I must admit, friends, that I did not go into listening to Findlay Brown with an open mind. The single Come Home has appeared on a Mastercard ad, he is signed to a label that is also home to that other great ‘sensitive’ sell out, Jose Gonzalez, and he’s from Yorkshire. There hasn’t been a great musician from there since Jake Thackray.
But Separated By The Sea is a magnificently realised album. While by no means flawless, there is enough imagination and vision to register Brown as another in the parade of young men these days for whom the songs of Nick Drake, John Martyn, Tim Buckley and, especially, Cat Stevens, have come to be the language of the broken heart.
Predictably, Come Home is the weak point. Evidently pounced upon by both label and credit card company due to its directness and lazy accessibility, it does nothing but plug Findlay into the same bored housewives market that made Gonzalez so successful. Everywhere else, there is an ambition and emotional weight that are a rarity outside the similarly pastoral, eerie tones of Bonnie Prince Billy or Smog. But its rare that Britain is capable of such talent. Until now, perhaps.
Don’t You Know I Love You is one of the best tracks released by anyone in 2007. There’s a reason why people are influenced by The Beatles‘ psychedelic experiments and the harmonising of Crosby, Stills and Nash: they simply created a swirling, otherworldly ecstasy. Both bands are imitated on a seemingly daily basis, usually with catastrophically bad results. Here we have a seven-minute opus that we might term, with its banjo, sitar, looping and electronic chirping, psych-country. It is reminiscent of the above bands for the right reasons.
I Will (Ghost Ship) and Paperman may as well have been on Tea For The Tillerman, and while Cat Stevens is clearly a forefather, Findlay certainly does not take the world’s woes upon his shoulders like Cat. Indeed, this is a deeply personal album, not one second of which isn’t devoted to his Danish girlfriend, with whom he had hit a period of turmoil.
Whether this approach to writing and recording alienates listeners is a debate that will run and run. What Brown proves though, is that when any artist is struck with such a sense of purpose, it is this that touches the listener rather than the ins and outs of a Scandinavian relationship that no punter is going to know or care about. Brown’s conviction is the essence of Separated By The Sea.
The fingerpicking of Brown is met with a modern production from Simian‘s Simon Lord, who veers between sparse and lush as is appropriate. Harmonies fertilise this record like manure on your garden, evoking all the regular culprits: Flying Burritos, Simon and Garfunkel, CSN, Fairport.
Sadly, only once does he genuinely, unflinchingly, hit the nail on the head (Don’t You Know I Love You). And the deadwood, such as Losing The Will To Survive and Come Home, do bring us back down to earth. But it�s a trip worth taking.
It seems Findlay Brown’s music will only emerge out of a swooning passion or an episode of the heart, so one wonders whether he can find similar inspiration for another record. This, however, is the sound of a man possessed. A sound loud, true and fierce.