Quietus review of the new album Oh, Sealand

Terrific review of the new album, Oh Sealand, by Ben Graham in the Quietus. Click on the link to read it and watch the latest video from Oddfellow's Casino, with guest appearances from John Higgs and Alan Moore. 

Essentially the project of one David Bramwell, a northerner relocated to Brighton, Oddfellow's Casino have released seven albums in their 15-year existence and take their name from Ambrose Oddfellow, a Victorian freakshow host whose moustache Bramwell inherited from a great-aunt. The author of several books focussing on notable eccentrics and regional oddities, and the creator and presenter of quirky documentaries for BBC Radios 3 and 4, Bramwell found a kindred spirit in John Higgs, whose most recent book, Watling Street, explores notions of Britishness by way of the country's oldest road and the events that occurred along its route. Higgs commissioned Bramwell to write a song to accompany the book, and 'The Ghosts of Watling Street' forms the centrepiece of this album. It also features a spoken-word contribution from the great Alan Moore, who intones, "We have wandered too far from some ancient totem - something central to us, that we must find our way back to."

Oh, Sealand is clearly concerned with the question of Britain, but avoids any easy answers. Its clearest statement comes in the opening track, 'Land of the Cuckoo', where over ominous, pulsing bass, Bramwell sings: "There's a fox in the schoolyard/ they're in the hospitals now" in a barely veiled warning against allowing profit-focussed corporations to insinuate themselves into essential public institutions. The song 'Sealand' is described as an unofficial anthem for the independent principality of Sealand, the micro-nation founded on a disused Maunsell Sea Fort seven miles off the Suffolk coast. Seized from rival pirate radio broadcasters in 1967, its story is one of dubious and desperate free enterprise combined with English eccentricity at its most belligerent and aggressive. If the track sounds more like a lament for lost dreams than a celebration of island utopias, the line "We'll take this land by force" undermines any idealistic ideas about Sealand's history. Instead the song raises the question of what exactly constitutes a nation, and draws implicit parallels with the larger island this libertarian outpost in the North Sea defines itself against.

Musically, Oddfellow's Casino deals in tuneful, anglocentric and mildly experimental electro-acoustic pop that joins the dots between Pentangle and The Pet Shop Boys, Basil Kirchin and British Sea Power. There are echoes too of the literate, introverted indie of Animals That Swim or The Lilac Time. 'The Ghosts of Watling Street' is the album's most radio-friendly moment, riding a confident and catchy guitar riff and a bucolic melody worthy of Fried-era Julian Cope: you barely notice the missing chorus, which just never arrives.

The seven-minute 'Down in the Water' is the other strong pop moment, enlivened by Rachel James's soulful vocals, Numan-esque synths and a stomping glam rhythm. Images of drowned villages and people sleeping underwater become Jungian totems of sublimated sexuality. 'Swallow The Day' is pastoral psychedelia of the lightest kind, while 'Danu' is a spoken-word piece following the course of the River Don over a bed of electronic drones and sparse piano. The determined fuzz bass of 'Children Of The Rocks' contrasts with the unadorned piano and plaintive vocals of 'Josephine', a simple love song that uses imagery of the English landscape to convey its emotional message.

 

 

6 Music and New BBC radio 3 documentary

6 Music will be repeating our Ivor Cutler Archive Hour program on March 23rd then two days later, a new Between The Ears goes out on Saturday 25th, 9.30pm focusssing on the mythic aspects of the River Don and with special guest Alan Moore. 

Radio 4's Museum of Curiosity

Proud to have been guest on John Lloyd's Museum of Curiosity this January, together with comedian Holly Walsh and Freakonomics co-author, Stephen J Dubnor. LIsten again by clicking on the link. 

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New review from Caught by the River

The Number 9 Bus to Utopia – David Bramwell
Published by Unbound. Out now.

