PREMIERE: Ted Barnes and Sarah Johns Music Party – ‘Arrangements’: theatrical delicacy from returning Clayhill prodigal

Ted Barnes

YOU MAY or may not have been blessed enough to have swooned for Clayhill, the cruelly underrated trio who got lumped into the semi-trendy genre ‘The New Acoustic’ by the music press alongside the likes of Lowgold and Kings of Convenience, which definition did them a massive disservice. Seek ye their albums; for further evidence of my assertions, check out the dark delicacy of “Hang On” from Clayhill’s 2006 swansong album, Mine At Last.

After Clayhill’s sad demise, and the trio – former Red Snapper bassist Ali Friend and dual singer-songwriters, ex-Sunhouse (and there’s another criminally underrated band) man Gavin Clark and Ted Barnes went their separate ways, Ted was involved with soundtracks, working with the acclaimed Dead Man’s Shoes/This Is England director Shane Meadows on a clutch of tunes for his 2008 film, Somers Town, and library music, among other projects.

It’s nigh on 13 years now since his last album proper, Portal Nou, after which Ted creatively diversified, into theatre, film, even contemporary circus and songwriting partnerships, working with Beth Orton for a decade.

“Leaving rock ‘n’ roll to join the circus was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Ted says, memorably and wryly.

Longtime collaborator Beth Orton is on record as saying, correctly: “He is the architect of delicate yet durable works of beauty. He has an ear for fine details and hidden depths; defining that perfect place between melancholy and the sweetest hope you could imagine”.

Ted the prodigal is now finally set to return with a new full album set, 17 Postcards, on March 19th; and at Backseat Mafia we’re pleased as punch dually, not just to see his return under his own moniker, as it were; but also to premiere “Arrangements”, the first single he’s releasing from 17 Postcards, in cahoots with the Sarah Johns Music Party: a delicate waltz, part theme from the best late Sixties arthouse movie yet to be made, part Talulah Gosh/early Belle & Sebastian indie sweetness, wholly Ted’s singular fragility.

Structurally, 17 Postcards is exactly that: succinct and often cathartic musical missives, some lyric, some instrumental, inspired by collaborations both past and ongoing and events of the past decade; notably the loss of his Clayhill bandmate Gavin Clark, who left us too soon in 2015. 

Along for the ride are collaborators such as Ali Friend; Gill Sandell, of Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo, on piano and accordion, and the string section of Howard Gott and Sarah Willson, whose work you’ve heard with both Beth Orton and Tindersticks.

“Arrangements” features the vocal talents of Sarah Johns Music Club; and touchingly, Gavin Clark’s son Michael on the track “Way Beyond This”.

Ted says of this track and the collaboration: “Writing ‘Arrangements’ with Sarah Johns was a spontaneous, joyful affair, sort of how music should be; but with the best will in the world, often isn’t!

“I’d seen her gig in the Harrison Pub in Kings Cross and became an immediate fan of her unique style of writing and performing. We were both keen to get together and write so she came around one night and we jammed for a couple of hours with recorders on.

“Listening back the next day, ‘Arrangements’ was the very first thing that came out of us both.

“My partner, the artist Helen Maurer, made the video.”

“Arrangements” will be available as a download-only single from February 5th. 17 Postcards will be released by Mornington Records on March 19th on digital download and CD, and will available from Ted’s Bandcamp page, where you’ll find a multiplicity of other goodies, including Portal Nou; it’ll also be available for pre-order from Rough Trade soon.

Follow Ted over at his website, which will you lead on a merry and multidisciplinary musical trail.

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