Edgar Jones on top of his game and Matthew Thomas Smith expertly chronicling Liverpool life in a mighty fine afternoon of verbiage and vibes.
Words: Prince Far Out
Pictures: Peter Kevan (although he doesn’t know it yet.)
As the dark satanic mills at the arse end of Greater Manchester slowly stopped staining my rear view mirror, I crept closer to the land that I love enticed by the prospect of being in the company of two of Liverpool‘s finest artistes.
Round the Corner, a lovely little venue hidden away in a less salubrious part of the city was hosting an acoustic afternoon, the first of a monthly occurrence that is to be thoroughly recommended. There were four performers billed but ‘current circumstances’ conspired to enable me only to see the two I had travelled for, more of which later.
My journey had me musing (not uniquely) on the musical differences that straddles this 31 mile section of the M62. I was leaving a city that has produced a plethora of bands with a dark, experimental, almost claustrophobic nature (yes, you Joy Division) that reflects the brooding cityscapes and the encroaching moors that hold too many secrets. I was heading towards a city that is steeped in a musical history of it’s own with a contrasting shiny, shimmering outlook onto the Mersey and beyond. The river has inspired sea shanties a-plenty that could only be created beneath the protection of the Liver Birds alongside a wit and wonder that has entertained and more crucially served as a barricade to more brutal times. It was this that had seduced me down to the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey on this fine afternoon. Except when I arrived it was pissing it down.
Nevertheless, as I leapt from my car and headed up the stairs of Round the Corner on Kempston Street, I pondered on how lucky I was to be able to sample both cities’ fare at will.
Opening with Mersey tunnel mouthed Margi, it features arty Adrian, waggish Wylie and a cast of names known and unknown who helped forge the legacy of Liverpool as a musical and poetic city. It’s main focus however was in chronicling the right there, right then lives of a triumvirate of the city’s songwriters, and the fact that all three are still entirely relevant thirty years later shows what great eyes and ears those garçons et filles Francais had, allied with a soupçon of impeccable taste. Back then Ian McCulloch was a solo artist just prior to Electrafixion segueing into a resurrected Bunnymen, who made one of the great comebacks (he would naturally say ‘the greatest’) with Evergreen. Mick Head by contrast was post Pale Fountains implosion, post Zilch and a year on from having made the magnificent Waterpistol which fate, up against his will, conspired to not see the light of day for another four years, by which time the other end of the M62 had seized the zeitgeist via the hands of the Gallagher brothers. Meanwhile Edgar Jones was half way up The Stairs career and on the verge of releasing the mighty Mexican RnB, a wonderful concoction of fantastic songs that seemed to pass by un-noticed as the U.K. audience was dunderheadedly in thrall to grunge all things Americana.
In the right here, right now Mac continues to release great records and tour with the evergreen (it had to be done) Bunnymen, whilst Mick garnered a cult audience with both Shack (R.I.P. Tempo – much loved, much missed x) and latterly the Red Elastic Band, before something wondrous happened in 2022; the cult blossomed into mainstream success with the supreme Dear Scott album. Meantime Edgar has worked with Ian McCulloch, Johnny Marr, Paul Weller, Cherry Ghost and others, and continued releasing some brilliant albums of his own in various guises from the Isrites to the Big Kids (only the sessions exist but if you can get hold of them you will be wowed) to the Joneses and he too has a healthy cult following, but.(*beckons reader in conspiratorially*) I reckon he could be well set to follow a Michael Head like trajectory (*taps nose*). “Why would you say that?” you ask. Well his new album, the splendidly titled Reflections of a Soul Dimension is due for release in April and is going to be something very special judging from the quality of the new songs on show this afternoon, allied with the fact that he is in storming form currently.
2023 could be – should be – the year of the Edgar.
I have seen Edgar Jones in various incarnations throughout the years but most often as a solo performer. His ever present charm and self-effacing bonhomie was evident today as always, but, and I say with some assurance, his performance at Round the Corner was something wondrous, evidence of an artist secure in the fact he has an outstanding back catalogue to rifle through, and confident that in his new songs he holds something a little bit special.
