Music review: Not a dry eye in London – Alexander’s Festival Hall
(Melodical Trax) Album on release
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams
One moment a green olive being seductively swirled around a perfectly mixed Martini, the next a revolving mirror ball lighting up the eyes of George Gershwin and Noël Coward in a louche 1920s nightclub, before spinning faster and faster through the decades to the bright lights of a late-1970s discothèque, the packed dance floor pulsating to Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder’s I Feel Love. Not a dry eye in London, the debut album by Alexander’s Festival Hall, carries one into an entrancing and enchanting swirl around shifting orbits that then, almost implausibly but always immaculately, coalesce.
That this is so successful pays tribute to the many talents of Alexander Mayor, whose brainchild AFH is, as a singer, songwriter, arranger, and producer. Mayor first came to prominence in the late 90s/early 00s as a member of electronic/synth pop trio, Baxendale, who were signed to the Cologne-based electronic and techno label, Kompakt. The German city continues to inspire Mayor’s work as the sound of Cologne’s nightclubs is another of Not a dry eye in London’s layers of influence.
The London life that the twelve tracks on the album celebrates is one that begins afresh each night as the theatre curtain rises full of hope for all that might unfold in the hours ahead, both onstage and backstage, across subterranean dance floors or atop moonlit rooftops, with chance meetings, surprising discoveries, and the possibilities that remain for as long as the clubs and bars are open and the music is still playing… but as dawn breaks, as Mayor sings on I don’t want to get crazy every night, which tells of being left heartbroken and alone when the house lights go on, ‘with morning dew they’re serving the sweetest tears of the town’.
Mayor has such a poetic lyrical talent that without music all the songs on the album would make wonderful poems, but that would only give half the story, because many of the tracks are lyrically poignant, but are juxtaposed with music to dance to, or the catchiest uplifting melody, which creates a fascinating and very pleasing bitter-sweetness – an heartache one can dance to! Equally the songs are shot through with brilliantly observed wit and humour, not least in the fantastic first single from the album, the alternative paen to love, Upturned, and, I’m gonna get married, which features Piney Gir whose third album, The Yearling, Mayor produced.
I’m gonna get married is an electro-cowboy ballad, a conjunction that is highly evocative in its own right, but in the often wonderfully fantastical setting of Mayor’s dusk till dawn London, for me, with its very English clipped vocals counterpointed by Western rhythms, the song’s juxtapositions conjure up an image of a fully booted, fringed, and Stetson’d cowboy on horseback suddenly emerging out of the sunlight at daybreak on Rotten Row, in London’s Hyde Park, leading the Household Cavalry on their daily canter, and the early morning joggers witnessing the scene not batting an eyelid. By which I mean that although Mayor has mixed and mashed a myriad of styles and inspirations on Not a dry eye in London that one would never have imagined working so well together, they do, seamlessly, inspiringly, and excitingly so!
ALEXANDER’S FESTIVAL HALL will be playing a special acoustic set of songs from Not a dry eye in London at the P-TCP Live Edition Mustered No.5 on Thursday 25th April 2012 from 7.30pm in the upstairs acoustic room at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1. For more details: www.theculturalpick.com/events
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Alexander’s Festival Hall: www.alexandersfestivalhall.org