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Our latest video; a song from the album 'Scowl'

STFES NEWS

Howl 

The EPs worth of material recorded at the same time as the songs that constitute the Scowl LP are now available as a downloadable EP through the Vacilando 68 Recordings Bandcamp page. There are 4 songs: a reworking of live staple 'Decimation', a psychodrama about a small town serial killer featuring Rachel Lowrie, a flamenco sea shanty and a lullaby. These songs only failed to make the cut on the LP due to their eclectic nature: they didn't fit the flow of the sequencing. But we always felt they were good enough to go out, so it's great that they are finally available. In the new year we will be releasing remixes of the EPs songs as a separate download EP.

Here's the link to the EP:

 

http://vacilando68.bandcamp.com/album/howl-the-offcuts-ep

 

'Scowl'; the 2nd review 

Hot on the heals of the 1st review, here is the second:

Buzzin Album of the Month 

"Scowl is a book for small children by Steve Smallman about an owl called Scowl. Scowl was only happy when he was grumpy, perched upon his grumpy branch, screaming ‘Flap off!’ at the other woodland creatures, who tried in vain to cheer him up. 

Scowl is also the fifth album by Medway‘s very own Stuart Turner & the Flat Earth Society (STFES). 

The album cover adorns stern Victorian wetplate images of each band member, courtesy of the talented and esteemed photographer Rikard Osterlund, that make Peaky Blinders look like The Nolans. 

Scowl introduces a much harder, more alt rock than folk edge to the effervescent, ever-changing sound of STFES.  The harder gritted sound may have been sparked by Stuart Turner dropping the acoustic guitar for a Gretsch or the departure of multi folk instrumentalist Rob Shepherd, who left the band part-way through recording the album. 

But STFES has always been a vehicle for other members to bring songs to the table, and this policy gives the band the ability to change direction or sound as a matter of course, rather than a progression or out of any fad or passing style.  A good example of this is the uptempo indie pop overtones of Stoic.  A wonderful pop song driven by the unmistakable guitar sound of Bob Collins. 

The other stand out track for me is Nothing.  The song grew out of an original idea by Shepherd, and is a slow burner that builds into something very special.  A song about lost control, lost innocence and lost life. This should remain in the STFES live set for many years to come. 

Turner’s distinctive growling blues vocal style is perfectly matched with Rachel Lowrie on tracks When, Crash and Solitary.  While David Read of The Claim provides guest vocals on Helen – a song that is surprisingly not a cover version as it couldn’t sound more like The Claim if it tried! 

The evolution of the STFES “sound” is completely natural.  Water, with its banjo-picking, alt folk acoustic-driven sound reminds me more of previous albums, but sits perfectly well among the 9 great songs that together, make Scowl a great album.  For me, the best STFES album so far. 

Scowl by Stuart Turner & the Flat Earth Society (STFES) will be released on 10th November on Vacilando 68 records. 

Terry Lane, Nov 2017"

 

To view this with embedded video features visit: http://www.buzzinmusic.co.uk/album-of-the-month/4737

'Scowl'; the 1st review 

The 5th album by Stuart Turner and The Flat Earth Society is available from today. Here is the first review. Well the first review other than our Mums collectively looking confused. As usual. Anyway, thank you Stephen Morris for these words:

 

"ALBUM REVIEW: STUART TURNER AND THE FLAT EARTH SOCIETY – SCOWL 

Once upon a time (2012 to be precise) Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society recorded a song called ‘Unwanted’. Its opening couplet ran as follows: “Tell me will there be good news soon/’cos I am so tired of this bad mood”. 

Five years later and Stuart Turner and his not-so merry band of Flat Earth Society members are still waiting for the mood to lift. It’s only appropriate then that the latest album is called Scowl. 

It’s a belter of an album, thanks – in part at least – to the addition of two things: Rachel Lowrie’s rich, powerful vocals and Stuart Turner’s new guitar. 

In a recent video interview with Bob Collins (see below), the Flat Earth Society’s guitarist explained how, in the lead up to recording Scowl, Rob Shepherd left the band (although he still makes a welcome appearance on this record – and has a writing credit to boot): 

And at the same time that happened, Stuart happened to buy this great, wonderful Gretch guitar that he’d been looking at for so long. And when you plug that in that’s a loud beast. 

So with no mandolin or banjo [from Rob], Stuart with this guitar and me with mine up we suddenly become a very loud band. Which is great. It’s just a different version of Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society. And Rachel sounds phenomenal – just having the guest vocal: she does a couple of duets with Stuart. 