Starting a little later than advertised due to a cat assisted rodent invasion at his home, he launched into the bittersweet bluesy strum of I Ain’t Giving Up On Love and followed it up with a beautiful, plaintively indecisive Mister Can You Tell Me, like a musical version of The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. It is emblematic of the sprawling nature of Edgar‘s back catalogue that the song is only to be found on the Viper released The Great Liverpool Acoustic Experiment. In between numbers Jones would explain his vision for the songs, where he nicked ideas from – “It was only three notes so it’s alright then!“- and where and when they may eventually materialise in fully recorded form. As such, I am not sure if he said Don’t Let It Happen Again was going to be on Reflections of a Soul Dimension or the album after that (he has planned ahead) but it is an absolute stunner, like The Marvelettes crossed with Day Tripper and despite being in acoustic form this afternoon, I could hear Phil Spector production, a wall of sound girl chorus, massive drums, the whole shebang. Berry Gordy would have killed for a tune like that ( but who would have guessed Phil was the murdering type?). “Two restless figures flail/ each end of eternity” begins Through the Rain as Edgar channels The Walker Brothers in a tale of love lost with a musical interlude similar to Shack‘s Meant To Be. Indeed, the poetry and quality in Jones‘s lyrics sometimes gets lost because the music is often the star of his songs, and as such it is an under-valued aspect of his craft. Al Wilson‘s The Snake is next up and is an example of Jones bringing his encyclopaedic knowledge of music to the fore. Having spent much of his life wisely mired in music and drinking in the sounds of so many genres, it should have been no surprise that Northern Soul should make it’s appearance with this stomper. It was an unexpected delight and was the penultimate number of Edgar‘s first set. The final song, No Matter What, is set to be the last song on Reflections of a Soul Dimension and it is a stop you in your tracks, full on, gorgeously soulful masterpiece. Edgar opens up his lungs to full effect on the ending “No matter what you do” with a vocal dexterity that is something to behold and then he departs to give his larynx a well deserved oiling but not before promising, Arnold style, that he will be back.
In the same manner in which Edgar has ploughed a musical furrow that taps into the fabled Mathew Street ley-lines (but also their journeys towards the Americas of Michigan and Mississippi) so has Matthew Thomas Smith in poetic form. Having now published three excellent volumes of verse it is fair to say that Matthew is currently the critical voice of the ‘pool. His own inimitable interpretation of the city is an often caustic commentary on the bludgeoning in-roads the Tory Government is making on the fine people of Liverpool, but there is a sly wit lurking in the aghast nature of much of his oeuvre. As he entered the stage, dressed like a stylishly besuited 21st Century Che Guevara there is chatter from beyond the stage as the audience were still discussing Edgar‘s set. Smith showed he meant business though and the matter and manner of his delivery soon had them rapt. “A crane clicks into life on Hardman Street…” and so begins Liverpool‘s own haunting Howl.
Daybreak, delivered in Smith‘s deliciously thick Scouse stew of a voice is an epic deconstruction of vicious 21st Century Britain. It is a daunting, suffocating piece that perfectly encapsulates life in Tory Britain under the current bunch of gangsters/phonies and their Labour cronies. Rimrose Valley alleviates things a little as Matthew searches for something to cling to in a world polluted by the vacuous and the vermin. The always evocative Neon Lights sees Smith find something, anything to brighten life up if only transitorily.
This afternoon, as Smith reels off his list of How to get by in the workplace I can almost hear the clock ticking, waiting with him in solidarity for the mundanity of the day to end. It is a coruscating appraisal of the sad, dull rigour of life on the treadmill, and an observation that seems to suggest that the Tories pursuit of Victorian values has seen us return towards Victorian working conditions but not much else. It is like a poetic Modern Times, with Smith failing to find any of the humour Chaplin eked out. Middle-aged man on a trampoline is a bittersweet account, it might be amusing if there weren’t an uncomfortable hint that the titular man might be having a breakdown of sorts. The final three poems; A PLACE TO LIVE, SCENES FROM AN NHS OFFICE and THE PRIEST LIED TO MY MOTHER are further testament to the weariness Matthew feels in the face of the horrific force of unrestrained capitalism, but the latter contains some humour, and Smith interjected his set with the odd “he’s a prick”, and made the a joke about the weighty tone of the material to add a splash of levity. Tilda watch the stars or one of Smith‘s lighter observations might have alleviated the sturm und drang a tad, but you felt that he meant business tonight, was pulling no punches and quite frankly my dear…and to be fair why the hell should he? Things are only getting worse and Matthew is like a voice screaming into a wilderness of apathy and acquiescence, like his namesake, preaching his gospel to the unhearing, the sceptical and the stupid.
