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BAND OF HOLY JOY – ‘Land of Holy Joy’ Review by Gaz. Published October 21st 2015.

So, the Band of Holy Joy have released their ‘tricky’ 19th album under the delightful, yet sarcastic, title ‘Land of Holy Joy’. And what an achievement, most probably their best to date and after the 2012 release of ‘How to Kill a Butterfly’ I didn’t think I’d ever whisper such a thing.
Unique doesn’t begin to describe the Band of Holy Joy and yet again they have produced a compilation that compares to no other. Stunning compositions, melancholy and downright depressing, yet somehow offering that ray of light where all is not lost and hope is just around the corner.
Revolving around singer Johny Brown’s adopted home, London, we are taken on a trip of desperation and loneliness (sometimes in graphic detail) yet inspired by a positive attitude that life is worth living in spite of all it throws at us.
Opening with title track ‘Land of Holy Joy’ we encounter classic BOHJ with the mixture of spoken word and harmonised warble. The change from despair to joy between verse and chorus epitomises the album…
“I’m living in the land of holy joy,
Coughing, dancing the lanes,
I am conniving through the land of holy joy,
Toxins coursing through my veins”
The addition of saxophone throughout adds a new dimension to BOHJ’s work. It’s subtle and in your face at the same time and offers a rousing crescendo to the wonderfully titled ‘All the Girls are Wearing Desert Boots of Pale and Subtle Shade’ after Brown delivers the brilliant line “…life can be more than cruelty, property, money, fashion and sport”

Photography by Paul Hudson

Photography by Paul Hudson

‘Violent Drunken Strangers’ is a disturbing spoken track dealing with the world of people trafficking. It’s a very powerful yet harrowing description but again offers hope with the final line “…I just want to go out dancing” and there’s that horn blowing climax again. This is immediately followed up with ‘Discredited Art Form’, an amazing reference where Brown tells us when and why he wrote ‘Violent Drunken Strangers’. It’s all so believable until he mocks us with “…the next thing I knew, I had woken up in A&E with both eyes missing”.
As with ‘When a Gift is a Curse’ from their previous album ‘Easy Listening’, the song that will be on continual loop for me is ‘A Place Called Home’. Dealing with the paradox of feeling alone in a big city….
“A place called home,
That I can call my own,
Where I can be alone,
Surrounded by millions of strangers”
…the chorus is repeated with female vocals and then the subtle sax intervenes to create the perfect harmony.
The album ends with the account of an ageing punk called ‘Crass Harry’. Harry has had a difficult life dealing with wrongful arrest, being diagnosed with cancer and then rehoused. He has a humorous side claiming to never liking Crass (or the Cockney Rejects for that matter) and he cracks the cancer and just won’t throw in the towel…
“I’m living proof of those who live in hope,
Who’s spirit just won’t get broke”

One of the most underestimated bands of our time? Who knows but I for one hope they keep doing what they’re doing. Their uniqueness is what makes them so appealing and albums like this don’t come around that often anymore.
Title: Interview
Category: Interviews
Date Published: 25/09/2015

“I live here. I have lived here for thirty years,” says Johny Brown. “My band lives here. All my friends are here. I love London. I have committed more than half my life to this city. Why should I be pushed out?”

Yet being “pushed out” is an issue that is afflicting an increasing number of Londoners. As house and rental prices escalate, as the super-rich descend on it and once working class districts are regentrified, more and more native Londoners are being forced out into the provinces, no longer able to afford to live there.

Brown is talking to Pennyblackmusic a few days before its release about his group, the Band of Holy Joy’s nineteenth album, ‘The Land of Holy Joy’, or, to give it its extended title, ‘ A Night of Word and Blood Sparked under Fire and Stars a Petrol Smear the Concrete Tear Fuck Yeah Brutalism Still Dreaming in the Land of Holy Joy’.

His adopted city is the dominant theme of the character-driven ‘The Land of Holy Joy’; its changing terrain and landscape, and how it has got itself into such a catastrophic mess that a large proportion of its occupants are no longer able to stay there. Brown, who has also written several radio and theatre plays, has created a nightmarish, dystopian Ballard-esque vision of the capital city in ‘The Land of Holy Joy’, of child sex rings in high offices and in which teenagers are stabbed to death on buses and refugees are forced into prostitution.

Photograph by Peter Tainsh

Photograph by Peter Tainsh

Yet for all this ‘The Land of Holy Joy’, which has been released on the Edinburgh-based label Stereogram Recordings (The Cathode Ray, Roy Moller, James King and the Lonewolves) is an album about quiet triumph, of finding reasons for carrying on often against huge odds.

On the opening title track, which emerges skittering Ethiopian beats with soaring electronica and guitars, its protagonist, wearying of the city and its sleaze, heads back to nature and out to the countryside. At first he finds it to be equally depressing – the sea is grey with dirt and pollution – but eventually he discovers what he is looking for in a quiet woodland on a starry night (“Oh peace of mind and now begin to see/The man I was and the man I can be”).

The female narrator on the chiming indie pop of ‘Isn’t That Just Life’ has long accepted that the only way she can beat life is by being harder than anything which it throws at her. A tattoo, which she had engrained on her pelvis many years ago, serves for her as a symbol of hope (“A fragile stem topped by a simple blue flower/It has been me with through the darkest of darkening hours”).

The this time male narrator of the funk-ridden post-punk of ’Men Who Display a Different Kind of Pain’ wants to put behind his violent criminal past for his new love. ‘Discredited Art Form’ succeeds the album’s middle and most turbulent track, the discordant ‘Violent Drunken Strangers’, and, setting a spoken word narrative from Brown against a light lounge jazz number, is offbeat and gorily comic, telling of a writer who gets too close to his subject matter (“The next thing I knew I had woken up in A and E with both eyes missing”).

Photograph by Peter Tainsh

Photograph by Peter Tainsh

The last track on the nine-song ‘The Land of Holy Joy’ is ‘I’m Crass Harry’, which finishes in a riotous fusion of guitars, keyboards and saxophone, and tells of it title character, an elderly Londoner and ex-punk, who, despite being abused by a succession of powers – the police, the medical services and the Greater London Council – and winding up in a care home, never loses his spirit or sense of optimism (“I’m living proof of those who live in hope/Whose spirit just won’t get broke”).

First formed in a squat in New Cross in 1984, shortly after Brown moved from his native North Shields to London as a twenty year old, the Band of Holy Joy has seen approximately forty members pass through its ranks over the years of which Brown and drummer William J. Lewington are the sole surviving members. It has, however, become increasingly multimedia-based with the induction of Brown’s long-term girlfriend, the Latvian-born Inga Tillere, into the group, who provides the band’s artwork, on-stage visuals and has directed and filmed all of its promo videos in recent years. The Band of Holy Joy has for the last thirteen years also run a succession of radio programmes on the experimental London-based art station Resonance FM, the latest of which is ‘Bad Punk’.

Photograph by Paul Hudson

Photograph by Paul Hudson

The line-up of the Band of Holy Joy for ‘The Land of Holy Joy’ also consisted, as well as Brown, Lewington and Tillere, of James Stephen Finn (guitars); Mark Beazley (bass) and Peter Smith (saxophones and keyboards).

Pennyblackmusic spoke to Johny Brown, Inga Tillere and long-term guitarist James Stephen Finn about ‘The Land of Holy Joy’.

PB: You were originally going to call the new album ‘Weird Tales’. Why did you decide to change its name to ‘The Land of Holy Joy’?