Review by Ben McCormick

First things first: I wanted to hate this book. Not because of its author, the title or indeed any of its contents. I wanted to hate it out of sheer jealousy. Brighton resident David Bramwell boarded the Number 9 Bus to Utopia shortly after being dumped by the love of his life in an attempt to become a more loving, sharing person. That bus consisting of several flights around the world to communities that all in some way lay claim to having found an ideal for living. From the flourishing new age commune of Findhorn in northern Scotland via the Czech S&M haven that is (or was) the Other World Kingdom to the otherworldly, clandestine, Alpine time-travelling collective of Damanhur, Bramwell roams the planet trying to find himself and a better way of life while trying to get over the ex. Along the way he would encounter anarchists, hippies, polyamorists and any number of characters who, just by meeting, would provide such distractions as to take your mind off any lost love within moments. It’s a fantastic trip; just the type I’d have given my left bollock to embark upon on the several occasions I’ve found myself in a similarly dumped state. Except every time it’s happened to me I’ve been utterly skint and unable to self-indulge in anything more costly than several bottles of supermarket plonk and a keg of freshly made homebrew. That the author funded his quest through savings makes it even more galling. Savings? Who has savings?

So why, given my happily confessed antipathy, was I unable to put this book down for the day and a half it took me to read it? I’ve thought about this for a while. Sometimes overly philosophically, other times on a more rudimentary level. As with so much in life, the reason is complex. For a start, it’s packed full of hilarious observations and is written in a relaxed, disarming almost self-deprecating style that allows you to read keenly about the kind of adventure you’d love to have without being troubled by outright envy. And there is plenty to ponder too, as you’d expect from such a journal of discovery. But the reason for me is perhaps best summed up by Hecase, an archetypal wise old man Bramwell meets in the Californian commune of Esalen. “Esalen’s greatest gift is the people who come here. I’ve met some incredible people over the years.” Because through the pages, as you accompany the author on his journey – and this is perhaps his greatest gift – you feel like you’re meeting a wealth of strange and familiar folk who in one way or another are just as lost, uncertain, bewildered and ultimately seeking some kind of answer as we undoubtedly all are.

From the mid-forties musician Henrik in the hippyish enclave of Christiania to Carel, the wild-spirited Belgian heavy metal bass player with a penchant for drinking and a propensity for wandering off and shouting in his sleep, Bramwell introduces us to a long line of like-minded seekers searching for a better way of life. It’s fascinating reading about them and their searches. And they’re a complex bunch, though inevitably the author does come across his fair share of clichés as well. Almost from the outset, Bramwell flags up his irritation at those who would, while pointing to their heart, vacantly pose him the rhetorical question: “Don’t you know that Utopia is here?” It’s fair enough: that kind of glib, self-satisfied, cod spiritualism is exactly the kind of codswallop peddled by those who would also have you believe you’ll ‘only find love when you’re least looking for it’. But the odd and perhaps ironic thing about it is, the more you read about the outlandish, anarchic and alternative lifestyles pursued by people in search of their idyll, the more you begin to suspect the smug, smiling ‘heart-gesturers’ could be on to something. And by the end of the book, I wonder whether he’d have come to the same conclusion had he carried on for another couple of chapters. He disembarks the bus a few stops short of that ultimate destination but, without spoiling anything, you feel he’s happier for it. Thomas More coined the word Utopia based on a Greek pun: ‘eu-topos’ meaning a good place and ‘ou-topos’ meaning nowhere. Throughout this funny, engaging and thought-provoking book, you’re invited to consider the possibility it might just mean nowhere in particular. Or rather, anywhere you can find that works for you. As an elderly lady Bramwell met in Harbin Hot Springs says: “Find a place that has what you want. Or if you like where you live already, whatever’s missing you must create for yourself.” Whether we can all do that without interfering with anyone else’s ideal world is the subject for another book.

David Bramwell will be speaking about the book and other things at Wilderness festivalthis weekend.

Ben McCormick on Caught by the River