Harry Stafford & The Guitar Shaped Hammers
GOTHIC URBAN BLUES
Black Lagoon Records
Soundtrack For a Late Night Diner, Far From The Madding Crowd
Manchester has long been a been a musical hub; starting with the Hollies in the 1960’s, then dancing its way through the Hacienda years only to reappear (and arguably peak) with Britpop and Oasis; but ….. The Blues?
Apart from football team City; I wouldn’t have ever associated The Blues with Manchester; but beavering away in the city’s shadows is one Harry Stafford, who first crossed my radar as a member of Post-Punksters Inca Babies in the 1980’s and has now re-invented himself.
There’s certainly a bit of a Tom Waitsian vibe to opening track, the alt.Love Song She Just Blew Me Away; albeit with harmonies and a vocal performance that doesn’t quite scare the neighbours. There’s dirty guitar, cool late night trumpet and piano playing worthy of the Blue Note Club in NYC; what’s not to like?
The scene is now set.
In his defence, there is a definite ‘Blues’ feel to much of this record; but to me this is the type of late night Jazz that I dream of stumbling upon; and Stafford delivers it all with not just gusto, but pathos too.
The songs themselves are very wordy; articulate even and occasionally bordering on Beat Poetry; but that’s never a bad thing here at RMHQ.
I adore Stafford’s uber-confidence on the exceptionally dour and moody Black Rain and Infinite Dust. There’s only a handful of artistes who can carry off something so dark; and Harry is certainly one of them.
You can actually feel the bass lines in Sideways Shuffle in your chest; and the trumpet is so sharp it could cut your heartstrings in two; then of curse there are Harry Stafford’s words themselves …….. mind expanding!
With so much going on the background, many singers would fall at the first hurdle in their quest to be heard; but courtesy of Ding Archer and Stafford himself’s production it’s only when you listen to the likes of Man in a Bar or Cruel Set of Shades on headphones that you find yourself being immersed in the intricacy of the playing, as Stafford’s distinctively brusque vocals take you on a journey that is normally the reserve of poets.
Finding a Favourite Song amidst this basket of earthly delights hasn’t been easy at all; with the melancholy single Painted Ocean being a presumed winner when I first heard it way back in January; and the opening track She Blew Me Away is nigh on perfect in this setting; but now, months later I’m going for the most left of centre song on a very left of centre album; which is the mysterious and poetic Disappearing, which obviously conjures up more comparisons with Tom Waits; but there’s also a hefty dollop of Scott Walker in here too and not just the concept, but the articulate construction may even come from the Thomas Hardy book of poetry; if I’m not mistaken …… but I may be.
I’m not sure there’s anything else for me to say; apart from discovering albums like this is the whole raison d’etre for RMHQ existing. You ain’t ever going to hear Harry Stafford on mainstream radio; and as he’s from Up North he’s hardly likely to catch the attention of Jools Holland’s Later TV programme; so it’s left to the likes of me …….. and more importantly YOU! Tell your most open-minded and imaginative friends and they will owe you a huge debt of gratitude.
Released March 27th 2020