Papernut Cambridge ‘There’s No Underground’ (Gare du Nord Records) 13th October 2014.
Among, if not, the first to air the most recent quintessentially English garden haunted psych nugget, ‘The Ghost Of Something Small’, from Ian Button’s Papernut Cambridge outfit, the Monolith Cocktail marked it down as a redolent curio from the 60s garage and popsike revivalism of the 80s. Multitasking as a producer, drummer (for Wreckless Eric) and artist in his own right, Button (former guitarist with Death In Vegas) has, it sounds, meandered through a litany of various I Can See For Miles, Rubbles and Circus Days compilations, whilst lending his ear to the melodic qualities found on many a Stiff Records sanctioned power pop single or on the jangled majesty of a LA’s record.
Though conceived and led by Button, the Papernut is a collaborative affair, roping in a rabble of guests for a nostalgic tour of both the mind and the estuary landscape – which extends to a dreamily visit across the Channel to France on the languorous Louie Louie Glam back beat ‘St J’étais Français’. Featuring Hefner band members Darren Haymen, and Jack Hayter plus ex-Death In Vegas band mate, Matt Flint and both regular contributors and a peripheral cast, coaxed from the Mary Epworth (who appears herself, on vocals, percussion and ocarina) band, Picturebox and Belakiss, the extended group craft a paisley-shirted love letter. The playing never cramped or over-indulged is both purposefully ambitious (if low key) and melodically earnest. Even with the obvious signposts and appropriation, Button and his chums make those influences their own, whether it’s the Floydian (read Syd Barrett period) Braque kaleidoscope of that paranoia induced opener or the bastardised Rocky Horror ‘Time Warp’ as re-imagined by Mott the Hopple ‘Nutflake Social’.
Thematically alluding to a rural backwater, end of the line so to speak, on the outskirts of the metropolis, yet not close enough to make an impression or be noticed, the There’s No Underground album is a call from the outer boroughs of London. Making use of the ‘end of the line’ metaphor where the tube stops and disused, unloved train stations take over, Button’s outsider protagonist cryptically meditates on his surroundings on the pastoral Stone Roses ‘Waterfall’ imbued ‘The Long Shadows Of Lee’, and raspingly coos about living in a small town that’s neither here or there but may as well be from another dimension (perhaps so out of step with its encroaching, wealthy metropolitan neighbour, that Button reflects the distance in choosing to mine music from two to five decades ago as a comfort blanket). Yet it’s home and it’s surviving.
Solace of a kind is also felt with Button’s John Barry-rich sorrowful ‘Umbrella Man’, a lament on ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time’, referencing the infamous character of the title, Louie Steven Witt, who possibly picked the worst ever dramatic event in American history to stage a protest with his black umbrella. Standing on a Dallas sidewalk in 1963, waiting for John F. Kennedy to drive-by, Witt became the unsuspecting bystander of the president’s demise; forever fingered in many a conspiracy theorists, including Oliver Stone, wet dream as part of the plot, his now infamous brolly apparently viewed as an assassins’ signal.
Looking both inwards and plaintively searching outwards, the album does still promise lighter more Glam booted uppers – though even those reflective songs are hardly melancholic – such as the T-Rex drawled ‘Accident’s Children’ and political berated whimsy, ‘The Day The Government Went On Strike’. There’s also romantically bequeathed escapes to imaginary Tennessee via Hawaii with the Harrison/Graham Nash tinged ‘A Cloud Fallen Down From The Sky’ and sweetly delivered finale, ‘Rock N Roll Sunday/ Afternoon City Light’.
Far too nuanced and thoughtful as to be labeled a psych throwback, Papernut Cambridge have basked in the resonant afterglow of England’s rich outsider history of alternative pop and esoteric beat groups to create a cherished memory of their very own.