JB: It seemed more appropriate to the lyrics. The lyrics on the album involve lots of different characters, who are all displaced and trying to find themselves in Britain at this moment in time. The whole album is written from an outsider’s point of view. I have also developed from touring around Britain a love of Brutalist architecture and buildings. The long title, I think, in particular represents all of that.

PB: You create in your lyrics on it a dystopian view of the world. Some might see that as portraying a very pessimistic view of society, yet the main theme of ‘The Land of Holy Joy ‘ seems to be about finding hope against the odds.

JB: Definitely. It is a really optimistic album. The last track ‘Crass Harry’ deliberately ends on a real high for that reason.

PB: Yet Harry goes through hell to reach that high. He is beaten up by the police after being wrongfully arrested, and finds he has got cancer after going for what he thinks is a routine GP appointment. He is then thrown out of his family home of generations, before finally ending up in a care home. Did anyone in particular inspire that story?

JB: It is just a story. It is about an old Londoner who doesn’t really understand what is happening around him. Most of the songs on the album are about people who are hanging onto a London that is changing.

You hear and see stories like that every day in London. I see it at work. I see it through working on the radio station. I see it through my friends. I see it through the prices in my street that have quadrupled since we moved in to this flat in which we live in. You see it all around you and the changes are pretty intense.

PB: Inga, the front cover shows sheep grazing against the backdrop of an apocalyptic-looking city. What inspired you to put that particular image on the front sleeve?
The Land Of Holy Joy 940 x 711
IT: I like to create photomontages of non-existent places and time. Having ‘The Land of Holy Joy’ as a title, similarly to our 2012 album ‘The North is Another Land’, practically invited that sort of approach.

Photography in itself has the ability to freeze time, seen from a particular viewpoint, in certain light, capturing moments often unnoticed by the human eye. Something that happened only for a fracture of a second and will never happen again and to a degree makes you wonder did it ever, blurring the boundaries between the reality and the unreal. I take this arbitrary boundary a step further. The metaphysical landscape appears real enough to evoke narratives referenced in Johny’s lyrics that are very much about the changing landscape that surrounds us now, quite possibly, falling into ruin.

PB: On the back sleeve there is another image with the sheep grazing but this time against the backdrop of a farmhouse at night. Why did you decide to put that image there? Were you trying with these juxtaposing images to show the contrast between the way the world now is and the more tranquil image of the way the world should be and once was?
BOHJ booklet 2 940 x 711
IT: I think it is more about the continuous cycle that exists between urban and rural environments – this simultaneous magnetism and repugnance. Cities encapsulate allure, energy, a promise of one sort or another, a continuous search, a melting pot of ideas… all of which draws people in – even now, despite the ludicrously high living costs, more and more people are flocking to London. And yet, at the same time, increasing numbers are leaving or are driven out, sometimes choosing rural life as an alternative to city living.

Is the romanticized country life better than the glitzy sugar rush afforded by the metropolis? Is one a more natural way of living than the other? Is it ever that simple? Meanwhile the cycle and the dreaming go on.

PB: ‘The Land of Holy Joy’ was recorded in Slowfoot Studios rather than your regular base of One Cat Studios. Why did you decide to shift there, James? What do you think working at Slow Foot brought to the recording?

JSF: Working at One Cat Studios with Jon Clayton, who runs it, has always been a comfortable and productive experience. Jon knows how we work. He’s very quick and has a real good ear for music. This is a band that’s constantly changing though. We’re always wanting to explore new musical ideas, to keep progressing and getting better as musicians. Sometimes adding somebody new into the group can bring along something fresh, another perspective or interpretation of how you could shape your songs. Having worked with Jon on all of our releases since 2011 it interested us to see what Frank Byng, who owns Slow Foot and who co-produced this album, would throw into the pot. It was initially a difficult decision to make as there are so many advantages to working with Jon at One Cat, but it was ultimately scheduling that finalised that decision.

Jon Clayton, however, still had some influence in the making of this record as three of its songs had been previously recorded with him at One Cat Studios. It made the process with Frank Byng all the more quicker as with ‘The Land of Holy Joy’ and ‘A Place Called Home’ we already knew what we wanted from those tracks. ‘Violent Drunken Strangers’ was one that Jon helped to conceive. That was one which came together during our sessions for our 2013 album, ‘City of Tales: Volume 2’. The new band version of that song has developed considerably, but a lot of those original ideas are still there.

Photograph by Paul Hudson

Photograph by Paul Hudson

PB: What do you think Frank Byng brought to the album?

JSF: Frank Byng is really a very patient and hardworking person. It gives you confidence to put your songs in the hands of somebody who cares, likes what you’re doing and really puts in the shifts to ensure quality. Frank seemed to fit really well within the collaborative form that we like our recording sessions to take. Not so much taking control, but working with us, giving honest and critical feedback where necessary and inputting his own creative, and at times conceptual, ideas. These included quite intricate additions, which we particularly love, those little details which happen only once, or subtly, or in specific places or contexts to help to keep things interesting. That input is particularly noticeable when you listen to how the vocals are treated throughout the record. It was definitely a collaborative effort.

PB: The album is listed as having Tim Melia as “executive producer”. What did his role involve?

JSF: Tim Melia has been an extended member of Holy Joy family longer than I’ve been a part of the band. He’s seen it in its various incarnations. While he assisted with the more logistical side of the recording, it was great to have him in the studio for part of the recording process too and to have the opinion and reaction of somebody who’s very familiar the band’s music and history.

I remember one session in particular where we were getting backing vocals down, so the studio was really busy. Tim was there, along with Anne Gilpin and Robert Jessett from Morton Valence, and Simon Rivers from the Bitter Springs. There was a very positive vibe about what we were doing that day which was encouraging. It helps you to keep perspective, getting feedback from people who haven’t spent as much time with those songs as you have and who can add something fresh to the mix. Johny is incredibly good at keeping that energy up in the studio. He always has a vision and the positivity and faith he has in the songs and musicians really motivates some creative performances out of everyone involved.

Photograph by Peter Tainsh

Photograph by Peter Tainsh

PB: Johny, you have changed the lyrics that were on the digital single version of the title track and put in their place different ones for the album. The lyrics on the digital single were darkly funny, finding the narrator trying to escape the grind of the city for the quiet of the country but realising it is all too calm for him and not really what he was looking for at all. On the album, however, he finds a greater “peace of mind” there than in the city. Why did you decide to change the lyrics for the album version?
JB: I just wanted to set the scene and to lay out the terrain for the rest of the album. It is the first song on the album, and I wanted it to set out the landscape and tap into that idea of finding hope where there is hope from the outset.

PB: On ‘Isn’t That Just the Life’ you write from the viewpoint of a woman.

JB: While it is written from a woman’s point of view, it is written from my point of view too. It is about someone realising that it is a tough world, but they are going to have to be tougher. They are not going to lose their sensitivity. They are not going to lose their hopefulness or their softness. They are determined to hang onto that. It is a declaration of sensibility really. I see it again as being hopeful.

PB: Inga, there is a flower on the inside sleeve. Why is that there? Is that to tie in with the opening verse about’ Isn’ t That the Life’ about the flower tattoo?
BOHJ booklet 4 940 x 711
It; It is common knotgrass. The drawing came from a book that was published in 1903 and belonged to my great grandmother. It has a section on diet, exercises, anatomy, herbs and medicinal plants, first aid and illnesses.

