The image used today brings back a whole bundle of great memories.
The Vinyl Villain blog was about to turn 5 years of age back in the Autumn of 2011. I was looking to do something special and unique to mark the occasion when I learned that one of my favourite but largely unheralded groups had run into some difficulties over a planned show to showcase their new LP and so I decided to step in and offer my services as a promoter.
It was a fantastic if occasionally stressful night for me. Butcher Boy were on magnificent form and delivered a tremendous set that seemed to consist of their greatest songs; it was also the case that having contacted Adam Stafford to ask him to do the honours of support act I got to meet him for the first time and form a friendship that remains in place today.
So, as a belated birthday present to myself, I thought I’d turn the compilation album spotlight on Butcher Boy. Readers of old will be aware of the band as I used to feature them a lot on the defunct blog, but here’s a quick lesson for anyone who need it.
The band was formed by lead singer, guitarist and songwriter John Blain Hunt who was well-known in the Glasgow indie music scene as the organiser of a club night called National Pop League. Their first recordings appeared in 2006 on the How Does It Feel To Be Loved label compilation The Kids at the Club with their debut LP, Profit In Your Poetry, coming out on the same label in April 2007.
I picked up the album at the end of that year having read all sorts of positive things about it online while I was living and working in Canada with reviewers mentioning influences as diverse as The Smiths, Tindersticks, Felt, Belle & Sebastian, R.E.M. and Go-Betweens on many occasions. I quickly fell under its spell and in early 2009 I wrote about it on the blog asking the question if it had been a one-off release as Butcher Boy had seemingly disappeared off the radar. I got an e-mail from one of the band members informing me that a new LP, called React or Die, was coming out in 2009 along with some live shows in some unusual venues across Glasgow. I got myself along to one such venue in a bowling club in February 2009 not far from my house and was knocked out by how good they were in the live setting. I introduced myself to a couple of the band after the gig and soon discovered that they were all incredibly nice people and were genuinely surprised to be getting such incredible support from bloggers such as myself.
Some very firm friendships were formed that night and firmed up over the coming months all of which would ultimately lead to one of the biggest things that has ever happened to me when, in the late summer of 2010 I was asked to come along to the first playing of the rough mixes of what would be the band’s third LP which, due to them looking for a new label. would take nearly another nine months to make it onto the shelves. And when it did, I was humbled and stunned to see my name listed in the list of those being thanked.
Helping Hands came out on Damaged Goods Records in the summer of 2011 but as I mentioned earlier the band were frustrated at not being able to play an initial live show to support it until I stepped in. The next year and a half saw them play, what was for them, a high number of gigs and increase their fanbase on the back of tremendous reviews for Helping Hands, culminating in two very prestigious support slots – one for Belle & Sebastian at the Glasgow Barrowlands and the other for Scritti Politti in London.
The band, which in addition to John Blain Hunt consists of Maya Burman-Roy (cello), Alison Eales (keys), Helena Flint (viola), Fraser Ford (guitars and bass), Findlay MacKinnon (drums), Basil Pieroni (guitar), Cat Robertson (violin) and Robert Spark (bass and guitars) have been quiet for a few years, partly down to John getting married and concentrating a bit more on his day job, but the good news is they were back in the studio earlier this year and new material will hopefully be with us before 2015 is out. In the meantime, here’s my imaginary album.
1. When I’m Asleep (from React or Die, 2009)
A number that has often been used to open gigs (it did so at that first gig I ever saw them play), it is in some ways untypical of the band as it leans heavily on Basil playing the mandolin and Alison’s accordion skills. It’s a slow and lovely number that builds to a marvellous crescendo as the strings, acoustic guitars and piano kick in, all underpinned by some marvellous percussion going on in the background.
2. There Is No-One Who Can Tell Where You’ve Been (from Profit In Your Poetry, 2007)
A tune that is played more than any other within Villain Towers as I’ve taken its first thirty seconds and turned it into a customised ringtone for my mobile phone. All those influences that the early reviewers pinpointed can be heard in its perfect two and a half minutes. It’s also evidence that John is a fine singer although he personally considers that he is merely OK….but what it does highlight is just how talented he is as a musical arranger.
3. Helping Hands (from Helping Hands, 2011)
Standing in the recording studio back in 2010 and hearing this for the first time was a genuine ‘wow’ moment in my life. It was the sound of an already great band taking a giant leap forward and coming up with their epic song. The band’s slow numbers are often built them up in layers and this is no exception with the first minute or so not being anything more than a fragile vocal accompanied by a piano. The next minute or so adds an acoustic guitar and percussion but in a way that you almost have to strain to hear them, and then just before the two-minute mark the strings kick in for a short while before there is a short instrumental break.
