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Music

When Brits Get Horny

Trumpeting UK pop, from the Beatles on down.

Adrian Mack 27 Feb 2014TheTyee.ca

Adrian Mack contributes a regular music column to The Tyee and frequently sits behind Rich Hope.

Two things about the Brits: they love pop music and they're good at horns. Just listen to this utterly wonderful track from the Voluntary Butler Scheme. "Quinzhee" was released three months ago as an appetizer to the VBS's third and newest full length, A Million Ways to Make Gold.

If the rest of it's as good as this -- and we'll have to trust Allmusic when they say that it is, since the release date was pushed back from February to March, the bastards -- then, well, great.

The Voluntary Butler Scheme is actually one guy, Rob Jones, and based on this evidence, he's staked out some fine real estate between radiant and twee. "I'm building us a house out of snow," he sings on "Quinzhee." "And if doesn't melt, then you'll know that our love is unheatable, that our love is unbeatable."

You'll notice that this whole thing is built on ukulele, neatly hyperactive drumming and the kind of buoyant brass section that's been used to goose U.K. pop for decades. It's not rock 'n' roll; it's the kind of healthy-living, sunshiney nonsense that British critics and public alike have swooned over forever, from Haircut 100 to the Boo Radleys and beyond, probably because life over there tends to be shit. So why not?

In North America, horn sections typically denote authenticity (hello Daptone Records), or they denote "25 or 6 to 4" (hello Chicago.) I realize that's a massive and largely indefensible generalization, but think of it as a sort of negative template. When George Martin scored horn and string parts for the Beatles, his approach was aggressively unsentimental, owing more to Salvation Army brass bands and chamber music than it did to jazz, soul, or the Motown records the other guys loved so much. It became a cultural habit, and here we are, half a century later, still hearing the echo.

Those maniacally cheerful trumpet parps in "Honey in the Gravel Mixture"? That's tradition, mate.  [Tyee]

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