On Friday 30 November, Jim launched “The Navigator” with a showcase at a packed and lively Captains Hotel in Guernsey, where he played acoustic guitar and sang live to backing tracks of four songs from that album. Thinking On Your Feet’s correspondent was in attendance and purchased a copy, and is very pleased to share some thoughts on what has now been a week in the company of these nine songs.
This piece is not intended to be a track-by-track review of The Navigator, but rather some comments on the album as a whole, with specific reference to highlighting some (but by no means all!) of the – err – highlights contained therein, together with the thoughts that listening and also reading the accompanying booklet prompted.
This is clearly Jim’s album – all words and music are his – but the contributions of Nick Windsor on electric guitar for all bar one track and Tim Bran’s constant presence throughout on keyboards and programming (he also produced and mixed the album) should not be underestimated. It has been said elsewhere that the “concept” is that of war, particularly from a Guernsey perspective, though I don’t subscribe fully to that notion. Whilst three tracks are very clearly about the people of Guernsey’s collective and individual experiences within the two World Wars (the spine of the record, if you will) two-thirds of the album are not, making it far more multi-dimensional.
The first/lead and still favourite track of mine is 5 To 7. A little background first – On the evening of 28 June 1940, as an initial part of the Wehrmacht’s Operation Green Arrow planned invasion and because the fact that Guernsey had been dematerialised was not made public until the 30th, the Luftwaffe bombed the White Rock and Weighbridge area of St Peter Port. 49 tomato lorries – they may have been mistaken for military vehicles – were destroyed, but of far greater tragedy and consequence were the deaths of 34 Guernseymen, with a further 33 being injured. Jim’s song, which also incorporates sound effects of the period, eloquently evokes feelings of the situation at that time. Oh, and Nick’s guitar solo commencing at 2:20 is absolutely sublime.
Guernsey Independent Film Productions have made an accompanying video to this song. Dennis Le Prevost has managed to create something that further brings to life the lyrics in a moving way. The video received its first public showing at Thinking On Your Feet’s event at Sula Gallery on 9 December, and can be seen below.
Before looking at a couple more of the songs on the album, perhaps the other war-themed tracks should be mentioned at this juncture. The title track is about Jim’s father Kenneth (he is The Navigator) and tells the story of his war career after enlisting when aged 18 in 1940, on to training with the Royal Canadian Air Force before being an RAF bombing crew navigator, completing 29 missions. A startling and sobering point to note is that on average, such crew members managed/survived 6 missions…
The final song of this nature on the album takes us back to the First World War. Dieux Aix refers to the horrific experiences of Guernsey-born soldiers in that war. The track title is the motto of the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry – “God Help Us”. 15% of those who left Guernsey to fight on the Western Front were killed and 30% were wounded and that isn’t taking into account all of those who returned, seemingly well, who were mentally traumatised, having a marked impact on not only their own states of mind, but also on the well-being of other family members and loved ones.
In his sleeve-notes to the album, for Mount Rushmore & The Pietersons, Jim makes reference to his fondness for the spaghetti western film soundtrack music of Ennio Morricone and the song does indeed feature Morricone-esque whistling, harmonica and Jew’s Harp. Tim Bran plays the latter of those two instruments and, if I remember correctly, this is not the first time he has been “associated” with the composer on record. Back in 1993, there was a track on the band Dreadzone’s first album 360° entitled ‘The Good, The Bad & The Dread’ features spoken-word and music samples from a couple of spaghetti westerns. Indeed, I think Morricone receives a co-writing credit and initial versions of the song included more samples which had to be removed due to lack of clearance.
The song itself has hints of ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’ and Jim’s vocal intonations – to these ears at least – are reminiscent of those belonging to Stan Ridgway, lead singer of the band Wall Of Voodoo, possibly remembered for their minor hit ‘Mexican Radio’ (Ridgway was also “famous” for the solo ‘Camouflage’).
‘MR&TP’ makes me smile every time I hear it!
The last track I shall specifically draw your attention to is ‘Where The Fields And The Forest Meet The River’, which is Jim’s excellent murder ballad song, simply because I wish to make special mention of Sarah Van Vlymen’s splendid fiddle (violin) playing.
The above-mentioned tracks are not (necessarily) my favourites on the album, but rather are the ones that I felt a little background and/or insight could be offered. For example, I should draw your attention to the “lost love to a rival” one; or to Jim’s heartfelt paean to his best friend…
It doesn’t really need me to state how proud Jim should be of this album, but I should tell you that it bears repeated listenings and how bloney good it is!!