It has been nearly twenty years since we first marvelled at the extraordinary sounds and textures that three gents could elicit from bass guitars. Catching them in support of Appliance was a revelation and following Mark Beazley‘s mercurial career has been both fascinating and frustrating. I haven’t heard much since the Stateless solo album, but 2016 saw the delivery of not one but two albums. The first of which, Discover The Lost, was a fantastic reawakening of the original Rothko promise. The second, which I hold in my hands, is the latest in an ongoing series of collaborations and is a bit of a curveball.Mark’s latest foil is Johny Brown from effervescent purveyors of literate post-pop beauty, The Band of Holy Joy and this album finds Johny in exquisite form, his keening brogue emotionally recounting the trials and tribulations of a lad raised in a seaside pit town on the north-east coast of England, a hard, callous upbringing where “sensitivity is actively hunted out and crushed”. Over the course of eleven musical chapters, Johny is our guide as we see misery beaten, dreams flourish, love blossom, hopes die, history repeat; and each of these vignettes is accompanied by Mark on bass, the instrument miraculously bowing to the emotion of that particular scene.
His signature warm tones, purring bass chords and beguiling runs lend resonance to the more dynamic chapters; whereas as when our hero meets the girl from the flower stall, we find delightful atmospherics underpinning the subtleties of Johny’s delivery. As he settles down and is urged on to putting his anger and frustration into artistic achievement, the music becomes plangent, yet urgent, as if willing him on to success and as he regresses and retreats to the pub, the soundscape becomes jagged and abstract, malevolent and sinister. I won’t give any more of the story away. You need to hear the sensitivity of the piece as a whole and ride along with Johny as his voice soars and cracks, fizzes and groans and Mark provides the necessary emotional backdrop.
On first listen to A Young Fist Curled Around A Cinder For A Wager, I was in two minds, but repeated exposure has allowed me to become immersed in this vivid narrative. I have thrilled at Johny’s use of and love of the language and his timbre and intonation. As to Mark, this may well be one of Rothko’s finest hours and a deeply satisfying accomplishment.