Brighton band David Devant & His Spirit Wife fortuitously formed in 1992 circa the genesis of britpop. Their very moniker a sure indication of the insistent need to stand out from the logo-friendly laddish punchiness of their contemporaries.
Frontman singer, guitarist and keyboard player Mikey Georgeson’s stage persona was known as the Vessel. To the uninitiated, he could be mistaken as being called David Devant.
That definitely confused me as a fanzine-writing NME-reading 20-something at the time. But Mikey (born 1967) derived his band’s name from a used copy of ‘My Magic Life’, the autobiography of the noted English stage magician David Devant (1868-1941), and he proclaimed he was Devant’s ‘Vessel’. The rest of the band is reassuringly David-free: Foz Foster on guitar, Jem Egerton on bass and Graham Carlow on drums.
Given the thumbs up by DJ Mark Radcliffe after the release of their debut album Work, Lovelife, Miscellaneous in 1997; they quickly wowed audiences with their early Bowie accessibility coupled with their own brand of smooth tongue-in-cheek art rock.
Over 20 years on, they are still going – via differing band member personas and legendary hiatuses. Like the vinyl medium, they have never been away. In December 2019, they premiered their fourth album Cut Out And Keep Me with a key show at the Water Rats in King’s Cross, supported by Micko and the Mellotronics.
During the current COVID 19 lockdown, they have just released a double A-side Single, ‘Taking My Time’ and ‘When Nature Calls’.
Here are eleven songs that epitomise their quirky musicality with the upfront lyrics serving as refined sensibility.
An aptly bombastic beginning to their 1997 debut album Work Lovelife, Miscellaneous. All about ‘does what it says on the tin’ social ostracism. Immediately hard-hitting in an accusatory way and accelerated by fruity organ flourishing. Infectiously underpinned with lashings of wah wah guitar in the bridge. A classic album opener in the manner of ‘Janie Jones’ and ‘Girls & Boys‘.
2. ‘Miscellaneous’. Beautifully introduced with heat haze strumming, reminding me of an upbeat imaginary ‘End Of The Season’ side to the Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’. This comes across like a cautionary tale and a critique of the bourgeoisie, and it is not easy to deny the metaphorical impact of “people in glass houses seldom throw parties”.
3. ‘I Think About You’. This has a serious post-‘Penny Lane’ affectation about it. The Vessel Sounds like David Bowie circa ‘67 at the height of his Anthony Newley penchant. Keep listening for a funkier surprise amid the ‘all over the shop’ toy town-ness of it all.
4. ‘Reinvent The Wheel’. Like ‘I Think About You’; this is a trademark lyrical Devantian labyrinth and a musical cousin of T.Rex’s ‘Ballrooms Of Mars’. The Vessel eventually gains control and sardonically executes the song’s proverbial refrain. The band eventually gear up proceedings with a loose rocky scene-shifting jam which evolves into total psychedelic disorientation. You actually fear for the Vessel. No kidding!
5. ‘This Is For Real’. Similar to the protagonist’s narrative in Orwell’s novel ‘Coming Up For Air’, this song is initially provincially nostalgia-driven, and by default, seems to re-cast the Beach Boys as if they chose the English Mock Tudor suburbs rather than a Surfin’ Safari as their idyllic base.
6. ‘21’. Like a dark prophecy of the Buzzcocks’ ‘Sixteen’. This is a dubiously-direct affair, telling of an altar boy’s confusion over the pleasures of the flesh and his religion. The spidery guitar hangs insidiously as if mocking the boy’s dilemma.
7. ‘Space Daddy’. A quantum leap. This is 70s space rock to the hilt. It seems to have no lyrical purpose except to convey the omnipresence of ‘The Guru’. A potential rival for Galactus from ‘The Fantastic Four’?
8. ‘About It’. A brilliant conglomerate of Banshees circa Juju-style guitar; early 00s coffee bar and literary references; mid-period Clash drive, and music hall falsetto.
9. ‘Gentleman Jim’. Simply rolls off the tongue. An existentialist narrative-centric character song. Metallic Sci fi-sounding guitar and the essence of ‘Hunky Dory’ prevail. Light years away from the somewhat unfulfilled Raymond Briggs character namesake.
10. ‘Cut Out And Keep Me’. A recent ‘comeback’ number from the eponymous album. Beginning with low-key arpeggiated ‘House Of The Rising Sun’– style guitar. It is a prime vehicle for the Vessel’s both deadpan and rigidly flamboyant stage presence. The refrain eventually is spat out in a punky but ‘hanging in mid-air’ Bob Dylan fashion.
11. ‘When Nature Calls’. Coupled as a double A-side with the lockdown single, ‘Taking My Time’. This was written partly as a grieving process, but also as a celebration of the natural world. It is meditative to be considered an ‘Albatross’ for the Springwatch generation. Urbane in the ‘burbs? Most certainly!
David Devant & His Spirit Wife play ‘The Balcony’, an online music festival in aid of The Mental Health Foundation on 20th June.