Simon J Jones – How Things Work: Album Review

Simon J Jones and Ladybird books – a marriage made in heaven.

Release Date: 7th March 2022

Label: Bandcamp

Format: CD / digital

Simon Jones is one third of the electro-folk outfit, Harp & A Monkey. We’re well aware of the chaps, not only being local to the ATB hub but also through their contributions to ATB – cue shameless plug for Martin Purdy’s Why I Love and the band’s The Victorians album. They also appear on quite a regular basis on the local live circuit so the H&AM brand is well established.

Having said that, behind the quiet facade of the multi-instrumental skills of Mr Jones (“I’m drawn to making quiet statements“) lies a multi-faceted creative visual artist and fan/observer of “the quirky, intelligent and beguiling.” Perhaps the passion that’s led him to create a musical work based around those vintage Ladybird books. You know the ones – they run the gamut from the album title inspiration of How Things Work to biographies, myths, legends and Fairy Tales. Often found in vintage bookshops, for people of a certain age, they’re a window into the world of their childhood and have gained a new life (of sorts) with the modern-day parodies peppering the ‘humour’ shelves of booksellers around the nation.

And so to the album that musically, finds the apple not falling too far from the H&AM tree. Subtle, understated, delicate and precise are the four (or should that be ‘four of the…’) watchwords that continually break the surface whilst engaging with How Things Work.

Pop the disc into the player or click on your digital player of choice, sit back and see where you’re taken. For me, I was off almost immediately into a world of whimsy, children’s TV, Chigley and Bagpuss. Gentle chimes, a friendly voice and genuine warmth. The thrill of discovery of The Computer, the wonders of new technology and ‘the future’ heralded in a low vibrancy and clockwork rhythm that collides with those familiar (for some of us) sounds of the program loading up. It’s that window into the past, when life was much simpler, that runs like a bubbling stream through each piece.

And although it may be too late at this point to do it yourself,, but test out your friends unfamiliar with the track titles, and have them match or guess at the Ladybird title. Navigation At Sea give plenty of clues in the Captain Pugwash sway and what may well be the hum of the harmonium adding a sense of the nautical.

The contrast of a more sombre interlude lies with another seasonal delicacy in What To Look For In Summer, the partner to the earlier piece that evokes the emergence of warmth and colour with some fine picking. Hard to beat or fault the sound of acoustic strings chiming away courtesy of some admirable dexterity – ask Anthony Phillips. The Charles Dickens interpretation is all handclaps (I’m imagining clogs clacking on the cobbles) and continues in a similar vein in Royal Mail where the visions are more of horse-drawn carriages rolling along rough tracks than Postman Pat in his van.

And while the musical delights revolve around the subtleties of string and key playing, Michael faraday gets a stark yet inevitably warm, unaccompanied tribute. In some hands, The Weather might be given s cinematic arrangement, but again, we#’re much more intimate with the percussion and deep tones accompanying the singsong-y “weather comes, weather goes” vocal.

Like the Ladybird books, How Things Work is a box of delights. A perfect match. He’s accomplished his goal of wooing rather than assaulting.

Rather appropriately, here’s What To Look For In Spring:

Harp & A Monkey  online:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp / Youtube

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