Imagine if in the late 80’s Mike Scott’s reaction to the stadium success of the Waterboys had not been to find solace in the music of Ireland and long forgotten American roots music but had instead to immerse himself in 60’s coffee shop acoustica and pastoral English folk traditions. In such a world The Fairings are a big name on Festival circuits and have built a steady and successful career releasing albums snapped up by that retro, alt-folk scene. But alas, that is not how the world turned and twin brothers Benjamin and Giles Richards are instead another example of just how unfair the music industry and the fickle finger of fashion and fate can be.
But just because they remain a closely guarded secret doesn’t mean that Fairings debut album, given a fair wind and the right movers and shakers on their case (Whispering Bob will love this album, I guarantee it) could not easily change all that. Personally I love the fact that it tips its hat at so many of my favourite artists. Listen to Rhapsody In The Rain and you can’t fail to hear Neil Finn, Chance reminds us of the fragile beauty of Nick Drake and Willow Way is Simon and Garfunkel had they spent their time hanging around The Cotswolds rather than writing modern mythologies for New York City.
But that is just hat-tipping, everyone does it consciously or otherwise but it is safe to say that the core of the album offers some wonderfully original music. Julian at The Door is jaunty, vibrant and beats with a heart of quintessentially English whimsy, Always Running Home is built on beauty and minimalism and Goodbye Old Boy waltzes the album to its cleverly wrought conclusion.
Folk music is a vague and variable term, a wide enough umbrella to cover everything from strident full band rock infused muscle to minimalist acoustic dream worlds and everything in between. But even with such a wide ranging label to apportion to this music, the term folk still doesn’t quite do the job here, not because the label isn’t wide enough, but because it isn’t deep enough. For alongside those echoes of folk past and visions of folk to come there is an evocation of soul music…or at least soulful music, a pop sensibility hidden behind the notes and in the breaths between the words and unlike much music being made today, gentle humour and neat observations.
And that is what makes this album sparkle, not just because it is an album of great, and for all its neatly infused retro leanings, forward thinking folk music, but because repeated plays reveal a depth, deftness and a poignancy that takes a while to absorb. And when you find it the songs become more than the sum of their musical parts. Much more.