review by Frank Cottrell Boyce
The best definition of real creativity I’ve ever heard was given to me by Guy Garvey. He was talking to me about Sky at Night – the sublime new album from I Am Kloot, which he’d just finished producing alongside Craig Potter, when he suddenly tripped into an anecdote about his childhood, from the days when soft drinks were delivered to your door by the “pop man”. I remember bottles the size of gasometers full of lurid liquids with dodgy names – Kool Kola and Pina Koolada – appearing on our doorstep. The past is a foreign country alright. You couldn’t conceive of such a thing now. Anyway, one day the Guys’ pop man crashed his truck into a wall, scattering bottles everywhere. Kids from miles around ran out to look at this unexpected bounty, only to find the man still shaking in the cab, rolling himself a cigarette, trying to get a grip. Seeing the kids there, he told them to help themselves to the bottles which – by some providence – remained unbroken. The kids ran around grabbing bottles. “Sasparilla was worth two of everything else”. For weeks later everyone had a green tongue, dilated pupils and one unerasable ofmemory. Everything you need to know about the business creating something better than yourself is in there – the happy accident (not so happy for you but great for everyone else), the ability to embrace disaster, the luck / providence / Grace that allows the bottles to survive, and above all the reckless generosity (“go on, help yourselves”). It perfectly describes Sky at Night – a record which Peter Jobson said was an attempt to get “all of life onto one record – which can be tricky.”
Kloot have always been about performance rather than recording. Play Moolah Rouge and Natural History both had the swaggering immediacy of great live albums. You were listening to three musicians playing together – full pelt, unequal, unstable, overstretched. So it’s a bit of a surprise to find orchestras, choirs, saxophones and harps started pouring out of the speakers on Sky at Night. It’s lavish and nocturnal, reflective a “wee small hours” of the morning album. The soundtrack to a movie about a man walking back down the mean streets from his latest heart break, glancing up at the sky and realizing that Greater Manchester has somehow cut lose from Earth and is in a perilous orbit round the rings of Saturn.
Garvey says that when of producing Kloot’s first album, Natural History “I was just pressing the record button, then pressing the stop button”. This time he talks about white boards, brainstorming, harpists and, instead of a long weekend, eighteen months – on and off – in the studio. Garvey calls all this “that silk cushion”. But it doesn’t feel like the silk cushion to me. This is not a band trying to spend its way to genius. “That’s because in those circumstances,” says Garvey, “the producer is usually working for the record company. But this time Craig and I are the producers and we’re mates with the band.” You can hear on “I Still Do” that Marie Lionheardt the renowned harpist has not been brought in to guest, she’s playing like a member of the band. This is the same Kloot but painting with a lot more colours, because they’re painting on a much bigger canvas. Sky at Night in fact.
When I talked to Andy, Peter and John about this album, they could barely contain themselves. As if they can hardly believe they’ve done it. Happy memories, favorite lines and nominations for the best track pour out of them. They talked about influences and steals. I think I’m supposed to be doing something similar here but I don’t want to be the one to say “This is Sam Cooke meets the Electric Light Orchestra conducted by John Cooper Clarke with Frank Sinatra on the theramin”. I’m not going to talk about highlights because I don’t want you to skip. I think you should listen to it all That might sound like a pointless demand in the age of the download. But … well, here’s a true story: a friend of mine had a son who hated reading. I said well books sound better when someone reads them to you, so I put Treasure Island on his iPod for him, convinced that he’d be blown away by Long John and Blind Pugh. A few days later he said he just couldn’t follow it. It was too weird. One minute they were dead, one minute they weren’t. One minute they were friends. The next they were enemies. They were on an island. They were in England. They were on the island again. What was going on? I took a look at the iPod. I had to explain to him that you can’t really listen to Treasure Island on shuffle.
Some things were made for you to sit and listen to, in a particular order. Some stories have a begining, a middle and an end. Sit down and listen to Sky at Night. It has a story to tell you.
‘Sky at Night’ is released on Monday.