William D Drake – The Rising Of The Lights(Onomatopoeia) The Rising of The Lights might just be Mr Drake’s finest album yet. It certainly must be his most accessible. All English popular songs and countryside glow-worms, the title ofThe Rising Of The Lights may refer to a mysterious cause of death which plagued London during the 18th and 19th century, but this rising is William in the rudest of health.
Many of you will know William D Drake as a keyboard player in Cardiacs, and indeed The Rising of the Lights begins with two songs originating from the gentler offshoot of Cardiacs,The Sea Nymphs. No information here to hand as to whether Super Altar and Ant Trees have the work of Cardiacs frontman/composer Tim Smith actually in the recording, from before his illness, but they certainly sound like some of Smith and Drake’s intuitive collaborations. Both songs are brilliantly sparkling pop/ folk/ Edwardiana, shifting and curious, packed with musical detail that slips by easily – lighter and brighter than the rich sum of its parts. We may never see that lost Sea Nymphs album, now that Tim Smith is so ill and can neither play nor sing, so what a poignant joy to have these creations out in the world, and perfectly seamlessly joined in with Drake’s newer work.
There’s a satisfying balance between the deep and emotional ballad and the cheery strangeness across the album; the sorrow and sweetness of Ornamental Hermit and the very, very Gentle Giant super-Englishness of Wholly Holey, all suiting the soft, largely acoustic and analogue instrumentation: clarinet, harmonium, mellotron, hurdy-gurdy, mini-moog and sax. The driving piano riff and big harmonium chords of The Mastodon is as noisy as this album gets, right up to the storming ending: ‘Good Sir Thomas thought that he/ Had dis-covered the Mastodon’ (once again, that is rather Gentle Giant as played by Cardiacs!).
Drake’s voice is nicely listenable in its slightly cracked way on these songs, endearing and sometimes powerful, joined by various fine-voiced ‘so-called friends’ (unfortunately, we can’t find the details of who’s who just yet). The title track is a fine diversion, a slightly creepy, swamp jazz instrumental number that strives to replicate the sensation of that mysterious malady, those rising lights… and here comes the strangest pop hit of the century, Songs In The Key Of Concrete, a defiant stomp. In all there’s a faint hint of the echoes of those TV theme tunes we might have heard before we can remember, 50s and 60s Light Music… yet it’s all so fresh sounding. Fresh as a daisy.
And fun to lose yourself in: there’s Ziegler, a maddening sea shanty – maddening because it doesn’t sound like riding along green lanes in a curvy British Racing Green bus in the 1950s, it doesn’t sound like Captain Pugwash, or Vaughan Williams, or Gryphon… it should, but with it’s layers of clunking harmonium and home piano and sweet clarinet and brisk brushy drums and utter lack of self-conciousness it’s not quite like anything else. But it will slap a daft grin on your face.
All ends with an epic, unusual for Drake, a nine minute saga about a ‘sexy lonely dragon’, or someone like that, that climbs and soars from a very Sea Nymphs /Oliver Postgate soundtrack medley to overwhelming heights of emotion, wearing those Vaughan Williams wings.
The magic here is that for all the words like ‘whimsy’ and ‘cheery’ and ‘strange’ this is never, ever, ever cloying or forced or cheesy. This is deep and beautiful music, sometimes painfully beautiful. Real innocence, with no side, no hidden smirk, deeply honest – the strength in fragile things. This isn’t ‘eccentric’ music, this is delightful music, happy, sometime jolly, thingssometimes a folly, a chess board for a lawn. In An Idea World is just that, an ideal world, where everything is right, and there’s a time to act, a time to wait… In An Ideal World is perfectly beautiful, nether modern sounding or old, everything just right, tea in the correct cups, taken at the correct time. (Not to follow rules, but because it tasts nicer that way… maybe it’s just toy teacups). And then there’s the bits where things fly too close to the sun, like poor Icarus.
Mr William D Drake was once a small boy who lived in a house with a donated piano, but maybe there was also a harmonium, and maybe he’s still there, small feet pumping the pedals of the wheezy old thing, birdsong and the keys clicking, sending tunes half-heard ‘from the deep, dark past’ up dusty shafts of sunlight to the present day. These songs are no brassy knock-off imitations, or dead artifacts frozen behind museum glass, but magical, timeless things with the glowing depth of well-used mahogany. As much Blake as Drake, songs of innocence and experience.