The Lover’s Song reviewed

“The Lover’s Song”. Eleven of Mr Hanaway’s tunes for only £10 UK, delivered in a chichi shiny-white padded bag. Play it over and over in the discomfort of your own home, droning along until you go hoarse. It comes with a 12-page booklet with the lyrics, cleverly printed so that you can read them without a magnifying glass. 

Recorded and mixed by bassist Andrew Burnham, who was also responsible for the design of the CD package. And it would be remiss not to mention the rest of us: lead singer Jo Nicholson Smith; guitarist, synth player and webmaster Colin Wight; and Chris Ford, guest drummer. Not forgetting Penny Hedger at Alpha Duplication (High Wycombe), Jamie Hyatt at Glasshouse Studios (Cumnor), and Kate Roncoroni (Herne Hill) who re-designed the OftW logo.

But how to purchase, I hear you cry? Just go to the Contact page and send a message. You will hear back from us within 24 hours. You can pay by PayPal, cheque or bank transfer.

Feedback from listeners

“Thank you for the music! It is a fantastic album, I have it in the car and listen to it when the going gets tough … quite often, in other words!”

“For a country guitarist this is complicated music, and tellingly Cowboys and Astronauts is my favourite cut (it’s also the simplest song). Just shows you how much I know.”

“Just listened to the album again. I really like Cowboys and Astronauts, Planet of Our Dreams and I’m So Lazy. Candy’s favourite is North Parade!”

“I like Planet… very true sentiment. Integrated playing of guitars with keys and very skilled vocals… the subtle melodic changes are difficult to sing! The Lover’s Song – good song. Catchy chorus! I liked And When She Woke a lot too: the care and thoughtfulness in the lyrics, musical ideas, arrangements and instrumental performances. They are complex songs. Jo’s vocal is also very pleasing.”

“It’s bright, fresh and has some lovely melodies. It’s reminiscent of Fairport Convention. It’s been well produced and there are many songs with a catch to them. I personally like The Lover’s Song.”

“My favourite song is And When She Woke. I love the way the words of all the songs are so poetic and tell a story, the whole album is growing on me. Jo’s voice is beautiful and blends very well with the other voice and the instrumentation is very good. You can really feel the care and time that has been put into the production of it.”

“We listened to the CD the evening we received it. Very impressed, especially with Jo’s vocal range.”

“My top track is The Wrong Words – nice combination of bitter-sweet lyrics, arrangement, and musicianship. Other highlights for me include the instrumental section on The Lover’s Song and the array of guitar sounds used across the album.”

“I’ve really enjoyed listening to it. The arrangement of the tracks works particularly well, though I was immediately drawn to one called Cowboys and Astronauts – my current favourites are Beware the Sensitive Child and the title track. It’s now vying for ‘album of the year’ alongside Mary Chapin Carpenter’s The Dirt and the Stars.

“My first impressions are very favourable and that it is in parts reminiscent of early Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny, a band I still listen to regularly.”

“For me music always comes first and words second, but I have found with your album it’s really worth listening to both. You do have a very gifted composer and writer. My knowledge of music outside classical mainstream is pathetic (putting aside my adolescent years), so I don’t know how to compare you with others ). But put all that aside. I liked the sound very much and the songs I was particularly drawn to were in the middle: Cowboys and Astronauts and Planet of Our Dreams.” 

“Well, a lovely surprise arrived in the post today ! My favourite is Litter on the Shore.”

“You should be very pleased with yourselves for producing a fine piece of work. I like the vocal harmonies, the harmonica and keyboards. It’s a pity it isn’t a concept album as the writing lends itself to telling a story. Why is it I can’t get ‘into your arms out of my head? How dare you!”

“Excellent stuff: reminiscent of Fairport Convention. Your vocalist has a distinct Sandy Denny/ Maddy Prior feel. I liked Cowboys and Astronauts particularly. Liked the ballads with lots of minor chords. Overall, great job.”

Bernard Hanaway’s collage artwork for The Lover’s Song

Our own review notes

*Other reviews may be available (“These deluded dinosaurs etc…”)

1. Guiding Hand

Hanaway sets a cracking pace and they sprint away like Blondie in their pomp. A joyful ditty – almost a hymn, with its hint of divine providence. When we look up at the stars, is somebody looking down at us? Deeply profound.

