Not heard of Gizmo? Well, as I do not wish to spend too much time repeating myself, I suggest you read the long and hopefully not too rambling intro to my review of the Canterbury band’s previous and self-titled album, released in 2013, which hopefully will tell you all you need to know – it can be found HERE. Suffice to say, their almost invisible profile outside their native county is largely down to bad timing, which is a shame as the winsome and typically English pastoral rock music they make is worthy of attention.
Two years on from the previous comeback album, a return that could so easily have been prematurely halted by the untimely demise of group reformation catalyst Martin Reed, Gizmo return invigorated, and full of no little ambition. Marlowe’s Children is part one of a trilogy depicting the life and times of one “Jack Simmonds…a talented guitarist and songwriter who was born in Canterbury in the late 1940s”, and his band “Marlowe’s Children who never broke through into the mainstream” but “tragically, Jack died just as his revived band were just about to sign to a major label”. It doesn’t take much extrapolation to surmise that this project is in effect a tribute to Martin, the departed guitarist. Dave Radford’s original story is further developed by writer Paul Campton, whose resulting novel is hopefully not far from publication. You can find out more about the concept on the band’s website and in a video interview:
The music is a collection of whimsical but not insubstantial and always enjoyable songs and musical sketches woven together by short linking pieces, some containing narrative from the novel. Dave Radford wrote most of the songs here, and that is no mean feat for a man who was only persuaded out of a long retirement from music in 2011.
Starting off at the end of Jack’s life with You’ve Gotta Listen To Your Heart, a heartfelt and poignant tale of endings and new beginnings as an introduction to the concept, we are taken through the formative years of Jack’s life, with children narrating The Innocence #1/”Jack Be Nimble”, and the following reminiscence of long-lost childhood innocence on Merry-Go-Round, through to a coming of age and the first affairs of the heart with Another Kind Of Gone. Dave’s knack at storytelling through song shines through, carrying on an English tradition in pop established by Ray Davies and the many who have followed his lead.
Note: This is the only audio clip I can find from the album, and it is not exactly representative, being an extract from the instrumental title track. The accompanying apocalyptic film has nothing to do with the concept, either. Still, it will give you an idea, I hope!
And so we wend our way through Jack’s early life to a backdrop of a charmingly unaffected musical tableaux, with no particular player stepping forward to hog the spotlight, instead thematic ensemble playing is the order of the day. That said there are standout moments; the brief almost classical piano interlude of Almost There is quite lovely, and the simple but effective acoustic and presumably e-bowed guitar (or uncredited cello?) combination on Innocence #2 is quite fetching.
Not all is sweetness and light, as the haunting If Only You Could See takes us to a darker place, which continues with the instrumental title track, that despite reminding me of Martha & The Muffins’ Echo Beach in the chorus, hints at more turbulent times ahead. The best song on here, for me at least, is Kelly’s In Love, which has that effortless summery Canterbury vibe that Gizmo make their trademark. Enlivened by some great sax work and a rather fine wah-wah section, this song shows that had Gizmo existed at the right time they would surely have achieved a far wider audience.
Marlowe’s Children Part One is a thoughtful and well put together concept album containing some fine music in the lighter Canterbury tradition, and I’m already looking forward to Part Two.
01. You’ve Gotta Listen To Your Heart (5:58)
02. Excerpt From Marlowe’s Children/How Did That Tune Go? (0:35)
03. Child’s Play (1:22)
04. The Innocence #1/”Jack Be Nimble” (1:00)
05. Merry-Go-Round (2:52)
06. Another Kind Of Gone (5:06)
07. Almost There (1:42)
08. Kelly’s In Love (4:26)
09. The Innocence #2 (2:31)
10. If Only You Could See (1:43)
11. Marlowe’s Children (6:56)
12. Child’s Play (classical guitar version) (1:22)
13. End Of Part One (0:10)
14. Remember When We Were Young (3:45)
Total time – 39:33
Dave Radford – Vocals, Electric Guitars, Acoustic Guitar
Alex Powley – Double Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Bass Guitar
Brian Gould – Keyboards
Tony Rico Richardson – Flute, Saxophone
Steve Wyse – Drums, Clock, Box
Chris Radford – Backing Vocals
Paul Crampton – Spoken Word
Matt Barwick – Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Strings, Mandola
Ylisha Bubb – Spoken Word
Luis Onlow – Spoken Word
Richard Miller –Electric Guitar, Classical Guitar
Record Label: Canterbury Records
Year Of Release: 2015