With the rediscovery of Scott Fagan’s 1968 South Atlantic Blues album, Getintothis’ Paul Higham takes a listen and looks ahead to October’s show at the Philharmonic Music Room.
It is often with a heavy dose of justifiable cynicism that we learn of a long-lost ‘classic’ album being rediscovered, repackaged and reissued. Usually the accompanying fan-fare is designed with the primary intention of lining the pockets of whichever record label is looking to cash in on whatever form of music is currently finding fashion. We’re long in the tooth enough to recognise that much of what remained undiscovered did so because it just wasn’t very good.
Thankfully, however, there are exceptions to every rule.
And with Scott Fagan‘s South Atlantic Blues any notion of lingering cynicism must and should be cast aside. If first impressions count, then a first listen to this exemplary LP will make you question just why so many people had been denied knowledge of its pleasures for so long. Perhaps it was more that it was too good rather than that was not good enough. First released in 1968 it is an album that manages to sound simultaneously of its time, yet somehow and indefinably ahead of it.
With a sound rooted in the psychedelic folk movement of the original era, you can immediately see why it is so ripe for rediscovery now. As the so-called alternative freak-folk movement has coalesced with both the roots and Amerciana scenes and the world of psychedelia to popularise a brand of music that borrows from many many influences to effect a modern interpretation of the acid-folk era, then South Atlantic Blues could be seen as the template.
Reflecting his upbringing in the Virgin Islands away from the cultural epicentre of his birthplace in New York City, the album embraces a refreshingly diverse range of styles that suggests a sense of creative freedom far removed from the artistic constraints of Greenwich Village’s folk revival. Its geographical isolation is evident from the subtly languid Caribbean rhythms that infuse the album and imbue it with a Calypso spirit that fires the imagination. It is a record rich in atmosphere that evokes warm muggy, carefree nights in the tropics rather than the dense urban claustrophobia of gritty city life.
With folk forming the basic template, jazz and R&B interweave throughout. Yet what defines the album is Fagan‘s rich and expressive voice, laced with emotion and feeling, that provides a powerfully charged vehicle for his often dense lyrical allusions. At times you can unpick the mystery from his lyrics that reveal something of an impassioned love story. Elsewhere you can sit back and contentedly bathe in its intoxicating sounds.
With his career and life being shrouded in romantic mystery – one of the more colourful facts being that he is the father of The Magnetic Fields‘ Stephin Merritt with the two only meeting for the first time as recently as 2012 – we can anticipate that his forthcoming tour may shed more light on the personality behind an album of such majesty and who could have, in different circumstances, been a voice that defined a generation. Helping to bring his music to life will be Alex Nielson and Mike Hastings, drummer and guitarist of Trembling Bells who have in the past provided sympathetic support to Bonnie Prince Billy and Mike Heron as well as Kaleidoscope at Leaf last year.
Scott Fagan plays Liverpool’s Philharmonic Music Room on Wednesday October 19, tickets are available here.
The full UK and Ireland tour dates are below:
October 6: The Hug and Pint, Glasgow
October 7: Whelans, Dublin
October 10: Komedia Studio, Brighton
October 11: The Brudenell, Leeds
October 14: Deaf Institute, Manchester
October 15: The Lantern, Bristol
October 18: Café Oto, London
October 19: The Music Room at The Philharmonic, Liverpool
Entrance have just been announced as the support for the whole European tour. Their latest EP Promises will be released this Friday, with a new album out in February. Watch the video for Promises directed by Rozalina Burkova here.