The Squire of Somerton’s Transverberations, and why you should get it

This article was originally published on Squawk The Talk. You should go check it out.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you definitely haven’t heard of The Squire of Somerton before. That’s a real shame, because that means you’ve missed out on the perfect soundtrack to lazy afternoons until now.

The Squire, more commonly known as Toby Jenkins, has played with Fort Lauderdale, Higamos Hogamus and Zan Pan. In 2003 he produced a solo album called Transverberations and it was woefully lost amidst the ohmyGodTheStrokesaresoamazing indie splurge of the early noughties. This was back before we’d managed to smother Liberty X and the same year good ol’ Fiddy was schilling Bacardi on his way to Liquid and Envy. Do you ever think we missed some opportunities as a society?

Transverberations, however, is a glorious psychadelic dream. It’s fine baroque pop with harmonies and interweaving melodies that rank with the best of them. More than that though, it’s a hazy trip which visits funk, shred, Doors-esque rock and cheeky sampling. It’s roots are firmly in the 60s, but the little flourishes, the leaps into more contemporary styles, make it charmingly unpredictable. At the first listen it washes over you, joyfully overloading the senses. All the other details I mention reveal themselves later.

In his own words, ‘The music seems to be like a diary for me. When I was working on Transverberations, during two beautiful summers in Somerset, I met an amazing lady. We would take some whisky and cola and cycle through the Somerset levels between West Pennard and Glastonbury, stopping in sun-drenched orange and purple fields along the way. Those were some of the most magical and romantic moments of my life.’

Made over the course of two years, it really was a labour of love. Much like Tom Scholz with Boston’s debut album, bedroom-folk mastermind Adem and others, Jenkins played nearly every single note on the album himself. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.

His voice is reminiscent of Devendra Banhart, another one who was dropped in the cauldron of psych when he was a baby, and he shares a similarly irreverent and satirical take in his lyrics. Whilst Devendra is more prone to delicate folk-influenced numbers they both have that quivering voice, tongue-in-cheek falsettos, heavy with tremolo and a whimsical delicacy.

He’s also a prodigiously talented guitarist who has a style that sits somewhere between Cream-era Clapton, Funkadelic and even touches of Steve Vai (only touches mind, this isn’t fret-wanking). Have a listen to Pumping Iron to get what I mean. Apparently he generally turned down the virtuoso thing for Fort Lauderdale, incidentally. Listening to Transverberations I can’t help but get the impression that he’s not trying that hard and that somewhere out there is an untested genius.

The album is still available on CD from Amazon, to download from LastFM and to stream on Spotify.

Jascha Heifetz

Perhaps the most alluring aspect of being a full-time author, aside from the women, fame, money, dru- Hang on, that’s rock and roll isn’t it. Dammit.

Anyway, perhaps the most alluring aspect of being a full-time author is the idea that I could justify spending my life learning new and interesting things (AKA trawl the internet incessantly). The latest discovery was made whilst reading up on Niccolò Paganini’s 24 frankly terrifying capriccios. As a lapsed violin player myself they have always inspired in me a special reverence.

You should know number 24 because it’s like Pachelbel’s canon – it’s just everywhere. It really is something else. What you may not have seen, however, is footage of Jascha Heifetz playing it. As I have just discovered, Heifetz was a Lithuanian-born American who showed the 20th century how you really play a violin. His dexterity in the pizzicato sections is truly staggering.

Late Gig Review #2: Two Gallants

Yes, they’re getting later, I know. My obvious tardiness aside, I went to see Two Gallants supported by The Hickey Underworld at the Electric Ballroom on 6th November. The main things I can remember about The Hickey Underworld are that they were Dutch, they were pretty raucous and listening to Primus on the way to the gig didn’t seem quite so inappropriate after they started. They’ll get a proper listen sometime but I can’t say too much about them now without making it up and they don’t deserve that…

2Gs though? Lovely 2Gs. For those of you who don’t know they are Adam Haworth Stephens and Tyson Vogel, two very talented chaps indeed. Like The White Stripes they strip it all down to a guitar and some drums but unlike The White Stripes they also often sound like a full band. There are countless tumbling picked riffs and blues-inspired tunes played like garage rock. The lyrics are superb in a literate fashion (I’m not going to say D**an, but you all know what I’m thinking) and Adam’s voice has a unique world-weary tone, strung out and sagacious.

