Maiden Voyage Recording Company are delighted to be adding North London's Felix Holt &The Radicals to the roster. Holt's debut album, The Next Big Nobody, wasreleased on June 8th on CD/Digital, distributed through SRD.
“It’s not necessarily about making something new and original. The challenge is to find something fresh in what’s been around a long time; there are fundamentals and why would you change them? It’s about making something I enjoy that’s both familiar and surprising.”
Felix Holt & The Radicals present their debut album The Next Big Nobody, recorded in an analogue studio in Northern Spain, in keeping with Felix’s long-established fascination, almost-obsession, with the sound of early rock’n’roll and the recording techniques holding sway from the prime of Sam Phillips at Sun through to Tom Wilson’s sessions with Bob Dylan.
Felix Holt hails from Muswell Hill; one of those discrete sections of North London, off the tube lines, and thus a little of itself. Nestling adjacent to Alexandra Palace, scene of 1967’s 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, it’s been the childhood home of singular musicians from Ray and Dave Davies to The Rails’ James Walbourne.
In Felix’s childhood there were particular sounds he was drawn to, initially uncertainly and inchoately. Hearing Cab Calloway’s ‘Minnie The Moocher’, off The Blues Brothers soundtrack, playing on his father’s car stereo seems to have been a decisive moment which turned him towards American rhythm’n’blues, gospel, and country music.
In pursuing this interest he was fortunate in the location of West End bus stops. Working at The Toucan – the flagship Guinness pub on Soho Square – he’d take a short cut through Hanway Street to pick up the 134 on Tottenham Court Road. Late at night JB’s Records wasn’t open but he saw enough in the window to return and become a regular. It was an enlightening experience: “I hadn’t been into record shops. When I was growing up CDs were the thing; there was this whole idea that records were obsolete, and you’d only listen to them for some nostalgic reason”.
He soaked up music and conversation. Bill the owner was good friends withMarco Nelson who ran Studio 65 in Brixton, so Felix heard all about analogue sound and why analogue recordings had value and why people still wanted that sound: “You only know if you’ve thought about it, or had the experience of working with it. Otherwise you wouldn’t know it made a difference; you’d think technology has moved on, and it’s just what people used to do”.
Initially it was all about discovering what he wanted to do. Trying out material at open-mic nights; initially at The Spice Of Life on Cambridge Circus. He would soon meet Pepe Belmonte who introduced him to The Lantern Society at The Betsey Trotwood in Clerkenwell, then at The George Tavern on Commercial Road he heard guitarist Graham Farnworth play a set of Delta blues and afterwards they got to talking.
From this meeting came the heart of The Radicals; Graham was in the house band of the Punchdrunk production The Drowned Man as were bassist Peter Bennie and keyboard-player Will South. Bennie, Farnworth, along with drummer Kike Parra all played on his first recordings; a four track EP cut in 2015 at Liam Watson’s Toe Rag Studios.
Next time would be in Northern Spain at Estudios Circo Perrotti in Gijon. A place he’d heard of, only vaguely, back at JB’s, but while touring in the same region he came upon it; The Radicals were playing a gig in Gijon and the engineer lived across the road from the club. Renowned in garage circles Circo Perrotti is run by Jorge Munoz-Cobo aka Jorge Explosion from the band Doctor Explosion, more recently one of Las Munjitas del Fuzz (The Little Nuns Of Fuzz). The Fleshtones, Billy Childish, Holly Golightly, and Sonny Burgess have all recorded there.
Together with Peter, Graham and Kike, he went in for a session; with luck they’d come out with something, maybe a single. They had two half-days, either side of the show, but in that time they recorded eight songs, picked from a cache of nearly thirty, most of them quite fresh: “We worked them out there and then, with quite a lot of chaos in the whole process, but it all came together. Everyone in the band is pretty quick at picking things up. We’ve played together quite a lot, and kept that energy.”
Eight songs down with vocals and core rhythm tracks proved more than a good start. He was back two months later, taking Will South and drummer Greg Bishop to overdub keys and organs, and also cut another brace of songs with Jorge on bass and Marcos Montoto – out of Peralta, a West Coast cosmic country band from northern Spain - on guitar. They then added the sophisticated, sympathetic and integral backing vocals from Robert Chaney and Laura Tenshert And thus there was an album!
The Next Big Nobody invites comparisons to those latter-day Dylan albums anchored in rockabilly sensibilities but wandering widely through classic American popular music. As a listening experience it can initially be quite elusive, requiring an alertness to recognise how much is going on, how smart it all is, and how contrasting.
The playfulness of the title track, simultaneously self-deprecatory and self-aggrandising, and the beautiful cunning of ‘Now That It’s Gone’, prove him wry and witty; the unique ‘So It May Live Again’, flavoured with clavioline, suggests nothing less than McCartney recorded by Joe Meek; while the Jimmy McGriff- style organ-driven ‘Keep It On Fire’, and the celebratory shuffle of ‘Loving Kind’ witness his current preference for the up-tempo. They’re leavened by such as the depression- haunted ‘Off The Rails’ - the only track with piano, but tellingly - and the weary blues of ‘Only Then’ and ‘A Hard Choice’.
Felix remains at pains to emphasise the spontaneity of it all; “there was no plan behind the actual songs I ended up picking. It was all in the moment and I wasn’t thinking about whether they’d work together”; but whether knowingly or instinctively this collection is artfully sequenced, ensuring a flow that never flags, and giving the many hues of a rapidly-maturing voice the fullest opportunity to shine.
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