The book has this to say about Polygonum aviculare: “It grows in urban yards, on the sidewalks, streets and pavements, and so is often trodden on, however it has excellent healing properties and therefore deserves our recognition.” I rather like that. Sometimes the most neglected, simple things work best. Isn’t that just the life?

PB: ‘Men Who Display a Different Kind of Pain’ ends on a note of uncertainty with “the days of men and blood and ignorance are over/For now.” The man on it has been born to violence and crime, but wants to abandon it for his new girlfriend. Do you think he is ever going to really change?

JB: No. Probably not (Laughs). He is going to try and maybe he is just conning her and himself that he is trying, but his suffering is real. He has done these things because he is not able to articulate himself in this world and he would like to change, but maybe he is just a bit too far set in his ways, but you never know. He is asking for a chance and I think that he should be given a chance at least.

PB: ‘Discredited Art Form’ is about writing. You’re a very prolific writer. You have put out an album a year for the last six years. You have written several plays, yet you seem to be implying with this track that it is very hard work and that you don’t find it easy.

JB: ‘Discredited Art Form’ is a direct comment on ‘Violent Drunken Strangers’, the track that precedes it. It is re-imagining ‘Violent Drunken Strangers’ as a project, as a photo exhibition or a poetry book, and on it the writer is talking about his work and how he has got a bit too close to his subject. It is very tongue-in-cheek.

Photograph by Peter Tainsh

Photograph by Peter Tainsh

PB: You focus a lot on dark themes. Do you ever feel that you sometimes over step boundaries and get too close to your work?

JB: It is hard to say but I don’t think that I do. I feel that I keep a good perspective on what I write. That is not to say that I haven’t in the past when I was younger, but I keep quite a quite a distance on it now. It is a discipline. It is an art.

PB; James, for all its darkness, a lot of the music on ‘The Land of Holy Joy’, however, sounds pretty upbeat such as on the title track. Is it so upbeat and exuberant because you were just trying to tap into that idea of hope against the odds?

JSF: I love that juxtaposition of dark lyrical content against more upbeat music. That theme of hope shining throughout the darkness is prevalent across the entire album, and it is certainly something we ended up tapping into collectively as a band. But it’s also a record about people, about individuals and that’s something that gives you more scope to work with conceptually.

The title track ‘The Land of Holy Joy’ is interesting to me as it’s very much a song that evolved over time. We had been listening to a lot of African music as part of our current Resonance FM radio show ‘Bad Punk’, and especially music from Nigeria and Ethiopia. There were elements that I was trying to work into the music I was writing for the band, particularly in terms of rhythm and scale. That was one of those songs where I was trying to do that, however, I think it has more influence from music of North African countries.

Photograph by Peter Tainsh

Photograph by Peter Tainsh

Lyrically I believe it was a song that developed gradually as we performed it more and more, with Johny editing the words to work more with the music. I think the combination of the African flavours with Johny’s story of exploring this strange land really compliment each other well. I believe it emphasises that tale of somebody on a spiritual journey in a land that seems so foreign to him now.

PB: You share co-writing credits with Johny on much of the album. Did he write the lyrics and then you set the music to it or did it work in another way?

JSF: There is no set way in which we work to write songs. In fact many of the songs on this album came about in a number of ways. Johny is a very prolific writer and is always coming into rehearsals with new lyrical ideas. If I or one of the other members of the band brings in a piece of music to work out between us, Johny will be able to jump in very quickly with something from his book of words which fits musically or conceptually.

An example of this would be ‘I’m Crass Harry’ where I came into rehearsal with an idea of what it would be musically and in terms of arrangement. Johny very quickly had a concept of how his words would work with the music, and it developed quite naturally from there.

‘Isn’t That Just The Life’ is an interesting example of a different sort of process. That started with an arrangement played on bass from Mark which he emailed to the rest of the band. So when we came into rehearsal we all had our parts figured out already, with them all fitting together really well. That one came together very quickly.

I think especially with the songs on this new album it was important taking them into a live situation, to road test them and to see how a crowd would respond to them before all that studio craft and additional horn and string arrangements are used to enhance them further, to see if they stand up well as songs.

Photograph by Paul Hudson

Photograph by Paul Hudson

PB: Mark Beazley from Rothko played bass in the band for about eighteen months. He amicably left the band in May. How much of his bass work features on the album?

JB: Mark plays bass all the way through the album. He co-wrote ‘isn’t That Just the Life’ and he mastered the record. I played a show with Rothko a few nights ago. I joined the band and sung a song with them.

It was too much. He has a full-time job and he also got has also got his own business mastering records and then Rothko reformed. It all came up at once and he begged to leave (Laughs). It was very amicable, and then Howard Jacques came along and took his place. He has fitted in really nicely.

Howard is a sound artist who I have known for years. We both have shows on Resonance. He does a show there called ’Bermuda Triangle Test Transmission Broadcasts’. He is a genius musician and sound man and very, very, very clever.

PB: You have been working on a collection of stories called ‘Field Stories’. When is that liable to come out?

JB: Any day. It is with the publisher in Germany. Inga finished the art work for it about three months ago and we put it in then. They have proof read it and we are just waiting to hear from them when they want to publish it. It should be very soon. The publisher, which is called Moloko Plus, is also a record label, and released ‘The North is Another Land’.

‘Radio Joy’ has 134 pages, and there are fourteen chapters in it. It is basically the story of the radio station, Radio Joy, we used to run and there is a vague story and also seven radio plays in it. It is a diary of the time abroad Radio Joy, which was on air for about three years. It is half fictional, half autobiography and it is a bit twisted and warped (Laughs).

I am also in ‘Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture’, another book that has just been published. We have got ‘Into Outlandia’, a radio play in that, which we did last year in the Highlands. We went up to Fort William for a week, and John Bruce had built a treehouse halfway up a mountain near there which he had called Outlandia and which overlooks Ben Nevis and Glen Nevis.

Resonance took a transmitter and a generator up to Scotland and we set up a radio station in Outlandia for a week. Every day Tam Dean Burn (Scottish actor – Ed) and I did a broadcast and we invited locals in, shepherds and forestry people and politicians.

It was when the Scottish Referendum was taking place, and Outlandia also invited at the same time Resonance was there lots of sound recordists from around Britain, people like Geoff Sample who record bird sounds and Ben Drew who is a really good sound recordist and also poets like Tony White. We interviewed all of them, and they went out in the fields, the woods and lochs and did field recordings which we also broadcast on Resonance.

On the last day I wrote ‘Into Outlandia’, which is very, very loosely about the week’s experience (Laughs). It is about four English musicians, four hipsters from an indie band whose record label in London has said, “Look, indie music is out of fashion, and you have got to grow some beards and get folky and come to Scotland to do a folk record,” and they come across this local legend in the Ben Nevis Inn and they steal that for a song, but the song and the legend inhabits and eventually possesses them. Tam read it straight off on air as soon as I had written it, and James did a live soundtrack for it.

As well as ‘Into Outlandia’, ‘Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture’ features other articles and photographs from the other people who were there that week.

PB: Finally what other plans do you have for the future?

JB: We just want to keep going. What we are aiming for is just a really good body of work. If we can release two artifacts a year and gig solidly, then that is enough. We have carved out some ground for ourselves and we have earned for ourselves that ground.

You have a bunch of musicians who like each other and who get on with each other and. while it can be hard work keeping the band together, that thing of getting six people in a room together and trading off ideas with each other you can’t beat it really.

PB: Thank you.

Is This Music Logo
By GUS IRONSIDE • Sep 27th, 2015 • Category: Long Players

Breath-taking state-of-the-nation exposition by one of the most enigmatic bands of the 80s.

