The Rockingbird rooster, Alan Tyler, retreats to a quirky lockdown project, nearly free of his characteristic country vibe.
Release date: 19th November 2021
Label: Hanky Panky
Format: Limited edition CD
Alan Tyler, if you know him, is a genius, if somehow locked into the wrong land and the wrong time. Yet it is this very transpositioning that has rendered so well his gritty Camden Town country vibe, whether as head honcho of the Rockingbirds, undoubtedly this nation’s finest country-rock band, or in his solo work, which is even more “and western”. A treasure, no less, and a dude to boot, keeping his little plot of Nashville fed and watered at his Come Down and Meet the Folks club nights, in collaboration with the Patrick Ralla (Hanging Trees), at the Betsey Trotwood in London, curtailed until recently, this past year or so. Deprived of this outlet, he retreated to his parent’s house, himself and a programmable synthesiser, laying down the basis of this somewhat different sounding album. Some of the songs took on a later polish via Sean Read’s Famous Times studio, with additional instrumentation from Read and a small coterie of others, others sound much as they might, at home alone. Urban and eastern, anyone?
Somewhere Better, which kicks things off, has the familiarity of his marmalade timbre, allied to a piano, strummed guitars and brushed drum ode to being anywhere other than where we seem to be now. With Read adding some sympathetically anthemic brass, this is a song of hope, a song of union, exhorting a destination “somewhere better and somewhere fair.” Little to argue with there. The mood is, unfortunately, then curdled a little by the somewhat trite and lightweight London, which plods heavy-footed, doggerel, largely, with a spoken word narrative that begs for fast forward. That is is followed by the delightful Lucky People, a minor key masterpiece of analog synth and harmony vocals, the melody a distant relative of Moby’s We Are All Made Of Stars.
Mercy is another bedroom symphony, strummed guitar, drum machine and atmospheric keyboard. Described as a “folkie reminisce” in his publicity, this is a perfect description. As is, St Saturnine, albeit very much in the mode of a break-up song, both nostalgic and maudlin, by no means an easy combination. Synthesiser plays the part that steel might, were this his band, and his vocals embrace the warm baritone he wears like a comfortable well-worn jacket. A lovely song. Spring is then a slight throwback to the more characteristic jangle of the Rockingbirds, more upbeat and looking positively forward. Here is the return of flesh and blood accompaniment, if I am not mistaken, with the bass and drums of Rick Batey and Eddie Real respectively, along with the aforementioned Ralla on guitar and backing vocals. (Am I alone in finding the drummer’s name somewhat ironic, given the nature of the percussion elsewhere on this recording?)
No Cure now strays into early 60s pre-Merseybeat territory, with more of those delightfully human-sounding drums, and a harpsichord solo, a song Richard Hawley would sell his children for. Showing he is no stickler for continuity, it is a flash forward of nearly 20 years now, to the quasi-Human League of You’ve Got Me, even down to the “this is Phil (OK, Al…) talking” intro. It really shouldn’t work, but, reader, it does, it does, and some, with a glorious purring synthesised background, it is curiously beautiful.
Back then to the glorious cash and clatter of Yesterdays Chips, an altogether Squeeze-y song, the sort of Chris Difford track that always appears mid-side 2. The bass and drums are near shambolic, deliberately, the lyrics a deprecating backwards look and how the modern world is leaving many of us boomers behind. Which beckons in the only overtly country song on the album, the tongue-in-cheek Write Another Country Song that may actually outline his writing method. A neat little spiky guitar solo, courtesy of Ralla, fills in the middle eight, as the verses around it lampoon the genre with love. This song had an earlier outing, on the fundraising We Love The Betsey Too, a project to help keep alive the Clerkenwell pub where Tyler hosts his monthly club slot, on the last Sunday of every month. And, clearly, where his will be, this week, on Friday, to launch this very album.
Here he is, at the Betsey Trotwood, with No Cure: