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|1. The Dream Spider Of The Laughing Horse|
|2. The Curse|
|3. Billy Buttock's Requiem|
|5. Walking With The Beast|
|6. Endymion Sleeps|
|7. Plundering The Matriarchal Larder|
|8. Big Dipper On The Spearman's Floor|
|9. How The Cypress Made Apollo|
|10. I Walk In Endless Silence|
|11. De Natura Deorum|
2004 sees the tentative raising of the Scarlet's Well profile. As well as the release of a fourth album on May 3rd, "The Dream Spider Of The Laughing Horse", a full live band has been put together for the first time.
Archaic and arcane, literate and witty, cinematic and surreal, the Scarlet's Well songs are gorgeous, timeless, intoxicating melodies arranged for accordions, mandolins, brushed drums, summer guitars, smoky pianos, banjos, fiddles, ukuleles, and bouzoukis. Reviews to date have invoked comparisons with upstarts like The Divine Comedy (foppish crooning), Tindersticks (exotic, atmospheric arrangements) and The Magnetic Fields (eccentric, eclectic but accessible songwriting). No strangers to the archetype of the haughty petticoated girl among the fantastical, the lyrics take their place in the cultural company of Lewis Carroll, E Nesbit, "Picnic At Hanging Rock", and Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials".
Bid's voice takes turns with a diverse cast of young ladies recruited from local school musicals. His SW writing collaborators have included living modern rock star Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand, lately in the charts with "Take Me Out"; and dead Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, constantly in church services with the hymn "In The Bleak Midwinter". All of which is very Scarlet's Well.
"I wanted this to be an Atmosphere rather than a band, and thought I'd have greater freedom using a variety of different singers, musicians and writers. The identity of the albums had to be strong enough to allow these changes, without them seeming like compilations. It's akin to an open-ended musical with a partly ever-changing cast."
Descended from a long line of Indian kings ("It's still, technically, an offence for the British Queen to step on my shadow."), Bid played in pre-Adam and The Ants group The B-Sides, then founded The Monochrome Set in 1978 with early Ants refugees Lester Square and Andy Warren. Their first singles appeared on the original Rough Trade label.
Influential, articulate and unique, they delighted cultish hearts and critics alike. Morrissey used to write fan letters to Bid in his pre-Smiths days, and once remarked "How can anyone go through life without the dear, cuddly Monochrome Set?" Andy Warhol's Interview magazine described them as "...possessed of a very bright wacky eclecticism... they have a very charming way of fusing seemingly incompatible styles of music that makes their songs fresh, instantly familiar and pleasantly alien..."
In the 90s, Bid worked as a producer for MS-admiring groups like The Would-Be-Goods and The Karelia, the underrated former combo of Alex Kapranos. He was also behind the acclaimed compilation "Songs For The Jet Set" (1996), celebrated by NME as "escapist pop music of the highest calibre; a tapestry of delights...8/10", and by Melody Maker as an album of "poise, balance, charm - with oodles of class added."
After 20 years, 17 albums, one stab at the pop charts with 1985's "Jacob's Ladder", one reformation, a #1 single in Bolivia ("Eine Symphonie Des Grauens"), and a bout of genuine success in Japan, Bid felt The Monochrome Set had finally run its course. Scarlet's Well was born. A group led by one of the greatest, most criminally overlooked singer-songwriters in the English language alive; finally unfettered, unbound, and at the peak of his creative powers.
Those with an aversion to twee will have, by now, recoiled in horror and are preparing to jump ship. Fair enough, I think, but such worries that this could be an exercise in insufferable, hello-sky-hello-trees whimsy will be swiftly swept aside by the robust, ingenious pop music and the dark, wryly humorous lyrical content. Also, the folktale-esque vignettes and the running narrative concept is quite reminiscent of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood in the way of it's similarly richly-textured, well-spun yarns driven by a cast of colourful eccentrics.
I think Dream Spider is the strongest Scarlet's Well collection so far; a good place of entry for newbies, in fact. The music is as lavish as ever, employing sundry archaic and lushly exotic instruments, such as the electric guitar. On this album, though, I think it's musically more driving and fleet-of-foot, skipping from salsa to psychedelia and all the way round the [unknown] world. There's a particular spicy-sweet eastern and/or tropical flavour running through as well, sumptuous and wistful.Read more ›