One of the most enduring memories I have from living in Canterbury was one night seeing a tall, hooded, ghostly figure walking towards me in a dark underpath from the university into the city centre. As he approached, in shadow of a nearby streetlight, I was genuinely worried.
Luckily though he was no ghost or mutant ‘hoodie’, but a tall, friendly monk, who smiled as he passed me by. This for me sums up Canterbury, a city where England’s ancient, religious past mixes, often incongruously, with modern small city life.
As well as friendly monks, the Kent city also has a rich musical heritage. Stopping into the Cathedral during a Saturday spent in its record shops I was often treated to its choir rehearsing. The then modern day 1940s pilgrims in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale enjoyed a similar treat.
Then in the 1960s and 1970s the Canterbury “scene” of Caravan and Soft Machine dominated and in the 1990s the Acid Jazz scene bands from nearby Medway frequently played in the city.
But much has changed since then. Music venues are in short supply but at least its musical heritage continues through among others Robert Halcrow, self styled exponent of “wonky pop and Canterbury lo-fi”.
As part of the Gare Du Nord stable of artists, which also includes another musical Canterbury resident Robert Rotifer, Halcrow’s latest slice of wonky pop is heavily influenced by the lesser known nooks and crannies of the Kent city, taking in the demise of its speedway team the Canterbury Crusaders, its streets, hospitals and even its pet fish shops.
Best of all though is one of the year’s most surprising and arguably best cover versions. On first hearing Garden Song, I thought it was a fine flashback to the psychedelic pop of Canterbury’s past. It’s actually written by children’s TV legend Matthew Corbett from his days in the 1970s as part of musical act Rod, Matt and Jane on ITV kids show Rainbow. Children were lucky blighters back then to have such musical talent on tap.
Another highpoint is Disgusting. With the opening line “You think its disgusting, but everything smells. I don’t feel well” reminded me St Mildred’s Tannery, which until its closure more than a decade ago brought a truly unpleasant stench to an otherwise pleasant city centre stroll. From the rest of the song’s lyrics it seems to be more about a hangover, but I’d be surprised if Canterbury’s pungent, former landmark wasn’t near to Halcrow’s thoughts when writing this.
This album is not just a quirky ode to Canterbury’s lesser known landmarks though. Above all it’s a good listen, full of English eccentricity and quality, albeit wonky, pop.
by Joe Lepper
To order Picture Box – Songs of Joy click here.