Monday, September 24, 2018

Where There's Life

The last post on this blog ended with a short discourse on Bill Ryder-Jones' song, Satellites, followed by the high-handed declaration, "I do not think I have encountered any problem that could not be made even a little bit better by listening to the songs that saved your life". Well, that was nine months ago and in that time I have found out that music cannot make everything better and songs don't save lives; but that's another story and this is not the place to write it.

What is fitting, though, is that, after a self-imposed hiatus, Sussex Sedition resumes with Bill Ryder-Jones. Last week, he was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London's brutalist South Bank Centre, a gig I approached with much anticipation, not just because he has a new album, Yawn, out in November but because he was being supported by Our Girl, the young Brighton three-piece whose recent debut album Ryder-Jones played on and produced.

I had been listening to Stranger Today for the previous few weeks: it is a noisy album that deserves a Ziggy Stardust-style imperative TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME and, even without their honorary member appearing with them live, they still make a hell of a racket. This is mainly due to the ferocity of the rhythm created by Lauren Wilson's thunderous drumming and Josh Tyler's low frequency rumbling bass; overlaying this, Soph Nathan's scuzzy guitar work and dreamy vocals see the band's sound drifting from the territory of slacker shoegaze to psychedelia, particularly on the Stone Roses-esque, In My Head. But it is not all a heavy workout: the melodies of I Really Like It and Level show the more tender side of Our Girl.

When Bill Ryder-Jones takes the stage he is alone - apart from the people who arrive late in their seats right at the front, causing a delay - and begins the set with only his guitar for accompaniment. Needless to say, he plays some of his most delicate songs; the first two, Seabirds and Put It Down Before You Break It, are from 2015's West Kirby County Primary, and the third is By Morning I, from its sometimes overlooked predecessor, A Bad Wind Blows in my Heart.

When he is joined on stage by his touring band, Liam Power's By The Sea, Ryder-Jones announces a sequence of songs from the new album and wryly assures us they will be followed by "all the hits". Of the new tracks, the superbly titled, Mither, a word my northerner mum used to use, and And Then There's You stand out, perhaps because they have been available to listen to online. The latter, with its memorable couplet, "Tell me again what I'm worth/When everything hurts", indicates that we will be on familiar emotional ground on the new album and the song builds to an affecting close with the plaintive refrain of "My mistress, my mistress/Take me home again".

As promised, more familiar material makes up the remainder of the set: favourites Two To Birkenhead, Daniel, Wild Swans, Catharine and Huskisson and Wild Roses precede the final song of the night. Closing the performance with the crescendo of Satellites and its observation that "You saved me with the thought/That something somewhere must be happening" was particularly poignant for me: where there's life, there's hope.