As always with the work of OTH Music Collective, the organisation offers a unique contribution to the Northern Irish Music Scene. The orientation of the organisation, since its inception, has been to ensure that the voices of older musicians, especially musicians and songwriters who may not have, for various reasons, made a connection with the local music industry, get a hearing.
In some cases older musicians are returning to being creative after a hiatus, in others, there are people who find a voice through music later in life. Whatever the starting point, the OTH Music Collective, under the watchful eye of Paul Kane, and working alongside Paul, Chip Bailey (well known locally for his work with Duke Special), offers an avenue for older musicians to maintain their creativity.
The sound of the new album, the clarity of the instrumentation and the arrangements, is extremely impressive. There has been great care taken with the orchestration of each track. The musicianship and the addition of various synthesised and programmed sounds, which permeate the tracks, is of a high calibre.
Wobble cover – artwork by Juanita Rea https://www.juanita.uk
From the opening bounce of Sean McGahan’s Interlude 1, which veers towards a deep, bass heavy, techno dub, to the album’s penultimate track also by McGahan, Interlude 3, a gentle acoustic guitar piece, each track has been carefully put together to allow each song to resonate independently while at the same time allowing the album to appear a s a coherent whole. And then there is the final track, Wobble, a one song rock opera produced during the worst elements of the pandemic.
(Wobble was reviewed previously in the Monthly here.)
Moving beyond the music, the lyrical themes examined on the album appear to hover between hope and despair, the writers interrogating the constant tension between life and all its difficulties, and the notion of looking forward to a better future.
In Chip Bailey and Lief Bodnarchuk’s track, “Just because I’m old” the heavy rock opening leads the way for Chip’s vocal to question the process of ageing and how older people are viewed and treated. The response to mistreatment is to insist on making your own noise. The final section, a dramatic shift to a gentle lament, is about how that mistreatment impacts older people and what feelings, mainly melancholy and sadness, are generated.
Similar themes are explored in James McLarnon’s “Another Place” which hints at lost opportunities and the desire to search for “brighter days”, with some very tasty guitar playing thrown in for good measure. Liz Kelly’s “Smokescreen”, where the destructive combination of mental health and medication is posited over a sultry jazz lament. Gavin Duffy’s pop rock, “Gavin’s Song” has elements of Northern Soul weaved into the various shifts in musical tone, with anxiety and insomnia the key issues being addressed.
Those themes are then contrasted, perhaps even challenged, by Dolores Fisher’s “Carpe Diem”, a multilayered pop song, where she is looking to the future, “the future is a clean sheet, the past a scribbled page”, and again by Juanita Rea’s “The Earth Spins” which marvels at the potential inherent in the planet and in humanity.
Irene McCaffrey and Alex Elliot’s “Horizon”, and Neil Lavery and Chip Bailey’s “Hills and Bills” put forward the possibility of escaping the world as it is now for an environment which offers the bounty of nature’s gifts, as does Juanita Rea’s Spoken Word track “The Tree that Hugged Me” although in slightly different ways. The protagonist in this piece is searching for forgiveness and support, the narrative underlain by Liz Kelly’s wonderful piano and violin.
Throughout the album there is a teasing psychedelia, most notable on Paul Kane’s “1706 Sixteen Street,” which, both musically and lyrically has a cinematic, perhaps even dreamscape, quality about it, and fused through the rock bombast of the final track “Wobble”.
And it is worth repeating that the arrangements throughout the album are highly crafted, from the sounds of guitars, the bass, violin and piano, to the drums, the digital additions and backing vocals. And the choices within each track’s production, offering lots of interesting surprises, through the work of Chip Bailey and Phil d’Alton who pieced together the album through the period pf the pandemic.
So, another vital addition to the OTH catalogue, which will reward the listeners, always keeping in mind that the process which makes an album like this possible is the commitment by the OTH Music Collective, and its founder Paul Kane, to the principle that older musicians must have a path which allows them to learn, develop or re-establish their craft. And all of that is present on this album.