I’ll tell you something – you can dance till you don’t exist

In your laser-like scrutiny of these pages, some of you will have noticed (chiefly, I’d suggest, because I’ve told you) that periodically I go through something of a personal crisis as the realisation strikes me that despite being a gentleman of advancing years, I’m still yet to resolve the issue of my Top Ten Records. This is obviously something any self-respecting chap should consider a priority in these uncertain times. I’d imagined I would have had this pretty much nailed down, it’s not such a big ask, after all – your ten favourite records of all time, recorded faithfully in longhand amongst your personal papers, maybe neatly typed out, at the very least committed to memory in readiness for that decisive, in-your-cups conversation at the end of a long evening.

Yeah, well… about that.

You’ll have guessed, keen eyed marksman that you are, that this list is still not quite ready. I’ve always known three or four of them, but the rest of the spots are still unclaimed. It’s a poser, for sure

The good news is that there’s one less place to play for…

Barafundle

Having spent Sunday afternoon watching Gloucester’s slim chances of making the last eight in the Champions Cup disappear pretty quickly (dicked in the South of France), a knock on the door revealed some poor beleaguered feller delivering a couple of CDs. I’d almost forgotten that I’d spent some Christmas money from in-laws, hoovering up a bunch of reasonably-priced CDs by folk heroes Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. What a lovely surprise.

And this was also another issue I’d been meaning to address for a while, knowing as I do relatively little about Euros Child’s wunder-band. Apart from Barafundle, that is.

The band’s fourth album (if you count back from Gorky 5 – sixth if you include their cassette-only records, released while the band were, marvellously, still at school) has forced its way onto the only list that really matters. You’ll know all the stuff you need to know about Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci by now, I’d imagine, and if you don’t, well, you should probably sort that – I wouldn’t trust me to get it right for you.

Bursting with gentle, curious melodies, awkward lyrical turns and moments of straight genius, it’s a record that has charmed me for ages and now I’m thinking that way, it beats me why I’ve not written about it before. Time to step up.

A bumper package of sixteen songs by most bands might be a little intimidating but sixteen songs as complex, varied (and simple) as these, is perhaps the reason why I’ve never gone here.

There’s a bewildering variety of instruments (and musicians) used for starters – bodhran, violins, voila, flutes, jew’s harp, recorders, hurdy-gurdy, shawm (“a conical bore, double-reed woodwind instrument”, as you’re asking) and crumhorn (oh… look it up yourself…) are all credited (as is Euros’ and Megan’s father Lynn). The arrangements are increasingly complex as the record develops belying the “feel” of the record, which is endearingly simple and heartfelt.

There’s any number of favourite tracks I could pick out, frankly, but right now, I’m loving “Starmoonsun”, partly because it illustrates what I’ve just said about being complex and simple at the same time, and also because it features a fair few of those exotic instruments (and what sounds a lot like Stanley Unwin as the song fades out).

From the beguiling plinky-plunk of the plucked violins behind Child’s organ, through the harsh, earthy sound of what I’m guessing is the sound of the shawm, to the over-exuberant pixies on back vocals, it’s a gorgeous, twisty donkey ride.

The lyrics are light (but pretty) and are graced by a melody of actual, straight up genius (yep – it’s a hill I’m willing to die on), the passage where “and when you cry, there is no sky” dissolves into that shawm, brings a great big, soppy lump to my throat. Breath-taking…

It’s also one of the songs that illustrates what I’d say is another of the features of the whole record – it’s really organic. So many of the songs feel like they have grown independently, developing unexpected but entirely natural twists and diversions. I like to imagine that songs such as this one and others like “Pen Gawg Glas”, “Cursed, Coined and Crucified” and “The Wizard and the Lizard” might have taken on a whole wilful life of their own in the studio, musicians raising a quizzical eyebrow at the end of each session.

I’m also rather keen on Richard James’s beautiful, mystical “Sometimes the Father is the Son”. Led gently by Megan Childs’ insistent violin and accompanied (as in “kept company”) by James’ delicate guitar, you’re on a bit of a Lal Wateron-style journey of uneasiness, dressed gaily but awkwardly in pretty, pretty colours.

There’s quite a lot of this surface loveliness, veiled seductively over lyrics like “all that’s safe to hear, is collapsing around your ears”, only a cheap, cheap comfort afforded by the most beautiful of melodies. Richard James is behind so much of the prettiness of the whole record, I wonder how he put up with the craziness around him for so long.

Actually that’s another of the things I love about the record, and pretty much everything about Gorky’s – their relentless oddness. I’ve spoken before about how much I admire the Daevid Allens and Robert Wyatts of this world, defiantly (and even “deviantly” as I typed at first) garbed in the daftest of pixie hats and knitted gimp masks, while the rest of us smirk and poke fun. Much as I love Gruff Rhys and the other Great Welsh band of the nineties, I’m not sure whether their demented spark would have had such a jolt without the aid of bountiful supplies of stimulants (God bless them). The Gorky’s, on the other hand, would’ve sounded much the same with or without drugs. Their fundamental otherness comes from … I’ve no idea where.

I also love the gorgeous richness of “Better Rooms” with it’s almost New Testament hopefulness, it’s incoherent gasps and it’s clipped, brushed drumming, and of course, it’s Barret-esque lyrics (“the birds and trees they talk to me”)

I could go on (surely someone needs to be extolling the pervy virtues of “Barafundle Bumbler” or “Miniature Kingdom”) but I think I’ve probably tried your patience quite enough already.

The Internet is disappointingly thin on this period of Gorky’s but I’ll leave you with possibly the only clip from Jools Holland’s show that doesn’t involve boogie-woogie piano…

 

Enjoy. Marvel. Treasure.

It’s still a beautiful world…

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