The Hepburns – How The Fallen Are Mighty (Radio Khartoum)
They nearly had me there, with a short instrumental intro that could have been from a 1960’s sitcom. All was restored for the next two tracks, as the band gave a pretty passable imitation of real 60’s pop, tinged with a little bit of The Smiths (“Sad, Free, Excited and Empty”) and then “Nobody Loves Me” (60s with a Housemartins edge perhaps?). Then they really had me, with the descent back into novelty throwaway territory for two minutes with “One More Notch On The Bedpost”, which is such a shame, as the lyrics are superb, as illustrated by the very first verse: “One more notch on the bedpost… The next name on the list… Another Drunken Conquest… One more paralytic tryst…”
How brilliant is that? And it’s all wasted, all ten verses, in just two minutes of frippery, instead of being a stand out pop track for the 10s. It’s fine to buck the trend, and not wanting to sound like the other 200 odd bands putting out material at the same time, with the same sound (just check t’internet, my friends), but to reduce magnificent writing by giving it a Vaudevillian, offhand treatment (it finishes with glottal noises and sniggering) is criminal!
So, one example of fine writing (show)cased in a disappointing tune. I am afraid that the same can be said for “Writer Friend”, “Delores”, and “The Help”, but get beyond them to the following instrumental, “Save Your Stories For The Police, Maurice”, and you will find a thing of beauty by comparison. It has a 60s feel, again, but with Man In A Suitcase vivacity rather than Steptoe And Son plonking. Then another Smithsesque number, “Vermouth”, a fine paced song with great lyrics again, and a neat tune to boot; this is followed by “Persona Non Grata (In Margam Place)” which could have been written for Dion and the Belmonts at the height of their fame (no doubt a late 50s hit for them had it been). The final three tracks – “Ken Park, The Man, The Film”, “Growing Old”, and “Man Missing” - are glorious pop, almost nonchalant in their easy way with the story (thanks again to the superb writing) and the music. Yes, I did say glorious, and I could also say flawless.
Not all is lost then, far from it, in fact, which is a damn fine thing. At the top of their game this band can tell a fabulous musical story both delightful and innovative, totally classic pop in fact. It is a pity that they can also make some of their creations so derisory, so inappropriate, so trivial.
I know which Hepburns I want, and I hope they deliver that version of themselves on their next musical outing.
Cavil – Mares’ Tails (Radio Khartoum)
You can get it so wrong, sometimes, when you listen to so much music, try, and then share an informed opinion about it. First time around I discounted the first two tracks as too fey, too melancholy, and lacking in indie “oomph” - whatever that is. I returned to these same tracks a couple of hours later, and I’m pleasantly surprised that they have enough of that “oomph” after all, and serve good purpose, as they open the album with a slow, sad frailty, which is whisked away with the haunting and quite beautiful track “Plastic Bags (That’s My Flag)”. And although the singing rarely rivals Tom Waits for gravitas (for rarely read never), Gareth Cavill’s voice is perfect for delivering his self-penned lines, as it lacks anything spectacular, but has a purity and honesty only a Northerner can muster. (I am pretty sure that the only people who would agree with me are familiar with the likes of Roy Harper, Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley). Although Gareth sounds like none of these, they are his kinsmen, his family if you will, as they all sing with honesty, their hearts on their sleeves, grit on their knees, and sincerity in their soul. And they all have some Yorkshire in their background... 'nuff said.
This is an understated gem of an album when given a second chance. Your patience will be rewarded if you give Cavil time to settle in with you. My suggestion is to try putting your feet up, getting nice and comfy (with a cup of tea at your elbow, perhaps) before pressing the play button. I do hope everyone out there will do just that, because everyone will then have a very nice time listening to this delightful album.