The June Brides "A January Moon" (Occultation / Slumberland)
With Wolfhounds and Black Tambourine having recently (and triumphantly) resurfaced, here's *another* new single from long-dormant old favourites.
We originally discovered the June Brides during that fertile time when we were transitioning from Smash Hits to the "grown up" music papers (if shortly after the band got their prized, Andrea Newman-referencing NME cover), so hold them gratefully in a mistily nostalgic esteem. Praise be, then, to revival specialists Occultation (who brought us the Wild Swans' somewhat momentous comeback 45) and to Slumberland (who've brought us a simply inordinate number of fine records this last score of years, including singer Phil Wilson's solo catalogue from "Industrial Strength" onwards) for this, the first June Brides single since, gulp, 1986.
The Brides may have failed to dent the top 75 in their short career, but their critical stock now rightly eclipses that of their many peers who did. And even if, with their turns at the Living Room or their club nights in Clapham, they were part of a mildly insular eighties counter-culture, the durable songs and their universal themes have stood the test of time. When we listen to the records we bought - the 12" that compiled their first two singles and the "There Are Eight Million Stories" LP - both courtesy of hotbed of alternative choons Our Price Basildon, and both on the short-lived but marvellous Pink Label (the East London home not only to them but to the Wolfhounds, McCarthy, That Petrol Emotion et cetera), what's notable is how the JBs always had more range than many gave them credit for: from the ear-friendly poppiness of "Every Conversation" (at least until bIG*fLAME got hold of it!) through the taut, nervy angst - which as teenagers we *so* identified with - of "In The Rain", to the scratchy plectrum-baiting fury that underlies "Heard You Whisper".
And yet this new 7" touches on a different strand of songsmithery again: picking up from some of Phil Wilson's solo work, it brings out a semi-acoustic and alt-folk tinge that resonates surprisingly well with current musical fashions. "A January Moon" gamefully employs its bounteous melodies and upbeat arrangement to create four flowing minutes which, despite its title, are redolent far more of (mid)summer (sun)shine than bleak midwinter night. The trademark June Brides strings and brass are still there, but instead of dominating for short bursts of song they're weaved in more skilfully, while Wilson's delivery provides a Webster-esque undertow of vulnerability. They haven't exactly picked up where they left off: the single is neither quite as punchy as past Brides favourites (unlike the early days, I suppose, they haven't had to record it underneath the railway arches whilst trains rumble overhead), nor as feral as some of our picks from Wilson's recent "God Bless Jim Kennedy" long-player. But there's still enough - more than enough - for this shimmeringly-administered song to wrap itself around our age-hardened hearts.
Perhaps what's really great about "Moon" is how it rings with defiantly wide-eyed emotion, a rare treat indeed these days. Like any June wedding, it's about celebration (in part, a Razorcuts-style celebration of the beauty of nature): so much so that its passionate refrain - "our love is all" - seems neither hackneyed nor cloying, but heartfelt and genuine, a complement to the optimism once crystallised by "We Belong" or by the achingly plaintive sentiment of "I Fall"...
"somehow, the "we can make the sun shine for us..." line plucks heart strings like harp strings"
There is, but of course, an immaculate and strikingly-photographed sleeve. And copies of the single bought direct from the labels also come with a bonus CD that features quite a few treats, not least a lounge-lizard remix of Phil's fine last single "I Own It", the Brides' classic "Every Conversation" reimagined as ukelele-tastic C&W duet, a divinely pretty solo rendering of "Sunday To Saturday" and the Granite Shore's excellent, and JB-featuring, "Flood of Fortune" (the 7" B-side, "Cloud", is also a Granite Shore song, albeit more more wistful and winsome).
And... even as the winds howl, and the rain dribbles onto pavements as grey as the skies, we can't help but be enthused by being outside, by the fresh air, by trying to enjoy (rather than moan about) the caprices of the weather. I guess we're still trying to sample life as "glass half-full", even if it's been half-full of these June rains. And "A January Moon" - a shy but rewarding tableau of indie-pop splendour - seems to chime with this, with this feeling of being... well, in love with these times and in spite of them too.
Um, this is not the first time we've bigged up the Brides (the last time was when Cherry Red put out the anthology). But sometimes, the obvious bears repeating. In 1984, when Phil sang "I never know just where I'm going to land", I'm sure that he wouldn't have foreseen a Brides reunion nigh-on thirty years later. Nor would we, when reluctantly casting Smash Hits by the wayside, have realised that we were graduating to beat combos to whom we'd fondly return, deep into the next century. *That's* why it feels like such a privilege to buy a new June Brides record.