Calm Down Grandad

We last took note of the fine English combo Hamilton Yarns in February 2011. We received Calm Down Grandad (HARK! 018) on 2nd November 2012, meaning that the limited pressing of 70 copies with a silkscreen insert has probably long since sold out [1. Actually it is still available from their shop at time of writing.], but the “quaint” music of this Brighton-based team is always worth investigating. The team of Paxon, Strachan, Colvert, Bissa and Homewood all seem to share a basic “gentle” approach to playing their instruments, treating the accordions and Wurlitzer electric pianos like old friends where only a delicate touch is needed to bring a generous response.

On this release the intention has been to paint pictures – probably executed with basic geometric shapes and rendered in bright primary colours – of an imaginary English workaday world where nothing much happens, and “a man lost in the sea mist” or “dogs on beaches” are regarded as major events on the horizon. These very fleeting impressionistic sketches are occasionally enhanced by unobtrusive field recordings, and the low-key vocals of the singers – unfailingly sung in a deliberately poised English accent without a trace of affectation, and with lyrics intuitively structured to resemble passing fancies of the mind rather than the all-out sloganeering of any given “rock” song. Even the title “Calm Down Grandad” feels like something the band would actually say (in the kindest possible way) to an elderly relative at a tea party; the same phrase in the mouth of a Roger Daltrey or a John Lennon would simply be a classic put-down of the older generation.

I think there is much to be said for the “collective” approach of a group like this. Imagine if Hamilton Yarns were just one person, and we’d probably have no problem writing it off as the eccentric musings of a lone genius. Instead, there is strength and continuity in the fact that the five of them can apparently dream together, sharing the same evanescent images within the comfort of the hive mind. Now I’m a big fan of the Ghost Box project, which has a similar toe-hold in a semi-imaginary 1970s England, and whose creators go to great lengths to reimagine and make real by all means at their disposal. Yet Ghost Box can seem slightly contrived next to the charming, natural, and very sincere Hamilton Yarns.