answers the MUSIC WORKS Questionnaire
I have the equivalent of a BA in English, French and History as well as Masters with Hons. in philosophy (I was a philosophy post-graduate at Ecole Normale Supérieure).
2. CREATIVE LIFE HIGHLIGHTS?
My very first Japanese tour, which also happened to be my first-ever tour anywhere, back in 1987, was a surreal experience. Some other concerts stand out – such as a residency at the Fez in NYC in the late 90s, or a fantastic duo recital with Danny Manners at the Sendesaal in Bremen, in May 2005; or the very recent show we put together at Rimshot Studio in December to mark the release of my new album with The Night Mail, Thunderclouds. Then there is the recording of my ‘Azure’ album with Danny and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in 1997 – three extraordinarily intense days…and the continued privilege of working with musicians I truly admire and respect, still a source of delight after all these years. Receiving messages of appreciation and encouragement from people like Robert Wyatt and Van Dyke Parks is also something I cherish.
3. WHAT AMBITIONS DO YOU STILL HAVE TO FULFIL?
Plenty. The next in line is touring in Europe with my friends from The Night Mail, with Danny in tow. In over three decades of working as a musician, it is the first time that I have a ‘proper’ band to work with, and I intend to make the most of it; happily, they agree with me! Other than that, there are some collaboration projects which I hope to see come to fruition in 2021. And I’ve long dreamt of writing a musical. Seriously!
4. SONGS YOU WISH YOU HAD WRITTEN?
So many. O Trem Azul by Lô Borges, Cruel by Paddy McAloon, Beeswing by Richard Thompson, to quote three off the top of my head. Top of the list might well be The Kiss, by Judee Sill. Almost everything Carole King wrote between 1961 and 1978.
5. DESERT ISLAND DISCS?
L’Enfant et les sortilèges, Maurice Ravel’s opera. Clube de Esquina, by Lô Borges and Milton Nascimento. Poulenc’s Concerto pour deux pianos. More Ravel – Sheherazade, the vocal composition, not the overture. Stravinsky’s Petrushka. Duke Ellington’s Black Brown & Beige. Bach’s Wiederdehe doch der Sünde cantata, as conducted by Glenn Gould. Songs For My Father, by Horace Silver, Ah-Um, by Charlie Mingus. Plus my own Steely Dan and Beach Boys compilations…
6. FAVOURITE ARTISTS/BANDS OF ALL TIME?
OK, only pop then – Prefab Sprout, Beach Boys, Bobby Fuller Four, Steely Dan, The Association, Microdisney, Elis Regina, Milton Nascimento. Edu Lobo. How could I forget Edu Lobo! Please add Edu por Edu with the Tamba Trio to my desert island list please.
7. WHAT MUSIC ARE YOU LISTENING TO NOW?
Statues Asleep, by Sternpost; Gentle Face, by the Magic Lantern; and The Beguiled, by Fred Thomas.
8. THE LAST BOOK YOU READ?
Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor, one of my life’s greatest literary shocks, as it happens.
Cooking – more than a hobby, in fact. Crossword-solving (The Times’ Cryptic is a daily challenge for me). Walking. Mushroom-picking. My hobbies and my work are not too easy to distinguish at times!
10. VINYL, CASSETTE, CD, MP3, WEB STREAMING?
All of the above, except cassettes: my deck is dead!
11. MUSIC IN THE AGE OF THE INTERNET (RELEASE, PROMOTION, GIG…) ??
The internet is both a blessing and a curse for us musicians; more of the latter to me. There are probably more people listening to my music now than at any other stage in my career, tens if not hundreds of thousands worldwide judging by the metrics I’m getting from online platforms. My last album, Thunderclouds, got more attention in the media than any of my others beforehand – but – and it is a huge but: increased dissemination has led to a decrease in revenue. Not ‘decrease’ in fact; ‘a catastrophic fall’ is more like it, to the extent it poses an existential threat to many of us. In this, I’m one of the lucky few, as I can count on an established fan base who’ve supported me through the years. But even that is not enough. I’m not optimistic, I must say. The Spotify model is a crushing disaster for most of us: greater exposure and greater reach do not translate into revenue. The result is that we cannot afford to carry on recording music – or have to cut corners, which means thinking twice about hiring extra musicians, or even using a decent studio. With COVID – and Brexit – putting a stop to touring, making a living out of music is more fraught than ever. Thank goodness for Bandcamp and people’s renewed interest in vinyl!
12. WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL MOTTO?
It’s not really ‘my’ motto, as it was suggested to me by Van Dyke Parks, and these words belong to Phil Ochs, but I’ll have it. “In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty”.
