The Polyphonic Spree

TrackSingle / Album
Have A Day/CelebratoryThe Beginning Stages of...
Running AwayThe Fragile Army
Hold Me NowTogether We're Heavy
Light And Day/Reach For The SunThe Beginning Stages of...
The Best PartGood Records 7POLY2
Popular By DesignYes, It's True
Soldier Girl (alternate version)The Beginning Stages of... (DVD)
Two Thousand PlacesTogether We're Heavy
Diamonds/Mild Devotion To MajestyTogether We're Heavy
When The Fool Becomes A KingTogether We're Heavy

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Contributor: Graeme Lucas

I vividly recall the day I first encountered The Polyphonic Spree – it was one of those ‘Sliding Doors’ moments where one decision would probably have led to me being one of those people who says things like, “Who?”

I was living at the time in a small market town that had one single record shop (MVC) and most Saturday mornings I would wander in with the vainest hope that I would find something that piqued my interest. On the whole, the chain was pretty mainstream, although they usually put some unusual items on the end-of-row racks. Today was one of those days and as I glanced at the shelf, something caught my eye.

24 people, all dressed in white robes, looking distinctly 1970s – not my thing really. It all looked a little bit, well, weird. Something nagged away though, a little voice in my head, pick it up. So I did and, flipping it over to look at the track listing, songs were called Section 1 (Have A Day), Section 2 (It’s The Sun) etc. This was looking more and more like something to avoid – too psychedelic, too cultish for me, so I put it back and looked around the shop some more. I’ll not bore you with how the next half hour went, but it ended with me buying the CD, which also had a bonus disc with a DVD (which I couldn’t play as I still had a VHS player). Once home, the CD went on and it stayed on for most of the next few years. What I found was joy. Hours and hours of joy – pure, unadulterated happiness in the form of what was eventually to become my favourite live band of all time.

While their recorded output is great, live they are (in my opinion) a phenomena. My only regret is not having seen them more. When we went to Liverpool in 2014, my mate turned to me halfway through the second song and said, “this lot should be available on the NHS” and he was right. I looked around the room (East Village Arts Centre – top venue) and every single person in there was smiling. Some of them were even wearing robes.

The last time I saw them was on their 15th Anniversary Tour, coming over in September 2015 to play the first album in full. Looking at the dates, I ended up travelling to Oxford to go and see them – a long way from the North West of the country. Main reason being the O2 Academy have an any age policy, which meant I could take my then 10-year-old son to see them. He loves music and has seen loads of great bands over the years – this was his first all standing, slightly smaller gig and about an hour beforehand, I’d spotted frontman and conductor Tim DeLaughter (rhymes with slaughter) in the entrance and grabbed my lad to come and meet him. They say you should never meet your heroes but Tim could not have been kinder – giving plenty of time to his young fan, having photographs, signing his Polyphonic Spree T-shirt, asking about other gigs he’d been to (yeah, I’ve seen Johnny Marr) and he was such a gentleman in every way. What also sets the live shows apart is that at the end of every gig, Tim and the band hang out with the fans, sell merch, have a beer, chat. Next time they come to England, get tickets, go and see them – you will not be disappointed.

The difficulty in choosing only ten songs is the way in which the albums work – DeLaughter has a way of linking and theming albums so, in many ways, most of the songs only make sense as part of something bigger. Therefore, I have selected ones that stand up on their own and scream LISTEN TO ME AND BE HAPPY – WE LOVE YOU ALL.

 

First up, has to be album one, track one, Have A Day/Celebratory, which builds around the repetition of the words, Have a day, celebrate, soon you’ll find the answer/Holiday, hide away, soon you’ll finally wonder. Set against a backdrop of building intensity, the song sets the tone for the rest of the album. It doesn’t start the album with a bang, and certainly wouldn’t appear on many ‘best first songs on debut album’ lists, but it is the first I heard from them and therefore had to be included.

For my next choice, I am skipping forward to a future album, and the song that really makes me connect with the band and want to dance with joy. Running Away is by far the best track on the third album, The Fragile Army (2007) and it is probably the most euphoric of all their tracks, which is saying something!

If you don’t like this one, I’d give up now and read another contribution!

Back to album two for my next selection. A bit of a love song and, again, builds around a repeating chorus, Hold Me Now is a live favourite and they often start their sets with it, as you can see below. If you look closely, you will see Tim’s bitemarks on the setlist – beats an autograph!

The Polyphonic Spree setlist

Next up, is the one that everybody knows, Light And Day/Reach For The Sun – Sainsbury’s ad? Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind? It even made an appearance in the 2017 film Wonder (watch it, great film). Anyway, it’s the song I could never tire of and whenever I am low, this is my ‘go to’. Follow the day and reach for the sun. I recorded this in Liverpool in June 2014.