He is, of course, right. The mix of Stuart Turner and Rachel Lowrie’s voices is excellent – inspired even. And with the change in musical line up, there is a much heavier, rockier feel to this record compared with the band’s previous (excellent in a different way) self-titled outing. 

Scowl is a record of its austere, post-truth times. 

Over the course of the album there are diatribes against power, corruption and lies, courtesy of ‘When?’, ‘Stoic’ and ‘No’ and thumbnail sketches of vulnerable victims of circumstance: children in rush-hour car crashes (‘Crash’), a dying friend (‘Solitary’) and a woman driven to attempted murder by her manipulative husband (the Archers referencing ‘Helen’). 

While resolute in its devotion to its theme of the heartless vs. the heartbroken, the long player fluctuates between anger at the status quo (“Strip all our assets to stock our defences/run up debts and charge them to expenses” as ‘When?’ puts it) and a clear headed desire to make the best of things. 

In ‘Nothing’, with its nod to David Bowie’s ‘“Heroes”’, a friend who has fallen on hard times (“your breath smells of discount rum/it’s not even half past one”) is urged to “sort your life out”. Later another friend who has “hit the ground one too many times” is given the most tender of farewells (‘Solitary’). 

Even in the single moment of serenity there is an ambiguity. In ‘Water’, we get a tranquil portrait of a woman paddling in the sea. But the image is darkened when the narrator’s scream “fail to attract her” and, having eventually acknowledged him, she “slowly turns her back”. 

At the centre of the album, ‘Winterborn’ turns the canvas 90 degrees, producing a detailed landscape of a brutal chill bearing down on broken buildings. The gruelling hardship is made harsher still by the relentless chain gang chant delivery, the gritty blues riffs and John Whitaker’s ghostly trumpet. 

Though Scowl’s other songs focus so much on characters and ideas, this aural picture of decline and disarray still retains an intense humanity that aches and groans. Rarely has the phrase “I feel like going home” sounded so desperately futile. 

It is, quite possibly, the album’s finest, most beautiful moment. 

The album’s finale comes in the form of a duet between Rachel Lowrie and guest vocalist (and Claim frontman) Dave Read. For all its jaunty pace and hand claps, ‘Helen’ tells the darkest of dark tales: marital manipulation leading to attempted murder. 

Using an Archers plotline as its inspiration, both Lowrie and Read sing from Helen’s point of view, using lines (almost) directly taken from the original scripts (“put a knife in my hand and tell me to die”). 

It’s a rousing – if deeply disturbing – end to an album filled with doom and gloom. But there is hope – and that can often be said about STFES album closers. 

As the song approaches its climax, Turner’s voice emerges, repeating the mantra: “We won’t let life get the better of us/each of us stuck in a soap opera kiss”. 

It’s an apt couplet for the final moments of a record that has listed so many moments of human frailty and inhumane callousness. 

Very apt indeed."

To see this with embedded video features visit: http://www.reviewage.net/index.php/reviews/album-review-stuart-turner-and-the-flat-earth-society-scowl/

Something Else  

The last Saturday in September saw us booked to play at the lovely Something Else in the Dean Festival. Had been looking forward to it pretty much since the last one and we set off in plenty of time to hit out allocated stage time of 14:30. Stuart and a car full of drums and guitars left home at 08:00. However he foolishly ignored a sign that said 'Traffic congestion ahead' and found himself stuck for 4 hours on the M4, anxious and angry at himself. The rest of the band went a different way and were oblivious to the traffic congestion on the M4 until Stuarts lateness presented itself as a problem. Fortunately for us the festival is really rather lovely and so are our chums in the band Ghosts of Men. Our slot was swapped with their slot and when Stuart did make it to the site at 14:32, he found Ghosts of Men on the tea tent stage we were supposed to be on playing a stirring rendition of 'Decimation' by Stuart Turner and The Flat Earth Society, with the lyrics somewhat altered to be about traffic problems. Wonderful. A few hours later we took to a different stage outdoors, only to find the amps we thought were going to be ok were too big for the solar power source on the stage we now found ourselves on. A string of power leads and extension had to be run from the tea tent stage to the outdoor stage to accommodate the valves. We commenced playing and the heavens opened. It rained solidly from the moment we started playing until the early hours of the morning, which had the unusual effect of driving everyone in earshot under the bar marquee, slightly out of sight from the stage, leaving just Dan 'Funkee and the Two Tone Baby' Turbull standing watching us in the rain by himself, with applause coming from seemingly nowhere after each song. It was an unusual gig to say the least and for all the muck ups, logistical problems and inconvenient weather, we played and people spoke to us afterwards about how much they liked it when you could have thought no one was listening. So thank you Something Else in the Dean, you were friendly, accommodating, forgiving and somewhat soggy. And thank you Ghosts of Men, we'll see you in November when you come to play with us in Chatham.

