Had they sat down at the genesis of this album, Findlay Napier and his co-writer/producer Boo Hewerdine may have looked with trepidation at a scope as broad as it is long. VIP: Very Interesting Persons takes the trawler’s approach, dragging its net across the globe in search of characters worthy of a song. Some are famous, some will be known to you and some will not; together, they render the word ‘interesting’ a somewhat understated nom de plume.
This is immediately apparent on first hearing Hedy Lamarr, recognised as one of the tragic figures of the golden age of cinema but also the inventor of the precursor to today’s wi-fi. The song is a gorgeous opener, a lilting melody with sympathetic backing vocals that captures the sorrows behind the public face; ‘Every time the lights shine down on you / You disappear’.
The handclapped beat of The Man Who Sold New York rides on dirty blues guitar, apt for the conman George C Parker infamous for selling real estate in New York like the Brooklyn Bridge several times over. It’s a nice contrast to Hedy Lamarr and Napier stays in America for An Idol In Decline, the sorry tale of a legend of the diamond, Mickey Mantle. Opening with a woodwind motif that evokes the theme tune to Cheers, this piano ballad marks the end of his career set against an America travelling in a similar downwards direction and features the second line in three songs where Napier pins the essence of the song in one line; ‘Poor Mickey Mantle, I can still see you / ’56, frozen in time..’. How we all wish we could remember our idols at their peak, before the fall.
The switch in styles continues on Eddie Banjo. Napier strums an acoustic tale of a tramp his father knew. Eddie could only play one song, cleverly inserted towards the end – no spoilers here, but you’ll be tapping your foot and singing along. Other songs touch on Country legend George Jones, more for his ability to prop up a bar than his way with a melody, or a boxing match where one pugilist kills another and has to live with the fact through all his subsequent bouts.
The songs act as levellers; it’s the tale that matters, so the first woman in space is graced with a beautifully simple melody in Valentina and the last Japanese native to remain at war with America (the stunning Rising Sun) are as important as Hedy, Mickey and George. VIP is an education as well as a delight, evidence of the rich layers of human endeavour that inspires music; from the famous to the forgotten, everyone has a story, and every story is important.
Album closer Angel Falls is a beauty. Named for Jimmie Angel, the ex-World War 1 fighter pilot who accidentally discovered the Venezuelan waterfalls that now bear his name, its gentle piano and mandoguitar bring proceedings to a smooth finish. Hewerdine’s influence is noticeable in the melody, as it is throughout; the songs are all easy on the ear and quick to embed themselves, and if you like Boo’s output (and what’s not to like?), this album will nestle comfortably in your collection. Napier has an album that marries musicality with individuality, hits the sweet spot early and keeps giving ‘til the end.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Findlay Napier Live on STV Glasgow
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