Unflinching in its exploration of areas of British life we’d sometimes rather not dwell upon, the 19th(!) album by Band ofHoly Joy finds London-exiled Geordie Johny Brown and his cadre scaling new heights. What makes ‘Land of Holy Joy’ (to give it its abridged title) so vital, endearing and, yes, important, is its exquisite tenderness.

The album has a flow and sense of purpose that brings to mind Love’s ‘Forever Changes’, while its anima and animus nature- brutal tales from the streets rendered with profound humanity- recalls the crowning glory of Lou Reed’s solo career, 1978’s ‘Street Hassle’.

At the time of writing, an extraordinary Grand Guignol scene is being played out in the UK media, as a potential future Prime Minister is being pilloried for the crime of advocating a kinder, gentler world, a proposition so offensive and destructive, we are told, that the full might of the media and political establishment will be deployed to stop it. Feudal society has not been consigned to the past, it would appear. It is this tension between fragile hope and bludgeoning oppression which forms the battleground on which ‘Land of Holy Joy’ plays out.

Some reviewers have drawn comparisons with currently hip duo Sleaford Mods, but there are no polemics here, no lazy finger-pointing or pat answers. Like Reed and his slyly subversive antecedent, Chuck Berry, Brown seeks insight through clear-eyed depiction, the underlying truth emerging unforced.

Brown’s vocal style exists within its own frame of reference. Always an idiosyncratic stylist, he flits between spoken sections and a wilful croon, his warm North-East brogue unimpaired by decades of London living. Brown carves out his own, natural style that is well suited to the quirky, questing nature of his group.

Musically, the earthy punk-funk of ESG is apparent in a wonderfully soulful rhythm section, while the guitars recall Johnny Marr in his pomp. This has drawn comparisons with The Smiths, but ‘Land of Holy Joy’ is more adventurous musically than anything the Mancunian janglers recorded, while Brown’s humane, intelligent lyrics are far removed from the arrested adolescence petulance of Morrissey.
isn't that just the life artwork 940 x 940
Lead single ‘Isn’t That Just the Life’ features some beautiful lines, with Brown singing from a first person female perspective: “The tattoo on my pelvic bone is fading, fifteen years displayed on the palest skin. A fragile stem topped by a simple blue flower. It has been with me through darkest of darkening hours.” There’s even a hint of Pablo Neruda in the touching line, “I’ll trade all of my joy for some of your sorrows.”

In one of the key themes of the album, Brown explores what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman in the alienating world we now find ourselves in, delving particularly deep into the darker side of masculinity. ‘Men Who Display a Different Kind of Pain’ could easily be a song title from Jackie Leven’s ‘Fairy Tales for Hard Men’ and indeed Brown is in similar territory here. “Something inside of me works best when it is fuelled by hatred”, he sings, over an irresistible musical back-drop that melds Southern and Northern Soul, the guitars conjuring flashes of Steve Cropper and Wilko Johnson.

‘Violent Drunken Strangers’ is the centre-piece track, a journey into the heart of darkness as Brown documents the human consequences of sex trafficking in unflinching detail: “First you have your name battered out of you, forced out on the game, beaten black and blue”. It’s a gut-wrenchingly powerful song that addresses one aspect of the monstrous misogyny of the current age. There is little hope beyond broken wistfulness in the concluding lines: “Oh for a smile from someone I know; oh tonight if I could just go out dancing.”

‘Discredited Art Form’ follows, Brown self-analysing as he details the process by which he embarked on such a potentially prurient subject: “The work came from need, but it was a need that was distorted by total subjectivity” he surmises, before spinning his peek-behind-the-curtain dissection into a self-mocking denouement in an A&E ward.

Perhaps Brown is continuing to playfully project his own fears in the final track, ‘I’m Crass Harry’, a rum tale of an ageing punk who endures a series of misfortunes before ending up in a “residential support home”. As the album approaches its conclusion, the song’s protagonist ponders the limitations brought about by the ageing process: “the mind still flies but the flesh isn’t able” he muses, but Harry hasn’t thrown in the towel yet. “I’m living proof of those who live in hope, whose spirit just won’t get broke”, he declares, as the song accelerates into a punky-reggae finale.

A sense of liberation surges forth as Brown evokes Iggy in his finest hour: “Saturday night, I feel alright, I feel alright, I feel alright…” Continuing a thread from earlier songs, the simple joy and abandon of dancing and cutting loose on the weekend is a salvation of sorts here.

Some people like to tell you that no-one is making classic albums anymore. There are even some evil mothers who’ll tell you that life is just dirt. Johny Brown and his comrades know differently; here’s the evidence.

Blaue Rosen
BAND OF HOLY JOY – THE LAND OF HOLY JOY Album review.Posted: 23rd September 2015 by BLAUE-ROSEN in Album reviews

1. The Land Of Holy Joy/2.Isn’t That Just The Life/3. All The Girls Are Wearing Desert Boots Of Pale And Subtle Shade/4. Men Who Display A Different Kind Of Pain/5. Violent Drunken Strangers/6.Discredited Art From/7. A Good Close Friend/8. A Place Called Home/ 9. I’m Crass Harry

‘A Night Of Word And Blood Sparked Under Fire And Stars A Petrol Smear The Concrete Tear Fuck Yeah Brutalism Still Dreaming In The Land Of Holy Joy’ ( or ‘The Land Of Holy Joy‘for short) is the title of the new brainchild of Band Of Holy Joy following the release of ‘Easy Listening’ in 2014 and the mini album ‘The North Is Another Land’ before that.I have to admit that one should be extremely cautious when talking about a favourite band as Band Of Holy Joy is to me. I will not start elaborating on how easy it is to be objective in such a case. I will admit though, that being able to distance oneself from a positive predisposition towards someone or something, is an interesting exercise for the brain. I have seen Band of Holy Joy perform live a few times lately in London, the city which is the base of this band as it is here that they were formed in 1983. That was the year that the band self released the album called ‘Favourite Fairytales For Juvenile Delinquents’ in cassette format.18 albums and 32 years later Band Of Holy Joy offer one more memorable album to their loyal audience.If we perceive the music of Band Of Holy Joy as a giant puzzle with a million pieces, then each album and each performance of this band since 1983 adds one more piece to this puzzle. This is not a puzzle with one central scene but one which only makes sense once it is finished just like the paintings of the Cubists which can only be perceived from a distance and only when they are finished!The band’s split in 1992 and its reformation in 2002 culminated in the release of the album ‘Paramour‘ in 2010 through the band’s own label, Radio Joy. This album marked a radical, conscious and intentional shift in the music of the band and its influences making a homage to the songwriters of New York during the 1960s. However one thing withstood the passage of time. The timely and always socially sensitive nature of the stories that the band is narrating through the songs. In every album since 1983 either by embracing punk either by alluding to the english folk music tradition, Band Of Holy Joy manages to simulate, the feeling of someone who stares at an empty carousel with its lights open and the music still on; a feeling of great hopelessness and endless optimism. Drawing inspiration from and finding similarities between our reality and the stories of William Burroughs, Bertolt Brecht and Guillaume Apollinaire, the Band of Holy Joy manages to stress the lyrical, the violent, the sarcastic, the cynical and the hopeful aspects of our lives and delineate the image of a carefree child who plays with his/her toys oblivious to the complexities and the sadness of life.