Scowl 

Ok, so here we finally are. 10 months on from the last recording and mixing sessions, the 5th album by STFES is ready to leave the nest and a date of the 10th of November has been set for pushing our baby off the branch in the hope that it flies. Once again our most splendid label (Vacilando 68) are releasing our efforts on vinyl (with download) and download. In the intervening months between completion and release, the talented and esteemed photographer Rikard Osterlund fashioned some striking images of the band on metal plates using a Victorian wet-plate camera, which were very much in keeping with the lyrical themes of an album appropriately entitled Scowl. He did such a cracking job that we asked him to put the artwork together for us, coupled to a swirling aquatic inner sleeve image from the also marvelous Joseph Wise (from the bands Frau Pouch and Punching Swans). We always feel the artwork should reflect the music and the chaps have done a bang up job of doing just that.

And what of the music? Well, as ever, it's a departure from our last release (the eponymous LP), in part due to the departure of Rob Shepherd from the band, (although he still cam and played on some of the album after the fact). This galvanised the core of the band into a harder sounding unit. But the harder times we find ourselves living in have done much the same and we feel the music reflects that too. We recorded way too many songs for a vinyl release and a follow-up EP of offcuts is planned, with very interesting dub remixes of all the tracks by The Closer We Are To Dying (aka Terry Lane) accompanying.This will be a download only release.

On the 10th of November there will be a show. An album launch, a musical review, a live album recording, a release party and all the dancing horses, (I may have lied about the last, but the rest is true). And at Sun Pier House, Medway Street, Chatham, starting at 8pm, we will commence. There will be live remixing of Medway music by the aforementioned The Closer We Are To Dying, which will start at 8 and continue between the other acts. There will be support slots from Punching Swans (featuring the aforementioned Joe Wise) and our chums from the far flung reaches of Colchester, Ghosts of Men. Then there will be an extended performance from ourselves in a review format: we will be inviting guests who appear on the album to get up with us and perform one of their own songs with us as the backing band (Booker T and The MGs style), before staying on to perform the songs they feature on on our album. To this end Rachel Lowerie, Rastko (featuring Rob Shepherd, but we couldn't have Rob without Arf now could we) and Dave Read will also feature. And because he's so enthusiastic and has a cracking voice, Stuart Blakeledge from the Sweetchunks Band is coming along to do a duet too. All of this is being recorded for posterity and potential future release. 

That is the news. How've you been?

 

2017 

Happy new years to you all. 

The end of 2016 brought with it the completion of the recording of our 5th album, entitled 'Scowl'. It is a progression from the eponymous 4th longplayer and because we recorded more than we could feasibly fit on what we hope will be a vinyl release, we have four songs left over for 'The Offcuts EP' which we will put out as a download only release in February. When the LP will be available is anyones guess, but the artwork is well underway, with the talented Mr Rikard Osterland having taken Victorian wet-plate photographs of the various band memembers and guests, giving the project a feel all of its own even before you've heard a note.

We have also played our first musical engagement of the year, at The Penny Theatre in Canterbury, the place where a young and unjadded Mr Turner first opened his mouth to sing in public back in the days before internet, blogs, social media, hashtags and the digital photograph. Obviously therefore I have no means of proving this. 

6th review of the 4th album 

Sad to report that we have had our first bad review in years. Not since the second Stuart Turner solo album has anyone gone to the bother of putting in print their qualified dislike of what they heard. Which is four albums and quite a lot of reviews ago. So this came as a surprise, especially as all the other reviews had been both glowing and focussed on how melodic the vocals were relative to earlier, more guttural albums. Maybe we should send the fellow one of those? Anyway, here is what appeared in R2 Magazine (formerly Rock 'n' Reel, who had previously refused to review us, so progress of a sort):

"Stuart Turner has a voice that takes some getting used to. At first you think his is a voice that will just take a bit of time to love, like the growl of Tom Waits or the sneering snarl of Lemmy. So I listened to Turner's explosions and snorts knowing that in time it would all start to fall into place and I'd see how this fusion of English pop and delta blues made sense. It didn't.

