Through the feed – Johnny Parry Orchestra, Matt Stevens: new and new-ish albums

19 May

I keep a regular eye on the ‘Organ’ blog. In the good old, grim old days of print, paste, photocopy and crude HTML, ‘Organ’ was a big inspiration for ‘Misfit City’. While there’s been a lot of turbulent water under the bridge since then, and though Sean Worrall – he who is ‘Organ’ – claims his days of animated gonzo reviewing are long past, the current blog is still a great source of news and rapid-fire information/reaction regarding music, the London art scene, occasional politics and whatever other related thoughts are passing through Sean’s head. Some time (when I’m feeling even more solipsistic than usual) I might write some more about ‘Organ’ and ‘Misfit City’ and the 1990s, although I suspect that few people can pronounce better on Sean and his singular range of experiences than he can himself. (I’m hoping that he writes a proper memoir one of these days.)

Right now, here’s something I picked up from ‘Organ’ late last week and am sharing now: it triggers a different kind of nostalgia.

Johnny Parry Orchestra: 'An Anthology Of All Things'

Johnny Parry Orchestra: ‘An Anthology Of All Things’

Today, the Johnny Parry Orchestra release their second album ‘An Anthology Of All Things’. I first became aware of Johnny in 2002 when, as a solo act, he sent his debut album ‘Break Your Little Heart’ to the original incarnation of ‘Misfit City’. At the time ‘Misfit City’ was going down with all hands (ie, me) and so despite all best intentions and protestations, the album just sat on my shelf. I think it’s still there. I owe it to Johnny to revisit it properly sometime.

Fortunately (for my conscience, anyway), being neglected by me hasn’t hurt Johnny in the slightest. In the intervening twelve years he’s continued to work on and release music from his base in Bedford, steadily building himself up from solo dream-popster to trio leader, then becoming a small-ensemble boss and eventually expanding to the role of orchestral maestro. Now moving with assurance within the world of substantial arts grants, community music and event concerts, the latter-day Johnny Parry composes, arranges and conducts on a large scale and has worked with musical names as diverse as Talvin Singh, Michael Nyman, Seb Rochford and Beth Orton as well as Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed. Not bad for someone whom in 2002 was wandering Toronto amidst the wreckage of a record contract, seeking solace and inspiration from the city’s buskers. If life handed him a lemon, he certainly went on to grow lemon groves.

‘An Anthology Of All Things’ is Johnny’s second orchestral/choral album – funded by Bedford Creative Arts, it features (in addition to the JPO) the Bedford Arts Choir and soprano Donna Lennard. Already gaining comparisons to Benjamin Britten – albeit a Britten with a strong pop leaning – it’s very much community-shaped, with Johnny drawing his settable texts from lyrics donated (consciously or otherwise) by the Bedford public. The video excerpts below should demonstrate how this works. The first of these (for the sixth movement) is the result of Johnny soliciting and assembling original romantic testaments from friends, including couples, about their own feelings:

The second video is for the fifth movement, which gleans its text from the dedications on park benches in and around Bedford:

Some of the remaining movements are inspired by reflections on Bedford historical figures and childhood heroes, plus the town’s memories of the Second World War: others draw on more general or abstracted themes such as the human body, the elements of narrative, the components of travel and “youthful boundary defiance”. Here are a few more snippings from the press release:

“A captivating small town experience that has a far wider resonance… magnificent, masterful and sweepingly heart-warming, and performs a velvety emotional cut and paste approach. It dares to be huge and expansive but retains a deeply personal core which carries the intimate, often evocative thoughts and statements that are at times uncomfortable, innocent, whimsical and on occasions playfully risqué.”

The album can be ordered directly from here (though you’ll need to use PayPal)

While I’m beating myself up a little for not keeping up with obligations, here’s something from someone else whose work I need to keep up with more regularly. Matt Stevens is no stranger to ‘Misfit City’ – see this review of him threshing up a lively storm at Roastfest a few years ago with just an acoustic guitar, loops, a pedalboard and plenty of bearish enthusiasm. Likewise, there are a couple of reviews of his early work with the collaborative band The Fierce & The Dead (here and here), an outfit which has grown from a trio of interesting polystylistic rock dabblers into a roaring garage-prog quartet with a shaggy, behemoth sound to it.

Matt Stevens: 'Lucid'

Matt Stevens: ‘Lucid’

First and foremost, though, Matt is a ceaselessly enthusiastic solo artist, and in March he released his fourth solo album ‘Lucid’. Compared to his earlier solo work, it’s more of a band record, predominantly based around Matt’s friends and contemporaries in British art-rock (Stuart Marshall from The Fierce & The Dead and Charlie Cawood from Knifeworld are the rhythm section for most of the record, while sundry other Fiercies, Knifeworlders, Trojan Horses, Guapo-sians and Chrome Hoofers also make a showing – hello Emmett Elvin, Nick Duke and Kev Feazey). However, it also draws from latterday prog via Jem Godfrey (of Frost*), dark ambience from Helicopter Quartet‘s violinist Chrissie Caulfield, and cosmic jazz in the shape of Lorenzo Feliciati of Naked Truth, who may or may not be responsible for the presence on the album of his NT bandmate Pat Mastelloto, the increasingly ubiquitous and inventive King Crimson drummer who’s become something of a touchstone for art-rock crossovers. (Mysterious vibraphone player Jon Hart is also on board but, as always, wherever he’s coming from is anyone’s guess.)

Matt himself describes ‘Lucid’ as:

“a significant step up from the previous albums. It’s inspired by a bit of a dark time, but hopefully it’s an uplifting record… all the players really were outstanding. It’s a record that reflects my love of Jesu and Celtic Frost as much as the Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson or even Peter Gabriel and I’m really proud of it. If you’re not going to take risks and try and do something interesting what’s the point?”

The preview video below (which has been out for a few months now) should give you some idea of what Matt’s aiming for. If you like what you hear, the album’s out on Esoteric Antenna Records and you can get it either from Burning Shed or Cherry Red.

Johnny Parry online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter YouTube

Matt Stevens online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp LastFM YouTube

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