INTERVIEW: Lovely Assistant | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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With opportunities to break onto the circuit all but extinguished, the COVID year has created a backlog of ripe local newcomers, all itching to showcase their wares once venues re-open. Foremost among them are Lovely Assistant, an accomplished and marvellously understated outfit whose eponymous album slipped out amidst minimal fanfare some six months back.

Currently available on a vinyl-only basis, the record’s wider release is being patiently withheld until such a time as it can be celebrated properly – a fitting scheme considering, as leader and principal songwriter Kieran Rafferty explains, they spawned from the type of social alignment that’s now dispiritingly alien: “Dave [Turnbull, guitar] and I met at a gig – we struck up a conversation between bands, and I realised that he also made music as Fax Machine. It turned out we lived just a street away from each other, so we kept saying we should do something.”

it’s Lovely Assistant’s inherent warmth and quality songcraft from which listeners will reap the greatest rewards

After collaborating on a string of promising demos, Rafferty sought about expanding his new project to a full band. “What I really like about Matt [Hardy, percussion] is his ability to play simply and steadily,” he recalls. “As for Annie [Griffiths, vocals/keys], she’s somebody I got to know through teaching in the music department at Newcastle University. I was already a fan, and I’d started writing duets and thinking of people I’d ideally like to sing with. You’re able to get a lot of drama and tension from that format, and now it’s become very much what we do.”

Besides ranking chief among the record’s considerable charms, this interplay between the pair’s voices lends itself beautifully to Lovely Assistant’s decidedly retro aesthetic. It’s a sound exemplified by gorgeous highlights such as Some Press-Ups For Juliet, Last Of The Aircraft Are Leaving and this month’s single Love Moves In Ordinary Ways, and as Rafferty explains constitutes far more than nostalgic indulgence.

“We often think that popular music began around 1955 and took off in the ‘60s, but there are whole cultures which aren’t even thought about. There’s almost something novel about me being interested in historical music and ‘50s torch songs, as they’re so under-represented in popular culture. Of course they’re nostalgic, and of course there’s a sense of longing which goes with them, but technically some of those original singers were really amazing. I love newness, but when entire cultures are forgotten they become fresh experiences for many people.
“If you’re playing a piano that’s 80 years old, it’s inevitably going to sound like it’s from a local church hall – but there’s something in the process as well,” he continues, acknowledging the record’s vintage, lived-in timbre. “A big part of it was down to Will [Thorneycroft, producer]. A lot of mastering has a particular sheen to it, but we specifically asked for a more naturalistic ‘70s-style master. It’s not a request you receive very often, since people usually want hifi.”

Fundamentally, though, it’s Lovely Assistant’s inherent warmth and quality songcraft from which listeners will reap the greatest rewards. Apparent to those at Bobik’s last August – the group’s sole live appearance to date – it’s an essence that’s all but assured to ensnare further converts once the wretched cycle of lockdowns and restrictions finally relents.

Lovely Assistant’s eponymous debut album is out now. The Love Moves In Ordinary Ways single is released on 1st March


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