Debut albums are generally the domain of youth, pimpled adolescents unleashing pent up formative years of angst, doubt, unrequited love perhaps. So it’s strangely comforting to find that Glasgow band, The Rulers Of the Root, are, if not grizzled, at least able to recall when pubs were shut on Sundays and buying music meant a trip into town on a weekend. Their album, Porky Dreams, is released officially next Saturday with a launch gig at The Glad Cafe on the south side. It’s a tremendous album that showcases singer Patrick Gillies‘ excellent wordplay, a slightly absurdist take on life that comes across at times as stream of consciousness, at other times emulating the likes of Ian Dury with a fine feel for the shape and sound of language. Delivered with gusto in a manner reminiscent of Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits or Nick Cave the words are well matched by the band’s well-drilled and finely honed music. While they visit several styles on the album there’s a precision to the playing that has come from extensive rehearsals and a long history of listening to tight units such as The Blockheads and The Magic Band. Guitarist John Palmer and bassist Mick Murphy have a lifetime of playing in bands behind them while drummer Chris Quinn has a similar if less lengthy pedigree. With three of the band working in sound engineering there’s ears aplenty to fine tune the music and the end result is Porky Dreams, years in the making perhaps but with a spring in its step as well as its tail.
With the album pressed and plans well afoot for the launch Blabber’n’Smoke met up with three of the band and we started off by asking how they got together and past glories.
John: Three of us work together while Mick is an old friend of mine through my wife. He knew her brother, Malcolm Duffin, a drummer. Mick played in Glasgow bands in the eighties and for the past few years he’s been playing in Clash tribute bands. I played in several bands in the eighties.
Chris: I played in a few bands in the eighties but I’ve always been on the other side of the fence as a sound engineer. It’s a refreshing change to be on this side for a change.
Patrick: I’ve got no musical history. At the risk of boring you, about ten years ago, Nancy, my wife, bought me a guitar because I’d been wanting to play one for years. Like any teenager I could play Sunshine Of Your Love on one string but I started buying songbooks by the likes of Ray Davies and such and tried to play them in my ham-fisted way. Anyway, I eventually started writing songs and played them to John who thought they were quite promising. They were really like dead bodies these songs but John did his Dr. Frankenstein on them, revived them, put some glitter on them. After that, it was like a leaking tap. I just kept on writing songs to the point where we’ve got about 30. We put 15 songs on the album because I’m so old I was terrified I’d die before I’d get a record out. So it’s 15 songs but only 55 minutes so they’re not huge songs. The central core I suppose is country, a weird juxtaposition, a beginning and an end, some Blockheads type stuff.
Is it mainly songs from your live set?
Patrick: Yeah but we revived an old song called Elephant In The Room, which was one of the first songs I wrote, John did a really good job with it, it’s basically a country song but we’ve turned it into a Kevin Ayers type extravaganza.
John: Yeah, it’s quite dark, I was inspired by Ayer’s Song From The Bottom Of A Well which was one of my favourites when I was about 14. I love the guitar playing on it, that crazy, cranking guitar, just hitting it really. It’s an experiment I suppose but it came out quite well.
You say that a basic influence is country but while Charlie certainly fits that bill there’s some funk, Latin American grooves and noirish jazz on the album.
John: Yeah, every song’s been through about half a dozen different stages until we find a style that fits the song. We all listen to so much, we’ve been buying and listening to music from everywhere for a long time. It was quite funny when Chris was mastering the album and was trying to figure out which tags to put the songs under, we wanted to tick all of them.
Patrick: Yes, Loudon Wainwright maintains that his career was set back when someone said he was country and western so all his album were filed under that beside the likes of Sydney Divine.
The lyrics are quite striking, where do they come from?
Patrick: It never really follows a format I’m afraid. For example with Porky Dreams I came up with the name of the song (after some intense dreams one night) and just Googled American idioms and threaded them all together to make some sort of sense and to fit the sound of the G to G minor groove. Murdoch Browns also came with the sound of the original riff. It changed a bit over time and was written at the time News International was in the news a lot, I think it started from that phrase ‘Chipping Norton Set’. Elephant in the Room had a completely different tune originally but was written first and then the music came later. With Rose of Jericho I just wanted to write a story, a bit like Richard Thomson’s love story 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. Millport Cowboy was written after a visit to Millport …and it was full of Cowboys!! Neilston was written after a rail journey to Neilston in the rain and I wanted to convey a bit of that repetitive rail sound. Music and words came together. I’m sorry I can’t come up with a consistent formula! Charlie was about a friend of mine who fell out of a fourth floor tenement window and about my dad who was in Normandy. I wanted to write a traditional country song in A. I suppose words and music came together.
I’ve got good musicians and good sound engineers here. I write the songs and then take them to John and he does the rest and then the song will have three or four incarnations with the band before it finally pops up. Some of them are really close to the original, for others it’s been a really long process.
John: Some of the songs on the album were recorded years ago, really just as quick demos so we’ve had to go back to them and repair things, modify them and such. Patrick’s singing has changed since we started recording
Patrick: What he means is its improved a lot. We even had a soviet era, songs about the KGB; I was reading a lot of Solzhenitsyn at the time.
John: Yeah, we had a Ukrainian friend come into do a voice over on that. It comes across like a Zappa thing but what she’s reciting is a recipe for chicken soup! She was really good at it and we said you’ve done this before, turns out she records the voice messages for Ukrainian passenger ships, the evacuation instructions and such.
Unfortunately, there’s no Ukrainian chicken soup on the album, perhaps the next one. In the meantime Porky Dreams is a sublime trip into Patrick Gillies’ fevered imagination, an imagination that comes to life on stage where he adopts an almost atavistic persona and again one is led back to mesmerising performers such as Dury and Beefheart as Gillies grimaces and gestures utilising props at times and inhabiting the songs as one possessed. Meanwhile Palmer, a superb guitarist, in fact one of Glasgow’s most guarded secrets, lets rip with style, panache and a deep love and knowledge of rock riffdom.
Blabber’n’Smoke will have a review of the album in the next few days and the launch is at The Glad Cafe on Saturday 22nd November where they will be supported by Edinburgh’s Kings Of Cheeze, details here.