If you were living in the UK and into Indie in the latter half of the 80s or early 90s, you’d almost certainly be familiar with Amelia Fletcher – both through her own bands Talulah Gosh, Heavenly (and later Marine Research and Tender Trap) and for her backing vocals with The Wedding Present, The Brilliant Corners, Hefner and The Pooh Sticks, she was very much the poster girl for the twee Indie movement, a short-lived yet influential movement described by wikipedia as “Characterised by its simplicity and perceived innocence, some of its defining features are boy-girl harmonies, catchy melodies, and lyrics about love.” It certainly provided refuge to those of us turned off by the clinical, polished but soulless pop of Stock Aitken Waterman which filled the mainstream Top 40 at the time!
Amelia, with her musical partner from these earlier bands, Rob Pursey formed The Catenary Wires in 2014.
From their website:
“With the Catenary Wires, they have created something different; gentler and more acoustic, emotive and melancholy, although still fuelled by their great love for pop melodies and harmonies.
The Catenary Wires started when the two left London and found themselves in the middle of the countryside, with no indie scene as such. Having initially abandoned the idea of keeping a band going, they started writing their sad and delicate songs on their daughter’s small acoustic guitar, in the winter, just for themselves.
The duo were enticed to play in public for an event celebrating their old label, Sarah Records, at the Arnolfini Art Gallery in Bristol. From the positive reaction, they realised that two people on stage could be a proper band, if a small, fragile one. The band have since played over 50 gigs across 3 continents. They are currently experimenting with playing as a three-piece, four-piece or even five-piece.
The band’s name refers to the chain of curves made by the overhead cables seen suspended from pylons or above electric trains, cables that can seem to lead you off to somewhere different and unknown.”
Their new album ‘Til The Morning’ on Tapete Records will be released on Friday 14th June 2019. Judging by the advance singles “Sixteen Again” and “Dream Town” it’s a date well worth putting in your diary!
The album was recorded during 2018 at the Sunday School, in the middle of nowhere in Kent. It is a big step forward from their first album (Red Red Skies on Elefant Records/Matinee Recordings): more complex and more beguiling, with a multi-layered sound that reflects a range of additional instruments, including harmonium, bells and an old trailer. It was produced by Andy Lewis, who has recently produced albums for Judy Dyble and French Boutik. Track 1, Dream Town, is the first single from the album. The album launch will be on 14 June at St Pancras Old Church in London.
MATT HAYNES, ex-head of Sarah Records, writes:
“When a wire is hung from two fixed points, the shape it makes is a catenary. Its beauty lies in its simplicity – so natural, so effortless.
And when two people who, after starring in a quartet of legendary pop bands, have themselves become pop legends, decide to leave London’s indie scene to those with fewer candles on their cakes and set up home in a distant green corner of Kent… but who then, one winter’s day, pick up their daughter’s small guitar, just to see what happens… the sound they make is The Catenary Wires, aka Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, formerly of Tender Trap, Marine Research, Heavenly and proto-riot-grrrl machismo-mocking punk-pop explosion Talulah Gosh.
Away from the city, you become more aware of the seasons, the stars, your shivering smallness in the vast dark emptiness of space. No streetlamps light your way back to home and family. These things could scare you. And the rhythms you hear aren’t those of a kick drum and bass, but of life around the lanes and fields.
Til The Morning isn’t folk music, though, fetishising the rustic and the past with straw-headed notions of authenticity. The recordings might be home-made in an unsoundproofed room, with each sigh as clear as breath on an icy morning, and the snare an old metal trailer hit with a stick, but they’re computer literate and polished to a warm sheen. And when birdsong fills the gaps, it comes with reverb.
It isn’t lo-fi, either, unfocussed and meandering – why would two people who’ve spent their lives crafting three-minute pop gems suddenly do that? The songs are uncluttered because all that’s there is what needs to be there, with most of it played by Amelia and Rob – though if something a little extra is required, there are people in the village who’ll help out: neighbour Fay Hallam is on the organ, and Nick and Clare Sermon the brass. (There’s also piano from Matthew King on the title track, while producer Andy Lewis provides cello and percussion.)
In those earlier bands, the unshowy precision of the lyrics could be overlooked in the musical tumult. Now, the poetry of the plainly stated shines through. And so, in Sixteen Again – a heartbreaking evocation of sudden, unexpected widowhood – Amelia’s voice cracks in the space around a single thrummed guitar string: “It came without a warning / No more tomorrow mornings / For you”.
That said, Til The Morning concocts a rich chamber pop from its minimal instrumentation, music and mood spiralling outwards from the introspective claustrophobia of their debut, Red Red Skies, towards… those big black skies and cold bright stars. Now, it’s not just relationships that are dysfunctional, it’s the world itself, a post-Trump, post-Brexit world in which you fear for your children’s future (“I wish that I could stay their hands / As they reach for their bibles / And their rifles”) and the words “wedding party” invoke not confetti but US air strikes.
Like Amelia and Rob, the songs have grown up. They are haunted by an air of unease (“Headlines when we don’t come home / We had good times / Don’t cry that you’re all alone / Cos we’re with you wherever you go”), and the outwardly euphoric rush of I’ll Light Your Way Back masks a desperate plea: “Find me please – it’s getting late.” Love founders on the rocks of reality (Half-Written) and is replaced not by opportunity but by emptiness in that most grown-up of scenarios: divorce (Dream Town). But pop music is all about pulling hope from the saddest lyric by wrapping it in a gorgeous melody, and – with no fuzz and clatter to share the load – the tunes here swoop and melt and soar.
Both Amelia and Rob’s vocals are extraordinary throughout: intimate, emotional, complex and conversational, blurring the roles of backing and lead. Rob seems more self-assured than on Red Red Skies, confidently carrying the tunes; and, as Amelia pitches in a heartbeat from shiver to sigh, from wistful to wry, it’s hard to believe she was the callow twenty-year-old whose band battered their way from a flexidisc stuck inside a fanzine a third of a century ago.
And in Dancing, there’s a reminder of what – amid all the darkness and heartbreak – pop music is for: “I don’t want to talk / I just want to see you dancing / Put a record on / Let the music freeze the air”.
Live, The Catenary Wires become a five-piece, with musical heavyweights Andy Lewis (Paul Weller Group, Spearmint) on bass and cello; Fay Hallam (Makin’ Time, Prime Movers) on Hammond organ and backing vocals, and Ian Button (Death in Vegas) on drums
07 June: Hertfordshire – The Green Room @ The Doctors Tonic
13 June: Rolvenden Layne – Ewe and Lamb
14 June: London – St Pancras Old Church
17 June: Canterbury – Bramleys Cocktail Bar
11 July: Bristol – The Thunderbolt
12 July: Oxford – Bullingdon Arms
17 July: Cambridge – Portland Arms
18 July: Ramsgate – Music Hall
19 July: Manchester – Gullivers
20 July: Newcastle – The Cumberland Arms
21 July: Hebden Bridge – The Trades Club
26 July: Butterley – Indietracks Festival
Looks like this tour is going to be something extra special, so get your tickets now!
Photos by Alison Wonderland