LYR April 2023 Credit Katie Silvester

IN CONVERSATION : LYR “music is not completely outside the orbit of poetry”

It feels appropriate for LYR, poet Simon Armitage, singer and songwriter Richard Walters and musician and producer Patrick J Pearson, to appear on our Zoom call one by one from their respective homes across England.  LYR’s formation near enough a decade ago was created remotely – very ahead of the curve, in retrospect – initial contact made via Simon’s publisher, a dictaphone posted from man to man to man, carrying words and thoughts and field recordings formed gradually into songs. Still aided by a working from home ethos to a degree, LYR this week release second album The Ultraviolet Age, with emphasis from the outset firmly on how LYR are not an Armitage-the-Poet-Laureate-spoken-word-project-plus-band. Interviews are offered with all three, and today they’re on a day of back to back press. Does it feel rock n roll yet? Pat laughs. ‘Especially when we’re drinking a cup of tea or iced coffee in the morning and sat in our living rooms, I think, more rock’n’roll than I ever expected!’

LYR (Land Yacht Regatta) does not imply yacht rock – ye gads, can you imagine such combined with spoken word – but instead an element to represent each contributor and implying, explains Simon, a sense of contradiction. Richard and Pat nod in agreement. ‘’Like Sheffield Ski Village! We were throwing a lot of words around. And had a bit of a tussle with the previous label. I wanted to put all stops in between the letters and I think they thought that that would be a search (engine) problem. We are occasionally “Liar” in the mouths of some DJs but I like that we’ve got an abbreviation name, like a nickname, and a more formal “what the vicar calls us” name.’

Reading an interview not too long ago, the writer opined that Simon Armitage ‘is not your average Poet Laureate’. Because of the contemporary music aspect one supposes; but it is not, it is patiently pointed out, without precedent for poets to have a relationship with contemporary music and rhythms. On the contrary, it’s common and part of the creation of the lines and flows and rhthyms.

‘One thing I will say is that most poets that I know, and quite a lot of poet laureates work and worked on musical projects. Carol Ann (Duffy) often reads with a musician at her side and is accompanied in some of her poems,’ says Armitage. ‘John Dryden, first laureate, wrote song lyrics. And one of the last times I bumped into Ted Hughes was in Soho House with Pete Townshend from The Who, working on a musical opera. So I don’t see it as being you know, completely outside the orbit of poetry. (LYR) is probably just a bit more formalized.’

Musically ‘The Ultraviolet Age’ is a tough one to pigeonhole, from simple elegant sophistications to post-punk abrasiveness. What a palette and soundscape there is to enjoy; the enchanting and touching‘The Song Thrush and the Mountain Ash‘ encompasses so many feelings around the recovery after a collective estrangement following covid. LYR are protective and proud of the song, the version we swoon to now laregly unchanged from intial demo.

‘It’s a really special one for all of us, the first time we threw in all of our elements. The words came first and I played around with this piano loop, that didn’t really change, it just looped around, and Richard sent his parts back and all of those elements were so beautiful,’ says Pat.

‘If you listen very closely,‘ he adds, ‘you can hear when Richard’s first singing some sort of headphone bleed, Simon reading the poem. And we thought what we should actually redo that but that’s part of the the honesty about that first bit if we could just keep that in there and be brave’. The imperfections – should you choose to view it that way – enhance depth.

‘It feels like the emotional part of the record,’ adds Simon. ‘We’ve noticed quite a visceral reaction when we play it live. I think it’s quite a raw piece, very direct in terms of its narrative. It started life as a lyric that I wrote for Huddersfield Choral Society who wanted a piece to be put to music by a contemporary classical composer. And they’d already lost a couple of members to covid the during the early stages of the pandemic and all that project happened but I think I always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted that lyric to be something that we dealt with in our way as well. It’s become quite a sort of an emotional anchor.’
The first time they ever played it in front of an audience reveals Richard, was in a church. They made three attempts and each time the power went out in the whole building. ‘We couldn’t finish the track and maybe that was godly intervention or something!’

