Funambulist We Love You
Revived tightrope walkers tackle Brexit, Trump and the erosion of liberal values.
The mile-wide humanist streak that characterised Band Of Holy Joy's 80's pop portraiture has cannonballed since singer Johny Brown revived the franchise in the late 2000s. Now operating as an against-the-grain beat quintet, their spirited compound of 60's psych, jangle-pop, agitprop and crying soul scrabbles to unearth cracks of light in the present global dark. The hope for redemption looms large in the evangelically-driven A Revivalist Impulse and horn-blased To Leave Or Remain, its DNA still detectable amid the controlled tension of The Song Of Casual Indifference and a title track as tight and taut as Stutter-era James. A renewed testament, Funambulist... finds BOHJ's convictions burning with brimstone and intensity.
- Andy Cowan
Further bohemian rhapsodies from veteran gutter poets.
After 30-plus years of near-hits, wrong turns and long sabbaticals, Johny Brown's soulfully ramshackle indie-rock collective have proved unusually fertile since reactivating in 2007, diversifying into theatre, radio and multimedia collaborations. Lyrically, Funambulist We Love You references Donald Trump and current events, but musically it sits firmly within the band's long-established ragamuffin chanson sound. There are shades of Nick Cave and Marc Almond as Brown waxes sardonically in his bruised, wobbly, heartfelt vibrato on A Revivalist Impulse and The Song Of Passionate Intensity. These Brechtian music-hall torch songs may be baggy and creaky in places, but Brown's pound-shop bohemia still has a certain absinthe-soaked allure.
- Stephen Dalton
The Wire Magazine
The Band Of Holy Joy formed over 30 years ago. Affiliates of fellow south Londoners Test Department, they used junkshop instruments and tinny electronics to create hurt and howling soundtracks to a London that felt like it had been abandoned by the establishment in the Thatcher era. They hit their stride in the mid-1980s when they fashioned a unique strain of urban folk that owed a debt to postwar boozers like John Minton and Francis Bacon as much as Brecht and Weill, and was melodic yet militant, revolted yet romantic.
Since then there have been dark times and disappearances. Countless line-up changes. Lead singer and lyricist Johny Brown also writes stages plays and, on shows broadcast by Resonance FM, makes ecstatic horspiel radio that deserves a wider listenership. But like the ragged salvation army their names evokes, Band Of Holy Joy keep marching on. Funambulist We Love You begins with A Revivalist Impulse, a rollicking northern soul-tinged stomper that calls for "the resurrection of hope and possibility", champions "the courage of our scum poetic convictions", and walks a tightrope between the tug of the past with the need, in its final line, to face them head on.
These are times of transition. To Leave Or Remain - ruefully autumnal like a seaside town out of season - connects a relationship on its last legs to the outcome of the Brexit referendum. A Connecting Ticket skulks and bristles with the tense funk of early Happy Mondays. A Beautiful Cat is an atheistic anthem whose key lines recall the credo of radical filmmaker Chris Marker: "A cat is never on the side of power". Like a less velvety Marc Almond, Brown's vocals are pleasingly overwrought. The closing title track ends with the cry "We hope you don't fall". On the strength of Funambulist it seems unlikely that Brown and his Band ever will.
- Sukhdev Sandhu
Here comes Johny Brown again: poet, romantic, soulboy, artist, North Shield's finest. And here's Funambulist We Love You. another glorious album from a band easily into their fourth decade. Musically, there's no big change from their recent albums but why would there be? - BOHJ have hit a rich seam where their simple, gorgeous, often melancholy melodies are perfectly matched to Brown's lyrics. And what lyrics they are: Brown has few equals when it comes to capturing a mood or a moment. Here he's nostalgic for the past of "the heaving Mecca Ballroom downtown" whilst looking for a better future or mourning a lost friend, a "beautiful cat", or lamenting our wretched, bitter Brexit isle. He's the poet we need because maybe we're all funambulists now.
- Lee Fisher
Brutalism Begins At Home
The leaves have changed color again with Brutalism, the latest four-track 10" from BOHJ's Johny Brown. (BOHJ's stunning catalogue has stylistically and exigently evolved over three decades-plus, eschewing stasis.) On the opening "Come Home To Me", he's backing by the silky coos of Anne Gilpin (Morton Valence), then he juxtaposes those night/day tonalities via the mega-soulful strains of Lilybud Dearslay. With "Removal Man", swirling keyboard and celebratory horns subdue grim lyrics, allowing funked-out bliss to dominate; Brown's words have always compelled his music and collaborators, not the other way 'round, though clever production possibly birthed an exception this time. Disco keys, spastic horns, midnight, rain-soaked beats... BOHJ may have produced their first dance record; its greatest feat is creating light from gloom.
- Michael Brandon
Penny Black Music
The London quintet the Band of Holy Joy return with this new 10" vinyl and digital release which was produced by notable Primal Scream and Denim producer Brian O'Shaughnessy.
'Come Home to Me' is as downbeat as Joy Division but a decent opener. The second track is 'Travel to Far Flung Towns' which sounds familiarly like the opening track and in fact is an instrumental version of it with a few added effects. It still sounds pretty good though.
'Removal Man' is the strongest of all and very reminiscent of the Fall and Marc Almond. A driving bass and a great hook make it instantly likable. The last track 'I Got This Job on the Brutalism Estate' is again an instrumental of the previous track.
It is a very listenable package and with the band working on a triple CD box set of old Flim Flam recordings and a new album they should make good listening when they drop in the summer.
- Tony Gaughan
Band of Holy Joy weigh in with a 10" release on the Tiny Global Productions imprint. On Brutalism Begins at Home, Johny and co recall their melodic melancholic '80s period with lead-track Come Home To Me brimming with pop sensibilities and trumpets, so underused by today's pop wannabes. It's a glorious song worthy of being on national radio playlists and a reminder that Band of Holy Joy have knocked out some memorable moments during the last thirty years or so. Removal Man is a sardonic soca that in its instrumental form borders on danceable, again heavy on brass and a nifty walking bassline. An enticing precursor to their new album due later in 2017.
- Paul Pledger
The Clouds That Break The Sky
Definitive 3-CD round-up of south London marginwalkers' early outings for Flim Flam.
The Band Of Holy Joy existed in a solitary space. Founded by displaced Geordie Johny Brown while sharing a New Cross squat with Test Department, they pointedly eschewed guitars for cheap pawnshop instrumentation (harmoniums, accordions, violas, Salvation Army drums) allied to primitive electronics. Emerging hot on the heels of Portastudio demo box set (More) Favourite Fairytales For Juvenile Delinquents, these three discs trace their frenetic transformation from loony industrial disco into defiant Brechtian punk-folk cabaret. Raw emotions run rife on Mad Dot, Fishwives and Who Snatched The Baby?, microtragedies that suddenly slash from heartbreak to violence yet still summon warmth in the wilderness. The collection reaffirms Brown's status as a vivid chronicler of seamy London life with the forensic precision of Gordon Burn.
- Andy Cowan