As a depression and social anxiety sufferer, I’m always especially enthused to discover little bits of magic that help me feel better as I go about the humdrum of every day – especially those I can enjoy in my front room in the safety of solitude.
As someone who often struggles to leave the confines of my home, I’m also especially in awe of people who can write songs, sing them in public, be brave enough to release them to an audience, and are bold and creative enough to travel and take the photographs used to present the music to that audience.
So to receive the signed and numbered mediabook double-CD version of Nick Heyward’s new album, Woodland Echoes, through my front door this morning was a significant treat. Not only because the CD-sized book of photographs – and, dare I say – Nick, are so beautiful, but because the music he has crafted and created with his son, Oliver, and their team of collaborators, is so joyous and uplifting. Here then, is my track by track….
Gentle, lilting opener Love Is the Key by the Sea is bursting with sunny ’60s harmonies that recall the Beatles in the best possible way. The track sets the template for the album and its title: love through the prism of nature – from cuckoos to apple trees to honey bees – not just in the imagery of the evocative lyrics, but in aural cues, in this instance gulls overhead. (Is the accompanying pelican photograph in the mediabook a nod to Nick’s former life as lead vocalist for Haircut 100 on their debut album Pelican West?)
Lead single Mountaintop gushes ebullient love with a rush of jaunty sonic energy courtesy of strumalong acoustic and electric guitar, fiddle and what sounds like a jaw harp, that can best be described as a jig. It’s the frenetic hoedown Romy and Michele were trying so hard to avoid on their prom night. If this is a real hoedown, they shouldn’t have been so determined to avoid it. (Not sure why, but when Nick launches into the song with a barely audible whispered “here we go”, my head always inserts a Sarf London “ere we go den”…)
Stars makes great use of glockenspiel to simulate the twinkling of stars and the glitterball of the lyrics, while Nick’s sweet, sweet vocal perfectly augments a pretty, pretty melody over lyrics of universal beauty and love. And any song that includes word pictures like “I’m a garden wall; you’re a spinning parasol” gets my vote. Fade out to crickets chirping.
Fade in with birdsong and a sumptuous, luxuriant, sleepy vocal from Nick as he tenderly caresses the listener with Beautiful Morning. The listener has died and gone to heaven, while the photograph of windows flung open onto a lush garden is a suitable companion.
Double bass and sax adorn the jazzy skip and sweeping harmonies of Who? – a paean to one’s heart’s desire. The listener is transported to a ’40s garden party.
The awkwardly charming lollop of track 6 is a little harder to pin down or put your finger on, but then, we *are* lost in the Forest of Love, so perhaps it’s best just to sit there a while and soak in the dappled sunlight of another pastoral workout. Blair Cunningham ex-Haircut 100 on drums, fact fans!
The second song from the collection showcased as a double-A-side single along with Mountaintop is the centrepiece, Baby Blue Sky, a thumping, panoramic summer stomper with some of the most soaring multipart harmonies and handclaps since the Beach Boys and the Everly Brothers. (Would also sit comfortably on Robbie Williams’ debut solo album, Life Thru a Lens, alongside Old Before I Die, complete with electric guitar solo.)
If you, dear reader, like me, wish Nick were in love with *you*, rather than the real-life darling he is clearly smitten by, I Can See Her is the touching serenade to avoid in a fit of mock envy.
Revisiting the fuzzy-buzzy guitar sound of Baby Blue Sky, Perfect Sunday Sun is a lyrical gem. The words namedrop Hayley Mills and Alan Bates in the 1961 British classic Whistle Down the Wind (incidentally also Nick’s debut solo single in 1983); Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946); and the enigmatic Madeleine from Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Priceless images that make digging deeper into Woodland Echoes a valued and rewarding experience. Lovers become cinematic icons in the perfect Sunday sun.
New Beginning is a wordless, breathless aural landscape of acoustic guitar, glockenspiel, bass and ethereal cooing voices. Just gorgeous.
Continuing that warm fuzzy guitar sound, I Got a Lot expounds on how so much of what we feel, think and say, means very little in the greater context, and perhaps how letting it all go is maybe wiser than constantly ruminating.
The stately, almost confessional quality of album closer For Always again uses natural imagery to illustrate giving yourself over to an eternal love, a lasting passion, perhaps to something even greater. The accompanying photograph of a Love Heart sweet embossed with “bless you” seems to underline this near-spiritual flavour.
Bonus tracks on CD2: Angelfish (rocks hardest of the set), Make It Happen (recalls the Britpop of Nick’s mid-career, mid-90s phase), and Back Together Again (endless lovemaking and more la la las than you can count) complete the collection in glorious fashion.
But of course all the words in the world aren’t going to do this album justice: you will have to hear it for yourself. I’m so jealous!
* Woodland Echoes, on Nick’s own Gladsome Hawk label, is available via PledgeMusic