“We always try to work from a position of chaos and despair to one of harmony and balance. And if we manage to get there, we then do our best to work our way back, from the position of harmony and balance to one of chaos and despair. We get to stop at many weird stations along the way…One thing is for sure and something we were SO conscious of, is that we wanted to be rid of the old Holy Joy sound, the big band sound, I mean we were had with it. We were after something much more personal and intimate. A whisper to break a curse is what we were after…”(excerpt from an interview with Johny Brown for the webzine

The themes of this album

”All the girls in town wear desert boots of pale and subtle shades…all the buggers on the street know the value of what you give…but life can be more than cruelty, property, money, fashion and sports…” (lyrics from the song: ‘All The Girls Are Wearing Desert Boots Of Pale And Subtle Shade‘)

The sparks of inspiration for the urban melancholic stories that Band of Holy Joy is narrating, are found in observations on the reality of life in the mega city of London. Although London and its alternating, resonating frequency can be identified as the primary source of inspiration for the lyrics, the music and the performance give a wider appeal to the story, expanding their ideas and concerns to audiences all around the modern world. The band filters a myriad of elements from everyday circumstances and draws our attention to some details that are treated poetically and others that are presented with theatricality in order to make us think about them in our own invigorating ways. Our attention is focused on urban characters that we otherwise ‘meet’ every day on the street but we might have never put their behavior in a wider perspective.As always the lyrics of the songs mask cleverly existential questions.

“…I’ll trade all of my joy for some of your sorrow. I am a sensitive girl but I’m tougher than you…“ (lyrics from the song: ‘Isn’t That Just The Life‘)

The video that accompanies the song entitled ‘Isn’t That Just The Life’ is illuminating on what concerns some of the wider ideas that are present in this album. Against the backdrop of the glass towers of London, the cranes and the fast motorways that characterize movement in and out of big cities, we see Johny Brown in front of a colourful graffiti holding the book ‘The Haight Ashbury- A History’ by Charles Perry, while he sings ‘Isn’t that Just the Life’. This book, having as a starting point the city of San Francisco in the late 1960s, deals with the positive impact of a cultural revolution to people’s thinking. The following phrase that appears towards the end of this video alludes to the dystopian future of the big cities should they continue to grow and control without limit our fears and our desires.

‘The inhabitants drifted away leaving the town to collapse into ruins’

An album that looks back in order to inspire the thinking of today

‘The Land Of Holy Joy‘ is a calmer album compared to ‘Easy Listening’ in terms of how the songs are being performed.The common element with the previous album is conceptual and relates with the verse in “…the City is a bitch…” that Johny Brown was singing in ‘I have Travelled The Buses Late At Night’. Architects and urban planners have been preoccupied for centuries with the notion that a city is a very complex and mysterious organism who presents multiple problems to its inhabitants. The question of whether it is the size of the city or its political purpose that makes life in it difficult, has also concerned writers of fiction novels throughout the ages. I find that through the stories of this album we are presented with a more comprehensible and realistic view of the same idea.

In ‘The Land Of Holy Joy’ backing vocals are less prominent than in the previous album and it seems that with the exception of ‘Violent Drunken Strangers’, ‘A Good Close Friend‘ and ‘I’m Crass Harry‘, the rather confrontational, almost protesting performing style has been replaced by a more lyrical performance that brings to mind the calmness of Joan Baez. The inclusion of a recurring oriental sound inspired by eastern music after 23 seconds, in the very first song ‘The Land Of Holy Joy‘ and the narrating performing style of the lyrics (found again in ‘Discredited Artform‘) mark the different character of this album compared to the previous one. This song, together with ‘A Place Called Home‘, has been included in the setlists of the band for quite some time and we have been lucky to preview them accompanied by captivating visuals (courtesy of Inga Tillere) in live performances before the release of this album.We notice similar influences from eastern music in the theme of ‘Men Conditioned’. I liked the role of the trombone in ‘Isn’t That Just The Life’ and the juxtaposition with the synth samples between 2.20-2.30 within the song. Similar samples can be heard in ‘Men Conditioned’ after 30 seconds and at the end and I think that these samples bring with them something from the fascination of krautrock and the exploration of space that characterized life in the late 1960s.

“…I am deriving through the land of holy joy to find utopia once again…” (lyrics from the song: ‘The Land Of Holy Joy‘)
The Land Of Holy Joy 540 x 540
This album is mostly based on the electric guitar and the bass as the rhythms bring with them something from the music of TV commercials and the music found in the movies of the 1960s (after 2.40 minutes in ‘Discredited Artform’, at the theme of ‘A Good Close Friend’, at the theme and the style of the backing vocals in ‘A Place Called Home’). The violin and the trombone in ‘All The Girls Are Wearing Desert Boots’ together with the rhythm which is being played in ‘Men Conditioned’, replicate the melancholy that accompanied the abundance of opportunities, technologies and goods that saw the light in modern world during the 1960s. Jazz music seems to have inspired the band (notice the rhythm of the bass in ‘Violent Drunken Strangers’) that makes space for heavier guitar playing at my favorite song (i.e. ‘A Good Close Friend’) from this album.I particularly liked the rhythmic and stylistic changes, the melodies and lyrics in this song.

“Cleaner air, spectacular views, with the things down there that happen on the news. A living lifestyle close to the heart of the city…A place called home, that I can call my own where I can be alone, surrounded by millions of strangers.Creator of flexible workspace, nothing here to worry me, space to relax, energy efficient. Can I be a part of this?…From a native to a hipster I say to you ‘Son, take pride in the things you do.Never run. Don’t be casual in the things you throw away…And it’s not where you’re going and where you’re from that matters around these parts.Nothing beats a pure and loving heart…” (lyrics from the song: ‘ A Place Called Home‘).

I don’t think there is anyone who will not be touched and will not feel that the lyrics of ‘A Place Called Home’ refer to him/her. With soothing melodies Johny Brown brings to us all the sadness and the detachment experienced by everyone in the big cities where things matter only when they can make the headlines on the news and desires are only met if they are aligned with big economic/political profits. The verse ‘…don’t be casual in the things you throw away…’ has become my new motto from the moment I heard this song. Try not to be emotional and you will be restricting your feelings to no avail. I have always believed that one can’t really understand anything about a band before seeing them perform live. Johny Brown is an emotionally generous performer who makes a confession from the heart when he sings. It is the quality of being direct and sincere while performing, that heightens and deeply communicates the meaning of every word of the lyrics to the audience. While listening to this album I recalled the live performance of some of its songs and their impact was amplified immediately. The album finishes with the song called ‘Crass Harry‘, a story about a character that faces social inequality in so many levels yet he still retains his sense of humor that cracks bones and makes him and everyone else around him, wiser by each minute of interaction as he shouts that he ‘feels alright’ as it is ‘Saturday night’.

“…the woman from the council arrived at my door. She said they would relocate me I’d be gone in the moor.Said ‘I wanted to die in this place I was born…She said ‘Harry you haven’t got a choice. You never even had a voice.They would lock me away I would be forced to stay I would always laugh and crack a joke we’ll see whose spirit gets broke… “

I tip my hat to you Band Of Holy Joy as I feel enlightened and optimistic after listening to this album. I find that the concept of using references from the 60s in order to draw attention to burning contemporary issues manages to emphasize excessively both the positive and the saddest elements of our lives. After listening to these lyrics, we can only contemplate on them in various creative ways.

….Don’t be casual in the things you throw away…

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BAND OF HOLY JOY: THE LAND OF HOLY JOY (Stereogram) CD/DL – 9/10 album review. Written by GLENN AIREY. Posted 13 September, 2015

More bittersweet tales of hope and humanity from Band Of Holy Joy on their nineteenth long player. Glenn Airey likes the lay of the land.

