Oh, what was to be in 2020? Well, it probably would have been a quiet year for Turin Brakes if we’re honest. After the end of the Invisible Storm touring campaign, the band embarked on an acoustic tour that would take them up to March 2020, after which the future was wide open. Instead, fate intervened, or a pandemic at least.
The COVID-19 / Coronavirus disrupted public life in a big big way. Schools were closed, people were forced to quarantaine and many countries had evening clocks and different forms of lockdown. International travel grinded to a halt, commuter routes were suddenly empty and many pleasures of life were cancelled.
For Turin Brakes it meant postponing the final three gigs of their Acoustic Tour till October. Of course, the virus impacted life in such a way, that these October dates for Chester, Lincoln and Gloucester wouldn’t happen in 2020 at all (at the moment of writing these dates are scheduled for 3, 4 and 5 June 2021).
Coming home from tour in a quickly changing society, Olly and the other band members quarantined while other plans – like a festival appearance at Cropredy in August and a recording session for the 9th Turin Brakes album in early Summer were both postponed. The first to (hopefully) August 2021, and the latter to whenever vaccination is ready.
Many artists used social media to nevertheless connect to their audience, via recorded videos and livestreams. Olly Knights appeared as a guest on Tom McRae’s Some Dark Cafe and he also started posting solo acoustic videos of Turin Brakes songs on Instagram throughout the first lockdown period in Spring. Ether Site started to do some livestream sessions as well, with Stefan being joined by German fan Maurice to talk all things Turin Brakes. And there was plenty to talk about.
Because that wasn’t the only digital activity during the weird, weird year. Olly Knights and former Turin Brakes keyboard player Phil Marten released a surprise EP out of the blue called The Rewilding. Olly made a video featuring his daughters for the track Under My Arms. Phil and Olly also posted a video of themselves playing the song on Instagram.
The EP dropped on streaming platforms and digital music stores on 19 March 2021. It consists of 4 tracks some nice keyboard and guitar action, with Olly providing excellent vocals as usual. Under My Arms is the stand-out song here, although one can’t deny the strength of the other tracks as well. The meditative The Rewilding with bird sounds and the synth vibes of Ain’t Love a Fool and Animals of England. The last track reminds me personally of Olly’s solo project If Not Now When? but with a fresh, synthesizer twist going on.
Tracklist of The Rewildling
- Under My Arms
- Ain’t Love A Fool
- The Rewilding
- Animals of England
With everyday life being weirder everyday, new music kept many fans sane. And the debut release of OKPM – hopefully the first of a more longer lasting project – was the first example of what was to come.
Lounge at the Edge of Town
The next digital project of the band dropped amidst a lot sudden buzz and mystery. Only a month after OKPM’s debut EP, Turin Brakes suddenly posted an announcement on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter about a new album with Phil Ramocon. The project and album are called ‘Lounge At The Edge Of Town’ and while officially it’s not a Turin Brakes album, it kind of is: all members of Turin Brakes are involved and the album was solely promoted via their social channels. In an exclusive interview with Ether Site, Gale explains how they met Phil Ramocon in 2015 at a Talk Talk tribute show. ” We became friends with Phil through that. Then he was in the audience of an acoustic gig we were doing. We said “hi” and had a hang out. I just thought: we do quite a lot of writing sessions, so something good will come of it, whether it’s for us or some other unborn thing.”
From 2018 onwards, Gale, Olly and Phil would regularly get together and write songs, talk lunch and just hang out. Gale: “Out of that first session came Can’t Look Down. We were done by teatime. It was a no brainer to continue writing whenever we could. By May of 2019, we had enough songs to start thinking about how we were going to present them to the world. In mid September we recorded nine songs in a great studio as a band with Olly singing with us in the same room.”
The idea was to put it out for Record Store Day 2020 on vinyl, but when Covid19 started happening, things grinded to a halt and to avoid the project sitting on a digital shelf somewhere, they put it in digital outlets everywhere. Gale: “The name [Lounge At The Edge of Town] came from the image of the character that started to emerge. It was a fill in name for the WhatsApp group and it started to stick. We originally didn’t want to mix Turin Brakes into the project too closely. There had been a freedom not thinking about it in those terms. We didn’t want to upset TB fans by doing something light and playful, or put off any potential new listener that might have decided years ago that they did not like Turin Brakes. But I think at the bottom of it was the freedom we felt of not tying it in with TB so closely, of it being new and untethered.”
- Can’t Look Down
- Bad Dreams
- Hanging Around
- I Know The Day
- Another Light
- Selling the Farm
And thus: Lounge At The Edge of Town was born: an easy-going, uplifting pop/soul/indie project. It sounds fresh, modern, while also calling back to musical styles that have been around since the late fifties and sixties… Gale: “it doesn’t have a legacy, it doesn’t come from loved albums of acoustic guitar wearing duo-ness, followed by everything that came after. Ideally, it wouldn’t be compared to TB, but that would be impossible.”
And so, since we are a Turin Brakes site, we do that naturally. What we can say here is that Turin Brakes sound confident and free on Lounge at the Edge of Town. From the piano-driven opener Can’t Look Down to the ridiculously smooth Another Light: the free-flowing nature of this is simply excellent, especially in a lockdown year. Selling the Farm and Eclipse are great homages to different genres, while still holding their own as great songs. I Know The Day probably comes closest to an actual Turin Brakes song, but not any of the songs that would have made Invisible Storm.
It will be very interesting to see what happens with the next Turin Brakes album after this excellent project, which initially mainly found listeners amongst Turin Brakes fans. 2021 should see a physical (vinyl) release of the album, so hopefully that means more people get to hear these songs. Perhaps a music video can drum up some more attention as well.
The Optimist anniversary approaches
The final half of 2020 was a lot more quiet on the new music front. At the end of the summer, a group of artists meant to perform at the Cropredy festival released a new version of the Fairport Convention song Meet me on the Ledge, Olly and Rob were among the artists performing. Meanwhile, the rescheduled acoustic tour shows were rescheduled for June 2021 once more. Meanwhile, Eddie got involved with a new jazz project called QOW Trio, who would release a debut album in early 2021.
Most of the attention went to the anniversary of The Optimist Lp. The band, by now existing over 20 years, noticed the 20th anniversary of the debut LP coming up swiftly in early 2021. The band organized some activities in late 2020 to drum up attention – including a listening party of the album on Twitter. And then the big announcement came: in the middle of a lockdown, with no live gigs happening in most Western countries in the world, the band announced that one year later, in October 2021, the band would tour The Optimist Lp live once more, like they did in 2011. The band also promised a full-blown reissue of the album with rarities of an optimist era gone by to coincide with the tour.
In this half of the year, Turin Brakes got some podcast love as well. The Optimist album got some great attention from Britpop Banter in late July. Early in 2021 this would be followed by the release of several interviews Olly did on the origins of the band and the career that followed.
Ether Site closed out the year with a song of the year contest and two live streams looking back at the year that was, including Christmas messages from the band and Olly performing The Seagull from Bottled At Source (the Deluxe version). 2021 is looking like a very good year for Turin Brakes – with a lot of old and hopefully some new music – and plenty of live shows. If only that the virus doesn’t spoil everything once again!