Retrospective But Not Quite

Despite his recent ‘Retrospective’ album offering a timely reminder of the quality produced over the years, it’s not all about reflecting on the past for Peter Bruntnell.

There is much to admire about Peter Bruntnell whether it be the most obvious starting point and that being a wealth of material stretching over nine albums of equally consistent and sublime indie roots rock (or whatever label one deems fit to apply) or the ability to apply such talent to other ventures such as the recent Triple Troubadours tour held in various parts of Scandinavia, especially when there is a ‘best of’ album to promote back home in the UK.

Those who are not familiar with the music of Peter Bruntnell, then his recent ‘Retrospective’ album is a good introduction to the man and his music. Covering much ground and offering narratives dealing with the usual suspects of love and unrequited love, with a sprinkling of musical references ranging from Neil Young to Bob Dylan but at the same time ploughing a furrow along similar lines to Bill Janovitz and Grant–Lee Phillips due to possessing an aching quality to their music that really pulls at the heartstrings and rendering it utterly captivating.

With the temperature falling at a considerable rate outside with a possible risk of snow, Peter Bruntnell catches up with FLW after having walked several blocks, guitar case in hand, to arrive at tonight’s Oslo venue due to no parking facilities directly outside (see above when it comes to admiration). Despite the encroaching cold and slight fatigue due to a busy touring schedule, the mood is upbeat as Peter offers his thoughts concerning the Triple Troubadours tour – a team up with Tommy Womack (USA) and for the Norwegian leg Anders Svendsen aka Halden Electric – and the aforementioned career spanning album ‘Retrospective’.

PeterBruntnell-Retrospective

“Rootsy, which is a record label and booking agency in Sweden, contacted me through my website and asked if I would like to do a tour of Sweden,” explains Peter Bruntnell regarding how the Triple Troubadours tour came together. “Tommy Womack, Slow Fox and Anders Svendsen, who is Halden Electric in Norway, were all contacted separately. I was informed that it would be with Tommy and Slow Fox in Sweden and Anders in Norway, and that was fine with me.”

How many dates have been planned for this tour?

“It’s three in Norway with Halden Electric, with our last in Trondheim if we make it up there tomorrow because it’s going to snow (luckily this never happened and the Troubadours bandwagon was able to continue its journey). Then I think we’re going to do about fifteen dates in Sweden,” replies Peter as he removes his glasses and rubs his eyes in an attempt to remove the tiredness. “We have done about eight or nine [gigs] and it’s been going really well. It takes a couple of goes to get used to the other artists songs, as we join in with each other. It has been really good fun actually.”

In relation to this tour is it joint decisions in terms of which songs are performed on the night?

“No, I just play what I want and the same applies to the other musicians,” comments Peter. “It’s based on how we feel on the night. For example, I have been changing songs a lot and I have not been playing the same songs at all. I’m going to play two songs I’ve never played before on this tour tonight because I want to try them out. So we’re playing eight songs each per show, and four or five of them will be familiar to Tommy [Womack] and not so much to Anders [Svendsen] as we’ve only played one show with him so far. But they’re all mostly straightforward songs and pretty easy to pick along to.”

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Has Anders Svendsen, for example, listened to any of your albums as a means of preparation for this tour?

“I have no idea, I don’t know,” is the immediate response.

So the whole tour is completely improvised?

“Oh, totally improvised,” replies Peter. “A few bum notes though [laughing]!”

After witnessing the Triple Troubadours on this particular evening, FLW can report that Peter Bruntnell was a man of his word as all three musicians applied whatever touches were deemed appropriate in an improvised manner such as a few chords of a guitar or bit part vocals that drifted in and out adding extra layers to some wonderful compositions that were delivered in a very intimate style. Not only was this evening a resounding success but in addition to our existing admiration for Peter Bruntnell, two more artists were added to that list as both Halden Electric and Tommy Womack offered enough glimpses of their work that warranted further investigation.

With the Triple Troubadours tour being something of an impromptu set of performances, Peter Bruntnell’s decision to become a part of this unrehearsed bandwagon was equally fitting considering the not too distant release of his ‘Retrospective’ album that obviously requires some form of promotion under his own moniker. More importantly, however, how does Peter Bruntnell feel about reaching this milestone in his career to date with ‘Retrospective’?

“It was somebody else’s idea,” he responds. “I just thought ok [at the time] because I’m writing a new album. Sure, if Loose [Music] want to put it out, then great. I think it’s fine and I’m happy with it, but it was hard to narrow it down to fifteen – sixteen songs as I would have liked to have made it to twenty songs on the album. There were some songs I would have liked on there, but didn’t have the room. But no, I’m happy with it as I’m trying to write a new album and that’s what I’m concerned with right now.”

How were the decisions made concerning the songs to be included on ‘Retrospective’?

“I made my list and Tom at Loose Music added a few as I had to let him have his two pennies’ worth as well, but I was happy with what he chose and it was an amicable decision.”

Did it take some time to whittle the tracks down in terms of what to include considering you have released nine albums to date?

“Yeah, but after a while I couldn’t listen to it any more as I kinda just agreed to it.”

Was this because some of the older songs are too far removed in terms of your sound right now?

