“It Starts Again”
March 9th 2012
Over the years Salford has produced some notable musical artists – some have gone on to national/international fame and in some instances notoriety. Salford, with its growing fame as the new media capital of the country, has also become the hotbed of musical production in the North West, with international stars choosing local recording and video production facilities to develop their craft. Blueprint Studios is a case in point, with any number of known artists using it’s facilities, How gratifying therefore to see local troubador John Herring recording his sophomore album at this establishment. And I suggest that this album should set John on the road to wider recognition he richly deserves.
Herring is a local (Salford) treasure who deserves to be a national, if not international one. He has moved on considerably from his debut album “Tales from a Northern City” from a few years back. This release is packed with excellent tunes, played flawlessly, and bundled up in a production package which teaches the music world a few lessons about how to deliver a complete artefact which can be enjoyed on a visual and aural level.
Herring bridges that difficult divide between “popular music”, melody and “legitimate” rock with effortless aplomb. He has gathered round him an excellent band in John Miles (Guitar), Joe Nearney (Bass) and Chris Halkyard (Drums) with the support of the mysterious “That Girl Sue” on vocals. Co-produced with Gary Vaughan Hadfield (who engineered and mixed the album) Herring has a put together a premiership team delivering high quality music.
The interesting, and compelling, thing about John is that he manages to almost surreptitiously slip into your head – his melodic style moves effortlessly between the songs on the album – creating a relaxed but vital emotional state. Most of all he makes you smile while you are listening. Also, it’s good to see the lyrics reproduced on the very clever album inserts (each of them has a piece of art which can be displayed in the cut out slot on the cover – essentially giving the listener six different options for the overall look of the album) . Reading through them whilst listening I was struck by how much his lyrical imagery has developed since the first release. There are a number of themes here – modern life and all its challenges, love, companionship, and a degree of social comment, perhaps not as overtly polemical as the first album – John can easily be compared to the likes of Kurt Wagner and Nick Drake as a master craftsman both lyrically and musically.
The birdsong that opens the album opener – the infectious “It Starts Again” (the single)- evokes both a pastoral feel that celebrates life and renewal – it’s early morning in the city and we anticipate the day ahead with some concerns balanced with a refreshing optimism that things might just be getting better. And we need that optimism in these times I would suggest. “Moments Like This” demonstrates that Herring is not afraid to rock it up a bit with a funky back beat, and a sublime chorus make this a stand out track on the album for this listener. I’d like to see John doing more of this type of thing as I think he can meld rock sensibilities with melody effortlessly.
“One Sunny Day” features trumpet from Mark Jones – with its stop-start off kilter time signature and vocal interplay this tune grabs the attention immediately, whereas the evocative “The Three Tuns” almost takes on a traditional folk form. The up tempo “I Haven’t Got A Clue” is one of those songs where you know the band are enjoying playing it – great lyrics also which manage to rhyme Yoda with coda – clever you are, young Herring.
The mood is slowed slightly for the start of the wistful and dreamy “Stop” with beautiful shimmering guitar from John Miles and a sultry easy feel which hides to some extent some fairly aposite lyrics about the state of the world. However the tune builds through a great middle section in a mammoth piece of cinematic sound. This is followed by the tender and reflective “Ghosts” and “You Are The One” which move effortlessly into “Here” which seems to act as a counterbalance to the opening track on the album. There is almost a narrative through the songs from the start of the day, the observation of the world through the intervening seven songs to the penultimate number which perhaps reflects on the lessons learned in the other tunes?
The set concludes with “In My Head” where John takes us on a slow journey through the images in his mind. A beautiful closer to a fine album.
Many thanks to John for letting me have a preview copy to review – a most enjoyable experience.
The John Herring band will present the album in their first gig of 2012 on March 17th at the Deaf Institute. The support is Glass Ankle.