Back in 1977, Phil Riley (on the right in main image) was part of a band called Kites who, signed to Poydor, released a cover of 40s hit Rum and Coca Cola backed by his own composition, Safari Hat. It sank without trace. Five years later, as part of Leicester’s bid for new wave glory, he played guitar in The Dots who, signed to EMI, released one single, Helen In Your Headphones, (he wrote the B side, Come and Get it). The single reached the dizzy heights of #96 before disappearing (though it is now something of a fondly remembered collector’s item), along with the band.
For 24 years, Riley and the music business went separate ways. Then, in 2006, he teamed up with vocalist/fiddler Helen Butterfield and pianist Julie Wright to form Leicester-based acoustic roots outfit East Of Reason. He’s also released a couple of low key albums (one with Wright) but this, his third, is getting a slightly bigger push.
The album features Riley on acoustic guitar with occasional accompaniment from old friends including Neil Mercer on mandolin, most notably so on I’ll Bring You A Little Candy and Simon Day on concertina as featured on the traditional styled closer Sing To Me Laddie. It’s very much in the leafy English folk vein with lyrics that veer between the political, such as the fingerpicked anti-war England’s Green and Pleasant Land, and the personal, as on a jazz-tinted I Will Be There.. Throughout vocals are warm and well-seasoned, at times reminiscent of Eric Andersen.
There’s echoes of influences throughout, homegrown with Martin Simpson and Ralph McTell and, from across the pond, Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger on Diamond In The Rough and the lovely How Many Trees, respectively. Featuring nimble fingerwork, Swallow The Pills is a playful semi-talking blues about consumerism, but he’s at his best on the more intimate material with highlights including the letting go Broken Wing, father to son letter Before Your Angels Die and the circling melody of Hand In The Fire with its hints of Tom Rush.
Riley has the sort of relaxed manner, dexterous guitar style and slight burr in the voice vocal designed for coffee houses, bedsits, campfires and folk clubs and, had he actually begun his musical life doing what he’s doing now, the album might well have been the latest addition to a well-respected back catalogue rather than “to see if I’ve got an audience (however small and select!)”. Well, he’s definitely just increased it by one. I suggest you add to the number.
Review by: Mike Davies