William D Drake – The Rising Of The Lights
Tracklist: Super Altar (2:54), Ant Trees (1:55), In An Ideal World (3:52), The Mastodon (3:49), Ornamental Hermit (4:55), Wholly Holey (2:40), The Rising Of The Lights (2:04), Song In The Key Of Concrete (1:28), Me Fish Bring (6:38), Ziegler (4:13), Laburnum (1:37), Homesweet Homestead Hideaway (9:33)
This is a wonderfully well crafted album of superb songs from a particularly worthy artist. The fact that it will never be heard beyond small groups of converted devotees is a travesty of almost biblical proportions but such is the life of a cult musician such as William D. Drake whose extraordinary body of work is approached with a mixture of contempt and confusion by many “listeners” who may have never actually heard much of it.
This is because of his close ties with Cardiacs, a group he played keyboards with for a decade from the early ‘80s and whose sound he was instrumental in creating. In fact when he left it was quickly decided that no one else could play keys to the required level so he wasn’t replaced and the band continued ever after with “Bill-in-a-Box” programmed keys. No band produces such extreme reactions as Cardiacs but they have provided us with a magnificent back catalogue of breathtakingly wilful and difficult music that as a result of the tragic and debilitating health problems suffered by leader Tim Smith in 2008 is currently unavailable in physical formats without the outlay of large wedges of cash and is now unlikely to be enlarged upon.
Drake’s career since Cardiacs has seen him contribute to bands such as The Sea Nymphs (with Smith again), North Sea Radio Orchestra, Nervous, Lake Of Puppies, The Grown-Ups, Lefaye and Stars In Battledress as well as a run of solo releases of which The Rising Of The Lights is the fourth. If any of the above names are familiar you will know what interesting and diverting talents Bill possesses. His ability to meld classical, prog and straightforward songsmithery should have made knowledge of his work far more widespread.
The Rising Of The Lights follows on from 2007s fantastic Briny Hooves and is another startling collection of eclectic music and acoustic based songs. Elements of the trademark sound of Cardiacs is noticeable in tracks such as openerSuper Altar, Ant Trees (both originally intended for Sea Nymphs) and Wholly Holey but are presented here in a gentler and less acerbic form than may have been provided by Smith and Co. The bizarre lyric and quick fire delivery of Super Altar keeps things barrelling along, the Olde World feel exhibited in the cover art coming through in the music. Ant Trees off-kilter lyrics have a distinct prog edge referencing past times and Victoriana including Lewis Carrol’s The Hunting of the Snark, spinning along with dextrous writing and playing from all concerned. This seldom becomes a full on rock album but uses the resources well to create an interesting hybrid using techniques learned by Drake through his working life and classical training. The core band features bass, drums, clarinet, keys and voice with guest guitar here and there. Throughout Drake’s piano is the key feature and never far from the surface.
In An Ideal World is a beautiful piano led song of romance that features ex-Cardiac & Sea Nymph Sarah Jones on vocals while the predominantly instrumental Mastodon has much more thump but retains the piano up front with influences from classical music, Gentle Giant and perhaps even Gryphon. The brief lyric delivered in a mock-Victorian style adds to a wonderfully entertaining whole and as throughout the performances are exquisite.Ornamental Hermit sees the lyric and vocal dripping with emotion, busy piano taking the lead supported by mellotron before the introduction of rhythm and clarinet. The feel gets darker, building to a crescendo before falling away on dissonant piano crashes with a flourish to finish it off perfectly.
Wholly Holey is a fun piece that continues the vision of simpler times long gone and is followed by the lolloping, off-kilter title track, an instrumental reeking of late nights after too much to drink. Song In The Key Of Concrete is a whimsical piece with more Gentle Giant influences building to a stomping finale while Me Fish Bring is wonderful and airy built on a repeating piano figure with male and female vocals, clarinet again adding colour. Ziegler is another instrumental with a galloping piano-led rhythm that works itself into an upbeat theme with effective use of harmonium that reminds me of Swedish music from the ‘70s. Laburnum sees Jones return for a song that takes the words of James Joyce and adds them to a soundtrack dripping with emotion.
The lengthy Homesweet Homestead Hideaway is another whimsical piece with Cardiacs influences and lugubrious clarinet, Drake’s vocal complemented nicely by those of Dug Parker in the opening part before a bizarre staccato interlude changes the direction midway through and moves on into a sweeping and romantic piano section. The final part sees a new, more grandiose theme emerge to finish the album in style.
The Rising Of The Lights is a wonderful addition to a compelling back catalogue, the solo elements of which you can discover for your benefit and delectation by following the samples link above. Give it a try, hopefully you’ll find it rewarding and if you are not familiar with Drake or the other fine artists working in the orbit of Cardiacs you have a lot to discover. Do so, it is likely to improve your listening life like it has mine.
Drake’s live appearances are not frequent but he and his So Called Friends are appearing at a Tim Smith benefit at The Windmill in Brixton, London on 3rd February 2012.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10