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Embryonic Heraldry

  John Heron  

Conduit 01/The Underground River

Release Date:
Reviewed by:
  Brett Spaceman  

The crazy diamond himself, the late, great Syd Barrett might well be looking down appreciably. His legacy is in safe hands.

John Heron is a British ex-pat singer-songwriter/artist now based in Brussels. Heron's music is a heady brew of English psychedelic folk and thought-provoking, slanted poetry. Reference points come flying at the listener. From Barrett's early Floyd and subsequent solo works through Eno's non-ambient works, John Cooper Clarke, Burning Blue Soul era Matt Johnson (The The), Fried era Cope and Wire's Colin Newman.

Nobody quite does eccentric like the English. The words 'quintessential', 'acid-drenched' 'genius' and 'flawed' usually follow such an illustrious roll call. I wouldn't say Heron is mad, but if The League Of Gentlemen had based themselves in Cromwell's London and remade The Wicker Man using a cast of wildfowl, you might get a glimpse of the mindset at work here.

Heron has that happy knack of infusing ambiguous menace into his material. There is a delicious tension at play as the listener is never quite sure whether to react with alarm or amusement. The sound field itself is also a moving target. Eerie melodies fade in and out whilst the (oft-processed) vocals flicker around the music, rasping and sucking at the listener. It's a superb mix.

Despite the gallows humour on display, Heron clearly also has the ability to write touchingly. Whilst most listeners will undoubtedly pick up on the Barrett influences there are other occasion when his pieces match the melodic sentiment of Ray Davies, XTC, or even Blur. A Matter of Time, for example, could easily have been lifted from The Beatles' White Album. In fact, throughout Embryonic Heraldry, I am constantly reminded of Neil Innes, that wizard songwriter of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Python, and Rutles fame. Higher praise is difficult to conceive. The ability to write a piece that is at once both whimsically absurd yet somehow still heartfelt and touching is no mean feat.

So an album that combines feudalism, livestock and dulcimer - Coldplay this ain't. Serious music fans only please. Non-believers please take a pass. Embryonic Heraldry is the kind of record you buy with mischief in mind. Anyone who loves to engage their mates in bouts of one-upmanship over wonderful and frightening new music discoveries will understand and appreciate being armed with this record. Play them this and your friends will concede all bragging rights to you for a good while.

Were he still alive, I am convinced John Peel would be in raptures over his namesake. Or as I prefer to call him Sir Jonathan Livingston Heron, Knight of the Realm.


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