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Band Of Holy Joy - A Plain Cookerybook for the Working Classes

  by John Clarkson

published: 22 / 12 / 2016

Band Of Holy Joy - A Plain Cookerybook for the Working Classes
Label: Radio Joy
Format: CD X2


Excellent limited edition double CD of old and current material from the Band of Holy Joy, which is about the past and present of front man Johny Brown's home town in North Shields

It has been a year since the Band of Holy Joy’s last official album, ‘The Land of Holy Joy’, came out. A new as-yet-untitled album, which the group has been working on with producer and engineer Brian O’ Shaughnessey (The Clientele, Morton Valence, Bromide, Primal Scream), has been promised for next year. In the mean-time the ever prolific and experimental London-based band has been filling the gap by releasing what it describes as a series of “aural sculptures.” ‘A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes’, which takes its name from an 1852 cook book by chef Charles Elme Francatelli, like its two predecessors in the series, ‘An Atlas of Spatial Perceptions’ and ‘Custom and Crime in Savage Society’, compiles together two CDRs, one consisting of obscure older recordings and the other of avant-garde newer tracks. The whole package has the deliberate air of a bootleg to it, appearing in a plain brown sleeve with a sticker with just the album’s title on it and without track listings which can only be found by checking out the band’s Bandcamp page. While the Band of Holy Joy was formed in a New Cross squat in 1984 and London has been a focus for most of their work, their frontman and now sole original member Johny Brown (after the recent departure of long-time drummer William Lewington) is from North Shields in Tyneside and both CDRs pay homage to his Northern roots. ‘All God’s Splendour Lies Somewhere Later’, the first CDR, consists of demos recorded for the band’s 1992 album ‘Tracksuit Vendetta’, their last before they went into a nine-year hiatus, and, using a drum machine, shows what that record might have sounded like without Lewington’s involvement. North Shields and Tyneside were just beginning at the time to recuperate gradually from the eleven-year Thatcher era which had hit them both hard. In September 1991 there was, however, a riot on the notorious Meadow Well estate in North Shields which lead to shops and buildings being destroyed and looted after two young men, one only 17 years old, were killed when in a high speed chase with police their car hit a lamppost and caught fire. ‘All God’s Splendour Lies Somewhere Later’ makes use of samples from a documentary about that riot. “You do what is right for the people,” says a middle-aged Geordie lady at its start. “Somebody has to do a bit of talking and a bit of shouting if you want to get anywhere for things for the people.” The sound of sirens and rioters can be heard elsewhere, and opening ska rock number ‘Tracksuit Vendetta’, which throws into its mix both a mournful trombone and skittling fiddle, depicts a chaotic, nightmarish world in which track-suited younger criminals battle for dominance with older gangsters, priests struggle to maintain respect in their community, police helicopters fly over ahead, and angst-laden middle-class women complain about the rise of beggars in the streets. For all its grittiness, ‘All God’s Splendour Lies Somewhere Later’ is rarely bleak. Musically it contains a lot of fine pop moments, combining the lushness of Prefab Sprout with in its heavy use of synthesisers the exuberance of OMD. Always empathic, Brown’s main focus is often on the people whose own no-less-significant-to-him personal dramas run alongside the backdrop of these big issues. One can’t help but feel for the gormless teenager whose desperation to impress his chav mates is only going to lead him into trouble in the early New Order-esque ‘Casual Lad’ (“So you’re running around with a racy crowd/Talking flash, acting loud/Pushing it perhaps/For to stay up with the chaps/These are the cream of the crop”). Then there is the wallflower central character of the bittersweet and balladic ‘Well, You’ve Met This Boy’, clearly in love with his oblivious hard-partying best friend, who has his heart broken all over again as once more she falls for someone totally unsuitable (“When you’ve got nothing at all/You are hoping love will call/And when it comes you throw it around/Happiness is not what you have found”). The wistful, slow-burning white funk of ‘Marvin in Ostende’ – the one track not set in North Shields - tells of the coke-addicted Marvin Gaye’s infamous recuperation and two year exile in the Belgium seaport and finds Gaye imagining what would turn out to be his final comeback(“Head messed up, all mystic ruin, but in his heart a fateful tune/That will exorcise this, exorcise this, loneliness and fear/One day a crack will rip through the clouds in the sky/A hand will reach down and lift you up/And you’ll be born again”). On the last track, the searing, upbeat ‘Claudia Dreams’, its sweet–natured title character, for all the problems of North Shields, dreams of something better ahead. (“On the other side of a big black cloud/Beyond all hate and care/On the other side of a big black cloud/I know there’s something glorious there”). As the tune segues in its final moments into a cover of the 1968 Love Affair classic ‘Everlasting Love’, it becomes apparent that, ultimately what ‘All God’s Splendour Lies Somewhere Later’ is about is, in the hardest of circumstances, finding hope. While ‘All God’s Splendour Lies Somewhere Later’ was about the North Shields and Tyneside of the early 1990s, the perimeters of ‘A Town Where No Town Ought to Be’ are even broader. A largely instrumental soundscape put together by the Band of Holy Joy’s current guitarist James Stephen Finn, the titles of tracks such as ‘Ralph Gardner In Triangle UFO Affair Filmed Over North Shields May 2011’, ’10 02 1996 Tynemouth Plaza Fire’ and ‘Time-Lapse Bulk Carrier Leaving Tyne North East England 2011’ explain what provided much of the inspiration to it gloriously reflective and ambient tunes. On ‘Wilkinson’s Pop Factory May 3rd 1941’, one of the few vocal tracks, Brown reads out a list of streets and the numbers of those killed there during a Luftwaffe bombing raid, while ‘August 1958 Sally Wheatley’ is a sparse reworking of a 19th century music hall number, previously covered by the Dubliners. about a lost love. ‘Jelly Baby 1992’, the final track on ‘A Town Where No Town Ought to Be’, is a collage of hazy loops, soaring strings and keyboards, field and TV recordings and features a vocal and love letter from Brown presumably to his home town in which he croons “There is still some way to go” and “You know there is no way back”. ‘A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes’ is a wonderful tribute to the North Shields and Tyneside of the immediate past and now. Restricted to just seventy copies, one wonders if Brown and the Band of Holy Joy are selling themselves short by making something so thought-provoking and demanding of its audience’s attention so limited in its availability. With copies available from a few online sites, ‘A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes’ is very much worth getting a hold of.

Track Listing:-
1 Sister Nancy
2 Tracksuit Vendetta
3 It's Lovebite City
4 Casual Lad
5 The Ragman
6 Sleepytime Donald
7 Marvin In Ostende
8 Soulstress
9 Well You've Met This Boy
10 It's A Fine Time To Be Alive
11 Claudia Dreams
12 Forever Knotts Flats
13 Sheles
14 Wilkinson's Pop Factory May 3rd 1941
15 Ralph Gardner In Triangle UFO Affair Filmed Over North Shields UK May 2011
16 August 1958 Sally Wheatley
17 10 02 1996 Tynemouth Plaza Fire
18 September 1963 To Leave Or Remain
19 Time-Lapse Bulk Carrier Leaving Tyne North East England August 2016
20 Shipping Movements And Moments In Time
21 Jelly Baby 1992

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