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Vinny Peculiar - Silver Meadows

  by John Clarkson

published: 29 / 7 / 2016

Vinny Peculiar - Silver Meadows
Label: Shadrack and Duxbury
Format: CD


First-rate concept album from English singer-songwriter and musician Vinny Peculiar, which was inspired by his experiences in the 1980s and early 1990s working as a mental health nurse

Like the great Ray Davies with so much of his work with the Kinks, Vinny Peculiar’s lyrics initially take centre stage on his new album, ‘Silver Meadows’. His first concept album, ‘Silver Meadows’ takes its inspiration from the fifteen year period Peculiar, a former nurse, spent working in various mental institutions and long stay hospitals during the 1980s and early 1990s. It captures a world of contrasts in which while some patients plan escape others have become totally institutionalised and in which periods of dull, regimented routine are broken up by both patient episodes and sudden eruptions of violence. The scene-setting opening track ‘The Institution’ chronicles a day and night on the wards, an environment in which for all its clockwork monotony staff have to be on permanent watch (“Staff nurse counts the cutlery/Makes another pot of tea”) and several of the female inhabitants have spent their entire adult lives (“They tell you crazy stories about a missing child/The punishment in those days was to throw away the key”). On ‘The Saviour of Challenging Behaviour’ a psychologist falls foul of his hospital managers with his radical ideas for change and becomes “a dead man walking”. Despite his swift exit, he, however, has a permanent liberating effect on many of his patients (“We have to set these people free/Let them be who they want to be/Let them see their time is coming”). In counterbalance to that though, the protagonist of the title track, a former patient unable to cope with the outside world, happily returns to the institution, wanting its familiarity and routine (“Going back to Silver Meadows/ Same old faces working there/Stan the caretaker still smiling/And Jenny she cuts your hair/I lived here when I was young and I felt so safe and sound”). Peculiar also writes poetry, and his words are so alluring, his description of this insular world of the mental institution so enticing that it takes a few hearings of ‘Silver Meadows’, before the music, which is for the most part low and understated in the mix, starts to emerge from behind his vocals. Then it proves equally gripping – a stark piano, which is the only other instrument than Peculiar’s voice, on ‘The Institution’ has an almost hymnal quality; ‘The Saviour of Challenging Behaviour’ is backed by a softly chiming folk tune which complements perfectly the wistful lyrics, and the breezy, hazy pop of the title track captures its central character’s euphoria at being back at what he sees as home. ‘Albert’ - about a permanently escaping man-child – appears in the second half of ‘Silver Meadows’, and, in contradiction to the reflective tone of much of the rest of the record, is a surprising sing-a-long number, its boisterous, swaggering tune and chanted chorus helping to nail the farce and tragi-comedy of much of its lyrics (“Six fat coppers brought him back to the ward/Six fat coppers couldn’t hold him down/No soon as they returned him he was back into town”). Peculiar, however, saves his best trick to last. After ‘Waiting Games’, a semi-acoustic love song with a twist in which a paraplegic mute with locked-in intelligence falls for his attentive new psychologist (“Anyone will do/Anyone/I just hope that it is you”), it concludes with the doomy ‘The Back Wards’. About the infamous, now closed back wards which still existed as late as the 1980s and in which hard-to-manage patients were housed and were regularly beaten up and assaulted (“You better behave or they’ll send you away/Send you away to the back wards/Just settle down and do as you’re told or they’ll make you pay on the back wards”), it starts slowly, building gradually up with the aid of synthesised strings, before crashing down in its final moments in a mass of distorted guitar lines and turbulence and, after the restraint of much of the rest of ‘Silver Meadows’, bringing the album to a shocking, startling conclusion. ‘Silver Meadows’ is an astonishingly powerful record, one of both musical and lyrical contrasts, and which captures with both humour and poignancy both the monotony and horror of being in a mental institution. It is an enthralling album and a remarkable achievement.

Track Listing:-
1 The Institution
2 Everyone Has Something to Say
3 This Is What I Do Now
4 The Saviour of Challenging Behaviour
5 Community Care
6 Hospital Wing
7 Room Management
8 Silver Meadows
9 Albert
10 Self Help Skills Unit
11 Gerald the Porter
12 Wednesday Club
13 Waiting Games
14 The Back Wards

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Interview (2022)
Vinny Peculiar - Interview
Singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar talks to John Clarkson about his 'three quarters' modern art-themed latest album, 'Artists Only'.
Interview (2020)
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Interview (2016)
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Interview (2014)
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The Image That Made Me Weep (2020)
Vinny Peculiar - The Image That Made Me Weep
In our new series 'The Image That Made Me Weep', we are inviting a different guest with each edition to write of a music image that has had an impact on them. Singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar writes about a photograph of his uncle Jim Wilkes, who was a trad jazz musician.
Broadcast, Glasgow, 22/9/2016 and Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 23/9/2016 (2016)

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