Released back in June 2019, ‘Nobody Ever Got Rich (By Making People Sad)’ by The Golden Dregs, still remains for me one of the most outstanding singles I’ve ever reviewed for Backseat Mafia. For some reason, I never got to review the later album, the brilliant ‘Hope is for the Hopeless’, but The Golden Dregs are back after over a year in the COVID wilderness with the stunning track ‘John’, and all is well in the world. ‘John’ has a fragile beauty about it that, in a sense, defines the inimitable sound of The Golden Dregs.
The Golden Dregs is essentially the project and brainchild of the London via Cornwall songwriter Benjamin Woods, with vocals that are a delectably deep and sonorous, whiskey-soaked and draped in a cloak of longing, loss and regret. The themes are invariably deeply personal, filled with yearning and melancholy and dripping with poetic vision. ‘John’ recounts the loss of a childhood friend, lyrically exploring memories of those no longer with us, grief, regret and the departure of youth.
Woods himself went through a very traumatic period as a victim of the impact waves emanating from COVID – a retrenchment and an escape to Cornwall and a bleak period of adjustment:
I wrote no lyrics in this time. I pulled every dodgy voice memo from my phone and chord progression from head and structured them into pieces of music and fleshed them out. “John” was one of the first pieces of music I made in this time, just as the days began to warm up in early April. It’s a very basic chord progression, but one that I would always play whenever I had a guitar in my hands. There’s a lot of sadness to the combination of chords. I had the song fully structured, I just didn’t understand what it was about yet”.
From the intellectual and creative environment of an art gallery in London to working on a construction site in Cornwall, it was a huge and dramatic change:
The building site was rough. And muddy like I had never known. I was very unhappy. I wrote the verses to ‘John in the shower. I was humming the melody and thinking about the past and then I knew what the song was about.
I often use songwriting to process experiences and emotions that I otherwise would struggle to articulate, or would shy away from talking about publicly. Sometimes the process is cathartic, but it can backfire and I get stuck reliving an unsavoury memory every time we perform a song live.
From great pain and challenge comes inspiration and creativity: ‘John’ has all the stature and grace of his earlier work with its delicacy and poetry. A little more verve and step to the track: jangling guitars and a driving percussion form a melodic base to Woods’s absorbing vocals – close, almost whispered, filled with such a heartbreaking tristesse. The chorus lilts with almost upbeat backing singing and sense of jollity that works as a contrapuntal force to the lyrics and the main vocals.
This is a majestic return: a song that is infused with human emotion built on pain and suffering yet expressed with a certain stoicism and presence. Out through End of the Road Records, you can get ‘John’ through the link below or stream/download a variety of ways here.
The Golden Dregs have also announced a tour – details below:
July 27th – London, UK @ Brixton Windmill
July 22nd-24th – Suffolk, UK @ Latitude Festival
Aug 19th-22nd – Crickhowell, UK @ Green Man Festival
Sept 2nd-5th – Salisbury @ End of the Road Festival
Sept 22nd-25th – Hamburg, DE @ Reeperbahn Festival
Nov 13th – Glasgow, UK @ Stag & Dagger Festival
Feature Photograph: Dinomoves and Buck