The Riddle Overture (3.11), Whirled Away (2:35), Seven Year Old Poet (4:55), Blues For Richard (2:41), (Unlisted Track) (1:11), Leaving Home (4:07), Pauline (3:16), Notes On The Affair (4:03), The Original Sleep (Part 1) (1:47), The Original Sleep (Part 2) (3:31), Tears At The Matinee (4:32), Waltz (3:02), The Riddle (2:51), Entracte (0:31), Overture Reprise (3:29)
The Gardening Club came to people’s attention in 2017 when their long lost 1983, self-titled debut album, was finally re-released. The positive response that it garnered led to their working on new material and its ultimate release as The Riddle.
Musician and illustrator Martin Springett, UK born but resident in Canada from an early age, is the main man of The Gardening Club. On this new release he has collaborated with producer and guitarist Norm Macpherson. Also helping out is Norm’s son James Macpherson on drums and programming, respected jazz bassist Sean Drabbit and saxophonist Wayne Kozak. They have set the words of their friend and poet Cyril McGolgan.
The Gardening Club have produced a work that, though recorded in Canada, feels fundamentally English. The England of early seventies, mildly psychedelic Canterbury. It's as if Genesis were from the wealds of Kent. They also display echoes of Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayres, Caravan, Camel, Barclay James Harvest, Gordon Giltrap, and Anthony Phillips. But don’t let this list of artists make you think that The Gardening Club are just an amalgam of these myriad but similar styles. They have transcended these and forged a singular identity of their own.
The Riddle skips through a parallel sound world due to the superb slide guitar playing of Norm Macpherson. I confess to always having had a soft spot for the sound of a slide guitar and I have been a fan of Ry Cooder since the early seventies. Though I generally find most blues predictable and samey I make an exception in Mr Cooder’s case. And on The Riddle,
the slide playing could be Mr Cooder at his most subtle and least bluesy.
The music The Gardening Club establishes its own identity quickly because of the slide guitar, something you don’t hear much of in any genre of prog. From The Riddle Overtureonward you feel they are on to something different with an orchestrated density of acoustic guitar, slide and synth. This sound picture continues throughout the album.
They also have an engaging way with strange poetic lyrics. Sung by Martin Springett in a world-wear voice that is characterful and vulnerable, if not particularly strong. The songs innovate within a limited pallet. Starting with the odd-ball, up-tempo, acoustic pop-prog of Whirled Away. This could have come from XTC’s English Settlement. On Seven Year Old Poetthe tempo switches about as its protagonist contends with ‘merciless grey walls cheer him on…pursuing a dog on fire’. Strange and poetic.
Sean Drabbit’s lithe, and quietly funky, fretless bass playing anchors the best songs here. That is most of them by the way. But it is especially noteworthy on The Original Sleep (parts 1 and 2) and on Tears At The Matinee. The latter uses melancholic sax as they lament that "one day life out ran us". Terrific songs that are hymns to time passing and opportunities not quite grasped. Expressed through lovely distinctive melodies, gentle harmonies, vibraphone, non-intrusive percussion alongside expressive slide and synth work.
The Gardening Club’s The Riddle is a great album of strange songs and joyful instrumentals. It is an album imbued with autumnal colour - vibrant golds, yellows and reds - underpinned with the melancholy that winter will soon follow. The Riddle is a delight.
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