Hidden treasures: ‘Occasional Rain’

Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs plunder a rich world of bittersweet gems.

“Occasional Rain is largely set in Bedsit Land with the meter having run out, damp loon pants and the roof leaking.”

Over the last few years Ace Records have enjoyed a purple patch of beautifully curated releases. Many of these have been the work of Saint Etienne men and Super Pop Brains Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs. Their series of themed compilations started with the much-loved English Weather back in 2017 – an inspired trawl of beautiful but gloomy proggy-folky stuff from the turn of the ‘70s. Bedecked with flutes and mellotron and linked by a certain ‘What’s It All About?’ melancholy, it’s a sub-genre that lacked a name until that point but became ‘English Weather Music’ from here on.  Compilers Extraordinaire Stanley and Wiggs followed it up with groovy French funk-pop (Paris In The Spring), despairing missives at crumbling late 60s America (State Of The Union, reviewed here), down-at-heel charity shop glam (Three Day Week) and stirring synth-pop (The Tears Of Technology). In addition to coining new genres and shining lights on some neglected corners it’s fair to say they’ve also inspired some very long sentences.

Their latest collection is a welcome return trip to English Weather’s territory mining that same period. Occasional Rain is a joy. It’s very much a sequel, but it’s perhaps the morning after the morning after. Despite itself, English Weather still has a little residual ‘60s optimism warming it through. Occasional Rain is largely set in Bedsit Land with the meter having run out, damp loon pants and the roof leaking. “I think the tone is a little different. Occasional Rain is a little more anxious,” cedes Stanley in the latest issue of Shindig!

Opening with the bucolic picked guitar and flute-fest of Traffic’s Hidden Treasure, there’s a wealth of bittersweet gems here. Duncan Browne’s Ragged Rain Life oscillates between fey and explosive, while Cressida’s Home And Where I Long To Be is positively bouncy.

The highlights are too many to really go into, it’s a rich world Stanley and Wiggs plunder here. The world-weary, wet ‘baccy musings of Pete Brown’s Piblokto and Michael Chapman mingle with a mellow but vein-bulging Yes and highly-strung Argent. The limber, jazzy groove of ‘Igginbotham’s The Castle collides with Granny’s Intentions’ cheery instrumental waltz Nutmeg, Bitter Sweet, while The Moody Blues’ serene Out and In is as contemplative as it’s horizontal.

The best thing here might be Mandy More’s lonesome, bereft Come With Me To Jesus, which hints at dark things behind closed doors. In an age where any number of good-looking, hairy young men at house parties could attempt an opportunistic pass at impressionable young women – More’s protagonist sounds both in awe and utterly heartbroken. It somehow sums up the seamy side of those post-counterculture,  early permissive society days, and will probably get snapped up by a savvy music supervisor for whatever cult-based Netflix series is next out of the traps.

Due to rather obvious reasons Occasional Rain has been unseasonably delayed from the drizzle and cloud of its original spring release date. Despite emerging at the brink of summer, it’s still fine weather to spend time in.

❉ ‘Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs Present Occasional Rain’ is released by Ace Records, 29 May 2020. CD, RRP £11.50/LP: £29.01: Pre-order from Ace, free delivery in the UK

 Martin Ruddock has written for ‘Doctor Who Magazine’, ‘Shindig! Magazine’, the ‘You And Who’ series, and is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.

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