Back in the summer of 1995 I interviewed Mother Earth prior to the release of their third album. They had a new single to promote and they talked whilst my pal Ben Anker took some photos which were later used on the album sleeve. Ben had set up the session with Acid Jazz who were themselves trying to kick start a subsidiary label, Focus.
You might remember Mother Earth – perhaps because of Dragster or the rather sublime single Jesse, which should have been a huge hit and propelled them towards stadia, or for their connections to Mr Weller, JTQ and Eddie Piller, but it didn’t quite work out for them.
Focus had sent me the new single (Never Gonna Get) To War, a pretty good slice of Marriottesque funk in the manner of Dragster, and also the label’s first release, Matt Deighton’s Villager.
Deighton was Mother Earth’s singer, guitarist, front man and chief songwriter. Villager was something very different though. With Jesse not being the hit it deserved to be, Deighton took himself off to a country setting and, immersed in the music of Nick Drake, John Martyn and Davy Graham, produced an exquisite solo album of gentle mellow English songs that makes Ray Davies sound like Sun Ra. Ever so slightly folkish.
Ah, the f word ~ for so long anathema to those nurtured on mod and punk who failed to realise that folk was not all bearded berks with bells on, clutching pewter tankards of CAMRAs finest, teaching geography by day, neither was it necessarily a music crime punishable by death.
We know that all too well now, with our Devendra Banhart, Espers and Junipers, Drake revered as a demi-god and Vashti Bunyan, Pentangle, Incredible String Band, Keith Christmas et al sagely (and rightly) acknowledged as pretty damn good. It was different in 1995. Drake’s Way to Blue was only beginning its journey into the CD collection of every twenty and thirty-something. I had yet to hear Nick Drake. The first I had heard of him was on Villager’s press release, citing Drake as an influence.
I played Villager and was immediately won over. I played it again in something akin to awe at the beauty of this music. I was full of Blur, Oasis and Supergrass. It was an exciting time. It wasn’t called Britpop yet. Yet this was altogether different and I loved it.
Villager with its sparse and simple buccolic arrangements allows its songs to breathe. It’s not a ‘depressing’ album though, for want of a better word, far from it. I find it uplifting, relaxing and positive. It instils a confidence in me, an affirmation of who I am and my place in this world, which I don’t necessarily always have. Maybe I’m not making much sense; it’ll have to suffice for me to say that it’s a very important record. It means a lot to me is what I’m trying to say.
We all mellow as we get older, which is odd considering what a breeze life is when you’re young and how tough it can be with a mortgage, family, jobs and your existence hanging on the whim of panicking corporates who haven’t a clue what they’re doing. This mellow album is an escape from all of that; a celebration of life. I don’t know what state Deighton’s mind was in when he wrote and recorded these songs, I may be reading things into it that were not there, but it works for me. Simple as that.
I played it relentlessly for perhaps two or three years, eventually other music takes its place on the turntable, but listening to it now, it is still wonderful. It remains in my top five albums. Yes, that’s top five out of anything by anyone ever. I rate it that highly. I’d hate to be without it that much.
Matt recorded a follow up a year later. It was five years, however, before it hit the shops. Mother Earth were long dead, Villager hadn’t sold well despite a few reasonably good reviews. Anyway, how do you follow up a masterpiece? I was so excited to hold the disc in my hands yet prepared for the worst.
I am happy to say that the fella pulled it off; You Are The Healer was, as near as dammit, every bit as good as Villager. I can highly recommend both titles. I can’t play you anything from Youtube, but check out Matt’s myspace, where you can hear Pure English Honey and Hey, My Mind, two of the best tracks from Villager or Lay Down Your Weary Light from the follow up.