Terence Blacker – Meanwhile… : Album Review

Another dose of gentle, upbeat, defiance and satire from author, columnist and singer-songwriter, Terence Blacker

Release Date: 2nd December 2022

Label: Self release

Format: CD / download

We’ve met Terence Blacker before.  Back in April, 2020, we were pleasantly enchanted by the gentle satire sprinkled over his album, Playing For Time.  Readers with long memories will recall that April 2020 was the month in which lockdown had just begun to bite, and we were heartened and invigorated by the warmth and good humour that Playing For Time brought to our state of confinement.  Lockdown may now be but a distant memory but, as Terence points out in the cover notes to his new collection, Meanwhile…, the daily news continues to resemble a horror story, and with this new collection, he offers lots of reminders life isn’t too bad, really, provided we keep ourselves grounded in the things that really matter.

Terence is probably better known for his exploits as a writer – of children’s books such as his acclaimed 1987 offering, If I Could Work, and the Ms Wiz series of stories, of novels such as The Fame Hotel (1992) and Fixx (1989) or as a columnist for The Sunday Times and The Independent.  But, alongside his writing commitments, Terence has also taken the time to establish himself as an articulate singer-songwriter very much in the mould of Jake Thackray, George Brassens or Tom Lehrer, with a remarkable talent for deconstructing everyday situations and frustrations and placing them firmly in perspective.

Playing For Time received widespread plaudits when it appeared back in 2020 – and not just from At The Barrier; it featured in the Sunday Times Top Hundred Albums of 2020 list – and, as 2022 draws to its close, the turbulent changes of the past 18 months or so have provided the material for a long-awaited follow-up.  Meanwhile… doesn’t disappoint; as the album’s press release is keen to point out, the eleven songs on offer manage to cover all of the Seven Deadly Sins, with a few 21st-century ones thrown in for good measure!

The craziness of the human world, in sharp contrast to the delights and stability of nature, provides the subject matter for the title track, the album’s opener.  It’s a guitar and piano rag – with some wonderful keyboard tinkling from guest Dom Pipkin – and the lyrics waste no time in getting straight to the point; as financial institutions crash, scandals abound and dwindling incomes are squandered on games of chance, the animals around us continue to go about their dignified daily business.  Gentle, civilized and smooth as silk it may be, but the lyrics take no prisoners as we are reminded that “It was here when we got here – let’s help keep it rollin’ after we are gone.”

Terence accompanies himself on guitar – and makes a very decent fist of doing so – for the wordy, contemplative, Other People’s Lives, a meditation on the mysteries of family, friends and strangers, before moving on to My Little Blue Book, a delightful song that considers the pleasure to be drawn from browsing one’s own private memories.  To a pleasant ragtime tune with a nice shuffling drum rhythm, Terence articulates that state that we all enjoy from time to time as we get lost in our own thoughts – “Now – in my eyes, sometimes, you might find a far-away look.  That distant stare means I’m off somewhere, I’ve got my head in a book.”  And I love the way that Terence manages to rhyme “Hello” with “Francois Truffaut!”

The restoration of self-esteem takes centre stage, as Terence recognizes that he’s become a Pale Stale Male and sings: “When I was young, I was a man about town.  The women gave me no peace.  Now, if I smile, they’d run a mile – I’m like a social disease.”  But, happily, he’s able to describe the ease by which he accepts his advancing years, as he adds: “But you won’t catch me complaining, now I’m kind of out of the loop,” – a reassuring message to those of us who find ourselves in that same onward-drifting boat.  And, for the first time on the album, Terence’s vocals are accompanied by something approaching a full band, with bass, drums, electric guitar and handclaps each playing a subtle part in a tune that could almost be described as funky.

The benefits of aging and maturity are also contemplated in the wonderful The Couple Next Door, an ‘Autumnal love song’ that celebrates the joys of ordinary life and long-term love and companionship.  I particularly love how Terence describes giving up the raucous nightlife in favour of a glass of wine, a video and a favourite chair – something else that will, no doubt resonate strongly with listeners of a certain age.  Terence’s novel The Twyning, the tale of Efren the rat and his companions ‘Dogboy”’Peter and streetgirl Caz, provided the inspiration for the fairground-flavoured The Swells Were Singing ‘After The Ball.’  One of the songs on the album that most strongly evokes the spirit of the late Mr Thackray, it’s an eerie, slightly disturbing song in which an evil ‘gentleman collector”’meets his well-deserved comeuppance…

You can say what you like about lockdown, but there’s no doubt that the enforced period of domestic isolation produced plenty of good songs, and Terence’s Everyday Hero is surely one of the best from that batch.  The song opens and closes with recorded quotes from comedy ex-Prime Minister Johnson and is packed with priceless lyrics praising inactivity and stereotypical lockdown behaviour; I particularly enjoyed the refrain of “Sitting on my arse, sitting on my arse, sitting on my arse for England!”

Dom Pipkin makes a welcome return to the piano stool for The Way Of The World, a frantic whizz through a sequence of life’s encounters – with a rough-sleeper, a prostitute and, finally, The Grim Reaper, and, happily, he stays put for the wonderful Keep The Faith, a nice bluesy rag with a 1930s feel.  At a time when the news seems to get more gruesome by the day, it’s a timely reminder that what’s really important is to cherish our relationships and to look after each other.  It’s comforting and reassuring and it’s impossible to resist whistling along to Dom’s sparkly piano.  I don’t often get the oft-voiced comparison between Terence’s light satire and the more sardonic brand offered by Loudon Wainwright III, but the similarities are plain to see in Keep The Faith.

I’m sure that every reader will be familiar with someone for whom nothing is ever right, and who makes sure that we are all aware of his/her dissatisfaction with life.  Some people are just born that way, and, in the hilarious Moanin’ Joe, Terence captures that demeanour perfectly, with lines like: “From when he was a baby, he grizzled day and night – his mother tried to feed him through the din.  But he didn’t like the left tit, and he didn’t like the right.  Neither tit was good enough for him.”  Joe meets a messy end when his gas-filled lower intestine explodes but even heaven fails to bring any satisfaction as, when Joe takes his place alongside his heavenly host, he discovers that “He didn’t like the father and he didn’t like the son, and he really couldn’t stand the holy ghost.” I don’t think I’ll be able to resist calling my own miserable friend “’Moanin’ Joe’ from now on!

And so to the end.  This comforting, reassuring and occasionally hilarious album is brought to its close with Not Quite Done – one final piece of fun that recounts the tale of a DIY enthusiast who meets with an unfortunate end but which delivers a simple, inspiring message: Never give up – you’re never quite finished.

Meanwhile… is an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable album.  Producer Lukas Drinkwater has done an excellent job in giving priority to Terence’s lyrics, whilst allowing space for some first-class musicianship from Terence and Dom.  It’s already been suggested that Meanwhile… strikes a defiantly upbeat note for our uncertain times; and upbeat defiance is, ultimately, the quality that will see through to calmer seas.

Listen to Other People’s Lives, a track from the album, here:

Terence Blacker online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube / Soundcloud

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