Angel Air 2017
Farewell laughter from a larger-than-life man who was “just” a rock ‘n’ roll star.
“When the tape runs out, the music keeps playing”: the opening line from THE BEVIS FROND’s “He’d Be A Diamond” that former MOTT bassist cut for his posthumous album – his only solo record – could be its summary, even though Overend would deny his brilliance. A towering presence on-stage, Pete Watts had kept low profile – “Now I lead a private life,” he explains in a delicate psychedelic haze of “Caribbean Hate Song” here – for a quarter of a century before his old band reunited for two laps of honor, and passed away in January 2017 leaving this collection of musical numbers, amassed over a long period of time, as a testament. Most of all, though, it’s a testament to the artist’s immense sense of humor, which helped Overend face his own mortality with a smile; it’s purely English sort of stance, and they surely don’t make platters so Blighty-scented anymore.
Snippets such as “the Christmas card I sent you in 1977” or “the line closed 40 years ago” may suggest Watts was seeking solace in the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll, but no, playing every instrument himself, with Phil Hendriks adding some guitar, Peter set his sights to the future to whip up quite contemporary sounds. That’s how it goes on the likes of “She’s Real Gone” where a fairground fiddle is shot through with techno beats, while a robotic voice delivers funny, folk-infused stanzas, yet he didn’t shy away from an occasional heavy riff, so “Belle Of The Boot” kicks romanticism in the balls and has a good ole ball with its raw, if delicious on the chorus, guts. Emotions smeared all over the soft “There’s Berkeley Power Station” – remarkable for its anthemic refrains that resemble THE HOOPLE’s classics (the original demo of “Born Late ’58” at the end of the album will remind us of it all) – and “The Magic Garden” revealing Watts’ ability to weave silky, acoustic ballads, there’s a lot of surprises here. Just listen to “Miss Kingston”: how often one would encounter the mention of “Tesco” in a song?
It’s almost impossible to get into what’s going on in the calypso-stricken “The Dinosaw Market” (even though a Morgan Fisher-initiated, fans-deciphered lyrics sheet is available in Overend’s Facebook group) but since those pseudo nusery rhymes are spanked with a legendary bass, do non sequiturs matter while the hectic chase is conveyed just right? Constructing a crazy raga in the mostly instrumental “Prawn Fire On Uncle Sheep Funnel” to let his four strings on the prowl, and conjuring “Mad Shadows” in “The Legend Of Redmire Pool” whose jangle and dewdrops effects are so catchy – and that’s not the only angling-referencing song on offer to hint at what Watts’ “private life” presumably included – he wills a weird world into existence. And though the optimism of “Rise Up” feels rather dry, “The Search” offers a spiritual uplift possessed of orchestral potential.
All this hardly gels into a coherent whole as an album should, yet the record’s quirk, the songs’ common denominator, has an irresistible charm to it. That’s quite an exit, that’s the grace to be remembered for.