Bunch Of Fives: Jon Horner (Nel Unlit) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Middlesbrough based DIY record label Spooker Rekkids release their brand new compilation album Spooker Sampler 3, featuring the best and brightest the region has to offer. Jon Horner whose band, Nel Unlit, release their album, Wake For The Dreaming, on Friday 14th February, as well as featuring on the compilation, gives us his top five concept albums.

When we were asked to come up with 5 of the best, we thought it’d have to be concept albums since we’ve made one! The problem is there are too many absolute beauts. Frank Sinatra’s Watertown, The Antlers’ Hospice, Andy Shauf’s The Party, Bill Ryder-Jones’ If… at least two from The Magnetic Fields to name just a handful. We’ll have a bash though. The North East is blooming at the minute so I’ve (Jon) started with three of our best. 

1. The Young’uns – The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff
At a time where many are asking “what is so great about Great Britain”, The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff is the answer; Not a grandiose global empire built from the broken bodies of slaves but a boy of 14 who marched 250 miles to fight for his right to work, who fought fascism, intolerance and inequality wherever he saw it. He didn’t fight alone though. Tender moments of togetherness and friendship run through Johnny’s story like a stick of Redcar rock. At a time of growing polarisation and division, The Young’uns’ tribute feels heartbreakingly familiar but all the more essential for it.  

2. Field Music – Making a New World
If you still needed proof that Field Music could sprinkle their magic over any topic, an album about the aftermath and long-reaching consequences of WWI should do it! Like a ripple on a pond, they found that legacy of the war goes on, becoming perhaps more abstract but no less significant. They celebrate the surgical developments that the war necessitated which went on to be utilised in gender reassignment surgery. With raised fist, they challenge the shaming of women for an essential bodily function, menstruation. The triumphant wonky pop is still there but it stands proudly alongside bleak musical landscapes that pay quiet respect to the victims of “The Great War”, past and present.

3. Richard Dawson – Peasant
Peasant is so starkly, grimly real. Almost too real! It’s genuinely scary in its chaotic other-timely energy. Dawson immerses himself in the medieval North East and he binds you and drags you along with him, whether you want to go or not. There are no William Wallaces or John Snows. There are no ice kings or kings of any sort, just lost, scared, hungry people trying to survive. There are shards of light though and in this desolate environment those brief moments of hope and love shine ever brighter and there-in is the true beauty of this record.

4. Anais Mitchell – Hadestown
We couldn’t not talk about Hadestown which was a huge inspiration for our record. Anais Mitchell takes the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and their grim meeting with Hades and chucks it into an early 20th century American industrial boomtown. It is a work of beauty and dark comedy. The ironic prophecy of “Why we build the wall” sadly grows year on year. It has now been turned into a full musical, hitting Broadway and winning loads of awards. I was lucky enough to see it and it was better than I could have hoped or imagined. 

Now over to our Az for number 5…  The Streets – A Grand don’t Come for Free
Probably doesn’t seem like the obvious choice for a band like us but I can definitely see its influence on the album we’re currently working on (the next one). I just love how un-aspirational (is that a word?) it is lyrically. The story takes place in pubs and McDonald’s car parks and the main character only realises he’s in love when he picks sitting in and watching telly with his girlfriend over going to the pub with his mates. It’s set in the world most of us actually live in rather than one we wish to and I think that sort of grounding pays off emotionally later in the album on tracks like ‘Dry your Eyes’ and the alternate ending of ‘Empty Cans’. I’ve been reliably informed that ‘Blinded by the Lights’ is an eerily accurate musical interpretation of taking too much ecstasy as well which is pretty cool.

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