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The Loft - Ghost Trains and Country Lanes: 1984-2015

The Loft Ghost Trains and Country Lanes: 1984-2015
25 April 2021

This compilation, not the first released by The Loft, adds to previous collections and includes reunion recordings (including three previously unreleased songs), a Gideon Coe session, and live recordings from their 1984 performance at The Living Room. The live recording includes songs that never were recorded in the studio. Back in ‘84, The Loft were a promising entry in the vast swarm of Creation talent, and seemed more likely than others to make it big. Trailing in the wake of The Smiths, they were right in the thick of guitar-based indie pop. Reveling in their influences, including The Velvet Underground, Television, and Modern Lovers, they released two killer singles: “Why Does the Rain” and “Up the Hill and Down the Slope”. Both were fantastic and sound fresh even today, but the band parted ways and moved on to other bands (The Weather Prophets, The Caretaker Race, and The Wishing Stones). They left behind seven studio tracks, a BBC Radio 1 session with Janice Long, and one song from a Creation release that documented the scene’s roots in the aforementioned The Living Room.

Consisting of Pete Astor (singer/songwriter/guitarist), Andy Strickland (guitar/backing vocals), Bill Prince (bassist), and Dave Morgan (drummer), the band reunited in the early 2000s with all four members on board. Besides very well received live shows, they also recorded a new single “Model Village” in 2005 and the Gideon Coe session in 2015. Astor has been the most visible member of this quartet. Besides his work in The Weather Prophets, he has gone on to make numerous solo albums and has worked closely with James Hoare (ex-Veronica Falls, The Proper Ornaments). Sleeve notes are colorful and wonderfully written by Danny Kelly.

I am not sure I can add anything more than the glowing reviews offered up by other scribes, but I will make an honest effort to entertain the reader and entice them to seek this recording out. The obvious track to start off this release is perhaps the band’s most iconic song, “Why Does the Rain” It was recorded almost forty years ago and sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday. It is perfectly aligned with the indie music I still listen to, and as I write this at the tail end of the pandemic, the lyrics are also in sync with world events. Truly timeless, though solemn and a bit melancholy. Perfect music to revel in as I sit here watching it rain outside my window! I love the guitar interplay between Astor and Strickland. Excellent! “Like” is equally great, a more upbeat song about a relationship and the passing of time. “Winter” seems to describe the whole last horrible year, and boy, do I both identify with and appreciate this tune. It also reminds of The Go Betweens, who no doubt shared influences with The Loft. “Up The Hill and Down The Slope” is the other single, and this one channels Pat Fish and The Jazz Butcher. Same time period, and more shared influences. “Your Door Shines Like Gold” is another love song, with a somewhat dour melody. I love the chorus on this one too! The slow-cadenced “Lonely Street” sounds like what you’d expect with such a downcast title. It is eminently listenable, as are all the selections here. “Time” is a Richard Hell cover, and I prefer this over the original. There is nothing new on offer, but I just like The Loft better as a rule.

The Janice Long session starts off with “On A Tuesday”, and it’s another entry in the ‘could have been a single’ contest. The weather is mentioned, as it is in various other songs. “Skeleton Staircase” is slighter, but the lyrics remain the strong point. Also included is “The Canal and The Big Red Town” and a reprise of “Lonely Street”. The Bark Studio Recordings were recorded in 2005. The completely new tune “Model Village” bears the stamp of modern recording techniques, but the band has lost nothing of its talent and musical prowess. They sound old and new at the same time. The vintage 80s feel coupled with the brightness of newer technology. I also dig “Rickety Frame”, which has deceptively simple percussion, slightly treated vocals, and a bluesy feel. “Beware” is finely rendered, VU-inspired indie rock, while “Mad Old Woman Mad Old Man” bears a slight resemblance to the paeans to aging penned by Ray Davies. “Ride” is a slight melodic nod to another Creation band I adore: The House of Love.

I am less fond of the live recordings. Historic though they might be, I am put off by the rude people talking in the audience, often louder than the band. Were I a participant in those shows, I would have told them to shut the eff up. I have attended my share of shows with people just like this, and it annoys me to this day. The opening “On A Tuesday” is a perfect example of what I mean. While it reveals just how great a live band these guys were, it also has muddy sound and audience conversation. It sounds like the same rude git talking non-stop throughout. And because of the quieter numbers, you will hear the audience even more than you might like. The songs we know already are better served by the studio recordings. “Colours I See” is new to me, and makes me wish they would record it for a proper album (hint, hint). “Emily” is equally pretty, and another one I would elect for the studio. “Day’s End” is another strong candidate, and I hope something comes out of this and the band decides to reunite once again.

The Gordon Coe session closes out the second disk, opening with fan favorite “Why Does the Rain”. It seems to be in a slightly different key, but it is just as good as the original recording. The new song “I Can’t Keep My Mind Off You”, believe it or not, sounds like something Robyn Hitchcock might record when he’s in a more serious mood. “Up The Hill And Down The Slope” is largely similar to the original recording. In summary, this collection is the one to pick up for all fans of The Loft, and for anyone who appreciates Creation-era indie pop.

Pick up the album over at Cherry Red.

 

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