Wilde Sammon are, well… were actually, Dave Wilde and Chris Sammon (geddit?) and this is their first album proper. Chris is the principal songwriter, sonic architect and incumbent Mark E. Smith/Mike Scott/Sting* (*delete as appropriate), although he does occasionally share writing and production duties with Keiran Moses. So, how best to describe them? Well, previous press releases have labelled them a folk-inspired acoustic duo, which (to me) conjures up images of Simon and Garfunkel. This is pretty far from the truth and Wilde Sammon are far more diverse than this. In actual fact, it’s quite difficult to pigeon-hole them and I would suspect that Chris, in particular, is quite happy with this assertion.
The first thing that strikes me about Wilde Sammon is their Englishness. They follow that late 70’s/early 80’s lineage associated with Squeeze, The Police, XTC, Elvis Costello, Robert Wyatt and, more latterly, Paul Heaton. I mentioned this to Chris when we spoke at length at their recent album launch in the basement of the Old No 7 in Barnsley and he was delighted with these comparisons, most notably the celebrated songwriting team of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, who Chris openly cites as major influences upon his own songwriting style.
As is the case with the works of many of the artists listed above, in particular Messrs Costello and Wyatt, there are several reminders of that significant period in recent history with the shadow of Thatcher and her Conservative Party Government looming large within the narrative of some of the songs. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Long March Back”, which presents a forlorn and solemn account of the end of the Miners’ Strike in 1985, whilst also providing the album with its title, “No Fanfare”.
“No Fanfare”, incidentally, are the only words that adorn the tremendous front cover of the album and the quality of the packaging typifies just what a fertile arts hub Barnsley has become of late. Creative direction is provided by Jamie Walman (bassist with The Hurriers) and photography comes courtesy of Ian Parker (aka ‘thesaturdayboy’). The captivating black and white image on the cover reminds me of the work of Kevin Cummins and Anton Corbijn. It depicts a lone figure – none other than Sam Horton (guitarist with The Hurriers) – crossing the railway bridge over the Penistone Line. It’s a significant image that references the album’s closing track and heralds the place where Chris and Dave first met on a busy commuter train to Sheffield.
The album opens in sprightly fashion with the catchy “Get Away”. Tied to a jaunty bassline, it’s the ideal curtain raiser as it succeeds in grabbing the listener’s attention firmly by the lapels. It’s a wonderful tune and the instrumentation works brilliantly, perfectly complementing Chris’s lived-in vocal tones as he weaves his clever prose in the first person. The story unfolds nicely as it does on many of the 11 original songs on show here. On this occasion Chris regales us with a bitter tale about public humiliation at the hands of an unsavoury female suitor. Autobiographical or not? Apparently not it would seem from the insights Chris gave me into his considered musings.
“I like to try and relate tales,” Chris confessed, “I think if I didn’t write songs I’d probably write short stories. I watch people during my commute to work and make up a back story for them… I guess I’m always trying to paint a picture, so if the characters seem real, then I’ve done a decent job”. Those train journeys to work really are an inspirational place for Wilde Sammon it would seem!
“Film Star” follows – not to be confused with the song of the same name by Suede – in a more languid style with Chris shifting the narrative focus onto a once bright star fading into adult torpor inside the shell of her cracked female form. It’s a song that really takes off in the chorus sections with the addition of some delightful keys and harmonised vocals. In fact, if the song is missing anything at all it would be the inclusion of even more musical embellishment in the final chorus. To my ears, this is a song that’s crying out for the melancholic tones of a cello as it builds towards its wistful conclusion.
“Don’t Flap” finds Chris back in the first person casting himself as the protective father to a latter day Richard Hannay, who is fleeing “some nefarious types”. It’s an exquisitely well written vignette and appropriately cautionary in these modern times. The song relies upon the same easy going melody as “Film Star” before it, but here splashes of colour are added to the palette with a sublime instrumental section and middle eight leading into the final verse. If I were to criticise anything it would be that the production is a little too polished at times. Speaking personally, the organic ‘live feel’ works best for me with acoustic melodies. I feel that the album (and Chris’s voice in particular) would have benefitted more from a raw, stripped-down style of production resulting in the creation of a more intense sound worthy of some of the emotional heft on show.
As for emotional heft, it don’t come any more intense than “Remember Orgreave”. Previously available on the fantastic 33-track compilation ‘Orgreave Justice’ produced by our very own Tony Wright of The Hurriers (that band again) to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the end of the Miners’ Strike in 1985, it’s a brilliantly written testimony told from the perspective of the picketing miner quietly addressing the brutal copper that beat him, but failed to break him on that fateful day back in June 1984. It’s a tap on the shoulder; a nudge if you will; a solemn reminder in hushed tones that 30 years may have passed, but truth and justice still beckons for those that Margaret Thatcher wrongly dubbed ‘the enemy within’. Together with “Long March Back” – which documents poignant memories of the year long dispute and the ill-fated return to work in March 1985 – both songs represent the high watermark on this album. Flawlessly composed and recounted over funereal percussion and stirring processional tones with gorgeously picked and strummed guitar, muted keyboards (“Remember Orgreave”) and mournful brass (“Long March Back”) that complement and accentuate rather than overshadow the stark, beautiful and dignified semi-spoken lyrics.
