Lush, alchemical dreamscapes. West country wizardry abounds on the new EP from Will Lawton & The Alchemists
Release Date: 17th March 2023
Label: Supermarine Music
Wiltshire-based ensemble Will Lawton & The Alchemists have quite a reputation for producing music that many find unclassifiable and, with their new EP, Alchemy, they provide an object lesson in exactly why and how they’ve earned that reputation. The three tracks that constitute the EP explore strands of jazz and 70s prog rock, toss in a slight essence of folk and what I’d call “heavy balladeering” and come up with a sound that is thoroughly unique. And thoroughly engaging, too, I might add.
Songwriter, pianist and sometime Music Therapist, Will has been around – in a number of guises for over 20 years. A sometime member of bands such as The Home Fires, Orangutan, The Heavy, Brontosaurus and The Zennor Project, he’s also recorded with numerous partners including Katey Brooks, Joe Holweger and noted Argentinian guitarist Ludwig Mack. Indeed, rumour has it that Will and Ludwig are currently in the process of completing an album that also features Guillem Mitchel and Jonah Jones. But that one’s for another day – let’s concentrate, for the moment, on Alchemy.
Will and The Alchemists – Buddy Fonzarelli (double bass), Amy Kaelyn (vocals and guitar), Harki Popli (table) and Will’s long-term collaborators Neil Muttock (electric guitar) and Weasel Howlett (drums) – first came together in 2015 and they’ve led an on/off kind of existence, wrapped around Will’s various other projects, ever since. They’ve already got two albums under their collective belt – most recently 2020’s Abbey House Session – and they’ve attracted quite a following in the South-West of England, partly as a result of their regular appearances on local radio.
Recorded at Bristol’s Play Pen Studios and produced by Patrrick Phillips (who’s done a marvelous job to produce a characteristic rich, lush, sound, by the way), the EP title is a reference to “the alchemical process of creativity [that fuses] Will’s masterful song-craft and the band’s dexterous flair for instrumental flourishes and lush, subtly evolving arrangements.” And, if that description (lifted from the album’s press release) all sounds rather grand, I think you’ll find that it makes perfect sense once you’ve spent some quality time with Alchemy.
Opening track, Daughter, is a special celebration of the unconditional love that we all (I hope) feel for our nearest and dearest. Cymbals scatter, pianos flutter and bass resonates as Will delivers delicious lines like “Wild as a bramble/ A child I would die for/ Then let her go chase a rainbow,” and Amy’s backing vocals are heavenly. This, truly, is music for the mind and body that would surely grace the room of anyone with the desire to absorb and dream. The percussion-driven improvisations are stunning and there’s a fantastic cohesion to the whole thing. And the lyrical deliberations are brought to a beautiful, solid, conclusion: “Time after time, I didn’t know that everything I loved could turn me blind.” That’s so true, and there’s evidence of the fact all around us, every day.
The EP’s lead single, Black Bricks, is a markedly less-ethereal affair. More Yes than Chic Corea, it’s a song with a real 70s prog feel. Will’s piano features strongly, but, in truth, it’s Buddy’s amazing bass lines that pull me in. This time the subject matter is frustration with the madness and cruelty of people behaving at the worst – but are the lyrics really “It’s a head-fuck day?” Listen for yourself and see…
This fascinating short collection is rounded off by Cast Iron, an abstract exploration of the quest to fulfill one’s dreams and ambitions. Packed with subtle and seamless mood changes, it’s a song that builds, bubbles and simmers as, first, jangly piano and bowed bass give way to a soft coalition of drums, bass, piano and tabla before Neil’s electric guitar bursts push things in an altogether heavier direction. And Amy’s lead vocal is superb – in the best traditions of Sonja or Annie Haslam.
Alchemy is an excellent EP packed with alchemical dreamscapes and west country wizardry and, if you feel like discovering the sheer delights of what Will Lawton & The Alchemists have to offer, I’d suggest that this is the time and place to start that quest.
And, if you’re in the neighbourhood, you might be interested to know that Will and the band will be at Malmesbury Town Hall on the evening of 5th May to launch the EP. Sounds like an interesting evening to me…
Watch the official video to Black Bricks – the EP’s lead single – here: