The ability of music to evoke an emotional response – in this case memories from half a century ago – never fails to surprise me and The Boatswain’s Manual, the new 4-song EP by M.G. Boulter and Samantha Whates, has brought back many happy memories for me. As a small child, I always looked forward to summer holidays at the coastal resort in North Wales where many of my relatives lived and, although the seemingly endless sunny days that lay stretched out before me have long since vanished into what were once the unknown mists of the future, reminiscences of those times still bring pleasure in their recollection.
M.G. (Matt) Boulter has a well-established reputation as a songwriter and musician, both as a solo artist as well as with The Lucky Strikes; while singer and songwriter Samantha Whates has been a regular live performer and session/backing vocalist with a list of musicians as long as your arm. Most recently she appeared on Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker’s Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour, one of FRUK’s Featured Albums of the Month although her own solo record Dark Nights Make for Brighter Days is also well worth a spin (review here).
Matt and Sam’s collaboration on this EP came about earlier this year when they met while touring with mutual friend Ross Wilson (aka Blue Rose Code, FRUK’s Artist of the Month for October). As Matt explains on his website [http://mgboulter.co.uk/blog/new-ep-out-13th-october-2014-m-g-boulter-samantha-whates-boatswains-manual]:
“During that tour we sat in a bed and breakfast in Berwick upon Tweed, watching people walk their dogs on the beach, and talked about meditation, books and working late. It wasn’t long before we thought that maybe we could play a few shows together and we arranged a meeting by the seaside to work on songs. In the height of summer we walked the seashore and meandered around the arcades of Southend, my hometown. Samantha is also from another seaside town, Montrose, so talk inevitably turned to nautical and seaside songs. Thus, our new EP, The Boatswain’s Manual was born.”
First track, Stones, comes skipping into view with a smile on its face as wide as any child discovering the sugar-rush sweetness of seaside candyfloss. Over a fingerstyle banjo and strummed acoustic guitar, Matt and Samantha’s harmonies glitter like the morning sun on the lapping waves in a thoughtful lyric comparing our lives to stones on the shore, with Samantha’s flute divebombing the middle eight like a seagull in pursuit of a tasty morsel dropped by a passer-by.
Sailors takes a more leisurely stroll along the quayside, reminding us to be kinder to ourselves on the voyages of our lives; Samantha’s voice is particularly fine here, her multitracked harmonies impeccably smooth against Matt’s more gritty timbres. In passing, I note that this song was written by Samantha and in both content and arrangement it bodes well for her future solo work.
Matt, too, brings a new self-penned composition aboard; taking as its starting point a trip Neil Young made to Southend in 1974, Westcliff meditates on the heroes and icons who inspire us and give meaning to our lives. The fingerpicked acoustic guitar is steady and reassuring, allowing Samantha’s flute arpeggios the space to tumble and flutter like butterflies around Matt’s partly autobiographical introspection.
The irrepressibly bouncy closing song Buckets And Spades is like a snapshot from the family album; time may have faded its colours a little but it still summons up a host of golden memories that you’d forgotten. Its lyric is a thing of joy; all those countless words of advice your Mum gave you, the litany of everyday aphorisms common to every family, they’re all here. Matt’s banjo is punctuated by handclaps on the offbeat and his lapsteel solo bursts into life like the switching on of the Blackpool Illuminations.
With The Boatswain’s Manual, M.G. Boulter and Samantha Whates have managed to encapsulate that quintessentially British mix of gaiety (in the old-fashioned, innuendo-free sense) and melancholia which often seems to epitomise life in a seaside town in a nostalgic but thoroughly enjoyable daytrip down memory lane. I’ve still got the sand in my shoes to prove it.
Review by: Helen Gregory
NOTES: The Boatswain’s Manual will be limited to a hundred handmade copies featuring exclusive artwork by Samantha. Release date is 13th October 2014.
M.G. Boulter and Samantha Whates will be supporting the release with a short seaside town tour:
Saturday 18th October: The Fishermen’s Chapel, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
Sunday 19th October: LV21, Deal, Kent