Thursday, 20 February 2014

Henry Priestman - The Last Mad Surge Of Youth

Henry Priestman's career in music begins some 35 years ago with the band The Yachts, whose first single ("Suffice To Say") was released on Stiff Records in 1977.  Following their demise (or sinking?) in 1981, he became a member of Its Immaterial as keyboard player, and producer/engineer.  Unable to get his own songs recorded with Its Immaterial, he began working with others  (notably The Mighty Wah for the 'Sinful' LP, and remaining with Its Immaterial as a session player.
In 1985, he joined The Christians, and set to work on a new batch of his own songs.  The Christians signed to Island Records in mid-1986, and their debut album (entirely written by Henry Priestman) followed in October 1987.  Off the back of 5 hit singles, the album went to sell over 1,000,000 copies becoming Island's biggest selling debut album.
Throughout his time with The Christians, Henry had been doing a spot of moonlighting as a keyboard session player on tracks with The Lightning Seeds, Echo & The Bunnymen and Ian McCulloch, and dabbling in film and TV music.
In 1994, he built a new home studio in North Wales, making him virtually self sufficient for the writing and recording of demos, songs and soundtrack work.
The Christians effectively finished in 1995 when lead singer Garry Christian left, and Henry continued as a keyboard-ist for hire, working (and co-writing) with Sarah Cracknell, Ian MacNabb, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Mighty Wah.
Various activities including keyboard sessions, live work, co-writing, production (Echo & The Bunnymen, Mark Owen, Mel C, Tom Jones and Jools Holland), television (including music for BBC's Natural World series), adverts and music for XBox games filled up the first few years of the 21st Century.

In 2007, Henry embarked on a solo career and was (re-)signed to Stiff Records.
His debut album 'The Chronicles Of Modern Life' was released in 2008.  This album, which musically is a mixture of folk, country and punk (certainly in attitude, if not instrumentation and time signatures) all wrapped up in a prime pop sensibility, with tunes and melody very much to the fore.
The album offered a wry, world weary, sometimes cynical, look at life as seen through the eyes of a middle aged bloke.  Radio 2 Disc Jock Johnnie Walker declared the album as 'music for grumpy old men'.  As a headline, this is probably a fair summary of the album, but ultimately fails to recognise the whole of the content.  It contains varying degrees of frustration, wisdom, acceptance, humour and self-deprecation.
When re-released by Island the following year, it brought his career full circle by tacking a new version of "Suffice To Say" onto the end of the album.

This new album, 6 years in the making, continues where the last left off, complete with a musical pallette combing folk, country, americana and punk stylings (albeit in attitude, not so much in instrumentation and time signatures).
Thematically similar to the debut, the album is a collection of songs about honesty, reflection, frustration with the world, and loss (both perceived loss of the past, and two songs of genuine loss (both of which may lead you to believe you have something in your eye)).

The playing and arrangements are confidently delivered, and the sequencing of the album and the production is spot on.  Yes, there are moments of grumpiness, but this is tempered by moments of sheer tenderness and not taking oneself to seriously.

Bravely opening with a downbeat brass band leading to the first of the two 'something in the eye tracks' ("At The End Of The Day") - a song of genuine loss, and dedicated to the memory of his late mother.
"True Believer" contains a luscious production job, and an eloquent philosophy:
I believe that life goes on,
what doesn't kill you makes you strong
somewhere deep inside you're gonna find
peace of mind and blue skies
I'm a true believer
Grounding in family life was evident on the debut album, and returns on this release with "We Used To Be You", which deals with the concept of empty nest syndrome.

"Goodbye Common Sense" is a return to the acerbic - sounding very much like it is performed by someone who is just fed up with what he sees going on around him, and an inability to do anything about it.  Surely, the answer is simple - bring back a bit of common sense, purpose and thought for others.
"Rant and Rave" is cut from similar cloth.  Tantamount to a "punk" song for the middle-aged, it bounces along with real air-punching tendencies.  It highlights a number of potential inequalities, but is wrapped up in the acceptance that a song isn't going to change too much, but at least we can all get it off our chest.

"Valentines Song" (as the title probably suggests) is a song of enduring love.  It is delivered with great tenderness, and has a touch of Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways" about it.

"The Last Mad Surge Of Youth" is a song which deals with perceived loss of the past, and the shortening of the future.  From confusion and frustration comes redemption, and similar to the tone of "True Believer" it concludes thus: "and d'you know what, lets just enjoy it".

Political inequality is much to the fore with both "Hunting and Gathering (ain't what it used to be)" and "Same Circus Different Clowns".

The eyes may start to fill again with "I Cried Today" which is delivered with a light touch and a personal connection.  One review I have read suggested that this song be covered by an ageing country star (a la Johnny Cash with "Hurt") and there may not be a dry eye in the house.

There also two songs of sublime, tongue in cheek, self-deprecation.
"In My Head" is basically a hymn to self-delusion, but with a realisation of the truth at the end of it, and "A Pint Of Bitter and Twisted" has an autobiographical ring to it, containing some superb lyrics/couplets ("abseiling slowly down the ladder of success, forever disproving more is less"), and closing lines of the song  advise us that "as we march towards the brink, there's surely time for one more drink"

This is an album for anyone who's getting older, but still feels the inequality and unfairness inherent in life. Rather than sitting there stewing on it, put this album on and laugh, cry and jump around your kitchen until your kids give you that look of "weirdo!" in their eyes - I promise you'll feel a whole lot better.

So raise your glasses to the triumphant return of Henry Priestman, even if you have written a pile of songs which when my wife hears them remarks: "that's you that is!"

The debut single: The Yachts - Suffice To Say

From the new album: Goodbye Common Sense

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