Danny George Wilson (Bennett Wilson Poole, Danny & The Champions Of The World, Grand Drive) unveils a radically surprising new solo album Another Place to a world coming up for air. Celebrating the future returning with a vibrant and diverse collection of startling, impressionistic songs produced in tandem with Sussex-based, studio-wizard Hamish Benjamin and his frequent collaborator Henry Garratt, helped along by pedal steel maestro Iain Sloan (Peter Bruntnell, Wynntown Marshals), and with memorable guest appearances from Emma Swift (Blonde On The Tracks), Gerry Love (Teenage Fanclub), and Jeff Tweedy (Wilco).
Danny often sings of significant places; The Famous Mad Mile – his only previous solo album; “the road to Aberdeen”; “the steps of the Borderline”; and the ‘Swift Street’ of his Australian childhood. Another Place might be Lewes in Sussex, and the record shop – Union Music Store – he co-manages there; but equally it’s a fresh creative locale with altered rules and customs. Taking over the shop in 2018 had proved more inspiring than he could ever have dreamed, affecting both his taste and approach, battering him with a cornucopia of sounds: “Music I’d barely thought of came into my life – like Jazz and Japanese ambient music – showing me new horizons”.
A further introduction was to Hamish Benjamin. Just into his twenties, son of a Lewes-based luthier, he’d started playing music at the age of ten, gradually gravitating towards production. Hooked on the quality of juxtaposition; between lo-fi and hi-fi, harmony and noise, complexity and simplicity; Hamish viewed Jim O’Rourke, Robert Schneider, and Steve Albini as exemplars: “I’m just interested most strongly in where the traditional and the modern, or electronic, can combine, or play against each other. As a guitarist I use very few effects, having a very clean, traditional sound; adding additional weirdness is more fun than trying to be weird from the outset”.
From shop chatter and exchanges of recommendation arose the idea of Danny coming into Hamish’s Somewhere Studios, recording a couple of basic tracks – with just acoustic guitar and vocals – and leaving him free to do what he would. They began with the album’s openers ‘Lost Future’ and ‘Sincerely Hoping’; the former originally worked up with the Champs, the latter a co-write with Will Birch. Over the next few days Hamish completed the tracks, keeping the vocals and, alongside Henry Garratt – friend, long-time musical associate, and sounding board, whose assistance both as multi-instrumentalist and with arrangements was invaluable – adding everything else: “My approach to playing and arranging the songs was purely instinctual. I did the drum takes without having listened to the songs again, so I could react organically without overthinking. I can hear what I want to do to a song pretty immediately. If I didn’t have a good idea, or I knew something in the song would play to his strengths I’d wait for Henry to come in and see what he’d come up with.”
‘Lost Future’ is a smack in the face dominated by what appears to be treated violin or viola but turns out to be a sample of bowed cymbal, stretched and reversed. ‘Sincerely Hoping’ begins with a jaunty Wurlitzer whistle; its air of cool assurance endears even as it gradually dissolves. These fully-realised productions, completely different to anything he would have considered, blew Danny away and served as the spur to continue. Over the following weeks he would regularly return with new pairs of songs invariably composed during the hour-long South London to Lewes commute: “I was so inspired by the process that I threw the songwriting up into the air as well. I was banging out the songs and not worrying too much, not holding on too tightly, trying to be completely un-precious, much more free-written, didn’t want to tell stories, or write country songs.”
This ceding control of a huge element of the creative process to others, and then feeding off what they bought him back, was both heady and liberating. Thus lyrics are more oblique with their power resting in echoes and correspondences, internal rhyme, and repetition, rather than in the tales they tell. The collision of straight-forward, traditional songwriting with experimentation and noise, catalysing an alternative but engrossing magic, and enabling some of Danny’s most romantic songs ever but equally some of his most unhinged.
Unchained by narrative there’s a greater freedom to appreciate voice as voice, while an element of surprise always hovers close. The slowed-down, late-night vibe of ‘I Wanna Tell You’, with loose piano, celeste and pedal steel, sundered by a sudden cacophony; ‘Heaven For Hiding’ all rush and skitter with beep boops. It’s all about immanence and expectation as Hamish’s effects are as sparing as they’re telling; also mysterious as his credits include various ‘noises’, such as ‘horrible’, ‘wooshy’, and ‘mosquito’. ‘Can You Feel Me’ initially a transparent steal and reassuringly melodic becomes engulfed in alien growl. ‘Right Place’ has floating, liquid cascades of piano and a cello, then another rip cleaves the mood; there’s a line about living ‘inside a snowbowl’, and ‘Giving Away Too Much’ with guitars kissing, near-industrial edge, and buried vocal momentarily sounds like it was recorded inside one.
The pair of covers; curiously, and unconsciously, on theme; both originate in other, though imaginary, places. ‘We’ve Got A Lot Learn’ – from Spirit’s Potatoland gloriously invokes Beatle George and Todd Rundgren with Gerry Love adding divine backing vocals, before Jeff Tweedy’s guitar blissfully materialises for the most witty and marvellous of solos: “It’s just like being in a weird but amazing dream. Hamish had the youthful nuts to ask Jeff Tweedy, and Jeff Tweedy said yes. When I first heard the solo I burst out laughing, because it’s so cheeky and it’s fun and it’s really ambitious, playful and massively melodic”.
Immediately following comes a beautiful play of voices as Emma Swift joins Danny on that most moving of songs from Sinatra’s Watertown; ‘I Would Be In Love (Anyway)’: “Blonde On The Tracks was such a big record here; she was the first person who popped into my head, and you don’t know when you ask people whether they like what you do, or wanna be on another person’s record. But she was really positive and really brilliant”.
The duet flows seamlessly into the lush finale ‘Inbetween The Love’ where Mellotron, tack piano, tingy-tangy noises, and guitar combine, and Hamish, inevitably, can’t resist one final drift away from kilter. The passage from ‘Lost Future’ to ‘Inbetween The Love’s “the future is returning to these days”might hint at contemporary resonances but it’s a mite more subtle than that. Rather let’s say altered circumstances simply revealed new and different vistas and accelerated an embrace of them.
Another Place is Danny George Wilson opening a new door, liking what he sees, and inviting us to peer through and do the same. He’s still patently possessed by the sense of wonder he felt on hearing those first two tracks, and similarly excited at the prospect of sharing it with others: There’s nothing I asked him to do, and nothing I told him he couldn’t do, and for pretty much a hundred percent of it nothing he has done is what I would have told him to do, had I told him to do anything, which is brilliant.”