I shared an observation with Chris that his protest songs conjured up memories of 10,000 Maniacs and he told me, “I love Natalie Merchant’s work… most people don’t want to be preached at. I want to try and give my perspective and if I do this in an effective manner then people might be more inclined to see things how I want them to see them. I still naïvely think you can reason with people, show them evidence and they’ll understand”.
“Yet Another List Song” is Wilde Sammon’s lesser take on Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and possibly even Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, with a bit of added ‘Carry On’ sauciness to make Dave’s sojourns in the car with the kids that bit more eventful. Ask Chris – it’s an enlightening story for all of us with offspring of an impressionable age. It has also been released before. It was initially made available on Record Store Day 2015, when it was one of the many tracks compiled on Debut Records’ ‘White Album’ curated together with the accompanying ‘Black Album’, by the only man I know with 8 days in his week, the ubiquitous Scott Doonican. Sadly, market forces saw Stu Sheard’s wonderful vinyl venture flounder, but this song and those two terrific albums – like a certain other song of note by those terribly nice Black Lamp fellows – will always serve to remind me and many others what we once had in the town. Remember kids – use ‘em or lose ‘em and continue to support the likes of The Vinyl Underground and Wah Wah Records, which are both run by good old Barnsley folk. Anyhow, this er… list song delivers what you’d expect. It is catchy, tuneful, hum invoking, rather witty, audibly pretty… sing that in time to the chorus of the song and you’ll get the idea of what I’m clumsily trying to say.
“Crime and Punishment” is the one song on the album that has had me wrestling with my conscience since I first heard it. It’s a stand out song with a terrifically catchy chorus that’s immediately reminiscent of some young scallywags from down the road that learnt their trade at Barnsley College not too many years ago. It’s a song that promises to go all sorts of places. But then it doesn’t quite get there! And this bloody frustrates me! And I know you’re not supposed to start sentences with conjunctions, but I really want to emphasise my frustration. I so want this song to be everything it promises to be when I hear that fantastic melody kick in. It’s like being on a bike at the top of a big hill, but someone keeps applying the brakes after you’ve set off. You don’t get the full effect! I’m longing for a careering instrumental break in the latter stages where everything is thrown into the mix and the guitars and drums go wild. I’m yelling at the speakers, “NOW!!!” Maybe now that Wilde Sammon are embarking on their career as a four-piece with the addition of a rhythm section comprising Dave’s old muckers Mick Birkinshaw on bass and Matt Auckland on drums they might read this, abandon their restraint and take the song to its previously uncharted territory. Did I mention I think the chorus is outstanding? Maybe a tad too sweary for Dave’s car journeys like, but there you go.
“Mr One Glove” tackles the tricky themes of global consumerism and drug abuse and it does so in magisterial fashion. It’s another jaunty acoustic number with a fantastically catchy chorus that juxtaposes the charmed life of an arrogant city banker – Mr One Glove – with the ball-and-chain existence of a young girl – Takeesha – who’s hooked on junk. The lyrics here are among the very best I’ve heard from Chris and even though it is far more upbeat, it reminds me in places of another of my favourite Wilde Sammon compositions – “What Chuck D Said”, which is available on their 2013 release “Forgotten Joys”.
There are absolutely no surprises in the song’s narrative and it’s all summed up very starkly in the final verse: –
Which one grafts and which one takes?
Which one’s given all the breaks?
Which one pays for their mistakes?
You repulse me Mr One Glove
It’s no exaggeration to say that these guys have a real ear for a melody and this continues with the next track “Beautiful People”, which is another of Chris’s studiously observed voyeuristic tales, although this one comes with a happy ending for once. “Bohemian Queen” follows rather aptly in my view, because here Chris goes the whole hog and actually casts himself in the role of the voyeur. It may be one of the more simplistic melodies on the album, but the rich vocals here are superb having been placed right to the front of the mix.
The aforementioned “Long March Back” follows in stirring majesty before we are left with the bittersweet “Penistone Line”, which provides the setting sunlight at the end of this very accomplished debut album. It’s a wistful and delightfully uplifting song and it goes without saying that it’s voyeuristic again.
I asked Chris to tell me about the significance of this particular song as the more astute of you may have discerned from my previous reviews that I have a thing about the songs that artists choose to end their albums with – and this is no exception to that rule.
Chris explained how he and Dave had first met on the train from Silkstone Common on their respective journeys to work.
“Dave’s a big ‘muso’ who chats to everyone looking for musical connections,” he continued, “but, via a process of attrition he got me talking to him. I gave him some songs I’d recorded… and Dave asked me if I’d come round to his and jam. I persuaded him to accompany me and Wilde Sammon was born. So… “Penistone Line” is pretty important to Wilde Sammon and it was always going to be the album closer”.
WORD BY PAUL DICKINSON
Wilde Sammon are just one of the many local bands that you can catch at this year’s Live In Barnsley festival taking place at various town centre venues on Saturday 18th June. They will be performing as a four-piece at The Courthouse on Regent Street from 6:00pm onwards and they are also playing at The White Bear opposite Barnsley Town Hall from 8:30pm on Wednesday 29th June with support from Tom Sealey. I would urge you to get yourselves along to either of these shows, where you will be able to pick up a copy of this album. I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.