the situation; Escape. Realistically, I am much more for saving what we have and would rather not ditch our beautiful planet, but there’s nothing like a little space expedition to keep the options open.”

When Wrangler first formed they had a very simple modus operandi. The clue was in their name. Ben ‘Benge’ Edwards (The Maths), Stephen ‘Mal’ Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire) and Phil Winter (Tuung) would get together with a very select kit list of careworn analogue synthesisers and vintage digital sequencers. Their task? To wrangle new music from the ancient equipment. These self-imposed restrictions helped produced two classic long players: LA Spark (2014) and White Glue (2016).

However, the times have changed and so have Wrangler. The coming decade, which looks set to be dubbed the Terrible Twenties, may be the last time that bands actually get to release albums. Ecological collapse, climate crisis, food shortages and the disintegration of the fabric of society will mean that the slow devolution of the music industry isn’t even one of the main things that musicians (or anyone else) should be worrying about. So the trio have thrown everything into their third (but hopefully not their last) album. The result – A Situation – is simultaneously their bleakest and funkiest release to date.

This collection of warm, reverberant, amped up tracks, that land somewhere between future music, synth pop, industrial dance, classic techno and rigid electro, captures the ambiguities of the group perfectly. Just as they use the ageing outmoded equipment that other people once chose to throw away in order to make tomorrow’s music, they are the paranoid group who (just about) dare to hope that things still might turn out OK. They cast a doleful eye across the hellscape of 2019 and state, if the end is truly nigh, then it’s never been more important to celebrate the little time we have left. And if a revolution to save ourselves is possible then we’re all in need of a revolutionary party, with a revolutionary soundtrack to match. 

The album title A Situation is purposefully ambiguous, perhaps referring to a job that needs doing or a nettle that needs to be grasped; perhaps referring to an unspecified event that is potentially either an opportunity or a threat. 

‘How To Start A Revolution’contains a different kind of warning. Mal says: “There was originally a little bit of irony in this track but if anything the world has become even scarier in the last two years. If you keep on pushing people there will come a tipping point and it will come back to bite you. There’s no irony left any more.” ‘Machines Designed (To Eat You Up)’ is about the fully-automated AI state surveillance that threatens us all. It looks like the future that Cabaret Voltaire warned us about over four decades ago is now finally here. Mal says: “It’s not my fault! I take no satisfaction at all in this stuff coming true. If it felt dystopian then, it feels more dystopian now. Wrangler are still questioning power but some of the tools of power have changed. I’m now fearful of Google in the same way I was fearful of Thatcher in the 80s.” Phill adds: “In the 70s and 80s if you wanted to have a go you could any weekend of the year but nowadays it’s harder to see who the enemy is and where they are. Come on out and have a go. Where are you hiding?” Benge concludes: “People are aware of the problems with Google, Facebook, 5g, social media, etc. but they’re woven into everything we do, so impossible to deal with.” Addressing the multiple failures of the internet ‘Mess’originally had the more direct title ‘It’s A Fucking Mess’ which just about says it all. ‘White Noise’ is perhaps the bleakest track of all, based round a spoken word piece by Mal, inspired by a reflection on JG Ballard’s notorious and transgressive experimental novel The Atrocity Exhibition. 

But Wrangler refuse to ignore the possibility of hope. The mirror image of ‘Mess’ comes in the shape of the copper-bottomed Kraftwerkian techno pop banger, ‘Rhizomatic’. As Mal says: “It’s an uplifting song, simply because the decentralisation of technology is the one aspect of the internet that might save us.” But perhaps the most positive aspect of the album is hardwired into the DNA of the track ‘Slide’simply because it stands on a continuum with the most uplifting of jacking Chicago house and the most utopian of New York garage.  

Both sides of the coin – the dystopian and the utopian – are necessary for Wrangler to work. Phil sums it up the most succinctly when he says: “The heavier things get, the more I just want to jump around and have some fun.” A Situation will be released 28th February via Bella Union and is available to preorder here.