Eddie Smith: On The Beach (Mollusc Records)
CD / DL
9 / 10
One of Hull’s greatest exports, Eddie Smith (from brilliant 80’s band The Gargoyles) has just released an album which sets his poetry to the music of John Senior. Also involved in the making of this album was another of Hull’s greatest exports, John Rowley from the city’s legendary Red Guitars. Together they’ve created an album dripping in humour, warmth & compassion while also being grounded in show stopping poignancy. It is, as the press release concludes, essential listening for the millions who share Eddie’s belief that Jeremy Clarkson is an utter cunt.
If I were starting to write this review before I’d heard the CD I’d have begun it with something along the lines of “I make no apologies that the tone of this review is built 90% on nostalgia & 10% on musical merit”. But I’ve listened to the album several times now & y’know what? Nostalgia be damned, this is one hell of a piece of work, musically & lyrically as deft as anything you’re likely to hear this year & it definitely doesn’t need a person to listen to it through rose tinted spectacles*, as I have, to embrace it & love it.
I’ll quickly context y’all up. Way back in the mid 80’s, with a trembly bottom lip, I was taken up to Hull by my parents for to be left there outside Ferens Hall (sad moto “Ferens Hall fucks them all”) to start my university life. Quickly I realised the life of a student wasn’t really for me so instead of hanging around in the JCR every night I tended to make regular pilgrimages down to Adelphi (aka The New Adelphi Club) on De Grey St to check out all the artists Peel was playing. I must’ve spent most nights of my 3 years there in fact, enjoying the likes of it’s bouncy motorbike game, it’s £100 jackpot fruit machine, Yosser the dog & those legendary toilets. One of the most notable characters around there at the time was the lead singer of (and I’m quoting from the man himself in the CD I’m reviewing now) “The best successful british band in Hull, um, that forever…”. The Gargoyles. Remember The Housemartins London 0 Hull 4? The Gargoyles (see video below) were one of those bands better than both The Housemartins themselves & anything London could offer. Anyway, Eddie was a fucking star. One of the most naturally funny guys I’ve ever met. He used to co-host a quiz every Sunday night which was an absolute unmissable riot. My memory fails when I try to remember any of his quips (because they came so fast ‘n’ frequent of course & not because I was usually shit faced (yeah, right)) but luckily that’s what we have press releases & PRs for. Chris, who contacted me about the album, reminded he how, during one of those quiz nights, when he couldn’t be arsed to ask the whole question “How many feet did Bob Beamon jump when he broke the long jump record” just abbreviated it to “How many feet did Bob Beamon have?” LOLZZZZ! Also, quoting from the press release “…he was once violently ejected from a birthday party for rugby tackling the host as she was about to cut the cake shouting “Look out, she’s got a knife”.” MORE LOLZZZZZ &, like I say, a one-off comedy genius.
So, it’s in the light of the above that I came to this album. It seems that soon after I left Hull so did Eddie, to become a mental health nurse in Birmingham, a job I can totally imagining him doing brilliantly. Sadly though the great man became ill a short while back &, hearing the news, John Rowley (whose band, Red Guitars, Peel fans will remember did a couple of sessions for the great man) called him back to Hull to put some of his idiosyncratic, at times nonsense but always poignant verses to music for one last CD.
Right from the first few words of this album a smile spread across my face & frankly, despite the album being absolutely drenched in at times quite downer poignancy (it has lines such as “… gravity’s rainbow has descended & I, like you, grovel towards the grave.” for instance – gulp!) that smile stayed on my face all the way through in varying degrees of width. And I’m pretty sure it will yours too, in the same way that hearing John Cooper Clarke’s recitations do. Eddie’s delivery & perfect sense of timing, as well the fact that one can just sense humour is never far away ensures that you never lose that smile.
Anyone, like me, coming to this album only being familiar with The Gargoyles are in for a shock as it’s a far, far cry from that band. The Gargoyles were a straight up indie rock ‘n’ roll anthems type band but they were elevated by being fronted by an utter charismatic comedy genius whose favourite pastime appeared to be bouncing around jack in the box style while singing in an accent which, weirdly, sounded not dissimilar to Timperley’s famous son, Frank Sidebottom. See the video above for a recently discovered Gargoyles track, brought back to life by Eddies co-pilot Ted.
One of the reasons this album works so well though, and I apologise to musician John Senior for only just bringing this up now, is the brilliant music backing Eddie’s songs. Coming, as they do in the main, in various shades of ‘ambient’ they perfectly fit the backing music. The variety of music is incredibly impressive, from more traditional ambient sounds created on a computer, to just about as many other genres of music as you can imagine, all beautifully understated & all complimenting Eddie’s vocal delivery & subject matter perfectly, never overwhelming, always accompanying sensitively. Piano & synths dominate, at times dark, at times bubbly, but it doesn’t stop there. We get slinky piano and jazzy drums on the track about penguins but a more sombre piano accompanies the track where Eddie’s trying to incite the “Animals of Britain” to “rise up & take over”. Then it’ll change to vaudeville piano accompanying (one of) the tracks about one of his favourite hate targets “AA Men” (the other being Jeremy “Your head’s too big for your stupid body. You look like a novelty air freshener. Except air fresheners are nice, and smelly.” Clarkson).
But piano’s & synths are just the start of John’s musical gifts to Eddies verses. There’s some beautiful, nostalgic brass band music at the start of one track when Eddies at the height of his nostalgia fest, looking back to July 1986 & the music totally ramps up the aforementioned poignancy – and that even before Eddie begins reciting at which point the brass bad stops & some less intrusive ambient electronics take over. Hell’s, even reggae gets a look in on one hysterical track about an errant condom machine which “breaks free from it’s moorings in a city centre toilet” and which “two hardened toilet keepers” try to restrain. All the music is so perfectly judged one wonders why one hasn’t heard of John Senior more. He knows perfectly when to leave the tracks just to Eddie & when to apply some backing music. One wonders how many hours were spent deciding what music to accompany what track. I’m guessing the music for the track “The Lone Piper” (where he tells a tale of when he was hiking in the Highlands) was a no brainer (yeah, Scottish pipes) but who, if told they wanted music for a track called “Make Love Not War” & which has the line “Which would you rather see, two blokes, violent & making war or two blokes making love on your kitchen floor…” would have been able to come up with music which both compliments but isn’t too overstated? If you want to see how he overcame that conundrum check out the video below.
But great though John’s musical efforts are it’s Eddie who comes through large as life & 100 times as lovely on these tracks. Comedy is always to the fore but he uses this opportunity to let us know about a few things he’s learnt about life. Things like who we should avoid, who we should embrace, how we should behave – and how precious our memories are. He also muses on death quite a bit as well, as one would expect given the circumstances, with lines such as the one quoted above & this one: “Death please strike me with a mighty clout & lay me down in pastures of nowt”.
This may be his last piece of recorded work, if so this a great present he’s leaving for people. As true & touching a work of genius as you’ll find anywhere. Please buy this record. You’ll be disappointed if you didn’t.
*yes, i know you don’t listen thru spectacles smart arse.
You can buy the album from Mollusc Records.