Interview with Neil Burrell

October 3, 2007

What to say about this enigmatic, soulful young singer? Yet another musical Manchester immigrant, his style is not the easiest to get to know. His lyrics are strikingly strange and his songs awkward, Byzantine structures, prone to willful U-turns; but crucially, there are always moments of ‘well, that was well worth it’ jaw-drop wonder. His pure-tone, ‘it doesn’t matter how many fags I smoke’ voice swoops and trembles.

Syd Barrett is the obvious comparison, as the two share the ability to magic up a psychedelic moment in music and have a similar penchant for ‘it does make sense, just tilt your head slightly’ lyricism. Burrell is most probably directly descended from the royal court minstrels of medieval England. There is nothing remotely topical in his writing, which is one way of creating something that feels timeless.

A resolutely unconventional solo singer/guitarist, his live gigs have often been difficult for him. I felt dreadful for him at one In The City showcase, as twenty of us stood at the front trying to listen to him delicately pick and nervously deliver some of his best material, whilst the clueless ya-ya’s at the bar laughed horsily and droned nasally, with the collective volume of an enormous turbo sinus. Truly, a pearl before swine. He is currently putting together a new group, the Audinary Hearts Band, with fellow songwriter guitarist Phil McDonald (aka Baxter Trappe) and the Former Bullies drummer Tom sitting in until a permanent member can be found.

I caught an recent show at The Royal Oak in Chorlton and was heartened to hear some potentially brilliant material, reminiscent of the early Pavement sound – off key/on key, haphazard, but intriguing. The first Audinary Hearts demo contains at least one Burrell classic, the beautiful, non-stop vocal coda waltz ‘Six Streets Down Love’.

Lazy journalists will probably describe you as sounding like you are ‘on acid’, ‘tripping on mushrooms’, or ’stoned’. Would you like to take this opportunity to tell the readership that you Don’t Do Drugs?

I don’t know about that ?

I understand you’re originally from Cambridge – how did you come to be in Manchester? And did you ever see Syd knocking about?

I was born by the sea, all the way at the bottom of the island, then I lived with the concrete cows and sometime before I reached double figures, we moved again near enough to Cambridge. So I’m not from any one place. That’s sorta what I’m searching for. My friends would say they’d seen Syd about listening to music, you know bobbing his head, except he was never wearing headphones.

When did you write you first song? Were your folks musical?

I was thinking about this the other day, it was in New Cross in London with my friend in his basement flat. It was hot summer and that night we ate chicken soup cooked by his girlfriend’s dad who’s from Chile. I remember the soup being good but I cant remember the song, only that it hooked me onto something that nothing had before. My folks never really listened to music!

What can we expect from the forthcoming album? You must be really excited to have a full-length LP out.

It’ll be something good, something you’ve never heard before and you will have heard it a thousand times too. It’s taken three years to put it all together. It’s odd, I don’t remember recording it much, that might be for other reasons though. It’s my best album yet, heh heh.

It’s very difficult to compare you to anybody else, even though yr vocal style seems instantly familiar. Can you give the readers an idea of where you’re coming from musically? One or two core influences, perhaps?

I’m sorta coming from everywhere looking for somewhere and not knowing the way. Influences … like any kind of roots in there I like, you know, regardless of the sound, im into that in the music. Today, I was listening to M.I.A and Orange Juice

Do you ever feel like writing a straight narrative lyric? I’ll give you a quick example – 1,2,3,4, ‘felt so good today / baby’s here to stay / she’s the queen of my heart / yeah, yeah, yeah’, or maybe ‘Today, I feel quite sad / everything seems bad / don’t know what to say / cos I feel so bad today’ … As opposed to your more cryptic words – ‘drift by on a passing eyelash’ (from the wonderful ‘Stick Out Your Tongue’), for example.

Mmm, I don’t really think about what kind of thing it is, it just comes the way it comes. It mostly means anything at all. If I could simplify everything I wanted to say into four lines, I would arrive. That’s what I’m after.

What I’m driving at is that there is a certain mystery to your lyrics and indeed your persona. In these post-Arctic Monkeys days, we seem to be deluged with aggressively normal young singers who outline their problem – a serious English small-town malaise – without having any solutions or clues for a better future. Your stuff, meanwhile, totally bypasses the modern age, would you say?

I don’t know, it sounds like you described me there. Will normality look different depending on where it is? Maybe my music’s just out of touch! I guess I don’t really pay any attention to time, because I think where is the start and where is the end. I get fast and slow.

Are you enjoying playing live more now that you have some company on stage (Phil McDonald)? Phil is no mean songwriter in his own right – have you enjoyed working on his songs?

He’s got some great songs, lyrically he gets a lot closer than many to simplifying and connecting with you. Playing live, I love or hate, it’s a lot better when we’re playing together now though, to get that fuller sound. At the moment we’re still trying to control it, because it gets wild and then we’re fighting with it to calm it, it’s volatile and can change in a flash.

Ooompa Zoompa/Evelyn 7inch out 27th AUGUST

http://www.myspace.com/neilburrell

-Ollie Wright

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