The need to make human connections in a life we didn’t ask for, in an indifferent and often hostile world. It’s always been at the heart of storytelling, across the disciplines. Filmmaker Mike Leigh, for example, nailed it in his mid-period pomp with classics like High Hopes and Naked. Consider, in a novel, how much more vivid and affecting is the portrayal of a character who’s been tested by circumstances we’d rather not contemplate ourselves: in Trainspotting, perhaps, or Love On The Dole. When it comes to music, nobody engages with these weighty themes to greater effect than the Band Of Holy Joy. And don’t ask me how they keep doing it, but their new album The Land Of Holy Joy arguably represents a new benchmark even for them in their search for warmth in the wilderness.

Lyricist Johny Brown displays the same instinct for empathy and eye for detail that have characterised his work since the 1980s. Just as importantly, he continues to capture that unquenchable urge to live, love and laugh that has motivated the inhabitants of his songs since those early days. Perhaps what makes this new collection so especially coherent, powerful and at times intensely cathartic, though, is the very climate in which we find ourselves listening to it: the same climate, broadly speaking, in which Brown’s stories unfold as, ever the contemporary chronicler, he leads us on a sightseeing tour around Cameron’s Britain.

For sightseeing, you might wish to substitute eye opening. And for Britain, you can generally substitute Brown’s adopted London, or any other anonymising urban vortex of your preference. As we are not allowed to forget in the anthemic title track, there is ‘no escape from sleaze and scandal in the provinces’ where ‘gangs of men prey on children in care.’ The Land of Holy Joy is 2015, and 2015 is a cold and cruel place, I’m afraid. Its barren social and political landscape, it seems to me, is one reason why this album hits so hard. There has never been a greater disparity between the harshness of the settings of the songs, ultimately the same settings in which we will listen to them, and the beauty of the redemption we hope to find alongside their protagonists.

In lesser hands, a song like Land of Holy Joy could amount merely to an exercise in protest sarcasm. Not for Brown, though. Counterpointed with his despair at the tawdry sex offenders and fraudsters is a fierce determination to search out “proper people” and rediscover the good times, and himself:

“toxins coursing through my veins…
coughing dancing in the lanes…
to find Utopia once again.’

Crucially, this isn’t the last time on the record that dancing will be equated lyrically to absolute freedom. It’s hardly the first time it’s been done in popular music, of course – I’d rather like a pound for every time it has – but it’s the recurrence of this idea at three points in particular, perfectly spaced and perfectly judged, that help to give the album a structure and an elegance potentially to outstrip even its illustrious predecessors.

Musically, Johny’s progress through town and country on the opener is soundtracked with an eastern flourish that suits its theme of spiritual restlessness. Lead single Isn’t That Just The Life, on the other hand, bounces by on a melody that’s not too far removed from one of the Cure’s poppier moments, of all things. Brown adopts a female persona to report on grave subject matter including the exploitation of disabled workers, a stabbed teenager and a “McCann troll found dead in a hotel room.” None of this, however, can crush the spirit of this apparently “sensitive girl”:

“some nights I break, I admit,
I just walk and I cry,
but I’m going to change this world before I die.”

In terms of the Band Of Holy Joy catalogue, this is an album that sits towards the musically and lyrically direct end of the scale, as was its immediate predecessor Easy Listening, (Louder Than War review here) in fact. The band’s performances are sensitive rather than showy, and beautifully recorded. The marvellously titled All The Girls Are Wearing Desert Boots Of Pale And Subtle Shade builds slowly to a rousing, horn-led crescendo after Brown angrily delivers one of his classic pay-off lines: ‘life can be more than cruelty, property, money, fashion and sport.’ Men Who Show A Different Kind Of Pain (titles are a strong point, as you can see) concerns a world-weary central character attempting to come to terms with a horrific criminal past. Brown is a writer rather than a judge, and it’s because he knows the difference that he’s a great one. Incidentally, the band here expertly delivers a more refined variant of what I seem to remember we would once refer to as punk-funk.

Up next is a real set piece track, Violent Drunken Strangers. It’s a pretty astonishing glimpse into the worlds of people-trafficking and forced prostitution. “Sordid vicious world, violent drunken strangers” would make for a darkly humorous chorus, if the surrounding verses weren’t so harrowing. The emotional knockout, though, is saved for last. “I just want to go out dancing!” cries our abused, exhausted victim, and right on cue the horns and guitars kick in with a Balearic tinged coda which transforms the mood so completely that we can believe, for a second, our friend has found well deserved salvation at last. It’s a remarkable moment. But we’re soon brought back down to earth. In the follow up, Discredited Art Form, Johny breaks through the fourth wall and lets us in on some of the secrets of his approach to narrative song writing, and to Vicious Drunken Strangers in particular. Much like Gales Doc on the last Nightingales album, it’s a self referencing and to some extent self deprecating interlude, albeit rather heavier on the psychodrama, and fictionalised, I hope, given the gory punchline.

A Good Close Friend starts with a couplet that could serve as a Holy Joy manifesto: “we look for moments of tenderness and humanity, to shine through the dark moments.” “Now my heart is hollowed out, my soul is knocked about,” proclaims the chorus, but “hope is on the way.” Hope, potentially, is always on the way in the Land Of Holy Joy. It’s such a priceless thing, we’re lucky to have a band and a writer capable of handling it so adeptly. Next up is A Place Called Home, exploring the paradox of modern living in a huge city “where I can be alone, surrounded by millions of strangers.” The newcomer’s early optimism about “cleaner air, spectacular views” is eroded later, during a sobering encounter with a native: “if you tire of my beery platitudes, I can just as soon switch to some bad attitudes.”

Finally we come to I’m Crass Harry, a superb portrait of a former punk who suffers police harassment, a cancer diagnosis and forced re-housing in the space of three verses. We’ve all had those bad days. Fortunately, Harry is made of strong stuff and refuses to buckle. To a rootsy, Rutsy reggae backing, he puzzles over his nickname, explaining mischievously ‘I never liked Crass. Was it because I was working class?’ Clearly a man of taste, he points out that he always preferred Subway Sect. The reggae suddenly gives way to rabble rousing punk rock chords and Harry is transported back to his youth, the 100 Club in 1976 perhaps, pogoing beneath the lights on a Saturday night. A third and final glorious, cathartic moment of release on a record that refuses to let us give up hope. Aye, 2015, the Land Of Holy Joy, can be a cold, cruel place. But it can also be a magical one, with beauty, generosity and heroism not so very far away, right under our noses in fact. Every now and then a record like this one comes along, just by way of a reminder.
The Ringmaster Review
This past year, two singles from Band Of Holy Joy have sparked expectations of something special from their new album The Land Of Holy Joy, simply because of their own enthralling quality. Fair to say the UK band’s new release not only lives up to hopes and assumptions but leaves them looking rather inadequate. The nine track adventure of urban folk and indie rock is a blaze of ear thrilling and imagination igniting tracks ripe with unpredictable invention and the social commentary and honesty we have come to expect from the London band. Admittedly over their three decades of undeniably helping shape the British indie scene, we have not had the pleasure of devouring all of their eighteen previous albums here but of the fair few we have, Band Of Holy Joy have definitely eclipsed all with their finest moment in The Land Of Holy Joy.