The second half of the song continues to expand in texture before the final section of what is now quite clearly a love song on so many levels – to places as well as an individual – goes deep into the richness of what is Tindersticks territory as the strings and regular ‘pop’ instruments blend perfectly and make the most wonderful sounds. My only grumble is that it all ends too quickly….I could have taken another three or four minutes of the closing music very happily.
4. Profit In Your Poetry (from Profit In Your Poetry, 2007)
This is the sort of song that made me really fall for the charms of the band. Basil shows off his guitar playing skills in a cross between Duane Eddy and Chris Isaak and drives along a great piece of indie-pop that is infectiously catchy and impossible not to dance to. Go-Betweens would have been proud of this one….
5. You’re Only Crying For Yourself (from React or Die, 2009)
Another indie-disco belter with Maya’s cello in particular dragging this one along at a fair lick. Best use of the instrument on an indie record since Monkey Gone To Heaven in my humble opinion.
1. Imperial (from Helping Hands, 2011)
The track chosen for release as a physical single and so has a special place in my heart as the only bit of vinyl that I have by Butcher Boy – everything else is on CD or is a download.
While I think it’s a great little bit of pop music, I don’t consider Imperial to be one of the band’s best ten songs but I do think it makes a great upbeat opener for side two of the imaginary album. There’s a fair bit of backing vocals in here which always make me laugh…none of the band are all that keen on singing live and I’ve seen them in rehearsals being cajoled (ahem!!) by John to get their act together before the upcoming gig(s)…..but being true and utmost professionals they always get it right on the night. Well, almost….
2. I Know Who You Could Be (from Profit In Your Poetry, 2007)
Back in 2007-08 there was a now largely forgotten TV series from the USA called Moonlight. It was a ‘paranormal romance drama’ featuring vampires and private detectives! It wasn’t loved by the critics although it attracted a loyal following of almost 8 million viewers. It only lasted one series of 18 episodes before being cancelled.
The reason I mention this is that the final scene in episode 14 closed to the sound of this song…in its entirety. The scene was actually written and shot to fit in with the music which is quite astonishing when you think about it. Evidence that John could easily have found an alternative career as a composer for the entertainment industry.
3. Every Other Saturday (from Helping Hands, 2011)
OK….I’m maybe laying it on thick about John’s composing talents by placing this instrumental at this point on the imaginary album but it fits in perfectly. The band have only released three albums but there’s other bits of music that have been written for special one-off projects including Chic’s Day, for which he wrote a score for its screening at the Glasgow Film Festival in June 2009. (click here for more details). Some, but not all of this music made it onto Helping Hands two years later.
Butcher Boy also played at the Glasgow Short Film Festival in February 2012 when they soundtracked a series of home movies from the 60s and 70s taken by Alexander Ogilvie, the dad of the band’s bass player. There’s a great piece of footage on you tube in which the home movie footage is accompanied by Every Other Saturday…
4. Keep Your Powder Dry (from Profit In Your Poetry, 2007)
Robert Spark is actually a fairly new recruit to Butcher Boy on bass on the first two albums was played by Garry Hoggan whose contribution to this track is invaluable but which only became clear to me on about the twentieth or so listen.
And that is what I think makes Butcher Boy LPs such great works. You think you’ve heard all there is to a song and then something else grabs your attention – it might only be a couple of unusual sounding notes on one or more instruments or or it might be you pick up on the way the piano, bass or rhythm guitar is being played throughout the track in a way that adds so much to its overall texture as in this catchy, danceable uptempo number.
5. This Kiss Will Marry Us (from React or Die, 2009)
All three albums have closed with melancholic and moving tracks and so too is this imaginary compilation although it’s not an actual album closer. This beautiful love song, tucked away in the middle of the sophomore album is one of John’s best lyrics and he came up with a tune to match. And like the previous song you’ll pick up things and nuances after multiple listens that only add to your enjoyment.
mp3 : Butcher Boy – When I’m Asleep
mp3 : Butcher Boy – There Is No-one Who Can Tell Where You’ve Been
mp3 : Butcher Boy – Helping Hands
mp3 : Butcher Boy – Profit In Your Poetry
mp3 : Butcher Boy – You’re Only Crying For Yourself
mp3 : Butcher Boy – Imperial
mp3 : Butcher Boy – I Know Who You Could Be
mp3 : Butcher Boy – Every Other Saturday
mp3 : Butcher Boy – Keep Your Powder Dry
mp3 : Butcher Boy – This Kiss Will Marry Us
Enjoy. I most certainly do.