Straw Bear get real on Fiction

You’ve got to love a band that has taken its name from an English Fenland Festival where a person would be covered from head to foot in straw and led from house to house where he would dance in exchange for gifts of money, food or beer…although to my eye, the modern-day version, resurrected in Whittlesea, Cambridgeshire, doesn’t so much resemble a bear as a mobile haystack! At first I thought it derived from the famous Straw Bear-y Fair…or not…although I have subsequently discovered that it has nothing to do with an ursine, more from the root Old English and/or German words strawbower or strobah. Still, it’s great that such traditions are maintained and enjoyed and, let’s be honest, it sounds like a fine way to get merry for free. The Festival and the band are known as Straw Bear and the band have taken the quirkiness and mystery of the tradition and backed it up with a style of music that I can only call “Englishana”…they combine a touch of Canterbury Scene enigma with folk, rock and a more modern pop edge to come up with a blended sound that warrants my mangling of the Americana genre as they also show a sense of that style too. They have their second album, Fiction on release that shows, to my ears, all of those styles and it also takes them to a different level from the previous release, Black Bank, as that was more country with an ‘alt’ prefix.

Opening track Fiction will, if you haven’t heard them before, lull you into thinking that you are listening to Alex Harvey and his Sensational Band…not a bad thing and it is a damn good song for all of its one minute and nine seconds. Things scale back in a sort of Byrds meet George Harrison way as the pop infused folk of Electric Guitar sways in and you can’t help but lay back with the gentle pace as the guitars, unsurprisingly, punctuate throughout. It’s a very lightweight song but has a beguiling edge to it, even if it’s not my cup of beverage. Augusta is up next and is very similar in construction and ambience…although this time it is a sort of electric and eclectic take on a song that, perhaps, someone like Don McLean or Donovan might have done. The next song took me back to my time as Akela as it tells tales, I think, of Scout or Cub Scout camping and, of course, being prepared and doing our best. It stays lightweight but the acoustic strumming with electric highlights does work, although the maracas get a bit wearing after a while. Shut The Door isn’t a tribute to Larry Grayson but a rather neat song that encompasses folk, prog and pop in a fascinating way. The harmonies work well as Ian stays in a much lower register and Catie adds melody and feel. At times it even resonates with a touch of early Wishbone Ash…which can only be good. Moaner is next and heralds, in my opinion, a downturn into a Smiths like vocal line over electric piano; granted it is more tuneful than Morrissey, but still grates. Relic rescues that slide with a five-minute pop exposition with a complex backing that has a great bass line, some careful use of synth and it develops into a U2-ish (but better) song that, were it a single, could well be chart bound. It wraps up with Altar Boy, a song that is very much in the prog folk territory…it shouldn’t work but it does…and the lyrics are fiendishly clever when you work them out. The guitar excursion in the middle is short but could have been extended to make it an even better song.

In summary, then, this is not anywhere near my normal fare, but there is no doubting the skill and originality that has gone into this album. It is, I think, more avant-garde pop that would appeal to certain generations and, with the airplay they have received from the likes of the redoubtable Bob Harris, I really wish them well because, although I won’t listen to this very often, apart from the first and excellent title track, it is a finely crafted and executed body or work.

SEVENpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track listing:

  1. Fiction
  2. Electric Guitar
  3. Augusta
  4. Be Prepared
  5. Shut The Door
  6. Moaner
  7. Relic
  8. Altar Boy

Musicians:

Catie Wicks (bass/vocals)

Ian Ray (vocals/guitar)

Pas Struthers (drums)

Tom Shipp (guitar/bass)

Chris Gray (guitar/production)



Recorded in

the band’s own studio in rural Essex.
Straw Bear get real on Fiction

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