Will Varley's fifth album sees a step change in terms of delivery in more ways than one. Having seemingly tired of the odd comic ditty (you'll find nothing approaching 'Self Checkout Shuffle' or 'A Monkey On A Rock' on this album), he's also gone and got himself a full blown backing band to help enhance and elaborate upon his performance. It's as if Varley has finally accepted some sort of perceived view that to make a bigger breakthrough, to become more successful, to appeal to a much wider audience, he should listen to the advice he's no doubt been given, and embrace it. Combined with his raised profile, due in part to some priceless endorsements that include, tellingly, Billy Bragg, notable support slots with the likes of Frank Turner, Beans On Toast and The Proclaimers, as well as his own stand-out solo gigs, Will's stars would appear to be finally aligned.
'Spirit Of Minnie' sees Will in more of a reflective and contemplative mood than ever. The mantra of only being taken seriously as an artist if you are a serious artist has undoubtedly come to manifest itself on Will's third release for Xtra Mile Records. In comparison to his earlier album releases there is certainly a distinct lack of attitude and petulance on his latest full length release. Gone are his digs and swipes at authority, his challenging and revolutionary stance, his militant or 'angry' voice. The protest singer in his younger self has not so much been silenced as subdued. Is it that he's just maturing or could he be selling out? Most likely, it is neither; merely just a foray into slightly unfamiliar territory, an exploration, a chance to experiment and diversify for one of our most emotive musical story-tellers.
The addition of a backing band five albums in is not entirely unexpected (all the great singer-songwriters have dallied with it during their careers) and has varying effects throughout. At times you barely register the difference as Varley's songs hold up to close scrutiny when paired back to the most minimal of arrangements. However, on a couple of occasions, you are left to wonder if elaboration is absolutely necessary (the revolving steel guitar, with its inherent Country twang on 'Statues' and the addition of mandolin on 'Let It Slide' sit less comfortably in the arrangements, for example). The band are by no means intrusive but they do from time-to-time change the whole dynamic of Will's performance on his latest release.
Continue reading: Will Varley - Spirit Of Minnie Album Review
Andrew Lockwood picks his favourite albums of 2015.
10. Belle & Sebastian - 'Girls In Peacetime'.
A glorious return to top form for Belle & Sebastian. 'Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance' contains all the bands trade mark signatures as well as introducing a few new ones. The generally up beat, playful tone of the album is full of pathos, dark humour and heartfelt musings. This is Belle & Sebastian back to their creative best. With an arty intellect and a wry take on life they have combined some of their most varied musical scores to date with more of their joyous lyrics.
9. Girl Band - 'Holding Hands With Jamie'.
A wake up call that needs to be heard. 'Holding Hands With Jamie' is a shot in the arm; a torrent of musical mayhem and magnificent noise. Distorted and unrelenting, 'Holding Hands..' is an unapologetic onslaught to the senses and a nerve tingling jolt of excitement. A quite brilliant debut.
Continue reading: Andrew Lockwood's Top 10 Albums Of 2015
It's been almost two years since Will Varley's last album 'As The Crow Flies', and more than four from his stunning debut release, 'Advert Soundtracks'. In the ensuing years, it's safe to say that Will has seemingly mellowed with time. His 'anger', intolerance and frustration with certain aspects of life have not necessarily been diminished but dissipated. Common themes such as bankers, businessmen, politicians and political rhetoric still run through Will's music, but he's now more philosophical than ever.
'Postcards From Ursa Minor', Will's latest album, is not so much disgruntled with modern life as disappointed and dejected with it. He's come to accept his place on the planet and is no longer chasing the rainbow but he is in a perpetual search to find a meaning to other endless questions around our very existence: "this world that I'm livin' in makes no sense to me" ('The Man Who Fell To Earth'). Will is still a fantastic observer of the absurdities of life and has lost none of his humour, but his 'fight' is more considered and contemplative than ever on 'Postcards...': "maybe I got older and gave up on my dreams, or maybe I just realised that I just want to be free" ('Send My Love To The System').
Listening to Will's latest album reminded me of 'Good Will Hunting' (no pun intended), and in particular, the part where Robin Williams gives a great speech about Will's (Matt Damon's) thoughts on his painting and how he presumes to know all about him from the tiniest glimpse into his life. I don't presume to know about Will's life, nor would I wish to, but it does sound like he's more in touch with despair than filled with hope. Where once Will might have found a flash of light, it's more likely he's seen a darker, more disquieting side to life, with lyrics such as, "Do your best to lose track of time" ('Seize The Night'), "I made a life for you but you just rolled on through" ('This House'), "'cos we're drifting through space, we're losing our faith and we've never felt so alone" ('Is Anyone Out There'), and "Don't sing songs about politics boy 'cos it doesn't sell, now take these pieces of paper and go to hell" ('Concept Of Freedom').
