[sic] Magazine

Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Motorcade Amnesiacs

Reviewed by Paul Lockett

Many years ago when I was figuring what I wanted to do “when I grew up”, I came up with the rather bright idea of running a record shop. That was, of course, after I’d given up on the idea of being a Spaceman or Radio 1 DJ – for reasons that they’re both as rare as hens’ teeth. Anyway, I’d decided that the walls of my shop would be adorned with 7” picture discs, poster bags, double-packs, coloured vinyl, shaped discs, limited editions, cassette singles, rare CD singles, you name it and I’d stock it. This was all part of my ‘grand plan’ to educate the public in appreciating great music.

That dream was all but ruined when I realised that some snotty-nosed kid would likely come in on opening day and ask if I had “the latest one by Janet Jackson”. That’s enough to ruin most dreams – but for me, it actually put me off the whole idea for good. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad, but my girlfriend at the time told me that she wanted the latest Wham! 7” double-pack and asked me if I’d buy it for her. I went to my local record shop (who knew me very well since I was always in there) and whispered to the owner, telling him what I wanted. “What’s that, Paul?”, he said at raised volume (with a smug grin), “you want the latest Wham! single??!!”. By this point I had my head in my hands trying to make sure that nobody recognised me, at which point he then asked, “So how many copies of Wham! do you want?”.

I eventually got my own back; I went into the shop one day for the Going Nowhere 12” single by Dumptruck. Steve, the owner, located the record in his rack and said something along the lines of “Oh, what’s this one like then?”, I responded, “well, it’s pretty good, I like it”. He said, “do you mind if I put it on and play a bit?”, to which I said “go ahead”. He played it and fell in love with it; “This is BRILLIANT!”, he said as he went scuttling off to look for another copy in the rack. Unfortunately there weren’t any more copies – and he was about to sell me his only one. Steve was responsible for getting me into lots of good bands, which is why I thought it was pretty much the best job in the world.

The reason for telling you all this is that premier Buckinghamshire beat combo Sweet Billy Pilgrim (they’ll love me for saying that!) have just released their fourth album. If I owned that shop now, this album would literally be on repeat. Customers wouldn’t be allowed to leave without purchasing a copy. Motorcade Amnesiacs (no, me neither!) has more twists and turns than the A57 Snake Pass. It feels different than previous outings – Tim Elsenburg, Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s erstwhile vocalist, is once again chief songwriter, but the band has shared songwriting duties across a number of the tracks.

‘Candle, Book and Bell’ contains all the usual ingredients of a Sweet Billy Pilgrim track – but there’s the bonus of a rather nifty guitar solo which takes a leaf straight out of Santana’s book. Elsenburg is a master of the chorus – and when ‘FFwd to the Freeze Frame’ kicks off with its slightly disjointed intro, things soon settle down as we progress into the chorus – and there’s the addition of a delightful trumpet solo too.

It’s worth mentioning that a number of tracks feature Jana Carpenter on vocals. The male/female combination works really well – particularly on ‘Make It So’. ‘Burn Before Reading’ is just beautiful. If even a seasoned Sweet Billy Pilgrim fan heard this track, they’d be hard-pressed to guess that it was in fact Sweet Billy Pilgrim whom they were listening to. It has a feel of, say, the 1970s, and it really is delightful.

The pitch shifts up a gear for ‘Just above Midtown’ which has a snazzy bassline and some superb drumming too. If ‘Burn Before Reading’ has a feeling of the 70s, then ‘Chasing Horses’ carries with it a feel of the 80s – but here we’re talking ‘Pop!’. Once again, a superb rhythm section lay the foundations for a great melody line. There are even the obligatory ‘hand claps’ in the chorus alongside the strings.

The multi-layered acoustic guitar on ‘Tyrekickers’ would sound incredible even with the complete absence of any other instrumentation, but you’ll just fall in love with the harmonies and the chorus. There’s an inherent sadness in those notes.

I think closing track ‘Coloma Blues’ was actually the first track I heard on the album some months back. Sweet Billy Pilgrim do the trick which made Pixies famous in the 80s – normally in a song, the chorus carries a lot more weight than the verse, but here the verse carries the weight and when the chorus comes along, the song drops right back for a solitary vocal over a piano. This then doubles up with additional voices – and then strings. It’s frighteningly good. There’s even a nod to Madonna’s ‘Open Your Heart’ at nearly 4 mins into the track and a final rebel-rousing guitar solo before it’s over-and-out.

There is simply so much to like across this album. In Motorcade Amnesiacs, Sweet Billy Pilgrim have excelled even their own high watermark. It’s superb.

Motorcade Amnesiacs is released today, May 25th.

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