The Bevis Frond - New River Head

by Ian Fraser Rating:9 Release Date:2016-07-29

For much of the past 30-years Nick Saloman, aka Bevis Frond, has been one of music’s best kept secrets, revered by a fiercely loyal following and those in the know, ignored by the music industry generally and pretty much everyone else. His own fault in one way. A resolutely uncompromising ploughman of his own singular furrows, the intelligent, articulate and thoroughly engaging Saloman spent most of the late 1980s as a bedroom Mike Oldfield single-handedly composing playing and recording his own albums at home in North East London for no-one in particular. Except that his debut release was picked up by a mail order shop in Margate who promptly shifted his entire run of 500 albums prompting a second pressing and a career that has spawned more than 20 albums plus spin-offs and collaborations (of which Nick usually has a story to tell).

That debut album was Miasma, which introduced an unsuspecting and for the most part un-listening world to what would become Bevis’ trademark broad canvas of Hendrix guitar (the boy can play) and 14 hour single hob bedsit freakouts, complemented by heat-seeker accurate pop rock melodies, disarming acoustic balladry and some of the most acute, bitter-sweet and observational lyrics in rock music. In 1991 Saloman released New River Head, now reissued under a new deal with Fire Records which also lets Any Gas Faster and London Stone see the welcome light of day.

To business.

NRH’s enduring appeal rests with the fact that if push comes to shove you need never buy or for that matter listen to any other Frond album, it’s all here (not that this will want to stop you from checking out pretty much every other one, mind). Like J Mascis, Saloman knocks out songs that are instantly recognisable while seemingly capable of reinventing tunes that sound at once familiar yet completely original. “He’d Be A Diamond” is one of Nick’s bona fide claims to have written a hit, having seen it covered by Mary Lou Lord, Juliana Hatfield and Teenage Fanclub and hopefully he will have benefited from those associations to the tune of something more than the warm glow of flattery. Cyke Bancroft’s skronking sax on ‘White Sun’ lends an excitable and jagged counterpoint to Saloman’s furious fretwork which, if I’m honest, occasionally turns in on itself, and while ‘She’s Entitled’ sounds like Hendrix fronting Jethro Tull, ‘Wild Jack Hammer’ and ‘Blurred Vision’ are impressive stabs at the real thing. The title track is as good an example of that Bevis juxtaposition of sweet and sour, rough and smooth, melody and heft and ‘Solar Marmalade’ is 16 minutes of hair flailing geetar madness or the kind many of us cut our teeth on. Some beautiful moments manifest too, the phased guitar on ‘Drowned’, the folksy ‘Waving’ (which might have hopped straight out of an Incredible String Band album), and the typically wistful folk ballad ‘Thankless Task’ among them.

All praise then to a great assemblage of collaborators including folkster Barry Dransfield on fiddle and Current 93’s David Tibet as well as the aforementioned Cyke and constant star Ade Shaw, who all come together to stunning and sometimes cacophonous effect on the extended ‘The Miskatonic Variations II’ over which Tibet mewls creepily and rather splendidly as is his wont. Top marks and the biggest of rosettes for best in class, though, goes to the loveliest Bevis song ever, ‘Stain On The Sun’, which nails it not just lyrically and melodically but slings in a virtuoso to the point of anthemic guitar workout to send them all packing. Truly a desert island disc that one, for when I never get the call. OK I’ll have the blighters play it at my funeral instead.

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