Syd Arthur: Tall Tales of Canterbury Interview | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, October 20th, 2020  

Syd Arthur

Tall Tales of Canterbury

Aug 27, 2014 Issue #50 - June/July 2014 - Future Islands
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Here's the first thing you need to know about Syd Arthur: It's the name of a band, not an individual.

"The question we get asked all the time is, 'Who's Syd? Which one of you?'" admits Raven Bush, who plays violin, mandolin, and keyboards in Syd Arthur.

The group, which is rounded out by Liam Magill (guitar and vocals), his brother Joel (bass), and Fred Rother (drums), concocted its name as an umbrella tribute to Hermann Hesse's spiritual novel Siddhartha, The Kinks' 1969 album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), and the co-founder of Pink Floyd. (Does that qualify as a triple entendre?)

"When we formed the band, we were all really quite young, 18 or 19," explains Bush. "We were all reading the book and we were all fans of Syd Barrett. We were all drawn to the play on the words and the name has a very English vibe to it."

Syd Arthur's second album, Sound Mirror, is also quintessentially English. Indeed, the group hails from Canterbury, the historic city renowned for inspiring Chaucer's tales of ye olde England. Fittingly, Syd Arthur sounds like a band of merry medieval minstrels who have wandered into modern-day Britain and discovered indie rock. This is, after all, a group who once released a single titled "Ode to the Summer." Another musical reference point: the Canterbury Scene of the late 1960s and early '70s. Sound Mirror bears the influence of bands such as Caravan and Soft Machine, who similarly refracted the influences of folk, jazz, and psychedelia through a progressive lens.

"We're not solely inspired by it," says Bush. "For example, I love Robert Wyatt just as much as I love Led Zeppelin. I love Hatfield and the North just as much as Bob Dylan or Hendrix or John Coltrane or Flying Lotus." (Fun fact: The young musician also grew up listening to his aunt, Kate Bush, who has given Syd Arthur positive feedback.)

The songwriting on Sound Mirror is more tightly hemmed than that of the band's 2012 album, On an On. Syd Arthur produced the new album themselves, but also received some creative assistance from Paul Weller.

"That came about through a recording engineer who's a mutual friend," says Bush. "He had one of our pin badges on his bag next to a badge of Paul Weller and The Jam. Paul Weller said, 'What's that badge next to my badges? Do you know Syd Arthur?' It turned out that Paul had heard about us and had tried to get our album, but at that time we didn't have distribution. Our friend called us up and said, 'Come down to the studio, Paul wants to meet you.'"

The result of that studio session is the jaunty single "Hometown Blues," whose backbeat shimmers like a heat haze. Another lead track, "Garden of Time," boasts a bucolic feel and a freak-out section in which Liam Magill's guitar fizzes and spirals like an out-of-control Cathedral Wheel. Both songs seem ideally suited for Syd Arthur's slots on the outdoor stages of Coachella and Bonnaroo.

But will the up-and-coming band have to explain its name to festival audiences? Bush has a more mischievous idea: "We've thought about wheeling out an anecdote or story about how Syd was a fifth member of the band who got abducted by aliens or something."

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's June/July print issue (Issue 50).]

 



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