Cherry Ghost – Live At the Trades Club Hebden Bridge
As the final act before their hiatus – coming after three critically praised albums in a decade – ‘Live at the Trades Club Hebden Bridge’ is Cherry Ghost performing an intimate, starkly arranged set at the 2015 Heavenly Weekender. Released now for the first time – on double vinyl and download – this is perhaps the best realised collection of songs from Cherry Ghost, the alias of the Ivor Novello award-winning songwriter Simon Aldred.
The instrumentation – Aldred is joined on keyboards and light percussion by Christian Madden and Grenville Harrop – brings to the fore Aldred’s peerless songwriting, his oak-aged, prematurely wisened baritone. ‘History’ wrote the Quietus in 2014, ‘will be kind to Aldred’, and this collection proves exactly that – with a bit of time and distance, the songs presented here show a highly singular, highly accomplished songwriter, aspiring to the pop classicism of Glen Campbell or Bill Callahan.
All of human life is here – tracking a drizzly Northern gothic of last bus loneliness, late-night Spars, solitary drinkers, factory floors and Gods that betray. And yet, there’s more than meets the eye. There’s magnetic renderings of his best known songs – ‘4AM’, ‘People Help the People’, the soaring ‘Mathematics’ – but surprises reveal themselves. ‘All I Want’ and ‘Herd Runners’ candidly examine Aldred’s sexuality, whilst the seldom heard b-side ‘Bad Crowd’ reveals Aldred to be a much funnier songwriter than remembered.
What runs right through Aldred’s work, however, is a yearning – a much tested faith in romance – so no wonder that the album ends on its most optimistic notes, at the darkest point of winter nestled in the West Yorkshire valleys, promising clear skies ever closer.
Cherry Ghost – Beneath This Burning Shoreline
“I thought, if I don’t state my case now I’ll never get that opportunity again.” ‘Beneath This Burning Shorelines’, released in 2010, was the second album from Cherry Ghost – the project of Ivor Novello winning songwriter Simon Aldred. Released on vinyl for the first time, ten years after its release, it stands as Aldred’s bona fide masterpiece – not least by the songwriter himself.
Following the chart success of Cherry Ghost’s debut ‘Thirst For Romance’, Aldred felt disillusioned with touring an album he viewed to be stylistically “schizophrenic.” Whilst proud of the songs on that record, he had visions of something more cohesive, more mood-based – where ideas re-occur, images are fragmented and songs bleed into one another. Similarly, he’d been returning heavily to artists like Sparklehorse and Wilco. After nearly a decade on the dole, once Cherry Ghost brought Aldred financial stability the first thing he did was travel Europe – the album is galvanised by these solo rail journeys through cities like Berlin and Rome. Like Scott Walker’s late 60s work, it’s a romantic vision of a Europe filtered through the lens of an outsider. Atmospherics, too, would be crucial – Aldred had been listening to film soundtracks, and songs here are linked by unmoored instrumental passages.
‘Beneath This Burning Shoreline’ is overwhelmingly in a minor key, and choruses are few – ‘Kissing Strangers’, however, is the album’s only anthemic moment. “That references my days a young gay man” says Aldred, “staggering between bars but yearning for something more.”
The album’s most powerful moment is the haunting ‘My God Betrays’ – “it is” he explains, “a completely bleak portrait.” Inspired by the writings of Albert Camus, the song is an anti-hymn to a malevolent God, a prayer to a Lord who plays to the crowds and turns on the weak. ‘People Help the People It is Not’. There is, however, some redemption – the chiming ‘Black Fang’ is one of the most successfully realized love songs in Aldred’s back catalogue. A decade on, it remains Aldred’s proudest work – “It’s the one I always go back to, to remind myself what I get out of music.”