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And if one thing is true, it’s that we need to start from scratch, to start all over again. Not to begin again as if nothing has come before, but to reappraise what we have already in a new light. Songs, music, lyrics, ideas, a haphazard compulsion of creativity, love, parenthood, the lack of parenthood, songwriting, cycling, discussion, friendship, friendship, friendship. What does this tell us about JA? Only that this is music, and this is music made by 2 men of experience and fading youth who are after all only conduits for songs that are plucked from who knows where, like Bob Dylan said, plucked down from the sky or out of the ether and turned into things that people want to listen to or buy. And in these digital times what could be more refreshing than people wanting to make music for its own sake regardless of fashion, the changing times, the need to succeed?
Over the years JA have made records, very agile, urgent and lateral records, full of wit and emotion (L Clausi) which few people have heard or even know about. Obscurity can mean failure, or it can signify a life outside the planets, a parallel universe populated by the great and the good – Max Ernst, Todd Rundgren, David Torn, Jean Rhys, Richard Ford. From out of the shadows come the obscure, striding into the light to break bread with their brothers and sisters in arms at the table of cultural delights.
What JA lack is a manifesto. It is, as they would say, all about the song. But is that enough these days? 15 years ago, at the height of the “easy listening” boom, JA were PG, resounding with the angles of Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach, and also way ahead of their time. The lack of pressure brought to bear on the world by PG lead to the end of that band and the start of JA, a muscular response to the vacuity of the early 2000s pop world.
C and F, as JA, set out on a writing and recording marathon which became the 2 LPs licensed to Schnitzel Records, JA and RRR, No Logos and the Inevitable being the leaders, the open doors to class, song-driven dreams. Cordoba played most of the instruments on the recordings himself: as well as guitar, he plays bass, drums, piano, keyboards, percussion, and does a lot of the backing vocals; he produces the sessions too. From poignant references to London life (Bunhill Fields cemetery) in “Everyone Talked About Us", to hopeful resolutions scrawled on the back of his pay packet in "Pay Day”, the first 2 JA albums explore the limits of experience: “I used to write songs on the backs of envelopes", PF explained. "My lyrical ideas stretch as far as the thing I‘m writing on”. It all ends with the beautifully stark, piano-driven title track of the second album, “Road Rail River", the sound of crows calling forlornly through a wood.
Then came RR, the first 23 song documentation of one man’s mid-life meltdown ever committed to WAV. CC recorded all the music, PF did the vocals on a green bullet harmonica microphone in his City Road bathroom, curled up in the heat in the dark, and CC put the whole thing together in Chris Wyles’ Camberwell Castle. Cordoba must have plugged his guitar in the washing machine in order to reach some of those sounds (Adrian Belew would definitely approve), and the word-picking of Frederick’s lyricism was exquisite enough and yet plain enough to be thought of as truthful.
The next LP, SPL was an altogether more fi thing, the crunchy, luxuriuous production upholstering the erudite, emotional, hard-shell/soft-shell songwriting, the album reaching its apex with the Cordoba-penned, misty twisty “Come Get me” and the hard rock drama of “HS on the G”
Swimming Pool Lies was their 4th and most confident album yet, in which they tackled the ennui of living with gracious irony and witty lyricism. Clocking at a mere 38 minutes for 12 tracks, SPL played with the idea of America and the American landscape in the subtlest way, the sound and the lyrics suggesting images of great spaces and openness, contrasting with the band’s uber-metropolitan, London daily routine. America was echoed not only in the lyrics, but musically too: here and there Pavement and Sparklehorse came to mind. But on the whole, it was a quite individual affair, cruising through quirkiness (“New Format”, “Human Pinata”) achieving pop perfection (“Waving Goodbye to the Sun”) and veering toward the quasi-elegy of closure (“Vagabond Inn” and the anthemic “Why Can't Love Be Enough”).
Well, the usual fellows played it on the radio – “Beelzebub” was popular enough – and then CC became a father, taking his new responsibilities rightly seriously. He recorded his own LP “Paternity” in response, a completely modern rediscovery of the guitar (think R Thompson , D Torn R Fripp, B Frisell (yes, that great. meanwhile JA put together the best of the new recordings (culled from 3 massive song-writing sessions) at Castle Wyles (now with extra duvet and a bit of new carpet), including live favourite Born Wise, tribute to Slayer B of M, pop classics TA and South Beach and a nod to the classic song-writing tradition of the JA partnership, (PSea, BGold).
Launching Supple Pipe as a label as a refuge of musical insanity in an increasingly unadventurous world, plans are for a best of JA, the new record “I Saw A Ghost”, the PG songbook “Vol 1”, a 50 Years of Fred compilation - from Sewage to Nice Man - plus a 2nd Cordoba record and new works from electronic projects (S is the P and White L).
And so JA abide, like love in the hearts of little children, for they are themselves like children – trusting, optimistic, open-minded, full-hearted. Some people have got married to their music (S Song) others play it at moments of intense happiness or joy.