Continue reading: Will Varley - Postcards From Ursa Minor Album Review
Will Varley's much anticipated follow-up album to his brilliant 2011 album 'Advert Soundtracks' has been well worth the wait. 'As The Crow Flies' is no step change for Will but more of a gentle development on a carefully woven thread. Since the release of his last album, Will has not exactly been merely contemplative; he has gigged relentlessly, most recently and successfully as support to kindred spirit Beans On Toast, and in the last year Will has also self-published his first novel 'Sketch Of A Last Day'. No wonder, then, that his story telling abilities have not diminished in the two years between each release. His humour, empathy, sensitivity and pathos are all evident throughout this collection of eleven new tracks.
Where 'As The Crow Flies' differs slightly is in its mood and energy. The feel of this album is less immediate, less agitated, mellower and with a broader sense of maturity. It is a product of its time but not defined by or restricted by it. There is more of a soulful feel to Will's voice too, a gentle smoothness that is both soothing and captivating in its tone. As if to aptly complete this subtle transition, Will has also become a more accomplished musician, crafting many beautiful compositions from his acoustic guitar.
The album starts with Will's love letter to Deal. 'Where The Wild Wind Blows' captures the very essence of Will's Deal, from its pubs and bars (where many of these songs were written) to the beach and the cafes and the wind-blown in from the Channel that whips around the town. 'Weddings And Wars' sees a more cynical side to Will Varley's verse as he questions our very existence, its purpose and the absurdity of it all. It is one of Will's more complex arrangements, joined as he is by Aidan Shepherd on accordion, Natasha Greenham on fiddle and Nicola Vella on backing vocals (members of Will's stable mate band Cocolovers). The enhanced mix works well as the extra instrumentation is introduced to great effect complimenting Will's impassioned vocal: 'Instead of mountains, we're heading for Mars, instead of God we have credit cards.'
Continue reading: Will Varley - As The Crow Flies Album Review
Double 'A' side singles come along very rarely these days; long gone and sadly missed are the days of flipping your 45rpm vinyl between 'Straight To Hell' and 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go?' Rarer still is a double whammy from two artists from the same stable. Whilst the vinyl revival may still be bubbling away in the corners of your local record store or in the living rooms of the sentimental fundamentalist or seriously traditional music lover, the main drivers of today's music business are clearly digital downloads, CDs and live performances. So it is with great pleasure, some surprise and, above all, unwavering appreciation for all concerned that I can share the latest release from Smugglers Records.
The Deal based record label is well known for its fabulous roster of multi-talented Folk and Roots flavoured artists and for its organic, earthy and inclusive ideology, so putting out a 7" single of such unique quality probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise. As if to confirm they are one happy family, the two major artists on the label have combined their not inconsiderable talents for the first, hopefully of many, 'Smugglers Record Club' single releases. The premium package from the two very different artists, namely Cocoslovers and Will Varley, is not only bound by the label but also by their particular propensity for superb song-writing.
Continue reading: Will Varley, King For A King Single Review
Will Varley may have been born in Brixton six years later than the riots there had come to symbolise a back-lash to Thatcher's Britain but his spirit and ethos have many parallels with his contemporaries of the time. The social unrest, crippling unempoyment, growing racial tension and economic recession that lead to the riots were a unifying set of circumstances across the country for all those that opposed the increasingly tiered and privileged system that was prevalent at the time. Every era has a great orator or song writer to capture the current mood of the proletariat, the working man on the street, the less fortunate and the underprivileged. Each generation usually has a voice that can convey more than the facts, they somehow seem to be able to superbly argue their case, make you believe their alternate manifesto and above all make you feel the incredible intensity that afford some of the most emotive issues of the day. Will Varley could be today's equivalent. Guthrie, Dylan, Cash and Bragg have all done far more than just sung about an event or an era they have in some cases come to define it. Had Will Varley been born in a different age it's a fair assumption he'd have been opposed to The Vietnam War, campaigned for CND, stood side to side with the striking miners and been part of the short lived, ill conceived, Red Wedge. Although he may sing of being saved by David Cameron I think it unlikely that he voted Tory.
Continue reading: Will Varley, Advert Soundtracks Album Review