In short, it’s why we do what do. In a parallel universe, a million miles away from the carefully marketed, PR-spun world of the music business proper, there are other people making great music. Making and releasing it, often pouring their life savings into it simply because they believe in it, rather than as part of some A&R man’s career plan.
That’s definitely the space that Jonny Squid inhabits, although if you’re looking for a more physical grid reference then somewhere close to the Welsh borders is a good place to start looking. Ironic, really, because what Rosebud, his self-released second album is, above all, is an exercise in extending and embellishing a specific and great English songwriting tradition that starts with cheeky music hall and winds its way through Syd Barrett’s gentle acid tinges, Robert Wyatt, John Martyn, both Ian and Baxter Dury, Madness. Morrissey and Pete Doherty – well, when he’s on form anyway.
As that glorious roll call, as well as Squid’s name should tell you, there’s more than a hint of unashamed eccentricity seeping out of everything here, both in his wry observational lyrics and a musical palate that spans everything from psychedelic pop to rough DIY disco and interstellar space rock. Opening track ‘Morris Minor’ sets the tone of nostalgia viewed through slightly surreal rather than rose tinted glasses, with Ben Crosland’s piano and Ben McLeod’s ukulele intertwining in a gleeful jig, before the title track ‘Rosebud’ kicks up the energy levels with a chugging Eurodisco thrust that’s wonderfully out of step with a lyrical tribute to the joys of the countryside experienced first thing in the morning.
If that sounds a little quaint for your tastes, ‘We The People’ takes a revolutionary and righteously angry turn, like a rock version of ‘Peter Gunn’ matched by a rabble rousing narrative about greedy bankers, media moguls and burning children. If Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t adopt it as his entrance music at this year’s Labour conference then he’s an idiot.
Other highlights? There are quite a few to mention. The ‘Victoriana’, the vaguely creepy trip past glowing gaslamps and down cobbled lanes, the brass section jumping out on your round unexpected corners. There’s something sinister lurking here, it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what, but it’s palpable.
Then there are the vulnerable, sung from the heart ‘Tiny Little Fly’ and ‘Weight of the World’, both with leanings towards Nick Drake’s cheerier, livelier moments, or ‘Micro Macro‘, a lithe but laid back meditation on the wisdom of a truanting schoolchild as viewed from light years away from our galaxy.
That’s followed by the properly spaced out ‘Pale Blue Dot’, the album’s closing track, with Crosland providing the kind of pan-sonic synthesiser throbbing that keenly suggests a mis-spent but damn enjoyable youth spent listening to Gong and Hawkwind. The song itself, meanwhile, bears a distinct whiff of Barrett-era Floyd, only given a rock solid and much meatier backbeat by drummer Matthew Devenish.
It’s impressive enough that Squid has managed to assemble this impressive bunch of musicians to execute his delightfully peculiar vision, and even more so the fact that somehow he’s managed to get it pressed into a sumptuous gatefold-sleeved vinyl package with beautiful artwork that proves why the format is still top dog with people who care about their music. But most impressive of all is the songs – a whole heap of them that will follow you round and jump out of memory banks when you least expect it. If that’s what you like – and who doesn’t – then rest assured, you’ll be Squids in here.
Rosebud is out now on Laughing Records.