Second full collaboration between Slapp Happy and XTC luminaries once again bears highly creative fruit
With a collective age of 120 years between them, you might have expected two lesser musicians to slide on some slippers, spark up a pipe of rough shag, pour themselves pints of Grumble Guts and deliver an album of sleepy blues or retirement rock. But, this is Peter Blegvad and Andy Partridge, two fellas who have spent their entire lives recording canons of imaginative music that hasn't perched itself on a fence or failed to deliver.
Blegvad has previously crafted some curios with '70s proggers Slapp Happy, then Henry Cow, one of Virgin Record's earliest signings. Also from a Virgin background, Partridge and his highly-revered XTC remain my favourite band of all time which might translate to you, dear reader, as a done deal when it comes to reviewing his material, solo or collaborative. Yeah, whatever. It probably will again.
Gonwards is the pair's second 'proper' collaboration, although their entwined recorded history together can be traced back to those joyful Virgin days when Blegvad and Partridge collided on the former's under-rated debut-album The Naked Shakespeare in the '80s. The friendship continued on Blegvad's super King Strut set in 1990 and reared its head properly as a joint-effort in 2003 when the duo created Orpheus - The Lowdown for Partridge's Ape imprint.
So, as you might not have expected, Gonwards sounds more like the product of two impish schoolboys playing with musical toys rather than a couple of long-in-the-tooth eccentrics. The opening song The Devil's Lexicon gradually builds itself up from humble spoken-word beginnings to a fully-blown bluesy barnstormer, littered with literary verbiage and imagery all fired up with slide guitar and harmonica playing from key contributors Stu Rowe and Billy Jones.
From this moment on, the songs duck and dive in various guises, with widescreen cinematic descriptives on The Cryonic Trombone, furtive ghostly goings-on during Sacred Objects and a string of infectiously catchy pop songs in the shape of St Augustine Says and the totally superb The Impeccable Dandy In White, which is the first example of ukelele playing I've heard this century that hasn't made me want to turn one into matchsticks. Both songs would make great singles, the second being the album's highlight.
Rather than being an intended study of the blues, this album is a thesis on playful ingenuity and repeated playing rewards throughout these ten songs, some reminiscent of the story-bound interludes found on Dukes of Stratosphear's Psonic Psunspot. Most are definitely from Blegvad's clever brain or the product of Partridge's keen ear for perfect pin-sharp arrangements resulting in all songs being crammed full of mystery, merriment and melodic masterstrokes. A gem. A real gem. And all out of someone's shed....
Get the CD/ltd CD from Ape here