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.