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Henry Priestman - The Last Mad Surge of Youth

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 2 / 3 / 2014

Henry Priestman - The Last Mad Surge of Youth
Label: Proper Records
Format: CD


Thoughtful but warm-spirited second solo album from former Christians member, Henry Priestman

In the run-up to the 2005 General election, Conservative leader Michael Howard – unable to get his party to agree about anything much – fell back on a tired message of europhobia and immigrant-bashing. For the campaign, he toured a country around which his marketing men had plastered a poster asking “Are you thinking what we're thinking?” A weary country concluded that it wasn't. Instead, with a sigh, Britain re-elected a Prime Minister who was largely disliked and distrusted (and that just within his own party) and who had eroded any remaining good will by buddying-up with a hated President for a disastrous war. The turnout for this election was as low as it had ever been. In my view, politics in the UK has never recovered. Henry Priestman captures the feeling we've had as a country since then when he sings, “Same circus, different clowns, new faces/But the same old crowd... and the fools are making the rules/Still running this town/It's a money-go-round”. He sings this over a jolly ukulele rhythm, with wailing harmonicas, a pedal steel and a banjo. He might feel hopeless (“the more I know, the less I understand”) but he can still sing, and he's wise enough to know he'll be here long after David Cameron has left for the lecture circuit. ‘The Last Mad Surge of Youth’ is, of course, a slyly chosen title. Priestman is considerably older than the average folk-singer on his second album. Indeed, the song that launched that solo career was ‘Grey's the New Blue’. Priestman is best known as the main songwriter for the Christians, and has since carved out a hugely successful niche as a songwriter/composer for hire (you'll know much more of his music than you'd think). His move into being a solo singer-songwriter seems to have happened by accident. But, too many people enjoyed the first album for there not to be a second. This is a sad album, with several songs referring to the deaths of his mother and mother-in-law (who both passed away while the album was being recorded). On the title-track, Priestman may conclude by singing, “Here's to a last mad rush, and to the last mad surge of youth”, but he only really lets go when he sings ‘I'm the Saddest Man Alive’. He is playing up to his 'grumpy-old-man' status when he sings “I've got to rant and rave now, before I get too old” - but the ballad 'I Cried Today' is quietly devastating. And yet, the whole record feels warm – Priestman may be world-weary and even battle scarred, but he is never bitter (in spite of his request for a ‘Pint of Bitter and Twisted’ on the last track). His singalong melodies are elevated by some beautiful arrangements – from the clumsy, charming church hall band that opens the album to the country shuffle of ‘In My Head’ and the choir that leads into the light jazz of ‘Valentine Song’. The song that sums the record up is ‘We Used to Be You’, a tender song for a teenager who has recently left home - “We'll see you in the summer, for a few days if you can./Don't forget to call your mother, but if you do she'll understand/We'll understand... but it's so hard to say goodbye.” It's tender, but direct. Touching, but not overly sentimental. It deserves to be a hit – a song that will tug at most heartstrings, while avoiding every pop cliché. But you know it won't be. Just as you know that the “Common Sense” Priestman pleads for on his political songs will never win-the-day. But, in spite of all that, three quarters of an hour spent in the company of this album will offer plenty of consolation for whatever nonsense you get from the rest of modern life.

Track Listing:-
1 At the End of the Day
2 True Believer
3 We Used To Be You
4 Goodbye Common Sense
5 Valentine Song
6 In My Head
7 The Last Mad Surge of Youth
8 Rant 'N' Rave
9 Huntin' and Gatherin' (Ain't What I
10 Same Circus, Different Clowns
11 I Cried Today
12 A Pint of Bitter and Twisted, Pleas
13 We Used To Be You (Part 2)
14 You Can't Eat Integrity
15 We're All Farmers Underneath

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Interview (2014)
Henry Priestman - Interview
Ben Howarth talks to Henry Priestman, the much acclaimed main songwriter and former keyboardist with the Christians, about his new career as solo artist and second album, 'The Last Mad Surge of Youth'

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