Louis Philippe & The Night Mail
“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 Philippe. Coming from this golden-voiced born French- and renaissance man, a Londoner by choice for the last 34 years, this seems quite astonishing. After all, this key figure of the baroque pop/chamber pop genre spent a good part of his life making his own as well as producing, writing, arranging, playing and singing on countless other people’s records, be it as house producer and songwriter for Mike Alway’s legendary él Records or as a collaborator with kindred spirits such as The High Llamas, Towa Tei, Martin Newell, Big Big Train, Testbild!, The Clientele and Bertrand Burgalat.
BJuggling a day job as one of Europe’s most high profile and fearsomely erudite football writers (under his birth name Philippe Auclair), in the past decade Louis Philippe kept his global community of reverential fans waiting in vain for new music. But we all know what they say about London buses, and these days Louis Philippe’s musical output seems to follow a similarly spasmodic timetable.
This year has already seen the release of The Devil Laughs, his critically acclaimed second collaboration with Young Marble Giant Stuart Moxham, now followed by Thunderclouds, on which he is joined by The Night Mail, a three-man band made up of fellow EU-citizen around town/musician/journalist Robert Rotifer on guitar, former Acid Jazz artiste and Weller band member, DJ, producer and walking pop encyclopedia Andy Lewis on bass and Papernut Cambridge supremo, ex-member of Thrashing Doves and Death in Vegas Ian Button on drums.
The Night Mail first appeared together in 2015 on Hamburg’s Tapete Records with glamorous cult singer-songwriter John Howard (check out the album John Howard & The Night Mail if you missed it). Last year they formed the core line-up of the high-charting comeback by Viennese artist/poet/chansonnier André Heller, feted by the German-speaking press as an instant classic. In 2017, at Tapete Records’ sold-out two-night 15-year-anniversary bash at London’s Lexington, The Night Mail performed with Louis Philippe, 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.”
Ironically, it has taken another three years for the album they agreed to make that night to finally materialise. Louis Philippe and Rotifer have been close friends for many years, and more recently their shared experience as democratically disenfranchised onlookers to the upheaval around Britain’s extraction from the EU has brought them even closer together. In the end it was the confluence of this escalating crisis with the current pandemic that finally brought the message home: If this record was ever going to happen, it had to happen now.
At the end of the first lockdown period, Rotifer went to see Louis Philippe at his flat to go through the endless pile of musical sketches the latter had amassed during his prolonged hiatus. In early September the whole band finally got together for two rehearsals before decamping to Rimshot Studios in rural Kent to record the backing tracks for all thirteen song on the album as well as overdubbing strings (played by violinist Rachel Hall from Big Big Train) and trumpet parts (by Shanti Jayasinha), followed by another session overdubbing vocals, keyboards, percussion and some more guitars, expertly engineered by Andy Lewis at Rotifer’s home studio in Canterbury. The result is an album that evokes that city’s fabled brand of whimsical prog just as much as Philippe’s deep roots in French song-craft and a shared love for the autumnal side of sunshine pop.
Side A opens with “Living on Borrowed Time”, a catchy, bass-driven, sounding like the theme tune to a lost Lemmy Caution movie. While the album’s title track cloaks the anticipation of a coming storm in heavily jazz-tinged Wyattesque chords magically rising out of the singing noise emanating from a building site next to Louis Philippe’s Shepherd’s Bush home, light-footed waltzes like “Fall in a Daydream” and “Once in a Lifetime of Lies” manage to make London feel like Paris, before the closing track “When London Burns” invites the listener onto an imaginary dance-floor where an anglophone Michel Polnareff meets disco boffin Biddu. In between all that, we traverse the eerie aural cityscapes of “Alphaville”, the wide dynamic range of two song suites (“The Man Who Had It All” and “Rio Grande”), the Tropicalia/folk-flavoured subtlety of “The Mighty Owl”, the surprising gospel grooves of “Love is the Only Light”, the arresting stop-and-start dramatics of “No Sound”, the unexpected Celtic tones of “Do I” and the equally loony and beautiful semi-instrumental “Willow”.
Quite how Louis Philippe managed to keep all these ideas pent-up inside him for all these years remains a mystery, but once they start pouring out, he is truly unstoppable. And as he rightly predicted back in 2017, at full steam ahead The Night Mail proved able to keep up with him.
Who is Louis Philippe?
Louis Philippe is the stage name of singer/songwriter (not to mention BBC correspondent, football journalist, chef and wine buff) Philippe Auclair. Raised in Normandy, France, Louis studied and taught philosophy in Paris before releasing his first EP under the name of The Border Boys on the Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule in 1985.
Splitting from his subsequent band The Arcadians, Louis moved residence to London, England, and crossed paths with Mike Alway, legendary eminence grise behind the él label. Quickly becoming the label’s house songwriter, Louis contributed to many él releases, including three albums under his own name.
After the demise of él, five more albums followed on the Japanese Trattoria label, courtesy of longtime Louis fan Keigo Oyamada (aka Cornelius). Since then, Louis has continued to release solo albums, and has also worked as songwriter and producer for many other artists.