More evocative observations of life in a seaside town, from Southend’s folk/Americana troubadour, MG Boulter.
Release Date: 3rd June 2022
Label: Hudson Records
Back in April 2021, we were thoroughly enchanted by Clifftown, MG Boulter’s collection of gentle, reflective observations about ordinary life in a suburban, seaside town. And now, happily, MG is back – with more of the same. New EP, A Shadow Falls Over New Brighton is, in all respects, a welcome encore that will delight anyone who, like me, succumbed to the Clifftown charms.
And the seamless continuity between Clifftown and A Shadow Falls… is no idle coincidence, as MG explains: “Whilst putting my mind to the preparation of the Clifftown album in early 2019, I collected around twenty-five songs for inclusion, knowing full well that the first process was to whittle these down to a manageable amount which could be recorded in the time we had to make the record. A Shadow Falls Over New Brighton presents four songs from that collection which further contribute to the atmosphere of my Clifftown project and the themes I am exploring.“
And it’s not just the themes that carry over from the Clifftown album either. Violinst Helen Hall, whose beautiful contributions added such poignancy to the Clifftown material, is back again, as is BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winning producer Andy Bell and, for this latest offering, the soundscape is given added colour and depth by the magnificent cello and piano of Harriet Bradshaw. Once again, the material is inspired by MG’s recollections and experiences of growing up in Southend-on-Sea and, once again, the attention paid to the joys and foibles of seaside suburbia and to the tiny details of the lives of the inhabitants is both remarkable and gratifying.
Before we get to the music, let’s just remind ourselves about MG Boulter… He first aroused the attention of the UK music press as the frontman in Southend pub-rock outfit The Lucky Strikes who, regular At The Barrier readers may recall, was once described by Q Magazine as “The Waterboys on trucker pills.” MG went on to play lap steel and mandolin in Simon Felice’s touring band, and he’s also collaborated with, amongst others, Blue Rose Code, Samantha Whates and Neil McSweeney. In our review of Clifftown, we commented on the clearly audible influences of James Taylor, Neil Young and Stephen Stills upon his writing and delivery style and, as I can readily confirm, those influences continue to apply to the songs on A Shadow Falls…
The James Taylor comparison is particularly evident on the EP’s title track, the song that opens this collection and the EP’s first single. Based around MG’s fingerpicked guitar and a simple bassline, the song’s observations are every bit as evocative as anything on Clifftown, and MG’s lap steel and Helen’s and Harriet’s strings add a divine sweetness.
MG seems to specialize in songs about local historical characters. On Clifftown, he recounted the tale of a search for the severed head of Simon of Sudbury, the Suffolk-born Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. This time around, the historical subject is Arabella Stuart, first cousin to King James I and a rival claimant to the throne of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth I. The song, Lady Arabella, considers the lady’s demise and her desperate effort to escape England via Southend. To an accompaniment of some delightful and dexterous acoustic guitar and more of Harriet’s delicious cello, MG tells Arabella’s story with respect and great feeling; Arabella waits at the quayside and imagines rejoining her family and loved ones in France and MG leaves the listener to speculate whether her escape attempt was successful. (It wasn’t… she was captured and imprisoned and died in 1615 after refusing to eat. Such is life.)
After our history lesson, Middle English returns to the study of the minutiae of seaside life. This time the subject is the habits and concerns of a moderately well-off family, and the details are set to a lovely backing of barely-audible guitar, soft piano, another magnificent violin/cello combo and flourishes of lap steel. It’s a fine song.
Now, It’s So Quiet, the final song in this short collection is the EP’s gentlest. MG is more Neil Young than James Taylor as he fingerpicks his classical guitar and delivers yet another finely-observational lyric – “I know the lives of men – they’re all thin as bible pages” – is a typical example. It’s a lovely ending to a lovely EP.
It appears that MG Boulter’s Clifftown project is still, very much, a work in progress. The project’s accompanying podcast can be accessed via MG’s website (see below) and MG has also collaborated with Focal Point Gallery’s experimental sound programme to present ‘Clifftown Sounds’, a sound piece which merges field recordings of Southend life with musical interludes performed by the artist and collaborators. It’s worth checking out, and you can do so here.
Listen to Now, It’s So Quiet – the EP’s closing track – here:
Categories: EP Review