The album gets off to a stunning flyer with its title track, the opener an instantly bewitching enticing of off-kilter guitar melodies from James Stephen Finn. Their discord lined twang has ears alert, whilst a swift healthy appetite licks its lips almost as quickly after as an exotic seducing from Peter Smith’s keys, matched by the flirtation cast by the bass of Howard Jacques, dances with the imagination. Like Eastern sent cosmopolitan sunshine over harsh realities hinted at by the plainer, distinctive tone of vocalist Johny Brown, the track is sensational; a provocative soundtrack perfect for the crisis felt right now by thousands upon thousands of people and Europe.

The outstanding beginning continues with the band’s last single Isn’t That Just The Life. The song enthrals like a sixties kitchen sink drama with, still for these ears, a female centred alternative to The Smith’s This Charming Man. With wistful keys, flames of sax from Smith, and great dourly resourceful harmonies, the song is an expressive croon with a swinging canter to its shadowed wrapped but surprisingly warm body, and also irresistible.
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Street bred melancholy lines the following All The Girls Are Wearing Desert Boots Of Pale And Subtle Shade. It is a track which from its initial potent and gentle embrace of sombre air and emotion lifts in energy through emotive brass textures and an increasingly rousing incitement thrown by the craft of drummer William Lewington. Maybe a slow burner compared to its predecessors, the track easily has ears and thoughts hooked before making way for the funky carnival-esque theatre of Men Who Display A Different Kind Of Pain. Keys drizzle temptation and festival like drama over the senses in league with a similarly thick and colourful enticing from the guitar, whilst Brown adds rich vocal and lyrical openness in his ever pleasing mix of raw crooning and spoken narrative. More inventive and compelling with every passing minute and certainly each listen, the song is revelry of sound and honest drama coated with eighties warmth.

Another album pinnacle arrives with the brilliant Violent Drunken Strangers. Its entrance sees skipping beats aligning with a moodily captivating bassline and sultry tendrils of guitar which just seep into the psyche as Brown again varies his delivery to fine and impacting effect. The post punk like stroll and tone of the track is delicious, as too the emerging eighties funk kissed guitar and a vocal union which just ignites the passions. There are essences of bands like Bauhaus in atmosphere, Josef K in guitar jangle, and Original Mirrors to its lively revelry, and along with the title track, the song steals the show though great times simply continue as first the reflective melodic caress of Discredited Art Form cups ears and thoughts and straight after, A Good Close Friend offers its own elegant seduction and tenacious sixties fired enterprise up for eager attention. Both songs provide thoroughly enjoyable proposals whilst stirring thoughts, the second eclipsing the first but only by a spicy whiff of keys and one lively step.

A Place Called Home is another track which smoulders in ears and thoughts rather than quickly stirs them but with superb harmonies between Brown and a female vocalist, and a brass breeze which as the song has a shade of The Walker Brothers to it, lingering persuasion is the ultimate and successful result.

Closing with I’m Crass Harry, a bluesy look at a character which never gives up the fight despite enduring a constant tide of adversity, the album ends with a mighty finale. Merging spices found in the likes of reggae, punk, jazz, and other absorbing flavours into its musical tapestry around that tale of defiance, the song is Band Of Holy Joy at their best, what creatively they are and have always been about and another slice of proof as to why we say The Land Of Holy Joy is their greatest moment yet.

The Land Of Holy Joy is out now digitally and on CD via Stereogram Recordings and the Band Of Holy Joy Bandcamp.
Narc Magazine logo

For three decades now, Johny Brown has managed to find beauty and poetry in the most unlikely places, beautifully articulating careworn lives in a manner that has few peers. But on this wonderful new album (A Night of Word And Blood Sparked Under Fire And Stars A Petrol Smear The Concrete Tear Fuck Yeah Brutalism Still Dreaming In The Land Of Holy Joy, to give it its full Thee Silver Mt Zion-esque title), even Brown is sounding worn out and worn down as Austerity Britain chips away at what remains of the working class hope and dignity he cherishes. The nation Brown is describing here isn’t a million miles from the squalid, hopeless wastelands of Sleaford Mods.
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Take the opening, title track: oddly reminiscent in scope and sound of The Specials’ Ghost Town, the song is a state of the nation summary by a man desperate “to find Utopia once again” in a land of child abuse, hatred and fear, Brown ‘conniving through the land of holy joy, toxins coursing through my veins’. Violent Drunken Strangers speaks of a sordid vicious world, of beatings and loneliness, Brown’s final, desperate “if only I could just go out dancing” eerily reminiscent of Terry Hall’s “does anybody know any jokes?” from the end of the Fun Boy Three’s similarly bleak (The More That I See) The Less I Believe.

The male psyche is examined on Men Who Display A Different Kind Of Pain, where the lives of hard, bitter, broken men are laid bare, where “the only things that make life worth living are the things that kill.” The album is full of characters like indomitable old punk Crass Harry, and even Brown himself appears, questioning his own efforts in the reflective sprechgesang of Discredited Art Form. Everything is passionate and terrible and honest and raw. To pinpoint the occasional lyric as being a little clunky or awkward misses the point: this is frontline poetic reportage from a man calling it as he sees it. As always, it’s Brown’s vision and humanity that shines through even the album’s darkest moments. But Band Of Holy Joy are more than just Brown’s words and voice – the music on this album is tremendous, slipping from tense funk rhythms to perfect, northern soul-inflected indiepop, with brass and string arrangements that are often fantastically at odds with the songs’ subject matter.

Ultimately, it’s second track Isn’t That Just The Life? that is this album’s heart. Musically, it’s up there with the very best the band have recorded – four minutes of pure summer melancholy, a radio hit in a more sensible world, a fluid, bouncy bassline and an indie disco shimmer. But it’s the lyrics that hit hardest as Brown perfectly inhabits the role of “a sensitive girl – but tougher than you.” As he / she reels off a litany of awfulness – suicide mothers, stabbed teenagers – there’s nonetheless a refusal to give in, a determination to keep hoping despite the odds. Near the end of the song is a couplet that not only serves, perhaps, as a summary of Brown’s entire worldview but has also reduced me to tears on public transport on several occasions.

Listen to this album, I implore you, it might have the same effect on you:

“Some nights I break, I admit, I just walk and cry, but I’m going to change this world before I die.”
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17 September 2015 by CHUCK FOSTER
London, England’s unsung urban folk heroes, Band of Holy Joy, return with yet another instant post-punk classic that focuses on their unique style of storytelling.

More than a mere collection of songs, The Land of Holy Joy comes across as a rock-opera set in the ultra-gentrified city the band still calls home. Here, the bass-driven, dub-infused attack of the opening title track and “Violent Drunken Strangers” gently melds with Smiths-inspired anthems like “Isn’t That Just Life” and “A Good Close Friend” to depict a scene on any given neighborhood block, all brought to life by Johny Brown’s passionate, poetic vocals. Old punks walk past failed artists without ever stopping to say hello, unnoticed by the oblivious boys and girls now dominating the sidewalk. The community that once thrived on diversity is now overrun by apathetic technocrats who think liking a status makes them worldly. It’s a snapshot of reality that unfolds into a play as everybody in the photo steps forward to tell their story, only retreating to let the next character state their case.