There are great songs on this album which take folk and blues stylings and tie them to some very English melodies: echoes of The Kinks and 60's psychedelica, and some darker elements of the folk tradition. The playing is spot-on and enlivened by John Whitakers trumpet. It is, however, Turner's spittle-filled bark that cuts through the unbridled joy of the music and brings it back to earth with a considerable wallop.

There are a couple of interludes provided by James Worse's Medway-flavoured nonsense poetry: a kind of Kentish Jabberwocky. In many ways these serve merely to highlight the problem I faced with the rest of the album. I am sure Turner's voice is an acquired delight; but I have failed to acquire it."

Peter Tomkins, Sept. 2016 edition, R2 Magazine

 

5th review of the 4th album 

The following appeared in Penny Black Music. And is quite pleasing indeed:

"Appealing and rewarding fourth album from the music collective headed by raspy-voiced, Medway-based Stuart Turner reveals that they have lost none of their passion."

"We’ve come to expect any song with Sunday in the title to be a little reflective, possibly something to ease gently into what for many is the most relaxing day of the week. Turner opens his latest collection of fourteen songs with ‘Sunday Song’ and, although he has proved by his three previous albums that he really does create his own unique brand of music, this opening cut was far from what we expected.  

It’s a far cry from a mellow Sunday morning ballad of course, and the trumpet heavy stomper is more likely to set you up for another party than aid you in a morning after comedown despite the bleak lyrics. Those feelings of lying in bed on a Sunday morning dreading the following daybreak as the weekend comes to an end are at odds with the upbeat music. While Turner’s growl is still intact, there’s also the slight feeling that his vocals are mellowing since the last time we heard him on record; it might just be that we are becoming more accustomed to his voice though. This upbeat feel is carried into the next song, ‘The Boy Doth Protest Too Much'. This time banjo joins the trumpets and, despite Turner’s vocals still being very much an acquired taste, this opening brace of songs prove to be some of the most accessible that Turner and his band have released so far. And not only accessible but the most impressive too; while Turner & Co have lost none of the passion displayed on their previous releases so far this album portrays a more controlled emotion, one that is less likely to alienate those who are unfamiliar with Turner’s previous work. For all the darkness in Turner’s lyrics, this time he has cloaked his words with his most melodic and inspiring tunes to date.  

Even with ‘King of the Hill’ where the resonator guitar shapes the sound and the lyrics are once more bleak it takes no time at all to be drawn into the song. But maybe with ‘Unmissing’ the band break even more new ground. With Turner’s growl at its most emotional the lyrics are chilling to say the least. The song seems to concern a yet undiscovered corpse lying in a house. Again the music, especially the opening section, is at odds with the lyrical content. The melody is pretty. Turner has shadowed his lyrics with appealing melodies before, but they are often drowned out by the passion and roughness in his vocals. Here the meeting of the two works to perfection. It’s one of the most affecting and beautiful pieces of music Turner has put his name to despite the subject matter.  

The following ‘Glad I Knew You Then’ isn’t the first time that the individuals of a unrequited, adolescent crush meet again years later only to discover they have nothing in common now, but it’s rarely been injected with so much passion and with such a vividly painted image.  

‘Upon Glanderous Thrane’ is a spoken word piece voiced by James Worse, which each listener will take something different from; if you are intelligent or weird enough to decipher exactly what Worse is saying that is. Worse is featured on two tracks, the above mentioned unaccompanied track leaves this listener cold and disrupts the flow of the album while ‘A Flarch of Woundwillow’ works better; maybe due to the musical accompaniment, especially the distant banjo, complimenting the spoken lyrics so at least there’s something to hang the nonsensical lyrics onto.  

Overall this is a fine collection of songs, the playing throughout is superb. One listen to ‘Every Passing Year I Retreat More Inside My Own Head’ confirms that and lyrically the album will keep the listener entertained for hours, despite one or two missteps it’s the best we’ve heard from Turner so far."

Review by Malcolm Carter
http://www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk/MagSitePages/Review/10430/R/Stuart-Turner-and-the-Flat-Earth-Society-CD-Stuart-Turner-and-the-Flat-Earth-Society

4th review of the 4th album 

The following appeared in the Jun/July edition of Maverick:

Stuart Turner and The Flat Earth Society 

Folk, blues, rock from the Medway Delta 

Alternative folk-blues-rock outfit Stuart Turner and The Flat Earth Society, hailing from the Medway Towns in Kent, are pretty consistent when it comes to releasing good music. Their fourth record, a self-titled L.P. released through Vacilando ’68 Recordings, might be their best work yet. 

The band themselves are a bit of a Medway Delta supergroup, featuring members of The Dentists and The Singing Loins, and led by the bellowing giant that is Stuart Turner. For those in the know Stuart Turner and The Flat Earth Society have been a live act not to miss for many years now. 

