The Edgar Broughton Band (EBB), by their own admission, were impossible to pigeonhole. Having changed the band name as they evolved from a blues-orientated sound to an eclectic mix of rock and psychedelic influences over the course of their first five albums, they never quite settled into a rhythm. The late ’60s and early ’70s were such a highly experimental period and Edgar Broughton was particularly skilled in absorbing the many musical influences, but ultimately he failed to meld the band into a more engaging proposition for the mass audience.
After a break of 41 years since the band’s last studio release, we are now at last treated to new music. Break the Dark, is officially a solo album from Edgar Broughton but it’s reassuring that there are signature elements to the music of the early period in the band’s history that recur now. We will come to that later, but in the here and now, it seems like Edgar Broughton has finally hit upon a way to combine his unique authenticity with a more coherent and remarkably up to date sound.
According to Mr Broughton the writing for this album started around the time that the band split up in the ’80s. In the intervening period there have been many live appearances, but progress in developing the new ideas was painfully slow. Eventually the time came that band bassist Arthur Grant was drawn back into the fold and John Leckie, who also had previous history with the band, was sufficiently taken with the way that the new material was progressing to offer his help with production.
As is the way of the recent period, lockdown provided the time to focus, software and the internet provided the tools to create and collaborate, and so Break the Dark was finally finished. In addition to Arthur Grant’s bass, Mr Broughton made contact, via Twitter (as it was then), with Calle Arngrip, who was based in Sweden and plays cello and guitar. The first of these remote collaborations was on the track Hymn and they eventually made four songs together, Mr Arngrip contributing more guitar parts.
The string accompaniments on this album are an obvious link to the EBB of the seventies. The cello is sometimes used to beef up the rhythm section, but is also used to complement Mr Broughton’s deep, husky vocal style where it appears on acoustic tracks, such as the final version of Hymn and the affecting Flowers in the Bowl. The strength and depth of the sound of the rhythm section is punctuated delightfully by Mr Broughton’s superb guitar flourishes that are relatively minimalistic but soar to the surface at the most opportune moments.
The Voice is of course the other link through the ages. It has aged, but it has done so gracefully, and Edgar has the skill to write songs that suit his delivery. The lyrical content is characteristically inventive, emotive and challenging, and so it all adds up to a recognisably EBB style of album, but now enhanced magnificently by modern day production techniques and high-quality sound engineering.
The opening track, One Breath, is an overture of sorts. It opens with an orchestral/choral soundscape over which there are some fabulously expansive guitar parts. I should declare now that I am new to Edgar Broughton’s music and this opening track, of just two-and-a-half minutes, completely drew me in. The lyrics express a simple message in the most poetic way, opening up the themes of rest of the album and inviting the listener to engage with the ambiguities of their meaning. With ‘The Voice’ added in, and centre stage, it’s a gloriously potent mix.
This is an album where we have to expect the unexpected. Belle of Trevelyan is the tale of a female pirate of the future. The atmosphere is developed by an acoustic guitar and cello combination and the verses are interspersed with bursts of melodic electric guitar. The lyrics are suitably dark but the delivery and execution of the song is quite beautiful. Up next is Six White Horses, a more traditionally formed track with a Simple Minds-y vibe. It has a chugging rhythm section and wafting guitar and synth parts, and a straight-forward lyric, a profound expression of love.
Flowers in a Bowl, described as the prequel to Evening Over Rooftops from the third EBB album, certainly shares some of that track’s musicality. It is also arguably the flipside of the feelings of love expressed in the previous track as this time the focus is on the inevitable pain of separation. The song is a lament, Mr Broughton’s deep emotionally-charged almost spoken word vocal rides over an orchestral soundscape based around the cello, and some light touch electric guitar melodies. There is a deeply affecting chorus that binds the whole piece together:
When it hurts
When it burns
The mood is immediately lifted by The Raven’s Song, one of the meatier rock songs in the set. The core riff is introduced right at the start and the rhythm section takes ownership to produce an anthemic theme that is repeated through the track. A variety of instrumentation is gradually overlaid to create a dynamic and pulsating closing section. Next up, Morning Dew begins with a woodwind part. It follows the previous tracks lead by gradually developing a simple but evocative melody and adding layers to it, with some unusual and effective guitar tones to the fore. This process of subtly overlaying instrumentation gives the songs incredible depth. There is always something of interest coming around the corner, and this method is encapsulated by the next track Eulia. It doesn’t really have a beginning, middle or an end, but it is fascinating to listen to.
I have tried to avoid making the Leonard Cohen comparison so far, but Almost Dancing is where it becomes inevitable. The song has a poppier style delivered in a way that is extremely reminiscent of that other great man, in many ways. Having said that, of course, it being in the hands of Mr Broughton, it works superbly on its own terms. Reverting to past histories, Deben Flow has more progressive and psychedelic influences in the instrumental sections which should be of great interest to fans from the early days.
The closing section of the album is a sequence of poetic songs reflecting on more recent personal history. It begins with Hymn, where Mr Broughton is accompanied primarily by cello, with sparsely melodic synths and guitars. The song, an encouragement to all to find a higher state of spiritual well-being, is centre stage and it is delivered with power and emotion. Sound Don’t Come is a gentle, folksy song about the inevitability of death in general, and the recent passing of his brother, the EBB’s drummer Steve, in particular. Half Light is a more experimental and slightly discordant mix of psychedelia, written more specifically with Steve and the musicality he bought to the band in mind. To close is the title track, a powerful, poetic apology to the next generation for the failings of the past.
Thankfully for us, Edgar Broughton has found a way to bridge the gap between his former glories and his more recent musical passions. He has used reference points from the past to create fresh and innovative sounds. He has retained his incisive and poetic story-telling talents, to entertain us and to tackle contemporary issues. It is remarkable that he has managed to both pick up from where he left off and take such a dramatic leap forward. This is a stunning piece of work that, quite literally, stopped me in my tracks.
01. One Breath (2:39)
02. Belle of Trevelyan (4:37)
03. Six White Horses (4:52)
04. Flowers in a Bowl (4:57)
05. The Ravens Song (4:22)
06. Morning Dew (4:32)
07. Eulia (4:47)
08. Almost Dancing (4:01)
09. Deben Flow (4:26)
10. Hymn (4:19)
11. Sound Don’t Come (4:03)
12. Half Light (5:22)
13. Break the Dark (5:02)
Total Time – 57:59
Edgar Broughton – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Bass
Arthur Grant – Bass
Calle Arngrip – Cello, Guitar