Singer-songwriters tend to be utterly wet. If they could ever prize their arses from those stools of which they seem so fond, theyíd prance about declaring ëHullo clouds, hullo skyí as per Ronald Searlesí 1950s literary softie Fotherington-Thomas. And this is often reflected in their music, which isnít passionate and heartfelt so much as saccharine and grating.
Findlay Brown gives the singer-songwriter back the edge that made the likes of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon more than just bardy entertainers. His ambitious music may be intimate, bare, and dare-I-say-it sensitive. But vitally itís also courageous, triumphant, challenging and otherworldly. Emotionally-driven, psychedelic, spiked with wit, blessed with a cidery traditionalism and foiled with subtle, yet noticeably modern, production from Simianís Simon Lord, Findlayís work is truly ëalternative folkí. But he says heís ìmore influenced by sixties music in turn influenced by folkî. Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Band, and cult auteur Jackson C Frank (whose autonomous album was produced by Paul Simon) are his own points of reference.
And Findlay himself is no introspective wimp either, but the exactly the ëgirt lion of a maní, to use the Yorkshire vernacular, who should be picking up a guitar.
ìWhen I was younger, the plan was to join the army. I grew up in a tiny town in East Riding next to an old World War Two airfield. We had hangars and bunkers on one side and woods and fields on the other. My mates and I would bomb around in combat gear building rope swings, riding motorbikes and generally causing havoc.î Including taking part in Gypsy bare-knuckle boxing contests.
ìI did it when I was about eleven for a couple of years. One of my good mates, (Al Greenwood), his dad was a blacksmith who did a lot of work for the gypsies and fought with them as well, so theyíd put us in the ring too. Itíd be kids the same size, didnít last long and was mostly wrestling, until the other guy said ëI give up.í But despite all that Iíd always thought I had to be tough. When I was three, a guy called Neil Barker, who ended up hanging himself in a church, picked me up by my ankles and swung me into a lamp post repeatedly. Six years later he was sunbathing outside my house so I went out with a piece of corrugated iron andÖ well, he didnít so it again. People think the countryside is idyllic compared to the city. But itís worse. Being a bit cut off from the rest of the world can make people violent.î
Music was of little importance to him at that age. But awaiting the young Findlay was the other thing that people in the countryside do to pass the time aside from fighting.
ìI started getting into psychedelic culture. Heavily. And one time I went around to someoneís house one weekend and they were playing Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix. That was a kick in the head ñ I didnít even know it was a guitar making those noises. My pals and I went from having a few Pet Shop Boys singles to everything we listened to being Iron Butterfly, Love, Spirit, Family, KaleidoscopeÖ all these trippy bands and lots of krautrock. The house we were living in by then was in York, not the countryside, it was like Coronation Street and I hated that. But Iíd discovered music and I was pretty happy.î
Findlay had never yet picked up a guitar. ìI was working in the local chocolate factories, Rowntrees, Terryís, the major playersÖ And hanging out with lads who were in quite successful bands. Theyíd jam together round peopleís houses after gigs. One time, they were doing a John Lennon number and I just came in with the MacCartney harmonies instinctively ñ they were dead impressed. And thatís when I thought ëright, Iím going to have a go at this, and Iím going to be better than all of you.î
Findlayís granddad, a successful chef whoíd lived through Swinging London, had bequeathed him a set of the Beatlesí autographs. He sold them to buy guitars. ìSo my first guitar was a Gibson 335, and I had a Fender Twin, the same as John Lennonís set-up.î
Now living in Ladbrooke Grove, Findlay answered an ad in the NME and started singing for a band. ìIt never worked out, but that was the first time I started listening to electronic music, and up until then Iíd been totally retro. There was a stage when I was just walking into record shops and buying anything from 1967.î
Stints in various experimental acts followed. ìThe music we were making was based around noise and power. I was writing more melodic stuff though. I found it all a little too sweet - but I could write a ëBlackbirdí-type song in a day, whereas a ripping upbeat Stooges number would take me a month. So, I thought Iíd play to my strengths. I wanted to do something really personal from the forefront of my mind.î
Inspiration came ñ ìit was staring me in the faceî ñ from a tempestuous relationship with his long-term Danish girlfriend Marie. He started writing songs to finally snare her after becoming conscious of being ìa total nobî, and dispatched them to Denmark in CD cases packed with dried flowers. As the Silk Spectre says of her hard-bitten lover The Comedian in Alan Mooreís superhero classic Watchmen, ìDo you know what gentleness means in a man like that?î
ìItís not like the album is all about me and her, but sheís influenced everything like a museî says Findlay. ìI Will, subtitled ëGhost Shipí, the first track on the album, came from the sea separating the two of us. I imagined her like a wrecked ship, and myself as the sprit of some sea dog captain, the two of them searching for each other not realising theyíre ghosts. I want to be more like a fictional character that listeners can choose to be someone else personal to them, than heard as myself.î
Whilst many songs on the LP do examine Findlay and Marieís relationship, impetus also comes from other complex factors like male pride, Findlayís love/hate relationship with a rural upbringing, and other aspects of his childhood.
Twin Green Pram for instance concerns his twin sister, who died when she was a month old. ìMy mum brought a pram for twins and never replaced itî he explains, as do the lyrics ëLying I am but on my own, an empty space, a beautiful face Iíve never known.í
ìWhen I was young my mum made me read all these illustrated learning books called Peter and Jane. And Iíd dream about my sister, and Iíd imagine she looked like Peter. He didnít really look like a boy or a girl, he had a brown basin cut that was a bit long, and a red polo neck. Sometimes Iíd speak to my older sister and wonder what the family dynamic wouldíve been like if my twin had been around. Sometimes I wonder if it wasnít meant to be ñ we were very poor and my mum didnít need another mouth to feed. It isnít upsetting as such, but it is a big deal to me. And it was terrible for my mum, so I wrote the song for her.î
Paper Man ìis my go at being politicalî but displays a self-awareness rarely found amongst Britainís liberal youth. ìI hate to say it, but I did have George W bush at the back of my mind. I know itís such a clichÈd thing. I wrote it first, stream-of-consciousness style, then tried to make sense of it. Itís about how powerful, decisive people can be the most fragile. The Paper Man is someone everyone admires but wouldnít if they knew what they were like. He tries to convince himself heís a good person by convincing you. And they do manage to convince you most of the time ñ but theyíre probably not convincing themselves. And then I thought: ëThatís not just George Bush. Thatís me as wellí.î
Come Home is a paean to the more appealing aspects of country life compared to the city, fresh air as opposed to hot air. ìWhen I first moved down to London coming from the north was exotic ñ the media were mad for Oasis and everyone said I looked like Vernon Kaye, which of course I hated. Itís about not fitting in, but in a good way, people in this industry being so false, and wanting the genuine article rather than bullshit.î
Building on Findlayís steadily building word-of-mouth buzz, a severely limited edition five track EP is now available digitally and from a few specially selected independent retailers. This will be followed by the single, ìCome Homeî which will be released on the 5th of February, as featured in the latest MasterCard advert, following this the full-length debut album \\\\\\\' Seperated By The Sea\\\\\\\' is scheduled for release on Peacefrog on 19th February 2007.