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Parlour Flames - Parlour Flames (Album Review)

Thursday, 02 May 2013 Written by Graeme Marsh

When rhythm guitarist Paul Arthurs (AKA Bonehead) left Oasis in 1999 he cited family reasons for the departure. Initially Arthurs laid low in the public eye, until busking duties in Manchester for charity with ex-Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, along with various DJ performances gradually saw him make a return; he also had a stint in local band The Vortex and presented a BBC Radio Manchester show for good measure.

Musician and poet Alan Wilkes (Vinny Peculiar), also from the same city, first met Arthurs through a mutual friend – another ex-Smiths member, drummer Mike Joyce; Arthurs then played guitar on Wilkes’ own solo album, with both musicians agreeing that they would like to work together on a joint project at some point in the future – they have finally done so under the Parlour Flames moniker, and the eponymous debut album is due out on Cherry Red Records on May 20th.

The duo initially began working together with a view to releasing an EP but as the songs kept on flowing an album was born, and a full band was subsequently recruited for live shows; performing artists on the album include ex-Badly Drawn Boy contributors Bob Marsh (trumpets/flugelhorn) and Che Beresford (drums/percussion), Semay Woo on cello and Anna Zweck on flute, as well as Ollie Collins (bass), member of another Manchester indie rock band Cherry Ghost.

The album kicks off with lead single 'Manchester Rain', which is Manchester’s very own reposte to the Mama’s and Papa’s 'California Dreaming' – almost as if they are saying “so what if you have California, we have Manchester and we love it just as much”.  Sonically it sounds very much like the 60’s psychedelic guitar scene that various artists currently revisit, most notably American rockers The Brian Jonestown Massacre – in fact Peculiar’s vocals are eerily similar to BJM’s mastermind Anton Newcombe and it’s almost as if Bonehead has joined BJM with this being the result.

'Sunday Afternoon' is the perfect accompaniment to exactly that, enjoying “ham salad and peaches and cream” on a warm day in an English country garden; the track is guided along slowly by Marsh’s trumpet coupled with gentle strumming, painting a pastel coloured picture as if from the hazy flower power era.

Moving on from this lazy comfort zone, 'Get In The Van' starts off in a very psychedelic manner before some Oasis-like riffing bursts into play, accompanied by tambourine, flute and Peculiar’s wailings; 'Never Heard Of You' follows, telling a poignant story of a forgotten rock star who is now just another face in the crowd of a nightclub queue – a very touching and sorrowful track that benefits from some gorgeous e-bow.  It’s also given a touch of comic genius with some hilariously delivered lines, most notably “I’ve slept with 3,000 women in my life, I have a wonderfully understanding wife”.  The song concludes after some heart-tugging strings, delicate piano and the realisation that the allotted 15 minutes of fame are now over and it’s someone else’s turn.

'I’m In A Band' tells another story, this time of an arrogant rock star that thinks they can do anything they like; driven along by Bonehead’s excellent guitaring, the song is given an anthemic feel as it builds and builds, but again Peculiar marries this with more hilarity on the lyrical front, such as when a police officer told the star to “step this way”, provoking a response of “not likely, what are you – gay?”.

'Lonely Girls And Horses' returns to a more jolly feel with a trumpet again leading the way into another relaxing hot and sunny afternoon in the garden vibe; 'Jump The Brook Ruth' is another psychedelic masterpiece, the story showing evil undertones of a little boy urging Ruth to jump. Vocals are spoken in Leonard Cohen style, with more trumpeting adding that extra ingredient to the chugging guitar line; it all goes horribly wrong when Ruth takes a tumble, with accusatory fingers pointing at the evil little boy causing him to tremble with fear…before finding out later that night that she ended up with nothing more than “scratches to her ear”.

The Donovan-esque second single Pop Music Football Girls tells the tale of (arguably!) the three most important things in life to another soundscape lifted directly from blissful carefree summer days; Broken Hearted Existentialist goes back to a rockier feel after a subtle psychedelic dreamy start, with atmospheric guitaring and wailing vocals elevating the track to another blissed out state.

Album closer 'Too Soon The Darkness' is a sad affair of a lost one (whom exactly it refers to is unclear, although there are hints at it being a father or father figure) and the huge hole their departure has left in the life of the reminiscing storyteller. Musically it is another song that builds in intensity until a break leads into an emotional climax that could easily have you blubbing like a baby as the subject matter is something we can all relate to; in truth, life just isn’t long enough.

Occasionally hilarious, often reflective, sometimes sad but overwhelmingly brilliant, the duo have created an album of pure entertainment; it’s not an album of ten number 1 singles but it somehow doesn’t seem to matter, because the sum is far greater than the constituent parts as Bonehead’s excellent guitaring (supported by perfect piano, strings, flute, trumpet), blended with the brilliant storytelling ability of Peculiar comes together to create an album that will give hours of joy – thoroughly recommended.

'Parlour Flames' is released on Cherry Red on Monday 20th May.



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