The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Crayola Lectern
The Fall And Rise Of… Ben Graham , April 16th, 2013 08:19

It's in the title. The self-deprecating, very English, black humour; by turns gentle and savage, surreally daft and desperately sad. The echoes of Reginald Perrin and his symbolic, existential mock suicide; the suggestion of knowingly childlike, unmediated creation presented with all the gravitas of a reading from a church pulpit.

It's in the artwork. Sumptuous but defiantly home-made, the cover showing an uncomfortable-looking figure (Crayola Lectern himself) dwarfed by circumstances, balanced precariously against the frontispiece of an exquisite Parisian pipe organ, dressed in Edwardian military regalia. The rear looks like beautiful, trippy 1970s wallpaper, while the CD gatefold shows a Casiotone keyboard abandoned on rocks, before a grey, foreboding sea and a weakly glimmering sun.

And the music? It's hopelessly melodic, presented with a frayed, understated grandeur and sophisticated, near-classical arrangements that hint at prog rock, but navigate that genre's notoriously murky waters with unerring good taste. Led by piano rather than guitars, the compositions in fact err more, in their plentiful instrumental sections, towards the soft-jazz film scores of Henry Mancini or Neal Hefti rather than any Wagnerian pomposity, thanks largely to the emotive brass playing of Alistair Strachan, also a member of Mary Hampton's band, Sons of Noel and Adrian and Hamilton Yarns, among others.

Crayola Lectern himself is Worthing's Chris Anderson, a tall, craggy individual whose status as a forty-something family man (psychedelic variety) is signposted early on in 'Goldfish Song'. A phased ballad with something of late-period Beatles about it, the song moves from a whimsically melancholy account of family pets committing existential suicide, to a second verse of heartfelt parental advice, concluding "if you can't be with them as you'd like, don't get too sad, just call them, be glad they are alive." If it sounds hokey on paper, it's guaranteed to break the heart of any unwillingly absent mother or father when sung, though it must be said that Chris's voice is an acquired taste: strained as boarding school prunes in weak custard, as bruised as kicked-about apples, but as genuine and heartfelt as anyone trying hard not to sound too much like Robert Wyatt can be.

This album also sounds quite a lot like Cardiacs: not too surprising, when one sees that several members of the extended Cardiacs family are playing on it. Besides Chris Anderson and Alistair Strachan, the third integral member of Crayola Lectern is former Cardiacs guitarist "random" Jon Poole, playing assorted electronic gadgets, while sometime Cardiacs drummer Bob Leith guests on most tracks, and Bic Hayes (Cardiacs, Levitation, Dark Star) adds stun guitar bursts to 'I Forgot my Big Idea.' But generally The Fall and Rise is reminiscent of the gentler, more melodic and considered side of Cardiacs, as exemplified in recent years by the work of William D Drake (a champion of Crayola Lectern's work), rather than the prog-punk assault as taken up by, say, Knifeworld.

Indeed, 'Slow Down', a long-standing favourite in the Crayola Lectern live set, sounds like a bedsit Burt Bacharach, weathering the Worthing damp rather than California sunshine, while 'I Will Never Hurt' comes on like a double-bluff detournement of the old Hamlet cigar ads. The ten-minute 'Trip in D' finds tentative Spacemen 3 guitars squaring up against burbling analog synthesiser before it all coalesces into a raga-tinged trance with alto sax snaking through the electronic gloaming. In similar vein to recent work by Kandodo, Mountains or Eternal Tapestry, after eight minutes it finally explodes into driving, Hawkwind-style freak rock, a mash-up of pungent Arabic drone and Mandrax-blasted stoner-rock oblivion-seeking.

'Rise and Fall' could be a melancholy Lalo Schifrin theme, its muted trumpet, accordion, Theremin and strummed acoustic guitar accompanying Steve McQueen through some doomed romance in funky downtown San Francisco. 'Billenia' recalls Julian Cope's Fried album in its pastoral, acid-damaged sense of confusion and mourning for lost innocence, though it soon drifts into more abstract, jazz-tinged waters. And 'A Cortical Affair' finds Chris crooning in a cracked vibrato that suggests some forgotten 1930s vaudeville entertainer, appropriate for a song that deals with the tragic loss of memory and perception in old age: "when dreams pass by and faces drift away, and memories of loved ones start to fade."

With its swirling organs, stately piano and yearning trumpet calls, The Fall and Rise is pitched somewhere between the acid-enhanced fairground, the conservatory and the music hall. Nodding towards Kevin Ayers' collaborations with orchestral arranger David Bedford, and an overlooked tradition of experimental but always melodic songwriting that draws equally on jazz, classical and easy-listening sources, it's more pre-faded and worn down than cutting edge, but remains a warm, reflective and deeply human record. From Worthing, with love.