Andy Whitaker: Things that Happened on Earth – album review & interview
A real treasure chest of acoustic performances comes from ex The Sun and The MoonÂ guitaristÂ Andy Whitaker on his new solo albumÂ ‘Things That Happened On Earth’. It’ an album oozing with beautifully plucked and finely pitched melodies which bring to mind artists like Nick Drake & Syd Barrett as well as groups like The Doves. These artists have all influenced & echoed Whitaker’s own melodic and very British sound, style andÂ delicate use andÂ phrasingÂ of the English language. Â Below Louder Than WarÂ talk to the Manchester artist about the time, effort and craft that’s gone into the making ofÂ ‘Things That Happened On Earth’
Recorded over a 5 year stretch between Manchester and Atlanta with Jack Sobal and John Kolbeck ofÂ popularÂ alt-rock band ‘Black Swan’ both playing and producing, its long production only goes to add a sense of history or journey to songs like the tender folk strum of ‘Sublime Light’ or ‘High on the Mount’, songs that have been carved out of time, embedded withÂ a naturalÂ quality.
Stand out tracks could be ‘Stars’, with its uplifting piano lineÂ reminiscentÂ of the type of beauty ‘Elbow‘ seem to capture or maybe the big sound-scape of ‘Primordial Soup’. Then there’s theÂ album’s electric outing with the grunge-like ‘Hydraulic Bottlejacks’ showing the singer-song writers harder / louder style it plays like a flip-side to the moreÂ pastoral andÂ intricateÂ sound of tracks like ‘Man’.Â The traditionally “good place to start”, the beginning, is the warm andÂ slightlyÂ trippyÂ openerÂ ‘Your Car’ which is almostÂ like an invite to travel the album itself & it does indeed make the perfect welcome to a wonderful album.
HI Andy, really enjoying listening to the album, there’s so much going on, imaginative playing, great song writing and all really beautifully done.
Thanks Carl. There was no pressure to write and record it. I didn’t have to contrive any songs for the album really. IÂ accumulatedÂ most over the last few years. IÂ purposelyÂ addedÂ about half of them in the last year prior to recording but there was noÂ pressureÂ from a record company, I wrote because I was in the frame of mind.
TheÂ influences are all there ground into your own play and style, the obvious maybe are Nick Drake but I hear The Smiths and many other groups and artist in there as well, was that one of the aims, to cover such a variety influences on one release?
I’m really pleased youÂ receiveÂ it that way. Some have likened it to Shack and I have heard only a couple of songs from them. That reminds me I should get one of their albums with this HMV token someone got for me cause I do like them. Then some have pointed towards Love. My love of Nick Drake, Mogwai, Ray Davies, Stephen Malkmus, me, The Beatles, Doves, Syd Barrett is all in there I grant you.
Your first solo album, oneÂ that took 5yrs in the making and was recorded in Manchester and Atlanta,Â did either city have muchÂ influencesÂ on the songs or your writing?
Well it isn’t really my first solo album. I recorded an album called ‘Bewilderbeast’ back in 1992 but it was only recorded on 4 track and I marketed it as best I could before the days of internet. ManchesterÂ unavoidablyÂ has had a bearing on who I am I suppose. I wrote the lyrics to ‘Frank Abagnale” in Atlanta. I wonder if the city effected me because Abagnale conned people into believing that he was aÂ paediatricianÂ at aÂ hospitalÂ in Atlanta.
Going back a bit, I know you played in Mark Burgess’ The Sun and the Moon but weren’t you involved with TheÂ Chameleons as well?Â
I must clear that one up, I wasn’t in the Chameleons but I was in The Sun and the Moon & then after that Weaveworld and Music for Aborigines. Yeah you lose a name and therefore an identity when a band splits so working under your own name can provide some continuity.Â
On the record also is Andy Clegg from your former group ‘The Sun and the Moon’,Â is the album aÂ continuationÂ orÂ extensionÂ of what you were playing back then in anyway?Â
“Singing September Song” the first written for this album stems back to an idea I had in Weaveworld so it nearly ended up being a Weaveworld song. Andy Clegg was also in Weaveworld and Music for Aborigines with me. Yeah I do feel that TTHOE has my stamp on it and also some ingredientsÂ thrown in from Andy Clegg.
InitialÂ stand out songs for me were ‘Singing inÂ September’,Â ‘Your Car’ and the electric sound of ‘Hydraulic Bottlenecks’, but which songs were the base of the album, its origins?
It all started with “Man” and “Sermon on the Mount”. After composing them 2 songs I knew instantly that I wanted to call the album Things That Happened On Earth. I wrote intentionally from then on to fall in with the theme. As I previously mentioned I already had “Singing September Song” and I already had “Hydraulic Bottlejacks” but they just fell in with the theme nicely. My mother Ivy Whitaker and John Lennon happened on Earth. Yes Folks Bottlejacks is about Lennon, In fact there is nothing that you can write about really that isn’t a thing that happened on earth except for stars :-) but you can see them from earth and anyway “Stars” is about how we areÂ prisonerÂ to earth and our lives here. The fact that just about all of us have to go through it watching loved ones be taken from us through death. We are just stuck with it.
There’s some big subjects on there as well, you cover The Suffragettes, The Dawn Of Man, Prostitutes, Religion, Love, Sex, Death and Â always a good one to write about, your own life?
And I thought of myself as a shallow git. I’m always lusting after my wife Jan’s ass.
I like your commentÂ describing the album as “the record to leave behind when Iâm gone. This is the album to send into outer space for otherÂ civilisationsÂ to get an account of what life was like on Earth”. That’s deep, but so is the album…do you have plans to release another album?Â
Well an account of life on earth from my point of view. One can argue that I’ve not touched on South Africa, Ireland, 9/11 (I wanted a photo of the intact twin towers somewhere on the album sleeve as aÂ testamentÂ to what man did create by the way), Hiroshima but I didn’t want it to be a reallyÂ heavyÂ history lesson. I’m not the one to teach anyway. The next album has already started to grow within me but I’m not going to rush plus I want everyone to buy this one first. We are still in the red as yet, productions and musicianship of thatÂ calibre cost money.
Lastly, will we get a chance to hear ‘Things that happened on Earth’ live Andy, any dates lined up for 2013?
The only date as yet is at Carsons Bar in Middleton, Manchester on the 7th February 2013 with more dates to be announced.
listen to and buy ‘Things that Happened on Earth’