Louis de Bernieres – Despatches: Album Review

You might recognise the name. Despatches is an expansive and eclectic new set from author Louis de Bernieres.

Louis De Bernieres

Release Date: 12th November 2021

Label: Khaki Angel Records

Format: 2CD

Louis de Bernieres, yes he of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, has an interesting sideline going in the music field, don’t ya know? A sideline that provides a backstory to rival some of his own literary leanings.

In a nutshell, after taking up the banko ukelele at eight, as you do, the trail led to a £17 guitar and The Streets Of London. The song that is, not the life of a busker. Folk, ragtime, flamenco, classical and a mandolin called teresa all passed through until focal dystonia in the right hand, a result of too much practise has led to a lifetime of hope that he’ll finally beat the bugger – and then die.

Irreparable Brain Damage – the band, not another unfortunate affliction – and the Antonius Players provided an outlet for the musical talents of the Manchester University graduate (although his Wiki also references the less grand sounding Leicester Poly) alongside the usual jobs in professions from carpenter to landscape gardener to the inevitable teacher. Many of us have been there. Until writing provided enough income to defect that is.

The itch still needs to be scratched, so Despatches comes as a twenty song collection in a distinctive and idiosyncratic style that even has the guitar chords printed above the words in the lyric book – there are lots of D’d, G’g, and Em’s and Am’s. None of those mysterious Dm sus7 type things. Louis is clearly one of our own with no pretensions although he is, not surprisingly, a dab hand in lyric writing terms. And as to his style – growing up with the songs of Dylan, Donovan, Tom Paxton and Ralph McTell, he clearly has the muse of the acoustic singer songwriter. It could well be one of those who plays the part of “the troubadour coming from the town” in Foxes In The Park where a tale is spun alongside a sprightly cowboy beat. Selina Hawker providing backing vox support and engineer David Booth adding drums.

The flamenco bearings rise to the surface on The Romance Of Margarita. It could be his version of Dylan’s Romance In Durango and the impression is a tendency towards the romantic and Mediterranean. If it works in print (and film) then why not tune in? His love of Greece and Latin America culture making its presence felt in song. His own Streets Of London comes on London Town given that Latin aura and a slightly menacing rather than melancholic feel while his Judas moment comes as the acoustic/electirc guitar gets plugge din at the end of CD1 where the effect takes us towards a cross between a Byrds-like twang and jangle and The Smiths with the pulsing rhythm parts.

As CD2 starts its journey, Iphgenia immediately presents us with a striking proposition. Atmospheric and delicate across six and a half minutes, the sound palette shifts from the familiar comfort of the acoustic guitar to something much more ambitious and experimental. That flamenco style with a pop of percussion drives the wonderfully evocative Stab In The Entrails as the album not surprisingly winds a path that’s never anything less than lyrically intriguing with a sense of fun in adding some musical accompaniment to the words. Love songs and tales of angels and soldiers and all with that spirit of Ralph McTell in the ether.

Enjoy the outpouring of music as much as Louis obviously has putting it all together.

Here’s Louis performing at the Spring Bookie in 2018:

You’ll find plenty of references to Louis de Bernieres online, although in the main, these concern his role as an author. Perhaps we’re in the exclusive club who can knowingly point to his musical side and encourage readers to explore the dark side of de Bernieres. His Website has a tab where you can find out more about his music.

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