A prog inflected tip of the hat to classic 70s folk-rock with added post-punk rhythm section, from Green Diesel.
Release Date: 16th July 2021
Label: Talking Elephant
Formats: CD / Digital
Well, it’s been a fine old month for aficionados of the old ways, Fairport, Steeleye, all of that, with hosts of young turks muscling through their legacies, raiding their parent’s vinyl collections to excellent outcome.
First we get Fuzzy Lights, with their metal psychedelic slant, now Green Diesel, with a bent more to the Canterbury fare of Caravan and that ilk. Both have been around a fair few years, each with a handful of earlier releases, each with fiddle toting females at the forefront, singing their purebred hearts out. It must be something in the air. Or the water, the time being clearly just about right for these sturdy takes on an old(e) England. Maybe the events of the last year or so has tugged on our collective conscience in ways more subliminal than the obvious, a need to find and embrace a nation’s identity, away from football and feckless politicians.
Green Diesel hail from Faversham, Kent, a town I only know from its excellent Shepherd Neame brewery, and they have been making music since 2009, three earlier recordings emerging between 2012 and 2017, catching more the ears of critics than an audience. With a recent change of drummer, and with this album delayed by Covid, this gives the feel of a new start, with there also being a hike in the quotient of influences aside from folk and folk-rock. “Folk in technicolour”, they call it, with echoes, they say, both of 1867 every bit as much as 1967. I am not sure who was grooving the harvest festivals in 1967, certainly there are plenty echoes of the late 60s, but also many from considerably later. Well, late last century, at least.
Follow The River kicks off with shimmering instrumentation and the forthright vocal of Ellen Care breaking through, in a song she wrote, backed by a stout chorale of manly men, a hint that we may have heard all this before. But nothing could be more wrong, as the bounciest of bass then breaks down the door, in cahoots with some energised drumming. It’s as if JJ Burnel has gatecrashed a Fotheringay gig, a breath of fresh air into the idiom, which energises the whole band, the song cantering along like a stallion with ten legs. An instrumental middle eight of fiddle and guitars is livelier than this sort of music ever usually is.
Northern Frisk continues the mood, the fiddle dee dee tune again enlivened by Ben Holliday’s bass and Paul Dadswell’s drums, the former threatening to out-nimble even Dave Pegg. Some electronic jiggery pokery gives the violin a hazy feel, over which Care’s voice shines and is redolent of Cathy LeSurf at her least shrill. But it her instrumental work that next shines, Dusty Fairies being a violin led instrumental that starts as a slow air, double tracked fiddles swooping in over each other. Gradually the pace picks, and some concertina joins in the acceleration, courtesy of Care’s father, with some spiky guitar from Matthew Dear eventually joining in the fray. The rhythm section, which had started at an appropriately stately plod, keep charge of the tempo as it rises, even managing a brief burst of jazz-rock fusion towards the end and the reprise of the main melody.
Sea Song has a very pastoral feel and is very much in prog-folk territory in the way the instruments blend, even if the tune is strictly trad. Care’s violin has me reminded, strangely, of Steve Hackett’s guitar, even as more orthodox guitar jousts alongside it. This memorable track sums up the identity of what I feel the band are aiming for.
I Wish My Love sees that prog ambience extend still further, and could be mid to late Caravan, by the time they, too, included violin (or viola, a pedant notes.) A statuesque and very 70s guitar solo, Matthew Dear again, adds to this ambience, as does the change of vocal, with Greg Ireland, the multi-instrumentalist at the heart of the band’s overall sound, now taking the lead. This adds further, ironically, to the Caravan comparisons, the whole Canterbury scene tending to err towards a vocal style sometimes labelled as thin. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but I know those who don’t. Remarkably, this is actually the most traditional track on the record, based upon Lisa Knapp’s reading of The Pitman’s Love Song, if with more time signatures.
The White Hart occupies a haunting near psychedelic space, distant echoes of Jefferson Airplane wafting in on the wind, with another evocative guitar solo, mandolin tinkling along side, as the drums crash on a distant shore. Beautiful, and to demonstrate the versatility of the band, Holliday, who wrote the song, and Dear swap bass and guitar duties. This eerie mood carries on into Underworld, which was the first single released from the album. Starting slow and hypnotic, an ear worm of a tune that is anything but traditional, the second half of this song really kicks off into more uncharted territory that augurs well for the live show. This one is written by Dadswell, the aforementioned new drummer. By now this record is really glowing, the disparate influences congruent and capably crafted.
Back to more orthodox folk-rock, with Katy Cried – all very Steeleye at their commercial peak, aptly given where you may recognise the origins of the instrumental segment, but with still enough quirks to liven it up and bring it into this century. Followed By The Storm could then easily be the sort of song that used to stray into the charts back in the day, Renaissance, or Curved Air, even, enlivening otherwise dreary TOTP evenings. The playing of Ireland is integral here, as elsewhere, to the layered middle section, mandolin and dulcimer vying for attention. That he writes most of the material, except where otherwise referenced, should probably be stated, he undeniably the backbone of the Green Diesel operation.
Penultimate track Storm is an odd ‘un, a circuitous chant song that has me thinking Dennis Wheatley films, the sound effects that usher in the end especially. I’ll probably have to get back to you on that one, but it is followed, thankfully, by another highpoint, if again evocative of the Sabbat, funereal harmonium and all. This is the title track, with a heavy sense of foreboding seeping into every note, a drone which processes in slo-mo. A metronomic heart beat is the sole percussion, Care’s vocal casting a spell over the proceedings and closing the record eerily. A step away from most of the rest of this disc, but one that leaves you lost in thought, that is ahead of pressing play, and starting the whole journey off again.
Here’s the video for Underworld from Green Diesel.