Seamus Cater & Viljam Nybacka
NETHERLANDS ANECDOTAL RECORDS ANEC01 LP (2012)
Armed only with a vintage Fender Rhodes Electric Piano and a mixed bag of brass and percussion, Anecdotal Records head honcho Seamus Cater, Viljam Nybacka and their chums Shahzad Ismaily, Jeff Carey and Eiríkur Orri Ólafson present a beautiful set of subterranean soul searching sad songs.
In the same way as a douser searches for water with nothing more than a pair of divining rods, Cater unveils epic songwriting from the barest means. Despite years living in the Netherlands, Cater’s voice, despite not being completely free of inflection or Essex / East-End mannerism 1 is, however, engaging and clear and this is to his obvious advantage because the stories he’s got to tell on this record are certainly worth listening to.
The content of each presents a starting point for fruitful and fascinating research if you’re that way inclined. Cater’s publicity, I suspect, will probably wax lyrically about his British folk music family roots and the weight of such a history – I am aware that there is a contemporary resurgence of interest in British folk revivalism by our nation’s more broadminded youth but I’m not sure that this is essential to the existence of this record. In demonstration of his own contemporary folk-music credentials, Cater’s previous output has included a touring project with experimental banjo artiste Uncle Woody Sullender which resulted in a record on Dead Ceo called When We Get to Meeting.
One thing I must commend Mr Cater on is bringing the fascinating and obscure 1970s conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader to my attention on his very first song. He goes on to document the notable parts of another five historic figures’ lives to edifying effect. He does this in a poetic way with his lyrics and with the stripped back arrangements he employs on the limited palette of instruments. You get the feeling that every recorded sound is given much thought – Cater even employs a man – Jeff Carey – whose sole job on ‘Bas Jan Ader’ is simply stated as “reverb”.
‘Bas Jan Ader’ could be as much about Donald Crowhurst, another lone sailor who disappeared at sea six years before Jan Ader. Minimal Rhodes and drums. The line “…the second half of the trilogy / was to be left incomplete” refers to the fateful voyage being part of an unfinished piece of work by Jan Ader. Cater is indeed a skilled wordsmith albeit blessed with a slightly mannered vocal style; on the line “blow, blow the man down”, he sounds like he’s got a mouthful of soft fruit. On the end, the Morse Code for “Mayday!” is played on one-finger reed organ.
On the next track, ‘Muybridge Last Stand’, the duo utilise jaunty Rhodes piano paired with a muted trumpet. Cater has written some nice wonky lines like “when we touch / I’m such / a klutz”. The trumpet and horns are written and performed by Eiríkur Orri Ólafson.
Cater states ‘The Folk Music’ is about Ewan MacColl and the 50s-60s folk revival. Vocals and Rhodes only to start. This puts me in mind of an obscure uk band called Red Peal from the early 2000s who used a similar format to great effect. An accordion joins in. and a ukulele? Cater sings “who found the folk music? / who sang the folk music? / who made the folk music?” This prompts the question what exactly does Seamus Cater stand for? Is he a folk archaeologist or is he just interested in the trend for imagined neo-folk utopias?
The first track on side two is ‘Early Riser’. This one is about the ever-popular Salford painter LS Lowry. Cater can’t help but put in a dab of humour and a stroke of irony; “…I died nineteen six seventy / And Salford ain’t a place you want to be / But I heard they got / A new gallery”. While on the third track ‘The Piano’, “…Prokofiev was reportedly trying to outlive Stalin but didn’t manage…”
It is perhaps a bold move to release something like this in today’s market – i.e. a truly meaningful, understated yet emotional and personal version of popular song in an age of massive-scale live television trial by ordeal, such as X-Factor and The Voice not to mention the heinous new Westlife album and so forth. There’s a beautiful double-tracked harmony on the line “…you have been selected…” on ‘The Softest Horns’. Cater enunciates in a similar way to Syd Barrett or Robert Wyatt – I don’t mean he sounds anything like these singers – they all sing in their own voice/accent/dialect/whatever; not in the way you’re “supposed to” these days.
Vinyl edition of 500 of which this one in front of me is number 52, and includes a digital copy download code.
- At the time of writing, this could be said to be on-trend in popular song post Kate Nash. ↩