Wednesday 21 February 2024

John Bramwell - The Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic, John Bramwell's second solo album, has been a long time coming. Recorded with his band, The Full Harmonic Convergence, the twelve-song collection is a rich and vibrant addition to John's catalogue of work that is in its fourth decade. Melodic and optimistic, but shot through the battered and bruised lyrical romanticism that has been his calling card, it's a career highpoint that sits alongside his most celebrated work.

Those familiar with John's work will already know many of these songs from the sporadic Full Harmonic Convergence gigs he's put on over the past five years. Accompanied by Dave Fidler, Harriet Bradshaw, Andy Fidler and Alan Lowles, he's surrounded himself with musicians and friends with whom he has a genuine connection similar to that in the early days of I Am Kloot where most casual observers will know him from. These songs have been painstakingly pored over in the studio, tweaked and turned to get them just right, but still possess a freshness and an ability to tug at the heartstrings, evoke feelings of melancholy and shared experiences and be eminently relatable.

The production on the album is crisp and uncluttered, allowing the simple beauty of the songwriting and playing to shine through. This is evident right from the start, Leave No Traces' beauty is in its simplicity, soft drums and guitar and a voice, layered subtly with backing vocals, that draws the images in your mind of the words that it's imparting. The songs don't hang around either - the twelve songs clock in at just thirty-six minutes yet they leave their message behind.

The lead single A World Full Of Flowers is one of John's finest pieces of work in a seriously impressive catalogue. "I want to run where the sunset breaks, make beauty for its own sake" is both wistful and evocative, a sense of optimism pervading from the darkness of the world in which we live. It's a theme that shines brightly throughout The Light Fantastic and musically John's new collaborators paint a colourful picture to accompany it.  The backing vocals make a reappearance on It's Just Like You, the second single, the harmonies taking centre stage while the guitars and cello skip and dance whilst the album's title track has waltz-like qualities as it tells of seasick sailors "putting their best foot forward whilst keeping hold of their receipts."

Here It Comes sees the album take a darker turn telling of corporation penguins overdosed on dope and hallelujah angels swinging in on ropes and has an urgency to it that's unsettling. It's countered by the album's centrepiece, Sky Full Of Thunder And Lightning, a song about the dark clouds that follow many of us around even on bright sunny happy days. Once again the song reveals a richness and revelatory depth to John's vocals, whilst the cello creates beautiful patterns behind it, making the words hit harder.  I Am The Sky is a stripped down rework of a previous single, here the piano and cellos create a fragile otherwordly sense to accentuate John's ponderings on the very essence of our existence in the world - "Where are we now? What do we know? What do we do? Where do we go? What are these words? What do they mean?"

Days Go By lasts barely ninety seconds, an almost acapella song where the vocal harmonies come to the fore swirling around John's sitting dead centre declaring "You hesitate, you meditate, you turn your mind off and levitate" as once again he searches for the answers to life's questions. The Element Of Truth has a funky country vibe to it as it once again ponders why we're all here - "I'm a single digit in a billion equations" whilst I Feel Me is sparse yet claustrophobic.

The Light Fantastic's final two songs are somewhat of a departure for John. Nobody Left But You has a spoken word narrative, a stream of consciousness addressing many of the other themes on the record over piano and acoustic guitar. Illegalised muses over the way in which personal freedoms have been restricted, starting at songs and then moving through listening to them to saying that you've listened to them, capturing the slow creep of censorship. The album finishes with the song title repeated over a lush tapestry of piano, cello and guitars.

The Light Fantastic is a true labour of love. John Bramwell could quite easily tour the land playing I Am Kloot songs to perpetuity yet has chosen to release new music, firstly the stripped down Leave Alone The Empty Spaces and now this full band record. He sounds creatively inspired by his musical partners throughout the twelve songs here, a sense of cautious questioning optimism pervading throughout. One of the country's finest, and yet still underappreciated songwriters, has created an album that stands up against anything he's previously released under different guises.

John Bramwell plays London St Pancras Old Church (February 21/22/23), Bristol Folk House (25) and Manchester Stoller Hall (29) with the Full Harmonic Convergence before Full Harmonic Trio shows at Oldham Shure Studios (March 1), Altrincham Bowdon Rooms (2), Cardiff Acapella Studios (14), Ludlow Assembly Rooms (15), Falmouth The Cornish Bank (21), Totnes The Barrel House Ballroom (22), Carlisle Old Fire Station (27), Glasgow St Luke's (28), Twyford St Mary's Church (April 5), Corsham Pound Arts Centre (6), Tunbridge Wells Forum (11), Norwich Waterfront (12), Oxford United Reform Church (19), Aldershot West End Centre (20), Shrewsbury Cathedral (25), Birmingham St Paul's Church (27), Chester St Mary's Creative Space (28), Nottingham Metronome (May 9), Dublin The Grand Social (11), Burton On Trent The Ropewalk (17), Lancaster Grand (24), Cardigan Mwldan (31), Bath Rondo Theatre (June 1), Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room (7) and Newcastle Cluny (8).

John Bramwell's website can be found here.  He is also on Twitter and Facebook.

The Light Fantastic can be preordered here.


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