After the better known songs, maybe it is time for one that didn’t make it to album. The Best Part only appears on the Japanese version of Together We’re Heavy (although it is on a UK single). I first came across the song when watching the bonus DVD that came with the special edition on Holidaydream, the Spree’s 2012 Christmas album. Tim seemed to suggest that The Best Part was meant to be on the album but somebody vetoed it – and that decision meant that this great little song remains largely unheard. Perhaps when Tim reads this, he can clarify the story? This version below is from Glastonbury 2003 and has fewer views than mine at Liverpool. Maybe not a well-known song, but one that would have added to Together We’re Heavy.”

By the time of the fourth, crowdfunded, album, Yes, It’s True, Tim admitted that his songwriting on this album was, for the first time, taking into consideration the fact that radio play would be good. The album, therefore, is more consistent and, in some ways, slightly less interesting than previous releases. That said, there were some great tunes on there and I do love Popular By Design. Lively, upbeat and terrific live, it definitely deserves to be in this top 10.

Choice 7 is somewhat predictable, but I am keen to emphasise that the version on here is the alternate version, not the original album version which is at a slower tempo and doesn’t have the fun factor of the version I have selected here. It is, of course Soldier Girl – what a fantastic song with very few lyrics, a great guitar line and a perfect singalong.

My next choice goes back to Together We’re Heavy – in my opinion, the band’s masterpiece. Criminally undervalued by many, this contains so many great tracks … so many in fact, that my last three songs are all lifted from it. Two Thousand Places is the first of these three – contains a great contribution from the choir and due to the way in which it is written, is once more a phenomenal ‘sing as loud as you can’ song.

Nearly at the end now and my penultimate choice is Diamonds/Mild Devotion To Majesty. We are at the epic end of Polyphonic Spree now. A gentle song, with Tim’s voice set against a lonesome piano from the outset. Lyrically tender, and a hint of what is to come later on in the album. The demand to keep the light on in your soul tells you everything. More sunshine analogies, flutes, harps, choir singing. What more could you want? To me this song is utter perfection, building up from the gentle opening into a great symphonic crash after just over three minutes. Please listen to the whole song – it’s just beautiful.

And finally … having gone epic on choice 9, I had to go one better. Traditional set closer When The Fool Becomes A King is my choice and what a choice it is! At 10:37 in length, it’s not just a quick and easy listen. I actually think of this as a symphony, not a song, in a number of parts, clearly separated, this is the Spree at their best. Lyrically it captures the essence of the band, hail to the sun, being typical of the ethos of the songwriting. My favourite part is the last two minutes, where the song merges with it’s the sun and builds into a huge crescendo, all voices and instruments working together until the drums beat out the end at a slower tempo. It is possibly my favourite song of all time – definitely my favourite live song – and as the perfect set closer, is my perfect list closer too.

 

The Polyphonic Spree photo 2

Tim deLaughter (Liverpool 2014)

 

The Polyphonic Spree official website

The Polyphonic Spree facebook

The Polyphonic Spree YouTube Channel

Members of the Polyphonic Spree past & present

The Polyphonic Spree on Good Records

The Polyphonic Spree lyrics

The Polyphonic Spree biography (iTunes)

 

The Polyphonic Spree photo

The Polyphonic Spree

 

Graeme Lucas has been a fan of the alternative music scene since stumbling across Joy Division and Bauhaus as a young child. Thanks to them, the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen, he spent most of his teenage years miserable and alone. A lover of live music, he likes film and stores a small amount of gig videos on his YouTube Channel and can be followed on Twitter @glpne73

TopperPost #762

4 Comments

  1. Colin Jackson-Brown
    Jan 23, 2019

    Excellent list! Pretty much identical to what I’d choose myself!
    Brilliant live band as you said. The best time I saw them was at Coventry Coliseum in August 2003 (the day after Reading festival). At the end of their set they announced that they’d brought their own djs and that we were all invited to stay for a party. The only problem was that they hadn’t informed the venue staff. We ended up dancing with Tim, Audrey and the others to 70s disco classics while trying to evade security who were trying to throw everybody out of the venue!

    • Graeme Lucas
      Jan 23, 2019

      That’s a great story Colin. Glad you like the choices.

  2. Mat Baker
    Jan 24, 2019

    I have tried to convert many people to their dubious charms and have abjectly failed. I find the albums really patchy, but when they’re good, they’re very good. Never got to see them live, and from reading the comments, that’s now a source of regret. I will dip into them once more having stumbled onto this list. Thanks Graeme.

    • Graeme Lucas
      Jan 24, 2019

      Mat, thanks for that. Never give up hope…they are still going and you never know, maybe tour UK again soon. Last time was 2015 so here’s hoping.

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