I really get a kick out of stumbling across something, taking a punt on it, and discovering that it has a real ‘wow’ factor.
It was one of the regular updates from the Monorail store here in Glasgow that alerted me, some seven years after I should have known about such things, to the very existence of The Catenary Wires, drawing attention to a new album of theirs called Birling Gap. For those of you who are perhaps scratching your heads, then let me quote from the band’s own website:-
The Catenary Wires’ third album, Birling Gap was released on 18 June 2021, preceded by 7″ single Mirrorball (a love song inspired by eighties discos). Both are released on Shelflife Records (US) and Skep Wax Records (UK and rest of world). The album is now available for pre-order from good record shops and via Bandcamp.
Birling Gap is a significant place. On the South Coast of England, it’s where steep chalk cliffs resist the rough seas of the English Channel. It’s where iconic images of England are created and re-created. On Birling Gap, the Catenary Wires have listened to the songs and stories England has comforted itself with over the decades and re-imagined them.
The Catenary Wires formed in 2014, initially as a duo. Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey had previously been in Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research and Tender Trap. The first Catenary Wires album Red Red Skies (Elefant/Matinée Recordings, 2015) was a marked departure from the fuzzy girl-group pop of their earlier bands. It was sparse, emotive and melancholy. A one-off 7″ single What About The Rings? followed (WIAIWYA, 2018).
With the release of their second album Til The Morning (Tapete, 2019), the band expanded to include contributions from Andy Lewis on bass (ex-Spearmint/Weller Band), Fay Hallam on keyboards and backing vocals (ex-Makin’ Time) and Ian Button on drums (ex-Thrashing Doves/Death In Vegas). The sound was getting bigger, although the core of the band remained the dual vocals of Amelia and Rob. With the third album, everyone is involved and The Catenary Wires are a fully-fledged five-piece band.
The band’s name refers to the chain of curves made by the overhead cables seen suspended from pylons or above electric trains, cables that can seem to lead you off to somewhere different and unknown.
It was the mention of Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey that intrigued me. I put in an order for Birling Gap and it arrived a few days later, on white vinyl and complete with a postcard that had been signed by the two of them.
I’ll cut to the chase. It wasn’t anything along the lines of what I was expecting, which was, of course, some 21st century update on the C86 stuff. To be fair to Amelia, that’s readily available if you go to bandcamp and listen to the rather excellent Swansea Sound, the band she and Rob are part of along with Huw Williams, formerly of Pooh Sticks.
The Catenary Wires are an altogether gentler musical experience, almost pastoral or chamber pop in places. There are hints of XTC, The Divine Comedy, Pulp, Luke Haines, the Go-Betweens, 60s west coast pop, 70s English folk and the gentler side of The Kinks dotted throughout its ten tracks. Birling Gap arrived at the height of the summer and seemed to be the perfect soundtrack for those hot days when I was out wandering through the parks and green spaces of the city.
Eventually, I sat down at home and gave the album a listen along with the lyric sheet (I’d have looked quite stupid carrying that around with me outside!). There is a real sense of Englishness to many of the songs, but with a knowing nod to the state of the nation and indeed national identity in the 21st Century. Other songs reflect that Amelia and Rob, like the rest of us, are not quite as young and vibrant as we used to be, but not in any dark or depressing way. They even find time to take the piss out of their old selves on Mirrorball, a song celebrating how a couple meet in a cheesy 80s-theme disco, and which pulls off the magic trick of a rhyming couplet including the words ‘Jason’ ‘Kylie’ ‘Wah! Heat!’ and ‘Wylie’.
The opening line of the review over at Louder Than War sums it all up way better than I’m capable of:-
This is unexpectedly fabulous. An album of the year for 50-Somethings with Attitude but sensible shoes.
Here’s the opening track:-
mp3: The Catenary Wires – Face On The Rail Line
Oh, and our dear friend Brian from Linear Tracking Lives was saying great things about the album when it was released back in June…..and we all know he is a man of impeccable taste.
Here’s the link to bandcamp where you can get digital or physical copies of this wonderful album. It’s likely also available, or can be ordered, through any of the independent record stores close to your home.