The Other Place is the fourth and final part of a naturally evolving vox pop drama-documentary-rock opera (!) that incongruously started with an appearance on trash karaoke show The Voice, Part II then progressed from deepest Devon via a South Coast journey to Westminster, along the way interviewing the locals and testing the political climate in the run up to the 2015 General Election, and ending when a bottle of milk was delivered to the seat of The Power, and then Part III saw the show go on the road, serendipitously commencing on the day of the fateful Brexit vote, and now we arrive at Part IV, the album I am pouring over right now.
I reckon some greater detail is needed, and rather than repeat myself, here’s the lowdown, from a review of the final gig of the Part III tour:
“Are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin…
It all started with a scout for U.K. TV musical talent show The Voice turning up in deepest Devon on the trail of much-travelled musical free spirits and partners in life and tunes, Billie Bottle and Martine Waltier. On the show, the duo romped through their version of Snap!’s cut’n’paste disco-rap stomper The Power and gave suitably bemused semi-cryptic answers to the panel’s gauche questioning of their perceived “hippy lifestyle” down on the farm.
Sometime in the run up to the May 2015 U.K. General Election, the pair had the idea to take the song on the road – or rather rail – across the south of England as a busking duo, stopping off at 49 different locations along the way to London and Parliament Square, at each stop asking folk they met where they thought “The Power” lies in these fractious times.”
For the subsequent tour, the duo was backed by a full band. Just as she did for the tour, on the album Billie calls upon the deep talents of producer and musician Lee Fletcher to help mould the music into a cohesive whole. This is no easy task, as with Billie’s use of the numerous quotes from the Part II street interviews as lyrics, what could have ended up as musically scattergun in lesser hands, and a lyrical scan-nightmare of epic proportions is remarkably cohesive. There’s even a full-on show tune here, in the form of Vote John Izod! Full marks all round! It must have been obvious to all involved that the lyrics needed to be printed in full, and yep, there they all are in the comprehensive CD booklet.
Despite the concerns voiced here by some of the marginalised and disenfranchised part of the population of the South Coast prior to the 2015 election being much the same as they ever were and ever will be – distrust of those in power, a sense of powerlessness and frustration with the system, and finding a way round it by digging into reserves of Stoicism and just getting on with it – the seismic divisive effect of the Brexit vote, merely a little over a year later makes it seem like a more innocent time. Although let’s not forget, by that 2015 election the cracks were already showing, as the portentous and somewhat chilling and psalm-like I Just Met Nigel Farage, with some great sax blowing from Roz Harding, makes clear.
But, you knew all that political schizz. Let’s get on to the music, shall we? A difficult ask these days, but if you can, listen to The Other Place in one sitting, as it plays out like a rock opera, the story unfolding and revealing the basic concerns of those less fortunate, as well as the contradictions evident in the opinions of what we might call the “masses”, something we may tend to forget, enclosed as we are in our soshull meeja bubbles, trapped in a world of undeniable bias confirmation, whichever side of the fence you happen to sit. Just don’t sit on that fence too long, as you’ll only get splinters in yer bum. “We are merely plebs”, as the robotic funk stomper Plebs has it, indeedy!
Straight from the off, Where Does It Begin makes much of the glorious mix of instrumentation on this lovingly produced record. Roz Harding’s melodic sax, Lee Fletcher’s fulsome soundscapes, and Billie’s piano and expressive voice, the latter a soulful croon of earthy sensuousness, again to the fore on the second, All Lies, all come together in a modern symphonic setting that is a balm for the ears.
On The Disconnect, making a great pop hook out of “No to austerity and no to the cuts, we know that fat cats all pay monkey nuts” shows how the person on the street is capable of some great and effective off-the-cuff poetry, here made into an earworm by Billie’s fab arrangement skills. Some great synth bass from Lee and more swinging sax from Roz give this song an understated funkiness that will have you snapping your fingers. Although it meanders a tad towards the end, an example of where some of these tunes worked better within the context of the show, and its filmed backdrop, without that part The Disconnect would make a great single in the old fashioned sense.
The saddest tale told on this trip is that of the homeless guy mourning the loss of his dad to heroin, and weeping in Billie’s arms. This inevitably loses something in the translation to the song Action but it is still bleak enough, enhanced by some raw and emotive sax blowing from Roz, who it has to be said is a bit of a hero throughout this whole album. Anyone who saw this live and wasn’t moved is probably soul-dead. I would note here that I seemed to have got the lyrical interpretation somewhat about face in the live review – apologies!
Martine Waltier’s glorious pipes get the spotlight on The Centre, perhaps the finest example here of turning stream of consciousness street conversation into a lyric. Singing it must have presented a few problems, but it works, and then some! Viv Goodwin-Darke’s flute is the instrumental icing on the cake, especially on the likes of X Marks The Spot. All these musicians have been playing together for years, and the whole unit is tight and sweet as a nut.
Look, I admit I am getting a tad carried away here, and the last thing I want to do is present you with the dreaded track by track description. It’s all there on Bandcamp anyway, find out for yourself!
The Other Place cannot hope to convey the raw emotion of the previously mentioned live show (see the review link above), but it still manages to cover all the bases expressed by the interviewees, who included some folk in dire circumstances, expressing resigned fatalism to righteous anger, via innocence, cynicism, self-justification, and empathy. Admittedly it might make more of a connection if you were lucky enough to have seen the show, but the skill displayed via Billie’s music and arrangements make for a compelling listen, one that reveals more on each hearing. The Other Place is a work of high ambition, but more than that, a work of love. Highly recommended!
01. Where Does It Begin? (3:31)
02. All Lies (3:58)
03. Cogs (3:42)
04. The Disconnect (5:38)
05. Action (5:01)
06. The Centre (4:07)
07. Gremlin (6:09)
08. X Marks The Spot (6:40)
09. My First Time Voting (4:43)
10. Vote John Izod (2:28)
11. We’re Only An Island (3:33)
12. I Just Met Nigel Farage (6:34)
13. Plebs (5:12)
14. Stand By Your Beds (7:02)
15. Power To The People (2:45)
16. A Stone, A Seed (2:35)
17. Time Is What It Used To Be (2:30)
Total Time – 76:34
Billie Bottle – Voice, Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Percussion
Martine Waltier – Voice, Violin, Guitar, Percussion
Roz Harding – Alto sax, Recorder, Percussion
Viv Goodwin-Darke – Voice, Flute, Recorder, Percussion
Lee Fletcher – Bass, Synths, Keys, Soundscapes, Voice, Guitar, Percussion, Production
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 14th May 2021