A Salisbury Boy
Out 1 September 2023
Celebrated actor and musician Brian Protheroe returns with a brand new album -an eclectic mix of songs thematically exploring Love, War and Terpsichore! Our special guest reviewer is Medway musician and songwriter Kevin Younger.
Declaring an interest to begin with, I’ve been a bit obsessed by Brian Protheroe’s single ‘Pinball’ – a modest chart hit back in 1974 – for a long time. In fact, we did a cover version of the song for my band The High Span’s debut album, kindly reviewed here on LTW recently, and that’s the happy coincidence that sees me reviewing this new Brian Protheroe album.
Brian Protheroe is a stage and screen actor as well as a songwriter and musician, a veteran of the creative explosion of the late-’60s/early-’70s and a friend and contemporary of pop, folk and blues artists such as Paul Jones (Manfreds), Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) and Julian Littman (Steeleye Span) – he has collaborated with all these and more in the past. The resulting BP sound is a disarmingly middle-of-the-road mix of nostalgia, yacht rock and gently progressive vibes, something like Neil Innes grooving with Justin Hayward and Steely Dan. He certainly doesn’t sound anything like a 79-year-old, nailing that insouciant flared-trouser sunshine-pop mood as well as any wavy-haired Jackie pin-up.
‘A Salisbury Boy’ is his seventh album, and it displays the same dry wit and wistful invention that makes ‘Pinball’ such a delight. And in the same way, it requires a bit of attention to appreciate. Songwriter obsessives will twig to the mellow but slightly off-kilter changes, reminiscent of Joe Jackson or Supertramp, before they pick up on the intriguing lyrics
The opener ‘Salisbury Boys’ is an outlier, with a slightly heavier folk-rock feel than the songs that follow, and an almost Michael Stipe-like vocal framing a nostalgic nod to his early days in London as a new arrival from the country.
‘Over Your Love’ is a piano and bass-driven strut laced with ’70s Moog flourishes, an upbeat west coast AM radio hit if ever there was one, with hints of Andrew Gold and Mike Post’s Rockford Files theme.
‘Songwriter’ mixes up a few different strands, a sparse arrangement like something Sting might write, more of those retro synth sounds, a smattering of atmospheric sound effects and an anti-war lyric.
On ‘Suddenly You’re Dancing’ there are flashes of Bacharach, with swooping chord changes, breezy harmonica and smooth backing vocals, while with ‘Sentimental Tale’ he skirts Manilow territory. But fear not, that characteristic quirkiness shines through – kitchen-sink lyrics meet Sgt. Pepper-era strings, and manage to steer things closer to a Scott 4 vignette. Which is a good thing.
An elegantly structured song with Spanish guitar and a moody touch of tango, ‘Perfect The Love’ keeps the theme going, giving the opportunity for a bit of smooth crooning. This is followed by ‘Wolfgang’, a heartfelt celebration of Mozart, which I have to admit I find a bit less appealing with its big hip hop rhythm, obligatory piano and string quotes and ELO choirs. Too much of a ‘Modern Major General’ and West End musical for my tastes, but the acrobatic vocals and lyrics are handled with aplomb.
‘Looking At You’ brings the album to a close, and it’s a rather low-key finale. Congas, bass and piano showcase the singing subtly, letting us marvel at the youthful clarity of that voice. But it’s simplicity, charming as it is, means that things slightly fizzle out as an ending for an album, although it’s undoubtedly a very personal way of doing it.
So, not perhaps the typical fare championed by Louder Than War!, but if your tastes occasionally stray in the direction of any of the above mentioned artists – to which you could possibly add Alan Price, Joe Jackson and Colin Blunstone – there are definitely things here that might delight.
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