The band released the new album with a launch gig on a lightship moored at Gillingham Pier; a raucous night with the band on top form. Guitar driven blues rock featuring banjo, mandolin and fiddle, with expressive vocals carved from granite. 

Past releases have showcased keen musicality and socially conscious song-writing, peppered with metaphor and satire. Songs like Decimation, from the album ‘On The Brink of Misadventure’ and the Mingulay Boat Song from ‘The Art and Science of Phrenology: A Presentation by Stuart Turner and The Flat Earth Society’ are obvious starting points for first time listeners, though the new album doesn’t rest on these laurels. Instead it builds on the sound STFES have been honing for years, a defining record for the band. 

Stuart Turner, who recently had an unplugged acoustic set cut short for being too loud, has a voice like scotch and sandpaper, edgy and broken, and his song-writing is often dark and critical. In person Stuart is a friendly, approachable introvert; on stage he becomes a Thatcher-bashing folk-blues foghorn, a ginger Howling Wolf. 
The self-titled LP is a prime example of Stuart’s song-writing, an album full of songs that seem to be hinting at age and rust and replacement. The whole album has an early morning, post night-out feeling. The bit where you look out the window thoughtfully before staggering towards the stairs and wake up half dressed on the sofa. 
The album starts with ‘Sunday Song’, a guitar driven rock and roll track with a blazing trumpet line and a late night melancholia lyricism. The rest of the album is a rock, folk and blues pick-and-mix, with the samba blues of ‘The Boy Doth Protest Too Much’, the Robert Johnson country slide anthem ‘King of The Hill’ and folk balladry of ‘Every Passing Year I Retreat More Inside My Own Head’ as particular high points. There is more of an alternative rock sheen with songs like ‘Things That Make Up A Life’. 

Lead guitarist, Bob Collins, and banjo/mandolin maestro Rob Shepherd, balance out Stuart Turners’ explosive front man persona with cultured musicality and a keen ear for a hook. The gritty, guitar driven blues rock that runs throughout is countered masterfully by Medway’s resident trumpeter John Whitaker, who adds layers of melody and polish to an already densely crafted sound. There are also interludes of nonsensical gibberish poetry, called Worsicals, from The James Worse Public Address System, moments of eccentric flair that paint contrasting colours to the edgy, introspective music. “The twimsy modbollosc pustooned by gynormic windbone” and “Grusping the quembervane” are but two of the glorious nonsensical lines in tracks eight and ten respectively, where James Worse gets to play with the English language in a way that would make Dickens quiver. 

One of the overall themes is of rust and decay, expressed poetically with lines like “ this chair is as hard as the grave. We’ll all be there, soon enough, but for now I’ll smile and be brave” and “The birds have flown the tower. The walls will fall around us. Haven’t you heard? This is our final hour” but the songs are not miserable. They are thoughtful and honest, but also defiant. And really, really good. By thoughtfully pondering their own relevance, Stuart Turner and The Flat Earth Society have crafted a masterpiece. 

That said, the best way to experience Stuart Turner and The Flat Earth Society is to see them live, as a soundtrack to a night of sing-alongs and questionable decision-making. As thoughtful as it is fresh, the new album is a statement of intent, and eyes should be firmly fixed to see what comes next for a band who deserve more recognition than perhaps they get. 

“As long as I’m still alive, I’ll continue to drink your health” 

Stuart Turner and The Flat Earth Society’s self titled new LP is available now on Vacilando ’68 Recordings. 

www.stfes.com

We've sort of been on tour 

Since the album became available to the wider world we have been playing two gigs a week in the closest thing to a tour this band's ever engaged in. We've played in South, East and West Kent, Gloucestershire,  Oxfordshire, Dorsetshire and even San Sebastian in Spain. We've played for festivals, beer festivals. Music festivals,  barbecues and bars. It's been a lot of fun. While we were about it glossy music monthly Maverick published a two page review-cum-introductory-exposee on the band which was pretty cool. We will transcribe to here when we get a chance, but it was a glowing review of both the band and the album. Now we have a few weeks off gigs before the Homespun Festival when we will be showcasing some of our brand new stuff we are working up for the next album.  The world around us maybe a confusing place, but in the safe bubble of stfes we have been able to turn a lot of that confusion into something worthwhile.  We hope.  
STUART TURNER AND THE FLAT EARTH SOCIETY RECORDINGS ARE AVAILABLE FROM THIS WEBSITE

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