ÉL RECORDS recording genius and in-house producer who seemed to find his way onto most of that label’s releases; football correspondent for the English game for France Football, these 21 years now; book award-winner, renaissance man and general all-round good egg, ’tis a shame that Louis Philippe, just as Louis Philippe, has been missing from our turntables for what is it now? Crikey, 13 years.
That’s all about to change; like fellow countrywoman Charlotte Marionneau, aka Le Volume Courbe, we’re about to see a little resurgence of brilliantly eccentric, Anglophile French pop outta leftfield.
He released a two-handed recording with long-time collaborator Stuart Moxham, once a Young Marble Giant, The Devil Laughs, in July; but now he has a baker’s dozen of new pop exquisiteness ready to present to us in the shape of Thunderclouds, which long player will be out just in time for Santa.
“I have never done a record quite like this before, with a live band in the studio, though I had always wanted to do it,” says Louis – or as his mère and père know him, Philippe.
That might be a surprise if you know his albums for Él, indeed, most of the label’s oeuvre, since his delightful baroque pop fingerprints can be found everywhere; not forgetting his work behind the faders for greats like The High Llamas and The Clientele – even former Deee-lite turntablist, DJ Towa Tei.
Dusting down his musical mojo, on Thunderclouds he’s joined by The Night Mail, a three-man band comprising fellow EU-citizen around town/musician/journalist Robert Rotifer on guitar; former Blow Up! DJ and member of Spearmint, Andy Lewis, on bass; and Papernut Cambridge guru and Thrashing Doves and Death in Vegas skins-tickler Ian Button.
The band and the man first made beautiful music together at London’s legendary venue The Lexington in 2017, The Night Mail having backed Robert Forster the night before.
“When I played with The Night Mail at The Lexington, I instantly knew that I could make a record with them,” says Louis Philippe, “because these guys were good, and they were fast.”
And so, the dates ripped from a calendar, fluttering, as in an Orson Welles film; it was the ‘rona that led them to the conclusion that the record had to happen now.
The first song Louis has drawn back the curtain on is here for you to watch and absorb: the swoon and swirl and swing of “Fall in a Daydream”, sat somewhere between Noël Coward, Brian Wilson and Sean O’Hagan – in other words, wholly and beautifully in Philippeworld.
But look beyond those velvety arrangements and you’ll find steelier lyrical concerns, as Night Mail man Robert reveals: “When Louis first played this to me I was deceived by the catchy sweetness of the tune. It was only in the studio when he did the vocals that the dark implications of the song’s lyrics started to dawn on me.
“Let’s not beat around the bush: the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster, in which at least 70 Londoners died, is testament to the murderous inequality within this still beautiful, amazing city. It felt almost unbearable travelling through West London around that time, the charred remains of the tower shockingly visible from the raised section of the Underground line, while jaded fellow passengers never even paused in their conversation.
“With hindsight, this song is my soundtrack to that experience. I just love how Philippe’s view focuses not on the calamity itself, but on those who casually looked away”. Changes things, doesn’t it?
As for elsewhere within Thunderclouds: well we’re just getting acquainted with its gorgeously arranged vistas, but it’s a gem for sure. Watch out for our review in early December.
Louis Philippe & The Night Mail’s Thunderclouds will be released by Tapete Records on digital download, CD and vinyl on December 11th; pre-order your copy at Tapete, here, or from your trusted local record emporium.