It is almost exactly ten years since much-loved London folk-rockers The Eighteenth Day Of May announced their split having released one excellent album. The group’s demise left many wondering what else they could have achieved. Now, a decade on, we have an answer of sorts.
Trimdon Grange Explosion – named after the mining disaster in County Durham that claimed the lives of 69 people – are made up of four core members of The Eighteenth Day Of May: Alison Cotton, Ben Phillipson, Karl Sabino and Mark Nicholas, and for those of us who enjoyed that original LP it is a pleasure to report that the new band have picked up pretty much where the old one left off.
Twenty-Four Hours is straight-up psych-folk full of repetitive, ringing guitar chords and droning viola, and Poor Wayfaring Stranger begins in a similar vein, except here Cotton takes on lead vocals, and Phillipson’s sprawling guitar part ratchets up the song’s mind-altering qualities, pitching it somewhere between Steeleye Span and Mellow Candle. Go Down With The Ship takes an entirely different but nonetheless welcome tack – a tender country-rock ballad – while Four is a glistening sub-minute instrumental, tipping its hat to ambient hauntology (and reflecting the record’s lavish artwork, produced by Peckham illustrator Luke Drozd).
The album revolves around the epic Bonnie Banks Of Fordie. A superb, Velvet Underground-inspired power-up to a traditional ballad in the same league as Fairport Convention’s Tam Lin, it maxes out the speakers without losing the subtlety, courtesy of Cotton’s impressive viola section and Phillipson’s trippy guitar. It is reminiscent of Trembling Bells or another Alex Neilson project, the short-lived Lucky Luke.
Wide-ranging musical variety is one of Trimdon Grange Explosion’s unexpected strong points: Christian’s Silver Hell is the album’s oddity, a brief clatter of post-Britpop drum-and-guitar glee, and Heading For A Fall sits squarely on the ‘rock’ side of the folk-rock fence. Weeping And Wailing throws us back into the darker hinterlands of occult-sounding folk. Cotton’s vocals may be detached, and deathly but the lyrical concerns are serious, showing a sympathy with the darker periods of Britain’s industrial history also hinted at in the band’s name.
Closer Glass And Sand evolves over seven and a half minutes, Karl Sabino’s sparse drums underpinning an unfolding musical narrative that is by turns stately, fraught and uplifting. It is something of a microcosm of the album, a wonderfully diverse but somehow familiar trip. We can only hope that it doesn’t take them another decade to make their next move.
Trimdon Grange Explosion is Out Now via Borley Factory