published: 6 /
In 'Gimme Indie Rock', in which he examines the best in alternative music, Jamie Rowland looks at now largely forgotten prog folk oddities, Safetyword
This month, we take the alternative music train back to our own fair nation, Britain, for in Britain we find England, and in England we find Bristol. And in Bristol, there’s some alternative music. Or there was. Well, there still is, but not made by the band we’re going to look at, because they don’t exist anymore.
Bristol is probably best known musically for “the Bristol sound”, as popularised by the likes of Portishead and Massive Attack, but in the 2000s there was a strong community of alternative rock bands coming out of the city, the most successful exponents of which being Rose Kemp, SJ Esau and Steveless, the noise-rock band popularised (to some degree) by John Peel in 2003/04. Within this community there were a number of indie labels and promoters also working to keep the local scene thriving, and one of the most interesting of these was the wonderfully named Dulcet Thud.
Dulcet Thud was essentially a one-woman business run by a very lovely lady called Jen (apologies to her, as I can’t remember her surname and it has since disappeared from the internet) and had releases by noisey punk-blues outfit The Girl From Headquarters, SJ Esau (who went on the be signed by American alt-hip hop label Anticon) and noodling, prog-folk oddities Safetyword, the band we are interested in looking at this month.
Safetyword originally hailed from the Isle of Man, and were made up of Jan Kindling, Stevie Windows and Rob Suso (though I suspect those are not all the names their mothers gave them). When listing their influences, the band cited a quote from Dostoevsky which I think pretty much sums the group’s sound up perfectly: “Talk nonsense, but talk your own nonsense, and I’ll kiss you for it”.
Safetyword released one album before splitting sometime in 2007/2008; 'Man’s Name is Legion' is a 12 track romp straight through weirds-ville and back out the other side again. I always think the album sounds like the product of three people who’ve never heard pop music before, but someone told them about it and they thought they would give it a go. Nothing else sound quite like this band – the guitars are plucked at rapid speedy, the bass is slapped and tickled up and down its fret-board and the tempo yo-yos like....well, like a yo-yo.
Even odder are the band's lyrics and vocal delivery; song topics vary from the flower hellebore (otherwise known as the ‘Christmas rose’), the eve of May Day (Walpurgisnacht) and the German mystic Henry Suso – but that is only discernable from the song titles. What the singer is actually talking about is anyone’s guess, but the lyrics that do stick out are fun and memorable (“Where were you born/Were you born in a/Were you born in a barn” rushes the singer in ‘Skull Moneybox).
But for all their weirdness, Safetyword really knew how to write a cracking tune. The frantic nature of the compositions is really grabbing, and once your ears get used to the unusual nature of what they’re hearing, they’ll pick out some really funky bass lines, driving rhythms and witty lyrical moments.
As I noted earlier, the band split not long after their first (and last) record was released, which is a shame because it’s so unusual, but absolutely brilliant, and crying out for a follow up. What the band members went on to do after the break up I don’t know – and if anyone does, please get in touch! – but they, Dulcet Thud and a number of bands active in the alt-Bristol scene of 4 or 5 years ago seem to have died out, leaving only those who gained wider recognition – like Rose Kemp and SJ Esau – left standing. As a result, I suspect 'Man’s Name Is Legion' is now long out of print, but if you look on the internet you can find the odd second-hand copy up for sale, and I would urge you to shell out for it if you do, because it’s a weird, wonderful and somehow thoroughly English piece of musical eccentricity that warrants multiple listens.
398 Posted By: Ben Newman, Bristol, UK on 07 Feb 2011
Glad to see someone showing this band some much due love, they were an incredible band that I went to see religiously. They actually released 4 EPs in total and recorded a 5th that sadly never saw the light of day (Stevie Windows joined the band and appeared on the 3rd EP onwards). After 'Man's Name is Legion' they recorded an acoustic mini-album (featuring songs from the album and a couple from the EPs) then recorded a 7" called 'Pope Joan' (B side was called 'Dandelion Clock') for Static Caravan records. This was the last recording that featured original bassist Dan Bramell. After Dan left to start a family the rest of the band re-wrote the material as a three piece with Jan and Steve playing the bass notes on keyboards while still playing their respective instruments. Unbelievable to see them do this live as it was rehearsed to perfection and literally blew my mind. After playing at the Vossa Jazz festival in Norway they recorded their second and last album, 'Warlde's Room' during their final rehearsal session. IT IS AMAZING! One of my favourite albums.
Rob Suso recorded a solo album. Jan is now drumming for Eftus Spectum and Steve started two bands, the now defuct 'Severn Sleepers' and the fantastic 'Iron Crease' who are currently of hiatus. 'Iron Crease' recorded two albums, 'Eye Increase' and the 30 minute opus, 'Bent Metal'. You can downlaod these two albums for free here, http://soundcloud.com/iron-crease/sets