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Mercury rising for Brigadier Ambrose

Stephen Coole - Thursday 15.07.10, 09:58am

Fuzzo, the debut album from Brigadier Ambrose, has been long listed for this year’s Mercury Prize. To mark this musical thermometer ride, the band is set to release a new digital singe – Yours, Danube Song, available from all good digitised outlets.

Fuzzo - Brigadier Ambrose

But when did the mercury begin to rise for Brigadier Ambrose? Well, it all started not so long ago, just 30 miles from Old London Town in a suburban sprawl by the River Medway. Come with me…

Returning home to The Medway Towns, after a 13-year hiatus, I breathed in the salty river tears, looked skywards to the stunning Victorian architecture and bruised my nostrils with particles of rotting kebabs lining the street, from Rochester to Chatham. I sighed with a resigned happiness; it was good to be back.

But within days I’d heard the same smacked-face story: “The towns are a dive, full of chavs, rubbish castle, stinking prospects. Dead or dying. Modern life is rubbish.” A very English pessimism. And then I was introduced to the music of Chatham’s Brigadier Ambrose, a very English band.

Early singles shone lights on the night ladies straddled on New Road, painted flesh torn pictures of post-pub violence, picked at the nit-wit proprietors of gel-angled hair and magnetised the airwaves with garage-pop sonics. Two and three minute vignettes told with wit, verve and often a wry wink.

See the video for early single Decembered

Mostly ignored in their home town, Brigadier Ambrose lit fires in the eyes of notable musical luminaries including Alan McGee, Stuart Maconie, Mark Radcliffe and Huw Stephens. BBC sessions and festival slots followed and still Chatham slumbered. Boo! Wake up Chatham; it’s time to get fuzzy.

Released digitally in November 2009 and on CD in March 2010, Fuzzo follows in the footsteps of great English guitar pop albums, records that blur the lines between first and third person, between the mundane and the fantastical and between ideals and reality.

In 1968 The Kinks ignored the mind-expanding platitudes of their peers and wrote an extraordinary album about a village green society that was falling apart. The remnants of that society – decency, respect and a sense of innocence, as well as pomp and class divisions – have stoked the flames of some of England’s brightest, wittiest and inventive bands for the past 40 years and with Fuzzo, Brigadier Ambrose are carrying on that tradition.

The intro Wurlitzer swirl on album opener Mind Reel hints at the circus-act hoax that can be modern living; all preening and posturing with little substance. What follows is a five-song opening salvo that gives XTC’s classic White Music a run for its money, in terms of breath-snatching, fuzzy-pop brilliance.

Mischievous chord changes and time alterations blow a mallard-sized puff of smoke in the direction of Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish; none more so than on Uh-Oh, which beautifully reflects the discordant uneasiness of Oily Water.

Musically, Brigadier Ambrose are lithe, able and playful, jumping from one hook to another, subtlety altering tone and texture without stunting the flow of the arrangement; a skill Syd Barrett displayed wonderfully on The Madcap Laughs but a potential banana skin for mimics and fakers.

Brigadier Ambrose’s lyrical intent, at times, also brings to mind Mr Barrett. A flash of a story whips into the next as the montage is built. But unlike Barrett the misanthropic glint in this band’s eye is more sharply focused. Not that Fuzzo is an idiot-friendly rant or tirade. But as Dave Goggin sings on Yours, Danube Song, “ It’s not like me to make a fuss but I’ve been getting rather cross with things.” Small talk, the self obsessed, mindless menacing, fat heads and slim-fit jeans. They’re all on the list.

Fuzzo is on the Mercury long list and on 20 July we will find out if it’s on the short list. An album that is packed with insight, dry wit, dazzling song-writing – and one that can be so uplifting, despite its melancholic airs – should be. But however this particular chapter of the story ends make sure that Fuzzo and Brigadier Ambrose are top of your list.

The band have no live dates planned at the moment but visit the Brigadier Ambrose website for updates.

Listen to Helium, from Fuzzo

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