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Best Of Pies Richard Foster , July 25th, 2016 09:38

Right at the point of starting this review, I get the fear. Like Marwood, my thumbs have gone weird, but not through a date with the ‘erb. It’s more about the fact I’m going to review an LP by Pies. I think it’s best to prevaricate wildly and begin with a story which sort of says - obliquely - what I feel.

Regardless of anything else I write in this review, you must understand that this LP by Pies has spirit. Buckets of the stuff, flowing through every song. It reminds of something I did when I was young and gauche, in 1992. The streets of Accrington not exactly being paved with gold back then, I applied for a job in a pyramid selling scheme. I soon found myself on an “introductory course” (aka a free labour day) selling dinner club vouchers to the golf widows round posh Southport. A trim, unremarkable bloke from Middlesbrough - one of the “top sellers” - was my tutor. He did his best to tell me I’d get on and make a pile, make myself proud of what I could achieve with my lot. Despite his encouraging words, a day spent lying about pub roast dinners whilst deflecting sexual frisson of every shade from bored housewives convinced me this was not my future career. Footsore, I got the bus back to Acc; an Odyssey in itself. But the memory of that bloke from Middlesbrough and his quiet determination has stayed with me. His spirit was that of this Pies LP. An LP that chronicles a determined search for your soul. “Starting again with what God gave me” as chief Pieman [sic!] Ashley Martin sings on 'Gutter Club'.

To actually have this album, along with a companion compilation CD (A Brief History Of…) in my hands... Gott in Himmel. This is a bigger thing than the end bit in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or yer man Trump becoming El Presidente. Since I let on “dead casual like” [sic!!] that I had I’ve been getting messages off mates. The tone of these messages has mostly been incredulous. “Can I see it and touch it?” “Is it shit? What does it sound like?” “The Pies were just the end piece on BBC1 lunchtime news. The national one, not just the NW.”

Not just the N(orth)W(est) but the national one. This is very important to note. Pies suffer from that hibernatory tendency that afflicts many from the Mersey estuary. Spinning yarns for your own folk is more than enough. Dig deep, hunker down, just like Joseph Williamson did. An ingrained belief that no-one gets it even when loads of other people get it. Staying put. I am still convinced that Nigel Blackwell only appears in hologram form when he leaves The Wirral. It’s also a very NW/Liverpuddle/Liddellpool thing that main Pieman Ashley Martin passes over lots of the vocal duties to his female co-singer. The singer could be - according to the credits - Barbara or Beverley Keenan, or it could be Kirsty Newrick. Just like many things with Pies, I just don’t know. It only adds to the mystery.

Mersey-spun mysteries aside, this Best of Pies LP is an “everyman” LP. Everyone should at least try to hear it and listen into their message. Because Pies write catchy tunes, no doubt. Songs like ‘Prisoner’, ‘This Is Your Time’, ‘Gutter Club’ and the closing grandstand, ‘Electronic’, are earworms; regardless of whether you like the arrangements. The opener, ‘This is Your Time’ is so heartfelt, and such a good pop song, that it will latch on to you, regardless. It’s their signature tune, courtesy of the fact that it is a song that has lived on in various modes and times; scrawled and pasted on walls, the rock out as heard on the accompanying A Brief History Of… CD, or in this shiny hosed down version. My only complaint is that the repeat chorus shouldn’t ever stop but should mutate into some T-Dream-like 70 minute mantra. But then, that’s a whinging rock critic for you.

I see I am still prevaricating. Let’s - finally - cut to the quick. This LP is not really something I’d ever thought I’d review, let alone for The Quietus. You see, I can’t imagine many readers of this august journal liking this LP by Pies. Not because the songs aren’t boss (some are dead boss). It’s the arrangements, ye ken. I don’t think you are going to spin this after you’ve been grooving to Klara Lewis or the newie from Factory Floor. You will have no chance to mutter the word, “brutal”, not at any point. You see, the record sounds like an honest, totally straight-faced take on that winebar lefty, soulfood pop that The Style Council and The Beautiful South nailed. It also sounds like it was recorded by a daytime TV backing band. Imagine Micky Head writing the incidental music for Brookside, or a provincial musical about “friendly Northern folk” and you have a mind map of sorts. That the melancholic phrasing of the vocals sometimes remind you of the Paleys/Shack frontman is, of course, never a bad thing. There’s a lot of piano on this record too. Sometimes the flourishes can grate, but on ‘Gutter Club’ the instrument leads the track and gives welcome emotional support. ‘Gutter Club’ is a truly great song actually, one for a musical, not an LP. It shares that gang show positivity with the brassy ‘High Life’ and the shuffle-soul of ‘What A Night’.

If you want to dig deeper, past the music itself, I should direct you to a key lyric on ‘Smoke’ (a song about yes, you guessed, London). It’s delivered in a cod-posh mince: “You’re absolutely nobody”. That’s the point. This record is about low level observation, set to shamelessly hopeful, totally non-ironic music. The message should be loud and clear. This is the true sound of the United Kingdom. Small, heartfelt, sentimental to the point of embarrassing. Street smart, albeit to the end of the street. Music for middle age lads in pubs wearing trackie bottoms and those stupid hooded tops with goggles on. A soundtrack for a trip to The Spar. The sound of Facebook message boards, or in earlier times, letters to the local rag. Imagine your dad demanding he sings songs about his life to you when you bring your Corbynista mates home from the college vacs. He’s desperately strumming his acoustic, running through a sub-sub-sub Stone Roses singalong but in there, fighting. What’s infinitely worse for all you atonal wallflowers who may want to listen to this LP, Ashley Martin duets with his son on the song, ‘Batman’.

But tough. There’s an unshakeable belief behind these songs. With a resolute honesty. Brave, and not afraid to say so to your face. And I think no amount of clever analysis can fully capture what they do. For one last stab at decoding the mystery, let’s take the song ‘California. It’s a song with a catchy chorus, one that’s impeccably sung, and with lyrics that you could just about relate to. But what clinches their everyday uniqueness [sic!!!] is Martin adding the very self-conscious observation, “come ’ead, la” before the band break into the lowest of all low grade funky riffs, an obvious riposte to the unendurable winny of of the terrible, unspeakable, Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It’s godawful, moronic, teen scabstratch on one level, but on another it’s utterly life-affirming, cock-a-snooking stuff. How do they manage to get away with this? Because they are Pies. Simple, la.

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