Back in May of this year I was immersed in a project that occupied my waking hours (plus a few more besides) and left little room for other activities. The best I could manage at Vinyl Connection was a pictorial post that hinted at the topic. It was called, with coy indirectness, “What’s Going On At Vinyl Connection?“. Inaccurate, too, as very little was going on.
Elsewhere, however, the undertaking was to prepare a submission for the 33 ⅓ album monograph series published by Bloomsbury Press. The album/artist I chose was New River Head by The Bevis Frond.
Supported by the helpful and accommodating Nick Saloman (Mr Frond), I dived into research, interviews, and considerable thinking about what my pitch might look like. How would I sell a book on this most English of artists (though deeply indebted to much American music) to a publisher in a country where he was not at all well known?
In the end I emailed off my submission, knowing it was close to as good as I could make it, having had simply marvellous input from both Bill Pearse at pinklightsabre and my own editor-in-chief, Ms Connection. Successful 33 ⅓ author Clint Brownlee (his volume on Pearl Jam’s vs came out earlier this year) even kindly provided his submission as an example/inspiration. But it all came to nought in the end. I was not successful.
Although my head was rational about the rejection, my heart was not. I felt flat and disappointed. Not because the intense effort had not produced a result—I learned heaps and enjoyed the process greatly—but because Nick Saloman’s story is a fascinating one and I believed I could have written an entertaining book. How flat I actually was became clear when the new Bevis Frond album was released a week or so ago yet despite having had a download for six weeks, I’d not written a VC post. What was going on? New Bevis Frond albums have been featured here several times now, often with a contribution from the artist himself. What’s more, the new record is a corker!
Eventually I concluded that I hadn’t yet achieved closure on the 33 ⅓ project. There was unfinished business, and most of it related to sharing the journey I’d undertaken here, at Vinyl Connection. So over the next few posts I’d like to present selected parts of the 20 page document with you, the readers who follow this blog.
33 ⅓ BOOK PROPOSAL
THE BEVIS FROND | NEW RIVER HEAD
AUTHOR: BRUCE JENKINS
2-3 PAGE DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK
Rarely in the history of rock has there been an artist inhabiting such a robust and self-contained eco-system as Nick Saloman. Songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, singer; if he had died after three studio albums like Jimi Hendrix (a major inspiration) or Nick Drake (with whom he shares a deep Englishness) Saloman would have been lionised and lauded around the world. But the fellow had the temerity to not only stay alive, but to release the first Bevis Frond album at the mature age of thirty-four. Then, having bucked the “live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse” myth of rock , Saloman continued recording and releasing consistently entertaining Bevis Frond albums for the next thirty-plus years. Miasma was self-released in 1987; the twenty-fourth Frond album—Little Eden—will be out later in 2021. It is an extraordinary achievement by any artist… images of Robert Pollard and Robyn Hitchcock flitter past… and is largely due to what Nick Saloman himself describes as “doggedness”. Record companies showed little interest before Fire Records came on board so Saloman adopted the mantra “I’ll do it myself” then delivered on that promise.
Although there are many short interviews to be found on the web—Nick is a natural story-teller who regularly obliges requests for a 1:1 chat—to the best of this writer’s knowledge there is little in print about The Bevis Frond other than some magazine reviews and appearances on lists such “Best Cult Bands Of All Time” or “Psychedelia Lives!”. This proposed addition to the highly regarded Bloomsbury series attempts to begin a process of redress, using a popular device of the 33 ⅓ books: focussing on one album but referencing and exploring others. The core focus is the 1991 Bevis Frond album, of which All Music said, “New River Head winds up being a slice of Frond at his high-powered best”, while Pitchfork published a feature on the album, reaching this conclusion:
“Within an impressive body of work, New River Head is certainly the crown jewel… an unmistakable classic.”
“New River Head is the best gateway album.” [Magnet: Real Music Alternatives; Aug 27, 2016]
Why the term eco-system? In part this reflects the consistency of Saloman’s catalogue overall; his approach has been stable over a long time. It also captures his dependable pattern of employing a well-defined set of styles—indie rock, neo-psychedelia, folk rock—that he returns to again and again, yet continually renews. Every Bevis Frond album has explosions of air-punching rock exuberance and moments of melancholic reflection. There are riffs, there are guitar freak-outs, there are heart-opening melodies. Deep song-writing skills are at play here, along with a dedication to the craft of music-making; most of the actual playing is undertaken by the man himself. On many albums (including New River Head) Saloman plays bass, organ, and guitar, as well as handling all the vocals. Usually a professional drummer joins the songwriter in the studio, as Nick once described his drumming skills as “sounding like someone pushing a wardrobe down a flight of stairs.”
The strength and diversity of Saloman’s songwriting (within the above parameters) will be revealed, while the importance of his lyrics will be explored. The man knows his craft. Rather than explain, here is a sample of artists who have recorded Bevis Frond (Nick Saloman) songs:
Evan Dando (Lemonheads)
Mary Lou Lord
Collaborators—either in the studio or in live performance—have included:
J. Mascis / Dinosaur Jr.
Twink (Pink Fairies)
Country Joe McDonald
David Tibet (Current 93)
Some of my favourite 33 ⅓ titles (Low, Stone Roses, Kick Out The Jams) have included interesting side-trips into relevant aspects of either the artist’s life, or the context of their music. It is my plan to do both while not straying too far from the Saloman environment. His personal story, for instance, is fascinating and engrossing. Son of a child refugee from late 1930s Berlin and a mother who wrote romantic fiction and played the piano, Nick’s home life was turbulent. His parents split when he was five years old—a relief, he recalls—but then his father reappeared half a decade later seeking reconciliation. When Dad suddenly changed his mind, Nick’s mother went into a mental health decline that transformed home life from the war zone of the early years into an unpredictable roller-coaster. The child navigated this new terrain by developing strong peer friendships and becoming fiercely independent. “I started living my own life quite young”. I’ll not be undertaking psychological analysis of the artist (though psychotherapy is my day-job) but will be presenting aspects of Nick’s story alongside some key songs on New River Head, such as “Motherdust” and epic closer “Godspeed you to Earth”.
In terms of musical context, another fascinating aspect of Nick Saloman’s life is that he was eyewitness to the most storied period of post-WWII British cultural history, “The Swinging Sixties”. From being taken by his Mum to see The Beatles at age eleven (there were many good bits in the Mother-Son relationship) to falling in love with American psychedelia a few years later, Saloman witnessed the artists who created rock music in London’s legendary clubs, theatres and other venues. In particular, Saloman’s love of psychedelic guitar was born of attending concerts and listening to records. “It Won’t Come Again” provides a brilliant (if enigmatic) platform for this exploration. The book will also take a trip into the history of psychedelia and relate it to The Bevis Frond of the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond. It will also touch on record collecting, a lifetime pursuit of Nick Saloman (he owns a record store in Hastings on the south coast of England); a timely topic in the midst of the “vinyl revival”.
An unsung hero of indie rock, Nick Saloman awaits (re-)discovery, wider recognition, and greater appreciation. But he will not sit around waiting, there is already another pile of songs awaiting polishing, recording and sequencing for the next Bevis Frond album.
“Since the mid-1980s, Nick Salomon has either heralded or inspired more or less every psychedelic reaction there has been.”
(Dave Thompson, author of over 100 books on rock and pop music)
ONE-LINE DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK
A multi-hued journey into the life and music of neo-psychedelic legend The Bevis Frond.
NEXT: The introductory chapter