IF YOU consider yourself a fan of great British guitar music and you haven’t investigated the canon of East London-Essex borderlands’ The Wolfhounds, then jeez, do you ever need to put that right – immediatement.
Coming out of the C86 wave of bands and featuring on that legendary/infamous tape (please delete according to personal taste) from the NME, they immediately set out their stall with the rush and snarl of “Feeling So Strange Again”, which led to the estuary blues of their debut Cut The Cake EP. A procession of fine, very fine EPs and albums followed – you knew they had it all going on as the B-sides were all either A-side candidates in their own right or brilliant experiments – and for me they hit the creative peak of their first wave with the astounding sonics of their seven-track mini-album, Blown Away; which, if righteous guitar noise thrills you, with a little edge of sampling and dub and pretty much presenting as the British Sonic Youth, you basically need.
1990’s Attitude was also fine and scouring and pretty much wholly overlooked; and after that they were gone, with singer Dave Callahan re-emerging first with Creation and then on Too Pure with Moonshake.
The eternal wheel ever turns, however, and The Wolfhounds returned just like they’d never been away, soured visions of our dystopian nation to the fore and embedded in shred and howl and distortion on a trio of second-wave long-playing gems: Middle-Aged Freaks; Untied Kingdom ( … Or How To Come To Terms With Your Culture) and last year’s darkly delicious Electric Music.
And ever-present throughout The Wolfhounds dual lifespans has been Andy Golding, guitarchitect supreme, making that six-stringed unfortunate scream and judder and raga out; one of the best leftfield British guitarists of modern times? For my money.
Now, for only the second time, Andy is stepping out from the ‘hounds under his anagrammatic Dragon Welding moniker for an album of instrumental guitar essays, journeys towards ambience, layered, multitracked, wholly in conversation with himself. It’s exploratory, melodic, kosmiche, shimmering and transporting. And you oughta get aboard.
He’s released just the one album under that moniker before, 2019’s self-titled outing for A Turntable Friend; but that’s all set to change in May with Lights Behind The Eyes.
Andy says of the music he sets sail in as Dragon Welding (and isn’t that a great anagrammatical moniker too, redolent of fire and the elements, of flicker and sulphur, things made and remade in heat?): “I wanted to make music that you can relax to while keeping your guard up. Like Neil Young waltzing with Laurie Anderson at the Chigley six o’clock whistle while The Durutti Column watches over Brian Eno as he turns the handle on the fairground organ.
“I wanted it to surprise me.”
Sometime fellow traveller in the more acerbic and unblinking end of independent British guitar music Cathal Coughlan offers further praise. The former Microdisney and Fatima Mansions man says: “Andy’s work as Dragon Welding provides a subtly hallucinatory undertow to any day, imbued with a rough-hewn beauty and sense of mystery which make it invaluable to me in these bizarre stretches of time.”
Well look, I was pretty much already sold. Interests declared. But away from the lowering scrapyard sirens of The Wolfhounds’ catalogue since pretty much Bright And Guilty, what widens the eyes is the depth and shady pastoralism Andy brings to the Dragon Welding aesthetic.
Lights Behind The Eyes opens with the title track, which Andy premiered with us two months ago; so twould be both rude and unbecoming to not spin that again; to which end you’ll find it below. You’ll also find it swerves from the howl and the rage and the feedback squeal into dubby psychedelic instrumental guitar ambience, feedback tamed to soft winds of warming wash in the background, an almost Felt delicacy to the echoing, arpeggiating figure; think William Tyler stretched out on a verge on the A13, thumbing out past Tilbury to no avail; think sunsets caught over the power station on the opposite bank; think majesty, actually.
It is warm, fiery warm; just in a more shimmering way than we’ve maybe come to expect. There’s also a spun-sugar fragility to those tones. If you’re a proper scholar of The Wolfhounds (and: see above for whether you should be), you might find precedent in “Disinformation”, the closing cut from their first-era swansong, Attitude.
“Liquid” leads us deeper by channelling the Felt of “Fire Circle” – that brittle warmth, like a branch almost completely cinder in a campfire, cracked, glowing, about to powder, and splices that aesthetic with a longform, meandering beauty, all relaxed glimmer and the bright spark of notes picked with precision and strength; it flows for a full eight minutes and yet seems gone in a second, one of those songs that transcends any linearity time may or may not possess.
“BodMAS” seems to be titled as for some strange and acronymical biochemical process or something you’d find in the pages of Russell Hoban’s future dystopia, Riddley Walker; it presents as an almost Jack Rose thing, tricksy, free-flowing finger-picking with one foot firmly in an Essex Americana and another in a more experimental raga, resonant and always defying your expectations of what it might do next, as it spits out ringing, stumbling folk beauty.
“Scorched Sea” steps back towards Andy’s parent band by way of some Throbbing Gristle or Cabaret Voltaire, great slabs of thrum and grind with an addled metronomy the bed for riffs like hot, extruding wire in the great steel mills. It’s industrial in a thrilling and inventive way, and not in a wears an ankle-length leather coat and has a The Matrix poster way: it’s the sound of riverside industry brought right inside your head and made song. And it burrows deeper as arcane semi-percussion booms and that riff howls and crackles like a downed high-voltage cable writhing at your feet.
“Own Goal” has a bright and brittle precision, almost Vini Reilly in its blown glass neo-classicism. Dizzying runs and plenty of string squeak garland a tune that once more seems to be a folk-blues given a more 2021 British twist; a music for an edgelands, for horses in rushy paddocks under pylons, for breezeblock cafes and mini-roundabouts leading nowhere. A particularly British spell-casting, it enchants under grey skies.
“On” seems to burrow even deeper into this parched, poisoned land, a post-Brexit instrumental folk tale of haze and dark entrancement, some kind of backwards-masked threnody of dispossessed souls providing an eerie coda.
A seven-track delight of a record, which whisks you through all kinds of visions, wraps up in “Paraevolution”, pence shy of nine minutes of Andy in duet with himself; fiery sundown chords glow and crash through a light evening mist of humbler melody that layers in, tendrils of it reaching out, cooling the evening air. I’m even getting a little bit of first-album Pale Saints in the leftfield, pretty-but-defiantly off-kilter melody. Again, you’d swear it had passed in the blink of an eye. So you play it again. Dammit, let’s play the whole thing again, hey?
Stepping out from The Wolfhounds, Andy has spread his wings into an ambient atmospheres that are often beautiful but never pretty-pretty, always retaining an edge and an atmosphere that lifts them further in the way the slight acridity of wood smoke caught in the air is a lift and a reminder of autumn. There’s shade to the light, and as befits his solo musical avatar, there’s a lot of fire and smoulder and rich six-stringed glow here too. He wanted it to surprise him, and it surprised me too, as an entirely cohesive extension of what we’ve known him for elsewhere. It’s an excellent album which you could file next to records like Martin Duffy’s Assorted Promenades, William Tyler’s Behold The Spirit; Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4, and other such fine company; an album that reaches out from leftfield with a deep instrumental story to tell. You really should, you know.
Dragon Welding’s Lights Behind The Eyes will be released by Dimple Discs digitally, on CD and on very strictly limited vinyl run of 350 on May 7th; pre-orders are now open for business, yessir, over at Bandcamp.