John Villiers is one of two working names of English guitarist, painter and writer Andrew John Villiers Parker. As Andy parker, he has released two instrumental, electric guitar albums in a blues but reggae-influenced style and as John Villiers, he is an acoustic in a country blues format player…both of which he is highly skilled at.
It is his acoustic work that is discussed here as his A Different Circus shows his lyrical as well as an acoustic side on a dozen originals, all recorded during the pandemic and, in his own words it produced “an album of songs directly influenced by being stuck all on my own in a recording studio.” It did start out with the intention of being an instrumental album based on his newly acquired 12-string guitar; a bleedin’ difficult thing to tune, never mind play! John explains… “Despite having a dozen or so 12-string prospects, the next thing that turned up was clearly a song intro (to Isolation Blues, as it turned out) rather than an instrumental. Lyrics swiftly followed along”.
I have to assume, as I couldn’t find any information to say otherwise, that John is responsible for all instruments and vocals as well as animating films…a neat one accompanies the title track and is on Youtube. The musical style is a sort of indefinable country blues that can’t be described other than by prefixing with English or citing Ronnie Lane’s solo work, some of Lindisfarne’s work or the Curtiss Muldoon duo (fresh out of the band Bodast) or even a non-electric Spirogyra…even a soupçon of Canterbury. Whatever it is, John Villiers has it in spades.
I also like John’s approach to this album… “As a collection, I’ve tried to keep it upbeat – other people write ‘misery’ much better than I do. Coming from a blues music background, I wanted the songs to express hope rather than wallow in the general crappiness of the time and besides, following raggedly far behind in the footsteps of great writers like Sam Cooke I wanted to write simply not simplistically, at least not witlessly”.
To me, that says so much that I agree with and certainly put me in a receptive mood when I hit ‘play’
Opening with Isolation Blues, the chiming guitar is very welcoming and, although it has a familiar structure, the whole thing is so positive and wryly observant with a tiny glimmer of a tasty solo too. Over It Now follows a similar pattern with an engaging melody on guitar and lyrically…it could be the theme song to a comedy-drama and outdo Dennis Waterman at the same time!
The next song, Train Train, has the train track rhythm with more sparkling guitar and a lovely section of rapid picking that could/should have developed into an extended guitar workout; he obviously has the skills…next time maybe? So Close is a slow-paced, bluesy song. like the lyrics, is like a warm hug…until he starts whistling: that has never worked for me be it Whistling Jack Smith (ask your Dad…or Grandad), or the Scorpions it just jars but then I am a miserable old git!
Sunglasses brings back the lovely chimes of the 12-string and a tambourine that makes it sound a bit ‘maypoley’ but, once again, it has a charm that draws you in and smile…sort of Blackmore’s Night with different lyrics and singer! It does have a nice guitar interlude that ends a bit soon. Dear Sister has mandolin to ring the changes as John explains his choice of partner as an apology (I think) to his dear sister…it’s another skilful piece of string work as we get a short guitar solo and there was some neat slide that (shame) remained in the background.
Riding In The Country only needs a few ‘yee-ha’s’ as the guitar strums the verses and choruses and (yee and indeed ha!) we get a section of slide work that is absolute genius…it may be an instrumental but it speaks volumes. The Best Way To Say Goodbye is like Jethro Tull meets Dylan but with slide…a country, troubadour, bluesy slow-paced song with more lovely toned guitar.
Out Of The Ordinary is like an upbeat Donovan but with a neat picked solo that carries the lilt and melody nicely. Looking Good… is a surprise as John chucks in a Mott styled rocker; the guitar song must be an amplified semi-acoustic as well as the 12-string; it does work and Mr Hunter should look to his laurels. Call Me brings the mandolin back with slide acoustic in a country blues song that has a lot to listen to. the title track, A Different Kind Of Circus, wraps it up with a joyful, joyous song that (instrumental apart) is the most immediate and accessible, especially with the animated/lyric video.
This then is an album that I may never play all the way through but I will smile, play and sing along with an irresistible collection of songs…the skills on display are indisputable, so now I’ll seek out his electric work too.
Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodles Paws – a great listen with every song having something that draws you in and leaves you smiling.
Over It Now
Riding In The Country
The Best Way To Say Goodbye
Out Of The Ordinary
A Different kind Of Circus
(iTunes went back to 1928 and the paper and comb intro and solo (yes, really) and a darn good blues song called Fare Thee Blues by Johnnie Head…worth seeking out.)