The last time Nick Saloman and I spoke he had just sent off the digital files for the next Bevis Frond album to his record company, Fire Records. We spoke about his hopes for the two-dozenth Frond opus. As always, the songwriter was phlegmatic about the record’s future. “I write songs,” he says. “I record them and put them out and am delighted when people enjoy the records. It’s what I do.”
What Saloman has done on Little Eden is, once again, release an expansive double album of well-crafted songs in the range of styles his fans have come to know and appreciate.
Needle drop, side one: “Everyone Rise”.
It is unclear what releasing a single from an album means these days, but I do know “Hold Your Horses” was chosen for that honour. “Everyone Rise” would, however, have been my pick for high rotation on any radio network I owned. Bouncing along on a great riff, lots of jangly guitars, and brief at two-and-a-half minutes, there are three verses each ending with the line giving the song its title.
There appears to be some socio-political observation in the first verse. Who could “the scary clown” be? Not the UK entrant in the Three Stooges of the English-speaking World contest, surely? The song cleverly lays out the first of three different contexts for the phrase “everyone rise”. Nick Saloman is like that; he loves words and takes great care with his lyrics. So, in verse one, all rise because that is the ritual. We stand, even to a clown.
Verse two, the counterbalance: there is greatness around us, the inspiration to aspire to something better in ourselves. Aim high and rise up to be all you can. In the final stanza, closer to home, we are reminded of the basic courtesies. It’s typical Saloman dry humour.
And remember what I told you
If someone needs your seat
This strong opening is followed by “And Away We Go”, which showcases Saloman’s grungy psychedelia behind a simple see-saw vocal. “Brain Fatigue” has a stomping glam beat and a White Album feel with a satirical lyric. Think, perhaps, of Slade doing a post-modern “Bungalow Bill”, if you dare.
Melancholia is a familiar state for anyone who knows Bevis Frond songs. “They Will Return” is a lament for times that have gone forever; maybe for the singer, probably for us all. Yet he’s still “writing heartfelt songs” and enjoying an “Indian autumn” (what a great line). There’s a delicious chuckle at the end, aimed at old codgers like the artist (and, indisputably, this writer).
All my hang-ups have vanished
All my pains have dispersed
Someday they will return
One of the Nick Saloman templates that I have come to appreciate more as the years go by is “the two-and-a-half minute garage thrash”. These short songs are fast, high energy and punchy. They zoom in, do a couple of laps, then exit in a cloud of burning rubber. “Find The Mole”, which opens side two, is a fine example, underpinned by the only slightly slower “Do Without Me” which follows. Given the singer’s unapologetic London dialect, it may sound surprising that this song evokes the earnest authenticity of early Bruce Springsteen. There’s even a Nils Lofgen flavoured guitar solo… processed through Saloman’s psychedelic box of tricks, naturally.
Mini-sequences of songs on a Bevis Frond album are always a delight to discover and savour. The ballad “Hold your horses” completes this little trilogy with an uplifting song that really does evoke a comparison with Teenage Fanclub. It has a simple, memorable chorus that gets into your head. On my digital device, I have this on repeat.
There are twenty songs spread across the four sides of this album, so we will focus on just a few of the many highlights.
“Little Eden”, deep into side three, has a Kinks feel as Nick’s melancholy voice delivers a plaintive lyric over a sweet melody. Or maybe the sound is more a back-yard Byrds. Whichever way you hear it, the title track is a really strong song. But then, so many of these grow on you with each listen.
Another great Saloman riff supports “Here Come The Flies”, filled out by a tight solo exploring the changes.
“Cherry Gardens” is a rough-cut power-pop gem. People cite McCartney but that seems lazy. There’s the righteous thrash of Neil Young leading Crazy Horse, the chiming guitars of The Knack, the guitar-driven bemusement of Matthew Sweet. It’s currently my favourite song on Little Eden, but that does change day by day. Yesterday it was “There’s Always Love”, a classic song of sadness (at the inadequacy of some men in relationship) and hope (for something more compassionate).
You have tried silence
You have tried cruelty
You have tried arrogance
You have tried irony
But there’s always love
You could try love
Anyone who appreciates New River Head’s “He’d Be A Diamond” would recognise this theme. “There’s Always Love” plays in the same division as that brilliant song.
“Dreams of Flying” is one of only two songs longer than five-and-a-half minutes* on Little Eden, clocking in at just over ten. That tells you to warm up for an extended Saloman solo. The song has a freight-train baseline that vaguely evokes The Animals “We gotta get out of this place” while it rattles along with a lyrical message of encouragement. Hang on to your dreams of flying; don’t you ever give up trying. There’s that tension between gloom and light again. Sonically, there is lots of echo and reverb on the guitars as the lead lines dance and dive through cloud and the occasional purple thunderhead. Ten minutes of Bevis Frond bliss, highlighting Saloman’s trademark twin guitar lines. It’s wonderful to hear him cut loose, and a thrilling coda to what is a tightly edited album.
When asked about how he constructs the multiple solos, especially on the extended tracks, Nick was quick to correct the notion that he listens to the first layer and adds a further simpatico solo.
“I don’t listen to the existing solo. I just play another one and see how they sound together afterwards. If it doesn’t work, I do it again.”
The song “Little Eden” gave the album its title so I asked Nick about the cover art, a photograph of a decrepit residential building. As with recent Bevis Frond albums, the photograph was taken by the musician, a keen photographer.
“I came across an abandoned housing estate in Kidbrooke, South East London. A huge 1970s housing complex with derelict concrete towers. It was being demolished and I thought, this is interesting. So I took a load of moody photos, thinking it would make a good cynical cover. The whole thing is gone now, replaced by something clean and modern.”
The creamy sky-blue vinyl is a lot more upbeat than the photographic images adorning the sleeve but that’s also a good metaphor for Nick Saloman’s latest opus. If you dig into the lyrics and open up to his world-weary vocals there is a recurrent sense of despair locked in combat with dogged humanism. The struggle is still in progress. Yet listening to Little Eden is, ultimately, an uplifting experience. Those intertwining guitar solos, that cathartic garage thrash, another glorious chorus… the album as a whole (like much of the Bevis Frond catalogue) enriches the listener as they wander through the busy flea market of styles. The artist may look even more like a Camden Market stall holder these days but if you glance upwards, the sky is neither grey nor spitting rain, but radiating energy.
There is no doubt, Vitamin Bevis is good for you and Little Eden has twenty quality doses.
* With thirteen tracks under four minutes, this is a very focussed Bevis Frond album.
The two previous posts at Vinyl Connection relate to the much loved Bevis Frond album New River Head. First one here.