(4 / 5)
I’ve heard this kind of thing done before. Or should I say, attempted. Close multi-harmonies, a la Byrds/CSN&Y, in the modern day with a 60s retro psychedelic vibe. There’s a bunch of youngsters called The 27 who do it quite nicely.
But no one I have heard does it anywhere near as good as Brighton band The Dials, and their superb fourth album since forming back in 2002 – this line-up set in stone for the last four years or so. They have released five singles and one EP, along with three previous albums.
The Dials are: Dermot Watson on guitar, Andy Taylor on keyboards and vocals, Rich Parrish on drums and vocals, Joe Allenby on bass and vocals. For this record, sax’ on two tracks from Alfie Hall. Ed Baker on the same two cuts, on trombone; “Heathen Sun” and “Gyspy Lane”.
Recorded in Brighton and produced by Ben Thackeray, who also provides additional percussion and keyboards; a respected recording engineer who has worked with Patti Smith, Nick Cave, My Bloody Valentine and other notable names. In terms of quality and credibility, The Dials more than deserve their name to be listed in such illustrious musical company, based on “That Was The Future”.
This is clever stuff. A lot of graft, blood, sweat, tears and perhaps dosh has been injected / invested here in these dozen original cuts. Gorgeous Hammond and Vox organs, synths and swirling guitars. It’s all very much vintage, but with a contemporary twist.
Their early line-up saw the boys busking trad’ country with banjos on the seafront, but when they did a Bob Dylan and went electric in 2005, their demos were picked up by an admirer, Mark Lamarr, who persuaded them to play a series of sessions for BBC Radio 2. They dropped their debut album in 2007, well received by DJs and fans worldwide, and wowed the audience live at NXNE in Toronto, Canada.
The band hit the headlines in 2009, while recording their second album, when nine fire fighters rescued them from being trapped in a bank vault while making the album “Companions of the Rosy Hours”. After that little drama, Dermot and Andy shut themselves away and began writing the third album. “The End Of The Pier”, was released in 2013. The current line-up was then established and for the last three or four years, the band has been working on this new album. Using vintage gear such as pump organs, mandolins, Moogs, mellotrons and other bits and bobs. The first cut taken from the album as a single, “Cuckoo Stone” has been favourably received, and the album will be released in vinyl, digitally and CD format. All songs here credited to the band.
There are subtle nods to the pomp of Prog’ rock, but perhaps “post-psychedelic, pre-progressive” is a good label. Their first album sat on a country/Americana core, but there’s none of that here. Their three-part harmonies are faultless; just wonderful. Brian Wilson would be proud.
“Once” starts off as the record means to go on; with glorious vocals and an assured, confident and perfectly formed cut. The single “Cuckoo Stone” musically owes a lot to Blur and Brit Pop, but the harmonies could be The Hollies or The Who back in the day. The lovely grunged-up organ tips its hat to Brian Auger and the likes of Winwood and Traffic.
“The Moon and the Stars and the Tides of the Sea”, slows down the pace, a mid-tempo affair opening with fairground organ and very much Beatles-esque flavours. Close my eyes, and I’m on Brighton beach with a line of motorbikes and scooters parked up on the front, opposing gangs of Mods and Rockers eyeing each other up menacingly, while swigging back Coke (that’s the fizzy stuff, not the white stuff!) before knocking seven bells out of each other, just for fun. Them were the days! When recording “The Moon and the Stars and the Tides of the Sea”, the band had to de-tune to fit in with the out-of-tune harmonium. Who knew?
On the instrumental, “The Nark”, the bass line sounds heavily influenced by The Jam’s “Start” which was borrowed from the Fab Four’s “Tax Man”. You can picture this track being played on such iconic shows as “Ready, Steady, Go” in the 60s, with a wooden looking studio audience bopping away to order. I can take or leave this cut, to be honest. On the sixth track, “Everlast”, apparently the original recording lasted circa 25 minutes, with Dermot eventually crying out in pain after repeating the same phrase on guitar for the whole of that marathon take, his scream picked up by the guitar microphone to signal it was time to stop! “Everlast” is a winner. Calming and gentle Simon & Garfunkel and Byrds territory, and yet more awesome harmonies. The crystal clear recording quality of the acoustic guitars is to be commended. The wandering organ solo adds value to this extended cut.
“Heathen Sun” channels the Stranglers in bouncy bass and organ lines, who in turn channelled The Doors……a punky sensibility but still those glorious vocals shine through, which takes us back to the heady, 60s days of flower power and free love. (Taking of free love, as a single man, I must say I was very disappointed to recently discover that the adverts for Screw Fix were not plugging a dating site!)
More Stranglers vibes musically on “Bee Sting In Your Heart”, with a Squeeze-style hook on this pleasant, poppy ditty. Jingly jangly guitars delight and Rich’s drum work makes a big difference. “The Race” could be the follow up to The Zombies’ “Time Of The Season”, very Byrds-ish too, with a folk marinade to it. (Talking of The Zombies, I had a lovely chat with Colin Blunstone this very week). Dermot’s guitars are spot on, but the clavinet doesn’t fit, for my ears.
“Gypsy Lane” didn’t do it for me. But the penultimate track “Sail No More” is a stronger piece of work, but again, reminds me so much of The Stranglers with its intricate keyboard melody and jerky time signature. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying the band here are nicking tunes or ideas, far from it. But to tap into a punky feel and add perfect three part harmonies, is not being done anywhere else, to my knowledge, so they have deffo got their own thing going on. Marrying that with a Byrds, CSN&Y approach……………I even hear traces of the great Moby Grape seeping into what these talented cats are doing across this sterling album.
The title track closes proceedings, a dose of ethereal Pink Floyd psychedelia on a cool, gentle and almost cinematic song. Also putting me in mind of the genius that is Robert John Godfrey and his vastly under appreciated Prog’ outfit The Enid. A very sublime way to end a mega impressive album that puts The Dials out on their own, in terms of a niche sound. Expect wide spread success chaps, or else!
- The band launch the new album on home turf, at the Hope and Ruin in Brighton, 6th October. Other dates: September 23rd – Knoxbridge Festival, Frittenden, October 7th – What’s Cooking, Leytonstone, London, October 27th – Oslo, Hackney, London – supporting The Sadies, October 28th – The Railway Tavern, Southend.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’