The Blue Aeroplanes

TrackAlbum
Jacket HangsSwagger
Colour MeBeatsongs
Sixth ContinentBeatsongs
Your AgesSwagger
Broken & MendedLife Model
Wond'ring WildRough Music
Saint Me And The DevilRough Music
Lover & ConfidanteTolerance
Spitting Out MiraclesSpitting Out Miracles
Dead Tree! Dead Tree!Welcome, Stranger!

Blue Aeroplanes photo 1

 

 

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Blue Aeroplanes playlist

 

 

Contributor: Chris Dodge

When reviewing the Blue Aeroplanes’ last album in 2017, Stewart Lee, comedian and writer, described the band as being “like Philip Larkin fronting Television”. That’s a pretty good reference point for those yet to discover Bristol’s wonderful Blue Aeroplanes.

Fronted by the charismatic wordsmith Gerard Langley, the band make a glorious sound fusing poetry and guitar-led melodies with the more respectable elements of folk. “Our sets go from loud, thrashy stuff to quiet acoustic stuff to things that build and swell,” Langley once explained. The multi-layered guitar interplay is certainly a joy to behold. Probably their best-known album Swagger was aptly named and neatly captured the band’s melodic union of chiming, jangling guitars with prose and a sometimes frenzied mix of classic influences such as the Velvets and the forementioned Television with a good measure of Fairport Convention/Richard Thompson thrown in to provide variety. This certainly comes through in live performances with usually at least three guitar players providing different layers of sound, arpeggios whilst freely exchanging solos. They can also lay claim to have the longest serving freestyling dancer as a member of the band, pre-dating Bez by a good 5 years!

I once owned a t-shirt of theirs which posed the question “Have you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Blue Aeroplanes”? On the reverse was listed over 30 past and present members. The current total sits around 48. Special mention though to John Langley (drummer and Gerard’s brother), Rodney Allen (guitarist) and guitar virtuoso Angelo Bruschini who have all made significant contributions to the band’s signature sound, accompanied by Gerard, the band’s undisputed leader.

For me, the group’s most memorable sequence of records was released between 1987-1995 and, although never achieving the mainstream success they undoubtedly deserved, this was their purple patch in terms of critical appreciation. For some, the quality deteriorated somewhat after 1991’s Beatsongs. However, the next two records also contained many highlights to thrill the faithful and educate the uninitiated. Some listeners may be alienated by Gerard’s spoken delivery to the majority of the songs although these poetic rock and roll masterpieces are occasionally interspersed with Rodney Allen’s catchy, melodic, blue-eyed pop/folk rock tunes. For ardent fans though, Gerard’s lyrical prowess skilfully delivered over soaring and sweeping electric and acoustic guitars is just what makes the band so special. One could point to the sudden increase and popularity of recent bands in the same vein such as Dry Cleaning to argue that this approach can both please the true music lover whilst achieving a degree of mainstream success.

And so to the 10 songs on my recommended playlist to check out:

 

Jacket Hangs
Their undisputed classic signature song to be found on Swagger and the perfect introduction to their music. And, if the riff doesn’t immediately hook you in, then Gerard’s first spoken intro “Pick a card, any card. Wrong,” should do the trick. If not, then pursue the playlist no further. The music of the Blue Aeroplanes is not for you.

Colour Me
Another classic guitar intro almost matching Jacket Hangs. This song perfectly captures the band’s knack of creating beautiful guitar textures in perfect accompaniment to Gerard’s lyrics. The music swells to a magnificent explosion of sound for the chorus and, most notably around the 4:30 minute mark. This track is taken from Beatsongs, their second record for Ensign/Chrysalis and, for me, their best. Recorded at the impressive Oceanway Studios in LA with Larry Hirsch, the production is amazing and shades the slightly dated sounding Swagger (produced by Gil Norton fresh from producing Doolittle with the Pixies).

Sixth Continent
The closing track to a near perfect record. Like virtually all of Gerard’s lyrics on Beatsongs, I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess on any meaningful interpretation but that doesn’t matter. Just allow the swell of the music and poetry to wash over you. Totally absorbing and beguiling.

Your Ages
I limited myself to two songs each from Swagger and Beatsongs to make room for other tracks from different periods in the band’s discography. Thus leaving out such classics as And Stones, Weightless, What It Is, Jack Leaves/Back Spring and Yr Own World. Your Ages edges it for its undeniable beauty and splendid lyrics.

 

Broken & Mended
This brash, driving and magnificent song opens Life Model, released by Beggars Banquet in 1994 after a three year gap and some changes to the line-up. However, most of the key personnel from the last record are still present and again firing on all cylinders. For this song, Gerard’s lyrics are more discernible but nonetheless brilliant as ever: “Hi, how are you? How’s it going?” the song begins and, thanks to the delivery, sounds to my ears like one of the best lyric intros ever!

Wond’ring Wild
One of Rodney Allen’s songs to which he also wrote the words. Rodney was at the peak of his songwriting on Beatsongs. Check out Fun and extra track Disney Head for evidence of this. But I have selected another one of his underrated songs, this time from the album Rough Music, their second on Beggars Banquet. Love this one and again some great guitar textures throughout, especially around the 4:30 minute mark – a coincidence?

Saint Me And The Devil
This one follows on from Wond’ring Wild sequentially on the same album and is a perfect example of the other side of the Blue Aeroplanes, namely the unique ability to create beautiful acoustic folk-inspired soundtracks to accompany Gerard’s poetry. I genuinely thought this poem was written by W.H. Auden, which shows you just how good the lyrics can be (or how shoddy my knowledge of English literature is).

 

Lover & Confidante
First inclusion of a song pre-Swagger. I have to confess, it took me some years to fully appreciate the band’s more arty and experimental beginnings. But Lover & Confidante is an indicator of great things to come, taken from their second album Tolerance.

Spitting Out Miracles
I liked this one instantly. An infectious melody driven by what I believe to be a hurdy-gurdy! From the album of the same name (released in 1987 on Fire records) which also features their early classic, Bury Your Love Like Treasure.

Dead Tree! Dead Tree!
A number of intermittent albums followed Rough Music; none quite matched the quality of the band’s peak period although each had its moments, especially 2006’s Altitude somewhat surprisingly released by EMI/Harvest on the back of the reissue of Swagger. During this lengthy period, there had been more significant line-up changes and, for many years, Gerard and Wojtek (the dancer!) remained the two consistent members. Welcome, Stranger! was released in 2017 and was instantly celebrated as a true return to form. Certainly, the songs are stronger and the relative consistency of the band’s membership over the last ten years or so has helped. Dead Tree! Dead Tree! was the stand-out.

 

 

 

 

The Blue Aeroplanes official website

The Blue Aeroplanes band members (Wikipedia)

Stewart Lee – Guardian article (2017)

The Blue Aeroplanes (AllMusic)

Chris Dodge currently resides in Singapore but will be returning to Kent and his much missed record collection in the summer of 2022. Having discovered ‘With the Beatles’ in his parents’ record collection at the tender age of 7, Chris become an avid music fan and his musical tastes are eclectic to say the least although a sizeable portion of his records are from the 1980s to mid-1990s when he didn’t have a family to spend his money on.

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