2. Litter on the Shore

Quirky love tale with a whiff of The Kinks, narrated by JNS over an ocean of 70s sound. C, Bb, D minor, E, C9, A, D, B minor, F# minor, G, F, E minor, Bb, F and back to C, Bb… right in the O-zone.

3. And When She Woke

Oh Lordy, Maestro Hanaway’s haunting finger-pickin’ tunes! This lyric coruscates with sprinklings of Lear and magic dust courtesy of La Smith and her mark-tree. Astral waltzing that made one critic swoon.

4. Cowboys and Astronauts

Childhood games morph into first love, recollected in wistful tranquillity by Ms Smith. Hanaway blows a campfire harmonica over a wall of guitars, bass and drums. Are y’all listening, Nashville?

5. Planet of Our Dreams

A witty and surreal concoction that just might be a chanson by Juliette Gréco. Dare I mention “Petula Clark”? The rarely-heard Suzuki Q-Chord brings even more sparkle to a catchy tune. ¡Cha cha cha!

6. I’m So Lazy

They used to open with this shuffle back in the last century, and it’s survived largely unadulterated. BH shows off on guitar, piano and vocal – with APB’s “precision” bass to the fore. A whole lotta chords.

7. Beware the Sensitive Child

Fun and mayhem as the crumblies attempt to keep a tiny tot entertained. How quickly a baby becomes an independent – not to say opinionated – human being! Granny Smith puts us across her knee.

8. The Wrong Words

Another that harks back to the 80s, remodelled and with a pronounced Latin accent by Don Bernardo. Rock solid from the band, harmony vocals from the Tuneful Twosome and slinky gee-tar from “Isla” Wight.

9. Other Hearts

Deuxième chanson pour Mme Smith, over piano and guitars. You can almost hear the tears. Terminal communication breakdown (an OftW speciality), as l’amour goes sour. Dripping with distress and distain.

10. The Lover’s Song

Hail the English ballad from J. Barleycorn to R. Thompson! An anthem to close Glastonbury – permanently. Wave your virtual lighter and sing that tune that’s buried deep in your heart.

11. North Parade

They used to rehearse in a basement up Banbury Road, then go to the pub and talk of becoming musicians. Ha! Still talking about it 40 years on. Tempus, as they say, fugit, before you can shout “T.S. Eliot”!

Move the Air, on the air

A nasty old year 2020 is turning out to be. But for the band, there’s been a few ups to go with the downs. Like being on the radio.

We enjoy playing music in the old-fashioned way, all in the same room at the same time. We don’t get together often but we’ve had a lot of fun. Of course we’ve spent a lot more time in the studio than in front of an audience, but that’s hardly unusual. This January we played our first gig for a while: not (yet) the hour+ show we had been planning, but a slot at Oxford’s Klub Kakofanney. We were invited back… then COVID-19 put paid to all that.

For the last 10 months we’ve not been able to meet, so we’ve been at home (in four different counties) tweaking the tracks laid down at Cumnor’s Glasshouse Studios. A CD will be coming… soon. Very old-fashioned of us, but we don’t care.

***

Supermarine Spitfire Mk1: RAF official photographer, from the collections of Imperial War Museums

We’ve also been working on new stuff. For the first time we’ve completed a song that we’ve never once played as an ensemble. Andrew uploaded that song, “Move the Air”, to BBC Oxford’s website, and Dave Gilyeat quickly emailed to say that he wanted to play it on his show, Introducing in Oxfordshire. Our hope was that it would go out to coincide with Battle of Britain Day (15 September) but there was a backlog of tracks so it wasn’t broadcast until last weekend, by which time we’d almost forgotten we’d sent it.

So it was a nice surprise to hear it, with a short introduction from Bern. It was the final song of the evening, so we’ve cut out the preceding 55 minutes! Lovely vocals from Jo.

Bernard introduces “Move the Air”

Here’s the playlist. At the time of writing the programme is available as a BBC podcast.

Harcourt incident

After a productive weekend rehearsing at Glasshouse Studios in Cumnor in September 2018, we decided to drop in on the popular open mic night on Sunday evening at the Harcourt Arms in Jericho to see if we could play a few songs. We arrived good and early so it was soon sorted. After our first mini-set, one of the other musical contributors approached us.

