Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sweet Night Music of the FM Kind: A Tribute to Bronze Age Fox

l-r: Will (bass); Dom (singing); David (drums/stuff); Thom (guitar)

Bronze Age Fox - Houses
Bronze Age Fox - The Sunshine Made The Desert
Bronze Age Fox - Dinosaur
Bronze Age Fox - You Wouldn't Want Me To Lie
Bronze Age Fox - How To Fall In Love

“…many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air…”

The above quote is taken from a poem by the 18th century poet Thomas Gray, and rather aptly sums up the career of one of my favourite bands, Bronze Age Fox. You see, they are quite possibly the best band you’ve never heard. OK, so some of you might have heard them, but the majority of you won’t have. And, most criminally of all, the awesome debut album ‘Impossible!’ which they recorded back in 2005, will never see the light of day, unless some bright spark with some spare cash and a cultured ear for mighty fine pop music reads this post, loves what they hear and decides to put it out. Until then, like the aforementioned flower, their fragrant genius will go unsniffed (sic) by all but we lucky few.

There are good reasons why you may not have heard of Bronze Age Fox. For a start, they could never be accused of being overly ambitious. They didn’t enter into the relentless slog of nationwide touring, instead preferring to play sporadic gigs in their hometown of Bristol and a few other city venues, as and when they fancied it. Of course, there’s nothing to say that the only route to pop superstardom is through slogging your guts out playing all the toilet venues, but we all know it helps. Another factor could be the fact that their only released material to date includes a clear four-track 10” limited to 500, three lathe cut shaped two-trackers (triangular, square and a round 8”) limited to 200 copies each, and a CD which featured all 10 tracks featured on these obscure vinyl releases (all on their own Bagatelle Records imprint). I love the weird limited vinyl releases, its part of what makes them so special, but if you want to rule the world, or at the very least, extend your fan base, it often helps if your music is accessible in the first place.

Anyway, this is celebration, not denigration, so who gives a shit what format the music came out on or how many gigs they played? Let’s focus on how fucking good the music they made was, eh? I first came across Bronze Age Fox (or BAF as they are affectionately known) when their drummer David ‘Minotaur Shock’ Edwards gave me a tape during the period I was masquerading as an A&R person for a publishing company. Having recently signed David’s solo publishing rights, I was keen to get my claws into all the projects he was working on, such was my love of the bearded one’s immense talents, but he was adamant the two things should remain separate so I never signed BAF but fell in love regardless.

For starters, Bronze Age Fox is an excellent band name. They came to my attention in 2001, around the time every frigging band name started with The…, so to have a three word band name seemed rather exotic. I love foxes me, though I’m not sure if this would predispose me to liking a band’s music. What does it mean anyway? Nothing probably, like all the best band names - it’s just a collection of words that look and sound great together.

Bronze Age Fox is David (drums, keyboards and programming), his brother Will who played the bass, guitarist Thomas Stone and singer Dominic Jones. They are proud of their origins in Hanham, Bristol, and according to their biog, with the exception of the siblings, they met at school and Scouts. Musically, they are hard to pigeonhole (another tick in the box), though there’s a line on their biog which says, “(they have) …a penchant for pop songs but a perverse interest in sullying them with all manner of subtle trickeries” and this is as good a definition as I can come up with. It’s pop Jim, but not as we know it. Take the previously unreleased ‘Houses’ as an example, the opening track on the demo tape David gave to me. It starts with Thom’s chiming, minimal guitar, Will’s languid bass and a shuffling, groovy drumbeat from David. Then Dom opens his mouth and starts singing the brilliantly enigmatic lyrics; all soft and reverential, and it is kinda folky, but a bit poppy, and damn gorgeous and thrillingly original. As the song continues, there is a hint that something surprising may be on the horizon when the guitar and vocals distort, but that still leaves you unprepared for the Hitchcockian twist, as a screeching chunk of dissonant noise splices the song in two, before it plays out with a passage of lush, melodic electronics, Minotaur-style. The dynamic is set - sweet pop music, served slightly skewed.

In Dominic Jones, BAF have one of the most enigmatic front men I have ever come across. He shuns boring blokey rawk posturing in favour of a subtle coo, occasionally letting rip with a Prince-esque falsetto on tracks like ‘Baby, We Must Be Over’ and ‘Show Me Something More’. He is also one of the only vocalists I know to self-reference when he sings, "My name is Dom Jones, you are John Dory”, on the unreleased song ‘John Dory’ (which appears to be about a wolverine on a rampage in a restaurant). It may not seem like that big a deal, but it’s usually only rappers who say their own names in songs, and it is a brilliant quirk. Lyrically, Dom is an original talent, filling his songs with ambiguous metaphors and references to life in the great outdoors. If Ray Mears were in a band, he’d be in Bronze Age Fox. On ‘Wood on the Fire’, Dom sings -

“The wood on the fire
Is telling the world,
That he used to live”

I love the idea of the crackling log, revealing its life history as it burns.

