Pete Astor – Spilt Milk

We thought we’d start today by telling you about a very musical creation story; in a way it’s similar to The Bible’s version but this one is considerably less Adam & Eve, and considerably more Alan McGee.

Alan McGee was born in East Kilbride in 1960. He grew up in Glasgow and it was at school there that he met two friends who would go on to have a profound affect on McGee’s career, those two people were Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes. It was alongside Innes that Alan would move to London, initially forming a band of their own, the rather terribly named Laughing Apple, and then a label the rather ingeniously titled venture, Creation Records.

Creation would, alongside the likes of Rough Trade, Factory and Postcard, form the epicentre of one of the most monumental shifts in music release history. These labels would shift the entire business model of alternative-music, and both invent and define what it was to be indie.

Whilst they’re known for starting the hugely successful careers of bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream and Slowdive, Creation’s first ever release was actually by the rather less well known, The Legend! The early Creation days were categorised  by tricky finances, jangling guitars and limited success, until The Jesus and Mary Chain, who were managed by McGee, signed to Warner Brothers. This funded releases from the likes of Felt, The Pastels and The Loft, a glory day for slightly bookish folk who had little or no interest in selling records, but most definitely wanted to make them.

These days of superb music, and questionable business decisions, could sadly never last. The elaborate and lengthy recording sessions of My Bloody Valentine’s seminal album Loveless, would eventually lead the label to the verge of bankruptcy, and in 1992 half the label was sold into the hands of Sony Music. Whilst with releases from the likes of Oasis, Primal Scream and Super Furry Animals, the Creation label would continue to be stamped on a number of successful albums, it would never quite have the same authenticity or trademark sound that were found in those glorious early days. None the less the influence of Creation and the music that was released upon it managed to leave an indelible mark on the musical landscape.

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Pete Astor’s musical career can be traced back over thirty years and a countless number of records. He first found a modicum of musical fame as a member of The Loft back in the mid-1980’s, before going on to be a founding member of The Weather Prophets, and then as the 1990’s rolled around beginning a solo career. What’s more impressive though than his longevity is his ability to remain up with the beat of alternative music; whether it’s his left-field exploration of the 1990’s, or his recent return to a more guitar-led indie sound, Pete never seems to slip into the trap of repeating himself, or living off a nostalgia for a lost golden-era of the Indie music scene.

Pete’s most recent album, 2012’s Songbook, was something of a return to his routes, ditching the electronic exploration of the majority of his recent output, picking up the guitar and reminding us why so many feel for the jangling charms of The Loft and The Weather Prophets; a band James Dean Bradfield described as, “one of the best bands to never sell a million”. If Songbook was a songwriter getting back onto a trusty old horse, Spilt Milk is the sound of one remembering how to make it gallop, Spilt Milk is arguably the most enjoyable and complete record of Pete Astor’s career. A musical craftsman who has been moulded and improved by time, ageing not like a vintage claret, he’s far too straight forward and accessible for that, but more like an extra mature cheddar, ripe for your cracker of choice.

Spit Milk was recorded, as is fitting for such a timeless record, onto 1/2 inch tape, at the North London home studio of Veronica Falls and Ultimate Painting member James Hoare, a former pupil of Pete in his day job as a music lecturer. It was James who persuaded Pete to write another album and the combination is an excellent fit; James is a musician whose own music probably owes a debt to the jangling Indie-roots of the 1980’s. The recording was largely just James and Pete, James playing guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and even adding backing vocals, discussing the process Pete summed his contribution up as rather neatly with the phrase, “he was an amazing band”. Whilst the surroundings may have changed the recording process was one Pete has championed throughout his career, first-takes and perfection in imperfections, Pete recently explained to The Guardian that he was inspired by a Philip Larkin quote, “the songs you write are not necessarily the songs you want to write”.

The opening three tracks of Spilt Milk serve as a call to arms, arguably the albums most accessible and radio friendly moments all thrown at the start of the album with seemingly scant regard as to where the album will go next. It’s a surprisingly clever idea: hooking the listener into the record early, and ensuring you’ll stay listening for the more subtle pleasures that lie later on the record and only begin to blossom with repeat listens. Opening track, Really Something, is the blue-print for a classic Pete Astor track, it’s deceptively clever song writing hidden under a relatively simplistic musical pallet; take the opening Kinks-like guitar line, it gently descends, the notes sounding like they’re slowly tumbling out of his head. Lyrically too it’s highly accomplished, without being necessarily showy or complex; it’s a love song to a former lover, a rose-tinted missive to a life that could have been.

The easy-laid back rhythms of Mr. Music, overlaid by a gentle meander of a guitar solo are the backing to a lyrical exploration of the whole concept of being a musician, Pete looking at a songwriter on the stage as, “he’s telling us all about his badly broken heart, how it all went wrong, how it fell apart”. The chorus is almost patronising, he sings, “oh dear, oh dear, oh no, oh no, poor Mr. Music when will he let it go?” Throughout though there’s the nagging suspicion this is some sort of outer body experience, that this is Pete assessing his own character, it’s quite possible the jobbing musician in front of us is none other than Pete himself. The best of this stunning opening trio is recent single My Right Hand, bouncier and more up-tempo than the others, the addition of extra rhythm from simplistic stabs of piano, alongside drums and rhythm guitar create a steady driving beat, and allow the lead guitar further space to improvise and flow in and out of the picture. High-brow lyrical references to Tony Hancock, Philip Larkin and Groucho in his club of one can’t disguise that this is a tribute to the one lover that’ll never let a person down, oneself.

From there the album dabbles with less instant pleasures; The Getting There with its almost motorik beat, the quiet contemplation of Good Enough, the lush layered guitars of Perfect Life where he pictures a perfect world that can’t exist now because, “you let him in”. This is subtle, and very English melancholy, these are songs that exist in the same world as Tom Courtenay and Allan Sillitoe, Ken Loach and Alan Bennett, Ray Davies and Ian Dury; the sort of record that couldn’t have been made anywhere else in the world. It’s a record for long train journeys, frosty mornings, and quiet contemplation, and it’s all the better for its subtle charms.

Creation Records boss, and Astor’s one time manager Alan McGee once famously described Pete as the next Bob Dylan. It’s a comparison that’s hugely wide of the mark on almost every level but perhaps the next Ray Davies, the next Ian Dury, and if not then he’s the one and only Pete Astor and there’s certainly no shame in that.

Spilt Milk is out now via Fortuna Pop in the UK and February 12th via Slumberland Records in the US. Click HERE for details of Pete’s upcoming tour dates.

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