17 July 2010

The High Llamas - Gideon Gaye

High Llamas - Gideon Gaye

Label: Alpaca Park
Year of Release: 1995

So then, I think we've all established what happened to Cathal Coughlan after Microdisney split, but what of his songwriting partner, Sean O'Hagan?  Did he simply set off in a knackered old Ford Cortina and build himself a career in pensions administration?  No, obviously - The High Llamas became his equally oddly named pet project.

The High Llamas have probably gained more recognition for their music than the Fatima Mansions managed, certainly in terms of the weight of the press cuttings involved.  Whereas the weekly and monthly music press seemed to lose interest in the negative realities expressed by the Mansions almost as soon Britpop arrived with a chirpy backflip, The High Llamas were almost oddly relevant.  In a world where Gorky's Zygotic Mynci were harking back to sunny melodies, Stereolab were looping and messing with krautrock styles, and the likes of The Divine Comedy were re-introducing intricate arrangements, they almost managed to cross-over the lot.  Whilst nobody was ever going to make a million by seeming akin to the aforementioned bands, it did ensure a wave of publicity which held them in good stead for awhile.

But then again, "Gideon Gaye" is such a fantastic record that it probably would have generated interest all by itself.  It's impossible to talk about the album without mentioning its similarities to the work of Brian Wilson - and in fact, it seems impossible for any critic to talk about the album without talking about how impossible it is not to do that, so please pardon my cliche - but it indeed is the kind of thing he may have made at the peak of his powers with perhaps a greater degree of freedom.  With the exception of some questionable doodles like "Giddy Strings", the album is a delightful, thematically unified piece, tracks cross-referencing each other in the manner that The Beatles managed on side two of "Abbey Road", the sound never slipping away from a woozy, chiming, summery nirvana.

Lyrically though, the approach is actually as scattershot as Coughlan's, albeit not as savage.  When I interviewed O'Hagan in 1995, he stated that part of "The Dutchman" was about some arrogant businessmen he met at a hotel in New York, all of whom were determined to stroll the rougher streets in the city wearing designer suits.  Still though, his roving eye takes in other details - the hotel barstool with the Collie sat by its side, his dyslexia prior to his own personal wandering around the city ("I don't know my right from my left"), and the effect is a mix of the good, the bad, and the almost inconsequential - a detailed portrait of the situation at the time.

The rest of "Gideon Gaye" continues in as panoramic a manner as that, with some of the looping interlude tracks locking in beautifully.  When playing it for the first time in a while last week, I checked the internet and was stunned to see that it was no longer available - a darling of many a year-end critic's poll in 1995, it seems as if it should be a constant seller, the kind of thing ripe for constant remastering and reappraisal.  That we've come to this pass is a bit unacceptable, but hopefully when you hear the album for yourself, you'll be converted to the cause.

SORRY - this album is now commercially available again, and as such as has been removed from this blog. If you want to buy a copy, iTunes is now stocking it among a number of other online sources.

1. Giddy Strings
2. The Dutchman
3. Giddy and Gay
4. Easy Rod
5. Checking In, Checking Out
6. The Goat Strings
7. Up In The Hills
8. The Goat Looks On
9. Taog Skool No
10. Little Collie
11. Track Goes By
12. Let's Have Another Look
13. The Goat (Instrumental)


Cocktails said...

Wow! This is incredibly good. I've heard very little by the High Llamas and particularly not from this period. I'm off to download the album - cheers for that!

PS. I will also admit while I'm here that the Kenny Everitt track isn't half as bad as I assumed it would be.

23 Daves said...

Just you wait until the new Steve Wright entry rolls around, then... that won't disappoint you.

The High Llamas album certainly won't disappoint either, although it is one of those albums which probably requires you to be in the right frame of mind before pressing play.

Cocktails said...

Steve Wright... oh dear...

As for being in the right frame of mind, I'm probably not now I've listened to that Dots track 3 times running!

23 Daves said...

At the risk of sounding like my mother, if you will insist on listening to things like that several times in a row, what on earth do you expect? It's a very potent earworm, I'll have you know.

Anonymous said...

I have this album on vinyl, but I wore it out, so I'm going to download it here. I didn't follow them after this album - I just got into the Beach Boys instead.

Anonymous said...

I have this album on vinyl, but I wore it out years ago, so I'm downloading it here. I didn't really follow them after this album. I got into the Beach Boys instead.