As musicians, Band of Holy Joy consciously bridge the gap between music and drama while creating a solid album. Close your eyes and visualize the setting, then realize it’s right outside your front door.
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Last year’s Easy Listening album saw a reborn Band Of Holy Joy at the top of their game three decades into their occasionally faltering career, with frontman Johny Brown rediscovering his love of songcraft and melody to fantastic effect. And despite an apparently tricky gestation, the new Holy Joy album – usually referred to as The Land Of Holy Joy, although its full title is of Thee Silver Mt Zion-level length and grandeur – is even better; Brown’s humanity, sincerity and urban romance pouring forth from his lyrics with the band sounding by turn soulful, enthused and angry. Released on Stereogram Records on 21st September, the album is being promoted by a handful of gigs in Scotland and the North East, the first of which sees them support Tyneside-born Brown’s teen punk idols Penetration at Stockton’s Georgian Theatre on Friday 18th September, with a headlining show at Middlesbrough’s Westgarth Social Club the following night. The lead single from the album, Isn’t This Just The Life? – a heart wrenching, soul inflected gem featuring Anne Gilpin of Morton Valence – is out now.

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ORGAN: The Band Of Holy Joy, a fine new album and a sound for right now…
Posted on September 8, 2015
ALBUM REVIEW: THE BAND OF HOLY JOY – The Land of Holy Joy (Stereogram)

The sound is indeed one of holy joy, well joy anyway (never really got holy). The sound The Band of Holy Joy make is as fine as a well made cup of proper tea, as inviting as a piece of hot buttered toast in the middle of the ruins and the broken bits (and the girls in well fitting desert boots). The Band of Holy Joy are not hard men or tough men, they’re a band who go slightly against the grain, they’re a classic English indie band from back there when, despite all, the future still held hope, that time and place of The Smiths, of The Wedding Present, of days of forward thinking, of love (and blissful ignorance), of days when it was about a little more than just survival.

The sound of Holy joy is a glorious one and this new album, their nineteenth, is sounding as fine as anything the long-standing band have made. This sounds just right, or is it just that their time is actually now? Have the Band of Holy Joy found their ground in this sordid vicious world? Found themselves in the ruins of gentrification, or displacement? An almost hopeful sound, a sound almost at odds with the violent gritty allure? Not really beginning, is there an end? Woken up in accident and emergency ward with all eyes working? Heart hollowed out, hope is on the way. This is a dignified album, a gloriously good album, we can see what they’re made of now – where you’re from is what matters around these parts, that and just maybe where you’re going? That North Eastern familiarity of Johny Brown’s voice – a sound called home, a familiar set of sounds in a city surrounded by millions of strangers. There’s something uplifting, something reassuring, something just right about the Sound of Holy Joy, about The Band of Holy Joy – a band to invest in, to age with, a graceful band, songs of character, songs of characters. I’m Crass Harry – he never liked the Cockney Rejects by the way, more the Subway Sect – they feel alright, this feels alright, I feel alright, gracefully disgracefully growing old and nowhere near ready to be moved out and shipped off to sheltered housing yet, a band more relevant now than ever. A sensitive band, tougher than you, isn’t that just the life? Fractured words from various places, gone today, still here tomorrow, tougher than you, sensitive band, isn’t that just the life?

“Johny’s visions lay deeply rooted in the modern-day London and all it didn’t have to offer”.

This is the ever shifting band’s nineteenth album, they’ve been around in various forms since 1984, this new album is as fine as anything the band have done, an album that flows, a gem or two waiting to be unearthed, a strong body of work. The sound of last century indie more relevant then ever, a band as fine as ever, the sound of a displaced capital city, a sound almost reassuring here as we wait for the knock to tell us out time is up and this place is no longer for the likes if us. I like the sound of Holy Joy, I like it rather a lot, I like the land of holy joy, I rather like The Land of Holy Joy, a rather recommended album, the proper sound of proper indie, more relevant than ever (SW)

The Land of Holy Joy is the new album from The Band of Holy Joy, it comes out on Stereogram Recordings on September 21st as both a CD and a download album.

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LOUDER THAN WAR – “Easy Listening” – 9/10 album review. Posted on February 17, 2014 by GLENN AIREY
New Cross stalwarts add yet another glorious album to their wise and wonderful body of work. Glenn Airey spots an early album-of-the-year contender.

It’s become something of a tradition for Band of Holy Joy to release my favourite album of any given year. Alright, they might not take the actual number one spot every single time but, like Manchester United in the glory days of Alex Ferguson, anyone who manages to finish above them is going to win the title. This new release, however, proves that unlike Moyes’ boys, BOHJ have no intention of letting their standards slip. It’s only February but I can already tell you that they’re in no danger of a mid-table finish with a squad of songs this strong.

Easy Listening is the band’s eighteenth long-player, all told. In a thirty-year career that’s reignited three or four times, what’s immediately striking is the regularity with which they’ve hit new high points. They may have seemed to peak in the late 1980s with the classic Manic, Magic, Majestic, or even in 2002 with the glorious Love Never Fails – if you’re a fan then you’ll no doubt have your own favourites. For me, it’s hard to beat the more recent run of Paramour, How to Kill a Butterfly and The North is Another Land, all of which topped the chart in my heart, come prize-giving time.

Last year’s more experimental cassette release City of Tales: Volumes 1 & 2 was astonishing, too, but was pipped at the post for me, with the great Steve Mason playing the part of Arsene Wenger/Jose Mourinho/Roberto Mancini [delete according to preference].
Anyway, enough of the spurious football metaphors. What’s the new album like? Well, the title does make some sense. Compared to the often abrasive sounds and harrowing narratives of City of Tales, most things would qualify as Easy Listening. But don’t worry; this is still BOHJ at their unsettling best. The music, as ever, is enough to make your heart soar. The strings, the piano, the horns and those whipcrack drums all combine to propel singer Johny Brown on to an ever more passionate recounting of his extraordinary, everyday stories. It’s the earthbound details of these narratives that, in proper social-realist tradition, serve to anchor the record, should the undeniably beautiful backing tracks ever tempt us into escapism.

Never is this clearer than in There Was a Fall/The Fall, a grimly medical account of the tumble in question, set to a thrilling freeform accompaniment. I Have Travelled the Buses Late at Night is a classic Holy Joy after-dark vignette, laying bare the class struggle in heartbreakingly human, rather than theoretical, terms. It’s stirring, evocative, and up there with their very best recordings. Voyage and Disease, Luck and Mystery (another wonderfully all-encompassing BOHJ title) centres around a sing-along chorus that’s defiantly unapologetic about its characters’ drug use. When a Gift is a Curse concerns the notion of destructive talent, with George Best taking a lead role. These song-stories are rarely judgmental. Band of Holy Joy know that only amoral art can be truly moral.

There are eight tracks in all, each one a valuable contribution to a catalogue that continues to grow richer on Band of Holy Joy’s seemingly inexhaustible reserves of worldly wisdom and emotional intelligence. Slow-burning opener Will These Things See You Right sets the tone perfectly, the nakedly honest lyric countering the sentimental flourish of the strings. Open the Door to Your Heart is a relatively traditional soul stomper that might attract comparisons to Dexys – often a name that’s reached for in attempts to put BOHJ into some sort of context for enquiring newcomers. Now the Lord knows I love Dexys, but Johny and his band bring a generosity and a lack of ego – not to mention a workrate – to the party that has always seemed to be beyond even the great Kev.

A fairer comparison to my mind, musically at least, might be the Mekons. They’re similarly under-appreciated for sure, and the seal of quality is equally reliable, although their grounding in more formal radical politics can tend towards a dogmatism that’s always refreshingly absent from Band of Holy Joy’s work. We’re looking at a unique band here, when all is said, and Easy Listening is a worthy successor to the terrific run of recent albums they’ve produced. Will they be lifting the trophy again, come the end of the year? There or thereabouts, Jeff. There or thereabouts.

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