There’s a contrast between Armitage’s distinct Northern tones and the smooth elegance of Richard’s singing.  Does the latter see it as a call and response, especially on ‘Presidentially Yours’, landing well aimed blows at Donald Trump? Does it feel like a balance, yin and yang?  

‘I really love our voices synch together. And even though we’re not obviously harmonizing, on Presidentially Yours in particular, I find myself sometimes feeling like I’m the angel on the shoulder trying to fight the other corner. This guy is an absolute state and he’s a tyrant but maybe we should look behind what’s happening. What’s made him do that. “You don’t deserve me, please don’t desert me” – there’s probably a degree of desperation and sadness, but I love the way that we get to kind of go back and forth in the conversation, especially when we play the song live.’

Simon acknowledges his own writing leans towards the pessimistic, and concedes that what Pat creates musically around his words is much more uplifting. ‘And that’s the same with what Richard’s describing, that there is a sort of dialogue going on. It’s almost like one voice is the body and the other voice is the soul. And it’s very difficult to analyse, but I think sometimes there are natural and quite exciting contradictions within the music and that’s what keeps its edge and its energy. That’s what takes us back to the to the name of the band, these three things shouldn’t actually occur together. But when you do put them together, something unexpected happens and people do comment a lot about the contrast between my voice which is deadpan and a speaking voice really, and Richard’s which is something much more ethereal.’

‘Living Legend’ is the opposing end of the spectrum, a tribute of sorts to tribute and cover bands. Simon pictures it as a cartoon, possibly inspired by NME cartoonist Ray Lowry’s hilariously angry comic strip Only Rock’n’Roll’ from late 1970s, and early1980s. ‘The sort of guy who was absolutely dyed-in-the-wool rock and roll. I was trying to recreate him in language and I feel quite sympathetic towards him even though he’s you know, going through all the cliches.It gets a bit ranty and a bit shouty but it’s poking gentle fun I think rather than being intentionally critical. And maybe there’s a little bit of self-parody going on.’

‘Seasons Out Of Phase’ is such a simple song, romantic in the broader sense, and encompasses a further post-lockdown vibe on the record. Richard sings of ‘walking home on bubblewrap’, that careful sense of elation, unsettling laughter underneath.

‘There’s a sense of stumbling around in in bewildering light, into a slightly changed and overexposed place,‘ says Simon. ‘So there are shaky moments and so on and I didn’t know that Pat was going to put that that laughter track in there, but it fits because it’s manic. Over excitement that’s bordering on the disturbing.’ There’s humour in there too; the line ‘FYI it’s LYR’ raises a smile. A gift to t-shirt merch, they joke.

It’s been a slow build to The Ultraviolet Age, yet groundbreaking in it own way; the record is the first out on EMI North, partnered with Clue Records and Come Play With Me. ‘The enterprise is trying to decentralise the record industry. Leeds is an amazing, vibrant city with an incredible music scene. We were really excited about being part of that,’ says Richard. There’s a tour to look forward to in the autumn It’s worth asking when the threesome became to view themselves as a band exactly, rather than a postal project.

‘We’re still waiting on that to happen,’ Richard jokes. ‘But this is album number two. It feels like a really exciting, new starting point.’

LYR – The Ultraviolet Age is released Fri 30 June 2023 on Clue Records / EMI North

Acoustic set and signing:
Sun 2 July – Leeds ,Crash Records.

Live dates:
Sat 23 Sep – Leeds, Howard Assembly Room
Sun 24 Sep – Manchester, The Deaf Institute 
Tue 26 Sep – Edinburgh, The Mash House 
Wed 27 Sep – Sunderland, Pop Recs 
Fri 29 Sep – Margate, Where Else? 
Sat, 30 Sep – Stowmarket, John Peel Centre 
Sun 1 Oct – Bristol, Redgrave Theatre 
Wed 4 Oct – London, Hoxton Hall 
Thu 5 Oct – Coventry, Warwick Arts Centre

LYR photo credit: Katie Silvester

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