“I’ve seen you guys before,” he said.
“We’ve been here a couple of times.”
“No, I mean before before”.
“Eh?”
“St Peter’s College JCR. October 1978, I think.”

He could remember several of our song titles – bear in mind that then as now we were playing original material – and even quote some of the words! He remembered we had some difficulty with the fold-back monitors. He wondered if we were going to play “I’m So Lazy” later… maybe in the hope that we might finally be able to get it right!

In those days a high proportion of our audience would have been loyal friends, or friends of friends, who would have seen us on more than one occasion and come to know the songs. But none of us recognised him. Perhaps he was just a member of St Peter’s JCR and had chanced on the gig? No, he was at another college. “I saw it advertised, and it sounded interesting.”

And who was Mr Memory? Jonathan Luxmoore, now of the noted Oxford-based folk trio Jesters. What were the chances of him and us being in the same venue 40 years later? And why did we not leave such a favourable impression on anyone else, and become successful and famous?

During the gig, someone posted a video on social media. At the end of the evening, we were shown a response: “I remember them – I’ve still got a cassette they made in the 1980s!” Two former fans found in one evening. This one is now living in Venezuela…

Boardroom news

Eyebrows were raised at last month’s OftW Zoomed Board meeting when Colin Wight, Chair and CEO, announced that he had spent 115% of the annual equipment budget on a plectrum.

“It’s not your run-of-the-mill sort of pick,” said Mr Wight. “It’s made from Jimi Hendrix’s ground-up metacarpals infused with Gibeon meteorite and bonded with pyramid-cured crystals that channels Jimi’s muscle memory into your own”.

“First you’ll have to find a muscle,” mused Lady Joanna Jingly-Smith, a remark which the Chair considered disrespectful.

“It will be a great investment, believe me,” blustered Mr Wight. Drinks were served.

***

Eyebrows were raised at last week’s OftW Zoomed Board when Bernard Hanaway announced that he had spent £420% of the annual investment budget on buying the rights to the back catalogue of the cult band’s cult band’s cult band’s cult band Nonchalant Sphincter. Often referred to – if at all – as the Purgative Proggers from Pangbourne, they are chiefly known, by hardly anyone, for playing their version of Tales From Topographic Oceans entirely on traditional RAF marimbas.

“So what exactly have you acquired?” was the not unreasonable question from a sceptical Board. It transpired that Nonchalant Sphincter recorded a concept album called Looking up God’s Nostril, which, sadly, was never released. 

“We could do our own version,” suggested Mr Hanaway, “using traditional Royal Navy vibraslaps”. Drinks were served.

***

No eyebrows were raised at yesterday’s Zoomed OftW Board meeting after it had, in an attempt to look a few months younger, voted to spend 3750% of the annual well-being budget on botox. It was not judged to be a success.

There is nothing left in the drinks budget.

Reviewing the past

Lockdown has given us the opportunity to get round to things that we’ve put off for years. Hence this website for One for the Wall.

Although we are now playing brand-new material, many of the songs we present here go back to our early days in the late 70s and early 80s. We were young in those days. Of course we didn’t see ourselves as particularly young: Andrew and Colin (me) were 23 when the band came together. Now they (we) are 65.

Despite a lack of money and industry support we were ambitious, and excited to be recording in a studio in Banbury Road that Andy and our housemate Peter “Three degrees” Hancock built from scratch! We were intellectuals and perfectionists (in Oxford, hardly surprising) and not very interested in serving up stuff people already knew. We made it hard for ourselves, because the audience was presented with a repertoire that was, for the most part, unfamiliar and, with a few exceptions, not music to dance to. We did have our fans, but you could call it a select group.

We might have made it in the business if we had been more dedicated, although it was never going to be easy. Only Andy had a job (six days a week) – fortunately in a shop up Cowley Road that hired out guitar amps and PAs!

When I listen to the earliest recordings, now digitised from 4-track tape and with all their faults, I still sense the unique atmosphere that Jo Elford’s voice could create; the rest of us were in awe. I believe it made us try harder. I know that my own playing improved hugely, because she told me!

When we reached the Final of the Melody Maker Rock/Folk competition we were just starting out. There were only three songs we knew well enough to play in public. By the end of summer ’79, while working or studying for degrees, we had enough material for an album.

Andy, Wiff, Colin and Jo: L-R

Then Jo went to London to start a job, then got married. It took more than three decades to get her back!