Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Charlie Tipper Experiment “Mellow On” (Breaking Down Recordings)


Tim, from new-on-block Bristol five-piece the Charlie Tipper Experiment, has form. A rapsheet as long as your arm. Long ago, when General Galtieri had designs on the Falklands (and Mrs Thatcher on her second term), Tim was hatching his own Five Year Plan with Rob Pursey, amongst others. As the 1980s wore on, he then contributed those shimmering, noisy guitars to the later Flatmates singles. Since then, he’s done time in the line-up of perhaps Brizzle’s greatest post-shambling survivors, the Beatnik Filmstars, in the process playing on any number of ‘beezer’ albums and, of course, on 2007’s finest 45. He also helped to pilot both the Short Stories (whose honours include the best single of 2013) and Forest Giants (best single of 2003, best album of 2006, best compilation of 2014…)

And as if all that wasn’t enough, it seems that every time I scan the sleeve of one of my most treasured records (most recently, the Tramway album and “Pure Hatred 96”) it turns out that Tim had a hand in recording or producing it.

Anyway. Back to this century, and the newest chapter in this story, an album recorded in sunny Bedminster (home of both Bottelino’s and Vince & Son, if you’re looking for ilwttisott-sanctioned Italian restaurant or barber recommendations in BS3). The Charlie Tipper Experiment first brushed the radar last year with their swirling, coyly G500-ish “Ride Out” single, but “Mellow On” marks the first time we get to hear the suite of songs making up the bulk of their live set, and it reveals the band to be blossoming into thoughtful purveyors of mid-paced pop songs – with occasional hints of Mr Wareham, it’s true - but not without exploring darker lyrical undercurrents of regret.

As with the Short Stories, there is plenty here that’s loosely autobiographical, that pivots on knowing look-backs to being young, and to being in bands: perhaps, when you’ve been writing and playing songs all your life, it’s about how you can’t let go, even if you want to. In addition to the stone-solid foundation of Tim’s erstwhile collaborators Simon and Geoff on drums and bass respectively, the Experiment feature ex-Filmstar Jon Kent (whose deceptively simple, gently meowing guitar lines recall his time with the BFs in places) as well as Harry Furniss on cornet and Vox Jaguar (though not at the same time). The latter’s interventions, in particular, give a few songs an extra kick, rounding out their emotional resonance.

The YouTubed taster track “Something Worth Fighting For” opens, a character-based melodrama that presses all the right buttons with its Short Stories-ish narrative, pristine verses and brass-flecked hook, but there are other moods on display. The chorus to “I’ll Take You With Me” is a moment of pure indie-pop, almost a nod to those times when Subway surfed, Revolver and Replay ruled the roost, and it seemed you couldn’t shake a leg in Bristol without the whole city jangling. But possibly our favourite track on side one (for yes, this is out on vinyl!) is the dreamwashed “Shine Like A Star”, as it effortlessly traverses the clear night sky, drawing each pinprick of light into a warm beam that sets these dismal streets beneath aglow.

There’s a strong case to be made, though, that the highest peaks of all come on side two. The pleading “Wherever You Go I Go” wrings every last drop of familial devotion from the damp air before “Hypnotised” launches a compelling bid to be the record’s real centerpiece: it’s a serene, almost spiritual number that’s aided not only by cooingly sympathetic brass and a nifty chorus but also some neatly dovetailed backing vocals from Linda Gorton. Penultimate tune “Come On Down”, with its lugubrious alt-Americana meld, leaves a positive impression too, although it truly won us over when, one night not so long ago, we took the slow train to Hoxton, and the even slower bus to Bethnal Green, to watch the CTE ‘play the hits’ in the Sebright Arms, and saw them light up a basement room in a dark pub, planting a steely two fingers to the cold outside.

But let’s sign off by mentioning a couple of classic three-minute pop songs that (nearly) bookend the LP. “The Boys From Frampton Cotterell” - track two - is a wistful but fond reminiscence of the bedroom jam sessions that spawned the Inane and then the 5YP manifesto, whilst closing cut “Rock & Roll Dreaming” is a tale of a boy growing up with only music on his mind which had, I think, been slated as a second single. Although they share a theme the latter, which closes the album, introduces a renewed turn of lyrical sadness: yet it still sounds celebratory, with the cornet part proudly recalling the trumpet-led pomp of Bristol’s own Brilliant Corners. It’s a clever, and moving, way to finish an absorbing record.

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