Thursday, January 15, 2009

Brinsley Schwarz is beautiful

There isn't much rational about which bands or artists people latch onto as their favourites. Whenever I try to triangulate my tastes the results don't work: how can I like Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Wishbone Ash but not Genesis, Led Zep and U2? I don't think that it is coincidental that my attachment to these bands was formed in the late 70s when I was a teenager. It's odd, now, looking back: when people talk about 1977, or 1976, as the year of punk, I remember it as the year that I bought Pink Floyd's 60s albums. Almost all of my listening was an exercise in rediscovery. Unlike the purist muso, who loves nothing better than knowing of some obscure work of which nobody else has heard, I have always felt isolated: surely I can't be the only one who likes Patrik Fitzgerald?

Brinsley Schwarz: Brinsley Schwarz (1970)

My interest in Brinsley Schwarz was first inspired by recognising that the guitarist in The Rumour used to have a band; when I found that it also contained Ian Gomm and Nick Lowe, both of whom I had heard and liked, it seemed likely that I would also like it. I did, I suppose, although it was a bit of a shock: 50s and 60s retro, country rock, reggae, all in a strange mix with sharp lyrics.

Listening now, what you notice is the super-abundance of talent: a Hammond organ riff is overlain by sparkling melodic guitar, punctuated by a bubbling bass line, creating a joyous noise packed full of grace notes. The group stands head and shoulders above their contemporaries.

You can see, though, why they never broke through. Quite apart from the early hostility of the music press, who felt they'd been hyped, the records they made weren't really pop, any more than Nick Lowe's work is now. Good, yes, pop, no. And there is a thinness to the writing: every album has a couple of fillers, and the reliance as a fall-back on good-time rock and roll cliches can get wearing. I guess I'm trying to justify my opinion that, as all muso purists say, the early stuff is the best:

"Warm summer morning with nothing to do
Over my shoulder there's a beautiful blue
Guess I'll walk the four miles to Ebury Down
Go to see my lady when there's noone around"

Ebury Down (Nick Lowe) from Despite It All

I find it impossible to listen to their music without smiling and thinking of summer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brinsley Schwarz! What else can I say.Bought their album with the Imdian on a paint horse around 1970. I found it while rummaging through record imports at Sam the Record Man on Yonge street, Toronto, Canada.The off-beat art work is why I bought it.Ballad of a Has-been Beauty Queen, Is still one of my all time favourites.I still listen to it all the time. John