Billie Bottle has a story to tell, in which a grieving process for her granny was assisted by caring for a wise old lady in deepest Devon, applying a routine guided by the days of the week, where the metaphysical arose out of the mundane physical reality. Away from the death throes of capitalism and the climatic upheaval it has caused, and onwards to the inner and outer soul searching caused by the pandemic, and a seven week isolation at her parent’s house where Billie forms an attachment to a Shetland pony called Shibboleth. This fine animal “adores candles and of course represents the sun… and all that is restful and holy. She also responds well to the chord C, the note E, and naturally, the solar plexus chakra”. Naturally!
To paraphrase the lower league football song, at the end of those seven weeks, “As Billie was saying goodbye to her horse, she was saying goodbye to her horse. And as she was saying goodbye to her horse, she was saying goodbye to her horse”. You didn’t have to know what it meant, everything and nothing, you just sang it. The same can be said for following this tale further, for it gets very Zen from here on in. I confess to only partly following the narrative, it goes way over, under, and all around this Earthly head! A useful table is provided, linking the days of the week with domestic appliances, Roman deities, Chakras, and musical pitches, to name but four seemingly hitherto unconnected cosmic events and objects. This forms the Temple of Shibboleth, and as Billie explains further, “There is no belief in the Temple; it is a rhythm, where the primary custom is the use of Appliances. In the housekeeping realm, appliances help get a seemingly mundane task done. In the Temple realm, Appliances may guide our intentions”.
There is an element of searching in this music – yes, we are talking about the music now, you’ll be relieved to hear – perhaps as Billie says, searching for the lost feminine in our increasingly fraught society. There is also an element of comfort in the familiar. Tunes that appear to be hymnals to otherwise mundane domesticity, that, when you scratch below the surface are actually in rebellion against societal demands, but in the gentlest manner imaginable. In opening track The Temple, Billie tells us “I don’t want to be alone. I long to be in the Temple”. Transforming the mundane domestic task into a ritual to cleanse the soul, possibly? Am I anywhere near with this? Anyway, here’s a video of a demo version to give you an idea:
Musically we are taking a canter down an otherwise deserted bridleway across gently rolling countryside, Canterbury on the horizon. The arrangements, from start to finish, are simply gorgeous, as is George Shilling’s production. In case we get too comfortable, proceedings are occasionally livened up by some unexpected rhythmic and key changes akin to that murder of crows we can see kicking up a ruckus in that ploughed field over there. This music is sumptuously sophisticated and sees Billie and crew surfing a deep wave of inspiration on their best arrangements and fine tuneage yet. Where 2021’s The Other Place sometimes felt like it was being shoehorned to fit the narrative, Temple just IS. It flows naturally and you’ll float through it on a mellifluous dreamboat adrift on a sea of petals.
In The Wash, the many changes in tempo and the intermittent frantic air makes the song put a smile on the face of this Cardiacs fan, although the music is not at all on the same allotment, let alone in the same shed. “Can we ever be clean?” Billie wonders. Indeed. The beginning of The Wolf will take you by Caravan to the main theme, and it is a lovely song that underlines the assembly playing of this consummately elegant band. There are no stars here, the whole always takes precedence over any showboating, of which there is none. This is how it should be done.
Ably assisted throughout by Billie’s long-time partners in musical derring-do, Viv Goodwin-Darke, and Roz Harding, with further assistance from Anna Batson and Emma Holbrook, the band have produced a multi-layered musical treat. The Canterbury connection is underlined by Richard Sinclair guesting on his trusty bass guitar on Ironing Days, and added to that there is a cast of tens. Sparse, this isn’t! Billie’s long association with the Mike Westbrook Orchestra has no doubt stood her in good stead where the arrangements are concerned, and Viv’s no slouch in that department either. Have I said that those arrangements are luvvly? I have? Oh well, it bears repeating several times! One such instance is the instrumental flight of fancy on The Mending, that seamlessly melds into a choral refrain. The whole thing skips along like an irrepressible Tigger.
Billie Bottle’s Temple of Shibboleth is undertaking a small tour, and those of you in the south west in particular should go treat yourselves! The dates are HERE
Unfortunately, Billie Bottle remains in the “Best kept secret” category, despite the efforts of us lowly scribes to push her profile a little higher. Four of the five of you who have read this far are probably fans and have bought this on pre-order already. Dear other reader, please get your wallet out right now, you know it makes sense.
01. In the Temple (4:42)
02. Cantus (5:35)
03. The Wash (5:06)
04. Ironing Days (5:19)
05. The Melting (0:31)
06. The Mending (9:43)
07. The Brewing (1:44)
08. The Mead (5:48)
09. Black Swan (5:16)
10. The Harvest (0:35)
11. The Wolf (6:58)
12. The Rest (7:28)
Total Time – 58:45
Billie Bottle – Voice, Piano, Synth Bass, Bass Guitar, Hammond Organ, Organ, Electric Pianos, Keyboards, Mellotron, Drum Programming, Programming, Swanee Whistle, Vibraslap
Viv Goodwin-Darke – Flutes, Voice, Cello, Iron, Crumhorn
Roz Harding – Alto Sax, Voice, Treble Recorder, Kettle, Wind Chimes
Anna Batson – Bassoon, Voice, Crumhorn, Hoover
Emma Holbrook – Drums, Cymbals, Percussion, Pandeiro, Voice
Richard Sinclair: Bass Guitar (track 4)
Martine Waltier – Voice
Rowan Porteous – Trumpets
Greg Hancock – Backwards Voice
Hugh Nankivell – Viola
Geoff Bartholomew – Lyra-8 Virtual Synth
Geoff Bartholohowl, Otis & Vita Jarman-Pinto – Vocal Howls
Amy Howard – Soprano sax
Ivo Stimpson – Backwards Spoken Word
Kimwei McCarthy – Penny Whistle Wolf
Lyndon Forster – Handpans
George Shilling – Drum Programming, Engineering, Mastering, Mixing
Valborga – Bleat
Wyverne – Call
Lupinus – Howl
Shibboleth – Whinny
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 31st March 2023
Billie Bottle’s Temple of Shibboleth – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Website (Viv Goodwin-Darke)