“Joy Division sounded like Manchester: cold, sparse and, at times, bleak”.
There’s a lot of clichés that accompany Manchester; the sky heavy with black clouds, the towering deserted industrial buildings, the grumpy fellas in Liam Gallagher inspired parka-jackets. It is a city with a rich musical heritage, but for a long time it was perhaps overwhelmed by the sense of history. Any city that’s given the world The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis and countless other bands should rightly be proud of its heritage, but eventually it’s time to move on, and that time might just be upon us.
One artist spearheading the shift towards a more forward-looking Manchester music scene, is Songs For Walter. We first came across Songs For Walter, ostensibly the brainchild of songwriter Laurie Hulme, when he was part of last year’s Indietracks festival. An intriguing prospect amongst the DIY-punk and indie-pop acts that largely populate the Indietracks bill, Songs For Walter was an all together more thoughtful prospect. On his debut release, the self-titled Songs For Walter LP, Laurie attempted to recreate the life story of his grandfather, Walter. It sets Walter as the narrator and features recollection of fighting in the Second World War, courting and, most bizarrely, being painted head to toe in iodine on his wedding day. It was a fascinating, inventive and at times entirely moving collection.
The difficulty, of course, with writing almost entirely from the perspective of someone other than yourself, is what do you do when that story is already told? With the release of recent single, Earwigging, the first to be lifted from Songs For Walter’s upcoming second album, we begin to find out. Far from the personal musings of his earlier work, Earwigging finds Laurie addressing world-wide issues; indeed he’s gone practically Orwellian on us. Inspired by Edward Snowden’s revelations of the global surveillance programs being carried out by the National Security Agency, Earwigging is a reflection on the contrasting ideas of the loneliness of modern living, and constant surveillance. As Laurie explains, “I was juxtaposing this idea of surveillance with that of people feeling isolated or lonely. It’s ironic – we’re often told a lot of people in Western societies are lonely but they’re actually being watched and listened to all the time. I find these revelations very troubling, the idea of being monitored all the time is the stuff of nightmares”.
What’s intriguing about Laurie’s take on the subject is just how contrasting the music and the message are. While the subject matter is dark and troubling the accompanying music is light and playful. It’s part playful folk-ditty, part wistful, Panda Bear-like dream pop; Laurie’s reverb-drenched vocal, accompanied by shuffling drums, waves of sweet strings and gently meandering guitar lines. It’s a return that’s at once intriguing, creative, unique and ultimately, rather wonderful.
Today Laurie has put together a mixtape of some up and coming Manchester bands, including Irma Vep, The Happy Birthday and Tekla, as Laurie himself puts it, “the city is rife with young talent at the moment“, and long may that continue.
1. Irma Vep – I Wanna Be Degraded
If you check out only one person from this list, make sure it’s Irma Vep – the nom-de-plume for Edwin Steven’s alt-country/pysch-garage/ freak folk. The man is a machine – he’s in about ten other fantastic bands, plays about two hundred gigs a year and seems to produce a record or EP every other month. His last LP, No Handshake Blues has some his finest songs to date but be sure to delve into his extensive back catalogue, especially, arguably his best record ‘Deep Sea Fish.’
2. Fully Mared – Fools
I was introduced to John’s music by a friend and was hooked instantly. He writes these devastating, intimate, slow songs in vein of David Berman, Mark Linkous and Jason Molina. I’ve cried pretty much every time I’ve seen him play…
3. Cult Party – Kiss (Two)
‘Eternal Love and the Death of Everything’ by Cult Party was my favourite record of 2016. Eight beautiful songs, arranged and produced perfectly – all the more impressive when you consider that Leo Robinson, the principal songwriter and front man, is barely into his twenties! They’re recording the follow up right now and I can’t wait to get my grubby hands on it. This video is incredible too…
4. The Happy Birthdays – Scariest Dream
I love Lorelei’s beautifully understated music. It’s so paired back and concise – most songs barely make it over the two minute mark and yet feel so complete. A word of warning, don’t listen to her music whilst shopping…you may just end being so transfixed you walk away pushing someone else’s trolley!
5. Tekla – What You Saw
Tekla lends me her lungs for Songs For Walter but her own stuff is far superior. Her latest EP (A split with the incredible Playacting) showcases her talent for marrying melody, and ‘how-the-hell-has-she-found–that-chord’ guitar playing. This is SUCH a tune…
6. Elle Mary And The Badmen – Angels
Elle Mary and The Badmen occupy the sonic space somewhere between Vashti Bunyan and Cat Power. These are beautiful, mysterious songs – I’m looking forward to hearing their debut LP, out later this year. Elin, who fronts them also plays in the fantastic ‘Lean Time’ with the uber talented former bully, Nick Ainsworth!
Earwigging is available for free from Songs For Walters website – click HERE for your copy and more information.