The gig showed them back on form as well. I was a little wary after the mixed bag of their last album (the ol’ genius to meh quality mix) but it seems the break has cleansed their palettes. They have a new twist on their sound, shifting from raw garage rock to something fuller and heavier. There’s a new cheeky tone of humour too evident in songs like Willy. All of these things are good IMHO.

The moment of the gig was probably Broken Eyes where Tyson joined Adam at the microphone to sing harmonies. There’s something about the way they perform together that suggests they’re very close. Maybe I’m seeing what I want to see, but there’s a sensation of two travellers, nomads, worn out and dusty from the road, singing songs of the life they’ve seen out there. Something sadly missing from a lot of music these days.

Even better, the venue wasn’t utterly rammed to the gills. Having seen them on their last visit at the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, that was a relief. No more sweaty rooms with no security and a crowd WAY over capacity. No more streams of people surging past every two seconds to get drinks and pee. It was all very civilised indeed.

Both have worthy solo projects worth investigating too. Adam Haworth Stephens’ We Live on Cliffs is just as literate and bittersweet lyrically, but less overtly rawk compared to 2Gs. The Cities That You’ve Burned should turn you on with it’s cracking western saloon style piano alone. If not, well if not maybe don’t tell me because you’re wrong.

Tyson Vogel’s Devotionals (or One Gallant as my dad calls him) is the other direction. It’s predominantly just melodies, with a short poem thrown in for good measure, but is just gorgeous from start to finish. Acoustic melodies with strings to make your heart patter. Turns out Tyson is a talented guitarist as well.

Oh yes, and 62,006

Late gig review #1 – Godspeed You! Black Emperor

November proved to be one of my more organised months which means that I managed to get out and see some live music. I believe the appropriate phrase is, ‘Yay!’

So way back on the 4th November I saw Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the Kentish Town forum. First off, they are not normally the kind of band that I go to see. I don’t have a problem with post-rock and sprawling orchestrated crescendos lasting 20 minutes per se, but equally I like it more through headphones. I will confess to having had a bad experience at a Mogwai gig in the past too…

That said, I caught a stream of the new album, Hallelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (which I automatically dislike on editorial grounds for abuse of the exclamation mark) and really enjoyed it. Mladic in particular. So I was reasonably excited to go to the gig despite knowing pretty much exactly what was going to happen.

Which is exactly what happened. If I was being factual I would say that we stood there for a couple of hours whilst the band noodled away at full volume, the cellist slid fingers up and down the neck like a salacious teenager hoping for his first ever touch of boob, some guy waggled fingers and novelty-sized contact lenses in front of old projectors and the films prompted the comment from one of my friends, ‘I keep getting the feeling that they’re trying to do “Art” at me.’ No-one on stage moved. No-one in the crowd moved – apart from one guy who briefly made a misguided attempt to film part of it, but then realised his mistake was his alone and put the offensive LCD screen away in shame, but let’s not count him. If I was being entirely pedantic I’d say that I only worked out the first tune (track? song? expanse?) was Mladic about 20 minutes in, and that all four of the pieces performed sounded very similar indeed.

However, that would be to miss the point somewhat. For one thing the visuals were frequently hypnotic, with my favourite being an old film reel of a house spinning to random points and quickly being burnt through by a heated lamp. I’ve always been a sucker for fire, melting things and the like admittedly, but I couldn’t stop looking at it.

Much more importantly, was how I found myself utterly blissed out and reaching a point of quite surprising lucidity. I found myself thinking about the book (as I do a lot at the moment (49,635)) and a few of the significant problems and questions I had been avoiding simply dissolved. As I stood there washing myself in this massive cacophony I found it kind of unfolding in front of me. No more block, just a burning desire to write it all down before I forgot it all, in case the music was responsible. I didn’t always listen to the music, I didn’t need to, but I did roll around in a rare and productive clarity, smirking quite smugly to myself as it all started to fall into place.

It certainly wasn’t the best performance I’ve ever seen, but the experience was something very distinctive that I in all honesty treasure. I’m nervous to go back and try to recapture it in fact because I suspect this was one of those ephemeral moments that would only be diluted by greed, and I do try not to be greedy.