Then there’s ‘Instrument Pt 1’, which is about a wooden musical instrument or something, where Dom name checks the band in rehearsal, over a backing that sounds like ‘Wake Up’-era Boo Radleys, with lovely brass and a jaunty rhythm. Perhaps Sice is a good marker for Dom’s voice, which he himself has described as, “A man singing like a girl.” Self-deprecation aside, Dom is an excellent storyteller, especially on songs like ‘The Sunshine Made The Desert’, the title track of their debut EP, with a skipping drum beat, maracas and strummed acoustic guitars, complimented by devious electronic trickery and this verse -

“The thing about sand in a desert land
Is it don’t talk when we’re around
Instead it behaves, and seals up its caves
'Til when we have departed…”

Or what about ‘Benidorm’, where Dom sings about escaping for winter sun, encouraging his partner to take off her “winter plumage” as they fly out to Benidorm, as she needs some colour in her life and he wants “see-through oceans”. The music is once again warm and bewitching, concluding with an electronic sea shanty set at a waltz tempo.

‘Dinosaur’ is another belter, telling the tale of a lighthouse keeper cooking soup, listening to the radio on a warm summer’s evening, content with his isolation, and pitying the city dwellers. ‘Dinosaur’ was a live favourite, with its raucous guitars and progressive synth lines, perhaps as ROCK as BAF ever got.

‘Forty Four’ deals with travelling on the top deck of a bus, listening to Basement Jaxx on recently purchased headphones. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get it by now - this is imaginative, original song writing, dealing with subject matter most bands wouldn’t even consider.

When performing live, the band didn’t take themselves too seriously, larking about and swapping instruments, but still managing to be a powerful sonic force. You could tell they were really good mates who loved playing together. There was a laidback chemistry between them all that made them great to watch. I took friends along to see them on the few occasions I was able to watch them them live, and all left with a favourable impression of the band. In fact, most of them still ask me what happened to BAF, as they felt certain they were destined for big things.

Naturally, there was label interest. A big label financed the recording of the lathe cut series, content to indulge the band, as they waited to see how things developed. As I understand it, an amount of money was then given to the band to make a video for an unnamed song, but they instead chose to decamp to the studio to record an album. Rather than praise the band for their thrifty innovation, the big label proceeded to sit on the completed album and it was this limbo that eventually lead the band to fizzle out, as they were trapped in a hellish musical purgatory, waiting to see if ‘Impossible!’ would be released. I’m sure it’s not that simple, but when you consider the dross that clogs up our airwaves these days, I cannot comprehend why a label with substantial financial backing wouldn’t take a punt on this.

The resulting album, ‘Impossible!’ is brilliant. Eleven tracks of inventive and original pop music that as the band point out, is far more cohesive than it has any right to be. It even comes with brilliant artwork for album and potential singles by the ace designer Graeme Swinton. I’m posting a couple of songs from it, but would dearly love to give the whole album away as more people should be able to hear it. But while there’s still the chance of someone releasing it properly, it’s probably wise to keep the bulk of it under wraps, like an exquisite antique car, covered in tarpaulin in a garage. Check out the insanely catchy ‘You Wouldn’t Want Me To Lie’, with its insistent, driving piano and upbeat show tune vibe. Or what about the epic ‘How To Fall In Love’; an atmospheric disco tune that kicked off when played live, with a booming funky beat, Thom’s itchy Chic guitars (and brilliant ‘call and response’ solo), slap bass Mark King stylee from Will and Euro-house synths. It’s begging for a 20-minute rework from Patrick Cowley or Francois Kervorkian. Both songs demonstrate the band hitting the peak of their powers, just at the moment the rug was pulled from under their feet. Fo’ shame…

The band has moved on. David is working on the third Minotaur Shock album, alongside other projects, and has a couple of kids; Will plays bass for the Shock live, runs club nights and is off to university next year; Thom is Amy Winehouse’s tour manager and gets papped on a regular basis; and Dom works in telly and has been recording under the pseudonym Red Setter. Most excitingly of all, I hear Dom and David are recording together again under a new guise. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with this time. In the meantime, listen to the songs I’ve posted and ponder what might have been, or just enjoy what was, because it’s bloody fantastic. Radio 2 would have loved them. I guess it’s a bit like that old adage about if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Just because the album never got released, doesn’t mean it’s not a work of genius and they’ll always have me as their devoted fan. Besides, I’ve just found out about a rare song that Thom sings calls ‘Cool, Cool Rum’, so I’m on a mission to try and track it down…

Search eBay, for Bronze Age Fox - the lathe cut series sometimes comes up for sale
Bronze Age Fox at My Space where you can listen to some of the other tracks from 'Impossible!' and buy the Compilation CD
Bronze Age Fox website
Minotaur Shock website
Minotaur Shock My Space
Red Setter My Space