Indie Britannia Undergrowth

Playlouder.com – February 2007

Briny Hooves / Yew’s Paw

When I found out that William D Drake was to release two albums on two different labels on the same day I couldn’t contain a chuckle. Nowadays an album isn’t released unless it’s been squeezed through the marketing mangle for months with everyone down to the record company bike courier chucking in his or her opinion on whether or not the bass is high enough in the mix or whether the first single should be ‘Mummy’s Boy’ or ‘Bedwetter’. We’d be lucky (or not) to be able to buy two albums every three years or more from the same artist but Mr Drake is bursting with tunes and his hand will not be stayed.

‘Briny Hooves’, released through sheBear records, is superabundant in ideas and scope. Like a proggy High Llamas performing with the North Sea Radio Orchestra (who he also plays with), and with Drake’s wonderful piano always at the centre, it paints a colourful picture of the inside of his originative and fertile mind. It doesn’t really fit into any drawer in any musical chest that I could name; it being neither indie nor rock and yet it has elements of both as well as sea shanties, hurdy gurdy rhythms and even a ‘Requiem for a Snail’ which, unlike its subject, is an overwrought prog epic, lasting barely a minute and a half.

‘Seahorse’ is a colossal sweep of a tune which turns into ‘Nights in White Satin’ halfway through for some reason, ‘Wolves’ highlights William’s vocal range, from husk to strangled roar, the music stomping for a bit before collapsing into sweet strings, brass and farmyard animals. ‘Serendipity Doodah’ begins with a deranged cartoon piano before bouncing into a beefy pop song with a big chorus. “We shall sing the seashell song/it won’t be short, it won’t be long”, so goes ‘The Seashell Song’, a lovely medieval folk gander across the beach at Monk Nash. ‘Briny Hooves’ is perfect for this time of year, all wintry and cosy; like being in a warm kitchen while the wind and rain batter the garden outside.

‘Yew’s Paw’ is an album of Drake’s piano instrumentals released by Onomatopoeia records. Some Yew trees in England are thought to be over four thousand years old and are seen by some as symbol of transformation and rebirth due to their ability to grow new trunks within the old. This fits with Drake’s musical vision which belongs to no particular place in time. ‘Yew’s Paw’, the first track, veers from classical flourishes to keystone cops to Gershwinesque flights of brilliance. It will require some effort, something that current generations, including my own, may have lost since the pop single was invented fifty years ago. To our superfast consumer ears, music like this can appear noodly but William Drake is an excellent piano player and his fingers are remarkably fluent in their chosen language; small wonder as Drake has been playing nearly all of his life.

‘Short and Sweet Like a Donkey’s Gallop’ sounds like a sixteen second driving theme from a seventies period drama, ‘Within My Skull’ switches rhythm and time with a fluid grace and ‘The Kissing Song’ charts the ups and downs of a love affair, and is unutterably lovely. Lie back, close your eyes and direct your own film in your head, the music is already done. I would be hard pressed to choose which of these albums to buy if I only had enough conkers for one, but both would reward in their own unique and imaginative way.

Domino Jones

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