So, where do I start? The Singing Loins are indeed legends in their own lifetimes. I am still amazed by how little is known outside the mainstream, or even outisde of Medway, about this band. Even when the writing and singing talents of Chris Broderick, armed with all the charm and nous of a streetwise brawler, coupled with the intellect and intuition of a screen-writer graduate of the school of life, paint epic and simple pictures in the mind through sharp, witty lyrics. Even when these stories of the poor, weak, downtrodden and the quietly mad, are set to great tunes by guitarist Chris Allen, whose understated and finely honed harmonies contrast with a hard and frantic playing style.
The Loins’ early sound reminds me of music to set a bar room brawl to on the one hand and delicate and beautiful songs and ballads on the other, showing the versatility of Broderick’s vocal and Allen’s guitar work to both assail and sooth at either extreme . Starting off in 1990, Chris Broderick and Chris “Arf” Allen began punking up the senile folk with their ballsy raucous folk based songs, which were always more to do with performance rather than being sterile studio products. Their first album was Songs For The Organ. Its first track ‘Hauling in the Slack’ set the tone and standard for what was to come. Those standards were very high.
A couple of albums were bashed out in Billy Childish’s bog and via other lo-fi methods, but the music was such that it didn’t need too much production. In fact it was far better to keep the rawness of live performance in the recorded product. From 1991 to 1996, two vinyl and two cassette albums were produced, as well as some live performances with Billy Childish. Thrust into the local limelight with the classic, ‘Chatham Girls’, the Loins’ profile grew larger, particularly in Medway.
The last full album of Singing Loins songs of this period was released in 1996. Though they continued doing the rounds, bad feelings came to the fore one night in 1999 when Broderick and Allen exchanged glances and expletives, as well as punches, and like one of their performances, they split up with a bang. This night went down in Loins legend. I’d love to hear the full story from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, sometime. I wasn’t there, but I am informed by someone who was there, that glitter may have been involved. (No, not Gary).
The Loins were not singing much until it was time to give it another go. In 2005 they reformed and added the talented Rob Sheppard to the line-up and produced what may have been their best album so far: Songs To Hear Before You Die. Thanks to Rob’s excellent and fresh contribution to the song-writing, along with the genius that is Chris “Arf” Allen and the lyrics of Chris Broderick, the album was released to widespread critical acclaim. The band toured again and the fans dusted their hobnails and braces off and flocked to their banner.
Drowned Man Resuscitator
The Drowned Man Resuscitator album followed Songs To Hear Before You Die in 2007 with the same song-writing team of Allen, Sheppard and Broderick, recreating the classic combination of well crafted songs and production featured on their preceding album.
Songs To Hear Before You Die and Drowned Man Resuscitator were both slightly more polished than the Singing Loins’ earlier lo-fi albums, but still retained the edge and power of their live performance, from the rough and ready ‘Skinners Rats’ and ‘Topless Twins of Allhallows on Sea’ to the calm beauty of ‘Low November Sun’. The songs seem even bigger now, more mature and finely crafted than previously. This may of course also have been a result of the studio’s production influence, or the addition of the very talented Rob Sheppard’s contribution and many years the Loins spent honing their craft.
Unravelling England, the next studio album released in 2009, saw another slight change in the songs’ structure and style. This was created by the Allen/Sheppard/Broderick writing trio, who combined to produce a more mature, sophisticated sound. The Loins also added a semi-permanent member, John Forrester on double bass. Unravelling England produced some of the most perceptive lyrics the Loins have written , ‘So Sophisticated’ and ‘Psycho Hippy’ in particular, sum up perfectly the hypocrisy of modern characters, situations and life in general, with the wry tongue-in-cheek slant that only Broderick can give. Probably my joint favourite Loins song ‘Ferry Lane’ is also on here.
The Loins have never ever given a lacklustre performance in all the times I have seen them. In fact the songs wouldn’t permit it. They require the performers’ full commitment to carry them off, so every Loins performance is a powerful and full-on experience. They slide effortlessly from the steam train-like delivery of ‘Hauling in the Slack’, to the thought-provoking beauty of ‘Valerie’. During the dramatic music-hall performance of ‘Please Take My Scissors Away’, Brod takes on the persona of the frustrated and slightly affected Victorian silhouette cutter, armed with scissors for dramatic effect. The Loins have the ability to roll three part plays into a single song, as in the ‘Fat Boy of Peckham’, which showcases the story-based lyrics of Chris Broderick. He effortlessly fits a wealth of detail into a simple narrative, which is where his talents as a screen writer and author cross over into his music.
Folk of Medway
Documenting the doings of everyday folk of Medway, the Loins’ body of work is not only musical genius, but a historical document of our times. Songs about those on the periphery of society, the mad, the bad and the downtrodden, all make interesting subjects for great lyrics and wonderful tunes. The band has always underplayed their greatness. Humble and low key, they have never really promoted themselves too much, tending to concentrate on what they are doing it for: love, rather than fortune and fame. In a way, they are still ‘our’ band and we like them that way. The release of the new album Stuff is imminent and it is sure to be up to the usual high Singing Loins standards. I personally love the band to bits. I get to all the shows I am able to via shanks’ pony, which isn’t always easy. I never tire of their music, nor watching them live. They are as close to perfect as I reckon it is possible to get.
But be careful not to let on; the Singing Loins might end up getting famous and playing the Shepherds Bush empire or the O2 arena. Rob may become the face of Armani, or Arf may be whisked off to New York for the next big Rolling Stone cover shoot. Brod might resort to refusing to perform unless the rider includes beer flavoured jelly babies. That just wouldn’t do would it?
The Singing Loins are still our band, very much alive and creating still. This is not a retrospective. So in the immortal words of the band, ‘shut your mouth’ and listen up.
Photograph (c) Alex Turner