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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Album review: Lymes – Goodbye Bangkok, and interview with Richard Gilbert

Richard Gilbert spent six years in Thailand, and this beautiful and unusual album is the result of his strange and unsettling experiences, put through a musical blender.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Voodoo Doll - Lymes by Janneke de Jong
Lymes – Voodoo Doll by Janneke de Jong.

Goodbye Bangkok was one of those wonderful surprises that landed in my musical inbox late last year. From first single Train to Penang – a mournful tune backed by a full orchestra – to the twinkling horns and swooping cellos of Welcome, the album is an elegiac treasure chest of unusual tunes inspired by Richard Gilbert‘s occasionally difficult time in Thailand. Despite harrowing subject matter there is real beauty in this collection; highlights include the duelling banjos that introduce love song The Fool, and a husky male voice submerged by honeyed female vocals in Voodoo Doll. Every song is an unexpected delight. A real find of 2011.

Lymes single cover
Your debut album came out last September, what has been the reaction? Any pleasant or unusual surprises?
Well, it has all been pleasant really in that it reached a couple of places I never expected it would – BBC 6 Music has played tracks off it a few times and Clint Boon of XFM made it his featured album of the day, which was very nice, as is he. It was a pleasure to simply be in touch with a pop star that features in my own record collection! I originally intended to record this album with my musical ‘other half’, Simon Andrew, and not promote it at all. It was just for our own enjoyment. It was intended to be a download only release with no marketing at all. We were artists in the purest sense! No bullshit, just the music. I still don’t feel comfortable pairing the 2 activities together. So it was my intention to leave it sitting there in cyberspace, ready for any random passersby to enjoy or not enjoy. Anyway, in the 11th hour, my arm was twisted, partly by me, into doing more of the promo work. And I started to enjoy it because it gave birth to Mollusc Records that I set up with a few mates and off we went. There is more to nurture now than just Lymes. The most pleasing thing for me is that, for those that have bought / received a copy of the album, they talk about the lyrics first of all. I was very anxious about the lyrics. They needed to be interesting and not vague because I knew I wanted to explore songs with upfront vocals and in a talking style.

Lymes - The Fool by Abi Hall
Lymes – The Fool by Abi Hall.

What was the name of the band that you were in during the 90s? And why did you decide to go it alone for awhile?
I was in a noisy band called The Mandelbrot Set. Loads of wah wah and distortion. I packed it in because we had not written any good songs for a few months. I was too impatient. And when I left the band, I realised I had a huge void in my life. I had no job, no degree. So off I went to get the quickest degree I could and then to Thailand, which certainly filled my life with colour.

Be My Dead Wife

The subject matter was inspired by your personal encounters whilst living in Thailand…. how did these find their way into a musical format?
This was a key concern for me. The music was writing itself nicely, with my multi-instrumentalist partner Simon and me with the recording gear. The songs were stockpiling with mumbled vocal takes and no finished lyrics. I needed a theme for inspiration and when I wrote one set of lyrics about Thailand, Be My Dead Wife, I was really happy with them. And I was able to write a set of lyrics very quickly. Often in one sitting. I was also very keen on storytelling in music as opposed to nebulous lyrical imagery, where the singer is another instrument…..I spent a lot of time listening to Johnny Cash whilst out there. This probably opened my mind to storytelling.

Lymes Goodbye Bangkok cover
What prompted the move to Thailand in the first place? You were there for 6 years which is a long time… can you tell us about some of your more interesting experiences? How did you stay alive, ie what was your work during that time?
As I said above, the big void left by not being in a band led me out of the country. It was supposed to be Argentina but I followed a mate to Bangkok after we did a TEFL course. I started off teaching English but quickly moved into market research in the grocery industry. Zzzzz. Some stories are in the album and the lyrics are all printed in the cover sheet. And there is no flowery stuff going on. Very direct I think. In addition to these? I have written a few things down here and deleted them. Sorry! It’s the usual stuff you would expect to see in Thailand; drugs, corruption, passport dealing, working without work permits, vehicle smuggling and ringing, prostitution, tourists and fresh expats getting duped, loutish behaviour, boiler rooms, grotesque sex shows (anybody care to see a go-go dancer shaking a coke bottle, sticking it up her bum, bending over and spraying the audience? No, thought not.), endless road traffic accidents and most sadly, child trading /smuggling. This is something that I could not put on the album. Although the lyrics are observational. the delivery and music add the appropriate vibe. I doubt I’d ever finish it if that were the story. To summarise, a sleezy English chap ran an English Language school but was also allegedly buying children from Orphanages on spec and selling them to Chinese people that were not able to have their own children. At least that is what I was told by others that knew him better than I. To just know the face and name of someone that might get involved in that troubles me. Writing songs about how great the food is and how lovely the people are doesn’t seem to work as well lyrically. But the food is amazing and the people are lovely!

Lymes by Rosemary Cunningham
Lymes by Rosemary Cunningham.

You have said that songs start life in your phone voicemail at about 6am in the morning. Is that because you phone yourself in a half asleep slumber? Has this occurred under any strange circumstances, or in a strange place?
Kind of! I often wake up with song parts going through my head. I am usually convinced they are someone else’s. I sing them into my own voicemail before I forget them, so yes I am barely awake when it happens and then I ask everyone later if they recognise it…… the cellos on Welcome, for example, came about in this way, as did the violins on Voodoo Doll.

Welcome

Voodoo Doll

Lymes_WindChimes By Jardley Jean-Louis
Lymes – Wind Chimes by Jardley Jean-Louis.

Your first live performance was with the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra in October, which is quite a major deal! How did that come about? Any special things you had to adapt when performing with such a large amount of musicians?
That was the hardest gig I ever did. First gig with Lymes and my first gig since the 90s. I wanted to do something special, not just play the local clubs. And several Lymes songs had orchestral parts in them that would have left the song bare without orchestral instruments. We started planning this show 3 years ago. It is really tough getting people to come together for your music when you have hardly any money. But the Hull Phil were really nice people to work with and it certainly opened everyone’s eyes seeing the 2 genres coming together when no one had done anything like it before. We ended up with a chamber orchestra of around 22 players. It was a great success in the end. Amazing really, because we had to manage the show ourselves and many things were going wrong, increasingly so on gig day….. and we were trying to focus on the music.

Lymes_by_Geiko_Louve
Lymes by Geiko Louve.

Who else is Lymes?
Ah. I’m glad you asked about that. Simon is the other one and the musical backbone to this album. He has a lever arch file with hundreds of songs in it and we still have not gone through them all to see which ones need to be worked on. The 2 best songs on the album are The Fool and Train To Penang. He wrote the music for both of them. He is a very good drummer, a good keyboard player and a competent guitarist. There is also musical pedigree in his family. His brother is perhaps my favourite drummer of all time and had some success with Kingmaker in the early 90s.

The Fool

Train To Penang

My favourite story about Simon is that, while watching his brother having a really good time in Kingmaker, opportunity knocked on his door in the shape of an invitation to a drumming audition for a World Party tour in America. And he turned it down because he thought their music was boring!

Lymes
When can people next see you live, and are you doing any festivals next summer?
We are planning another big show, this time with a gospel choir. We just need to find one that will not be too concerned about the lyrical content and lack of Jesus worship in our songs. We are also waiting to hear if we are on the bill for the Great Escape festival in Brighton in May. Fingers crossed on that one.

Goodbye Bangkok is out now on Mollusc Records.

Goodbye Bangkok

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