Which is exactly why his voice should be valued. I believe there are a very limited number of his third volume left (the first two sold out). Get it.
And like tax collector Saint Matthew, I have something to confess, for father I have sinned…
Tom George and Laurence Petre Allen I missed your sets.
Well that is not entirely true. Having spied some fellow Blues of my acquaintance and in light of the result of our match not 24 hours prior, our coterie of conspiracy theorists of an L4 4EL hue hunkered down in the back room area and got carried away with talk of headlocks, daft fans and who might replace Lampard. There was much wringing of hands, wailing and gnashing of teeth and finally prayers were offered to Saint Matthew‘s mate. By the time we had finished, Edgar was readying for the final set.
I will of course mention all of this at my next confession.
Jones took to the stage again, this time wearing a wooly number as the temperatures dropped, but Liverpool‘s very own Delta (not the cabs) bluesman soon warmed the place up with what was, to all intents and purposes, a greatest hits set with a couple of newbies thrown in for good measure. The instantly recognisable More Than You’ve Ever Had from Liverpool‘s own Trout Mask Replica (if there was more by the way of conventional songs on the Captain‘s masterpiece) Soothing Music for Stray Cats. Thus far, that album and it’s dizzying array of influences and styles is perhaps Edgar‘s most celebrated. Reflections of a Soul Dimension might see that change. Next up was a highlight for me. I have been a ska and reggae addict since childhood so was thrilled that Jones decided to float the dance-tastic Mellow Down Pussycat into the Liverpool late afternoon. I am sure I spied some people down the front skanking. Little did I know what else he had in store later. Edgar explained that the next song was another newbie set for release on the album after next because he is waiting to get a sweet soul voice on it since he feels it has a touch of The Supremes about it, but that tonight he would give us a raucous version. He isn’t wrong. Whatcha Trying To Do To Me is another Motown in waiting number and Jones‘s guitar playing tonight was particularly inventive and catchy.
A sumptuous Don’t Break My Heart followed with Edgar scatting over the top before even that was topped with a mesmerising I Would Do Anything that saw Edgar‘s hands producing some outrageous and astonishing blues licks to compliment his fine fettle vocals. Come Back To Me took us West-side and to sunnier sides (sunnier than lashing it down Liverpool anyway) and to the easy going, laid back, easy listening territory inhabited by The Mamas and Papas, Herb Alpert, Andy Williams and their ilk; it even has a ba ba ba ba refrain! The jaunty rocker Place My Bets and the slow building almost hypnotic epic Losing The Battle were further evidence that Edgar Jones is writing and performing quite wonderfully presently, and I became aware that I had a constant smile on my face (a rare occurrence – just ask anyone who knows me). Edgar had taken us many places this afternoon but What Comes After Love was devastatingly heart-breaking and lyrically haunting. He hit the mark with this one, driving a brilliant song straight to the soul (dimension), another highlight on an afternoon chock full of them. The Lost Promise, possibly another new one/possibly tucked away somewhere deep and mysterious in Edgar‘s back catalogue/definitely another corker, edged us towards the close of the evening but not before some more special moments. Announcing it as a reggae-fied version of the theme tune to the Thomas Crown Affair, a lilting and softly undulating Windmills of Your Mind was beautifully and carefully cast adrift on the sea air and the natural mystic. Then, following calls for an encore, well it had to be didn’t it? Weed Bus it was, and it was bellowed and hollered out not just by Edgar, but also by a lightly oiled and well into it best lead singer in town who had been swaying along all night at the back of the room to what Edgar had to offer, and he offered us…well…everything really.
Ska, reggae, soul, blues Motown, R’n’B, easy listening, doo wop, rock n roll and the rest. A dizzying melange of musical influences and innovations with nods to Bacharach, The Supremes the Wilsons…what’s not to love?
Hearing the new songs acoustically and imagining what they might become was part of the thrill, since every one of them sounds like an absolute gem. If Edgar realises his vision and ambition, Reflections of a Soul Dimension could yet be his landmark album. The legend is about have another chapter added. As I pointed out earlier, 2022 saw Michael Head get his long awaited mass recognition and judging from tonight’s performance and the promise of the new songs, and if there is any justice in the world, 2023 should by rights belong to Edgar Jones.
March sees the new dates for the recently postponed The Stairs December dates – be there or be a rhombus.
Reflections of a Soul Dimension is slated for an April 2023 release.
Peace and Love
Prince Far Out