Terence Blacker – Playing For Time: Album Review

The name Terence Blacker may well be familiar to you.  Although he’s principally known as a novelist (Fixx and The Fame Hotel) or as a writer of children’s literature (If I Could Work and the Ms Wiz series) he is also becoming increasingly well known as a writer and singer of quirky, often satirical, sometimes thought-provoking, but always intelligent songs. 

Release Date: 27th March 2020

Label: Talking Cat Recordings

Format: CD / DL

Playing For Time is his fourth album and follows his previous efforts, Lovely Little Games (2012), Sometimes Your Face Don’t Fit (2015) and Enough About Me (2018).

To get a feel for Terence’s lyrical style, think of a topical Jake Thackray or, bearing in mind much of the American lyrical subject matter on Playing for Time, think Tom Lehrer or Chaim Tannenbaum.  His satirical take on subjects such as Brexit, fake news, football, and the ‘Me Too’ movement is simultaneously gentle and biting and he definitely has the rare but desirable knack (for a satirist) of forcing the listener to self-examine, even if the song expresses views that align generally to the listener’s own.

Musically, the songs are a delight.  Terence has taken the inspired decision to select a pan-European group of musicians to accompany this latest batch of songs and the result is a collection of tunes bursting with warmth and on which bossa nova and samba rhythms provide the perfect complement to Terence’s ragtime and talking blues stylings. 

It’s worth making special mention of the wonderful accordion inputs from Hartmut Saam and of the beautiful vocal contributions from Fortunata Monzo, both of which elevate several of the songs from being purely satirical or observational pieces into something a whole lot more memorable.

The song content on the album is a neat split between the topical (Europa Mein Amour, Fake News, Me Too) and the reflective (The Sha-La-La Song, Memories Are Company and I Fool Myself), with a couple of neat ‘story’ songs thrown in for good measure. 

The Anno Domini Song is a great opener to the album, setting the scene nicely with lyrics about being born and passing through life in a dance. The Sha-La-La Song reminisces about listening to Radio Luxembourg under the bedclothes (something I’m sure we all did…) and contains the lovely line “…All those old songs have had little songs of their own…”  Thank You To My Team describes, accurately, the life and emotions of a football supporter and makes the very true observation that “You can change your husband or wife, or even your politics, but not your team” and manages to put football into the perspective that we are all coming to recognise.

Time Is A Hard Ridden Pony tells the familiar story of an innocent maiden falling for a wizened musician and is notable for the particularly wonderful lead vocal from Fortunata. I Fool Myself teaches all of us how to overcome a lack of self-esteem to achieve personal and lasting triumph.

It is, however, on the satirical songs that this album really strikes home.  Fake News hits (gently and humorously) out at internet scams and opportunities and, brilliantly, manages to rhyme Filipinas with demeanours. Me Too starts by condemning such easy targets as Trump and Weinstein, but suggests that, before going too far with condemnation, we should consider whether we ourselves, have ever lied, breached interpersonal etiquette or gone along with something we disagreed with.  It makes you think…!

The album’s piece de resistance is the Brexit lament, Europa Mein Amour.  This song was released as a single in January of this year to coincide with the UK’s departure from the European Union and I only wish that I had caught it then.  The song summarises many of the familiar regrets that our split from Europe entails and lists many of the delights that have brought colour to our European existence whilst recognising and accepting that our departure is now inevitable.  It’s a track that, to any frustrated Europhile is, alone, worth the price of the album.

Playing For Time is a terrific album and is heartily recommended as something to bring warmth and good humour to these current days of confinement.  Thank you, Terence Blacker.

Listen to Terence Blacker live at home here:

Terence Blacker online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

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