“Yeah, it was a bit,” ponders Peter. “I think there are only two tracks from the first album and yeah, it was a bit meh…but I still like them. I tried to choose an equal number from each album, but there were some albums that I would have chosen more from such as ‘Ends Of The Earth’ if I could have done. There seemed to be more songs I liked from that album and from the latest album ‘Black Mountain UFO’ as well. I would have chosen more from that but it only came out two and a half years ago, so I didn’t really think there was any need for that. It’s pretty difficult to choose, depending on what day it is and how you’re feeling can determine which songs you decide to choose. So I had to make a decision and then forget about it. I didn’t labour over it as it was too exhausting as I can’t listen to the songs over and over again and in that order.”

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Do you have a favourite album while we’re on the subject of ‘Retrospective’?

“I like that album ‘Black Mountain UFO’ the most, at the moment, because I feel it’s more British influenced somehow and it’s got strings on it. I like the kind of pastoral English vibe I achieved on it.”

With Peter Bruntnell happy to describe his sound as “a mix of Nick Drake, Son Volt, Neil Young, Tim Hardin and maybe a bit of Syd Barrett in some of the latest stuff”, ‘Retrospective’ is the perfect introduction to any newcomers as these artists can be heard between the layers. There is one song, however, that is conspicuous because of its absence from this ‘best of’ due to a certain amount of attention it received at the time for its direct reference to a sensitive subject area and one that is often met with scepticism. The song in question is ‘Black Mountain UFO’ and is greeted by a barely audible chuckle from our interviewee once FLW demands an explanation.

“Well, I had some dreams,” Peter recollects. “I was reading this book a few years ago about alien abduction and I had to stop reading it because it was freaking me out too much and it was all very real. Basically, the song ‘Black Mountain UFO’ concerns that alien UFO thing, and that’s it really. I don’t want people to think that I’m a crackpot saying I’ve been abducted by a UFO but…yeah, I was abducted by a UFO and it was a very strange post experience.”

How long ago did this happen?

“About three years ago when I was living in Devon…” Peter mouths something at this point jesting with FLW before continuing. “Sometimes I say that I’ve been abducted and sometimes I say that I haven’t, as I don’t know because I’m a bit uncomfortable with it.”

Talking about the whole experience?

“Yeah, yeah…and it’s a crazy thing…” trails off deep in thought.

Do you not think that it was just an unusual dream that you experienced rather than being an abduction of some sort?

“Yeah, it could have been…” he once more trails off as FLW probes further before Peter finishes with, “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Was it a painful experience?

“No, no…no.”

Was the whole experience very clear when you woke up the next morning (FLW still not wishing to give up at this point)?

“No…it’s all a bit of a blur so it’s…I believe that it can happen and I think maybe, yeah, I don’t know. I definitely like to believe that there must be alien life, but I’m not an expert on it.”

Is it something you have always been fascinated by?

“Not really, no,” replies Peter. “It was just after reading that book it became a bit [clearer]…I was doing a lot of drugs,” offers Peter with FLW bursting into a fit of laughter.

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So maybe the whole experience was drug-induced?

“Yeah, it could’ve been that,” he says. “It could’ve been drug-induced paranoia and probably was,” continues Peter. “Let’s just say that, as I’m probably more comfortable with that idea,” leaving the song narrative and personal experience still wide open to interpretation.

FLW presumes you get asked about ‘Black Mountain UFO’ a lot by other journalists?

“Well, if you say that you’ve been abducted by aliens then…I think we put that as the press release for the album when it came out. It was obviously something that people would ask me about.”

Whether there is genuine truth in Peter Bruntnell’s assertion that he experienced an alien intrusion one particular evening during the recording of ‘Black Mountain UFO’ is anyone’s guess, as the explanation surrounding this one particular song continues to remain a mystery. Despite failing in our attempt to get to the bottom of ‘Black Mountain UFO’ and, in all honesty, probably best that such an intriguing song is left open to interpretation, Peter Bruntnell and his ‘Retrospective’ album is not only a timely reminder of the quality and depth of his past recordings, but also a glimpse of what’s to come as this album is by no means the end of a journey. The Triple Troubadours tour is a clear indicator that there remains enough desire and creativity in his bones to take a left turn when perhaps steering straight ahead is by far the easier option. No doubt the new Peter Bruntnell recordings, when ready, will prove further testament to this ongoing necessity to keep testing his creative resources.

FLW - From the Tapes

Famous Last Words asked Peter Bruntnell about his reason(s) for re-recording ‘Played Out’, and the decision to involve Rumer on guest vocals.

“I had this idea of involving some friends of mine that I respect and like. I think Sarah [Rumer] has got an amazing voice and is an old friend of mine, so I asked her and she agreed to it. I was going to ask some other people as well, but they’re based in America. So, I couldn’t work out how to get it done. Sarah’s based in London and therefore it made it easier. We got together and I recorded that track with her on vocals, and I was really pleased with how it came out.”

Do you feel the newer version of this song is a better version or are you equally happy with both versions?

“I’m happy with both,” considers Peter before resuming, “I do like it with her [Rumer] vocals on it. We had a really good day when we shot the video for ‘Played Out’. The people were very nice who we worked with on that video shoot and it was very painless which, I would imagine, is not always the case. It was good.”

 

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