❉ Den Cartlidge salutes an unsung master of quirky pop, electronica and psychedelia.
Fellow We Are Cult readers – I present my case for a Jim Noir recording as the next addition to your gramophone collection.
Persuaded by a positive review in the late Q magazine, I bought Jim’s debut album, Tower of Love, in 2005. I liked it so much I snapped up a pair of tickets to see the bowler hat-wearing musician on tour.
I had to talk a sceptical friend, who’d never heard of Jim, into coming with me. The sceptic was more than won over that night. “He’s going to be big,” he insisted as the lights came up.
Jim has never been big, alas, and nearly six LPs later I’m still trying to work out why this unsung singer songwriter isn’t, at the very least, much better known.
Is there a Jim Noir sound? Well album reviews from his debut album onwards talk about his talent for infectious pop, dreamy soundscapes, electronica and psychedelia – and I couldn’t disagree with any of this. But I’d also add that there’s something of a day-off-school feel to his music – that echoes TV’s greatest unsung songsmiths, but more of that later.
And who is Jim Noir? Well Jim is really Alan Peter Roberts – and his stage name is a nod to Vic Reeves aka Jim Moir. It’s probably not surprising then that there’s often wit and wry humour in his music, but it’d be wrong to look down on him for writing smile-inducing tracks: best to think of him as a serious artist with a sense of humour. This often translates into track listings that include mellow and melodic McCartney-esque numbers, a Brian Eno-meets-pop soundscape or two, before side one concludes with an instrumental that could be the theme to a long-lost sitcom about Bernard Cribbins and Fennela Fielding living on a canal barge.
Let’s visit his back catalogue and a few choice tracks, and see if I can present a case, in five and a half parts, for the purchase of a Jim Noir LP as the next addition to your record collection.
Part one: Tower of Love (2005)
Crammed with infectious melodies and dreamy harmonies, Jim’s debut is a collection of songs that have a timeless quality – evoking long summer days, strummed guitars in the park, mellotrons and the time Dad tried to grow sideburns and ended up looking like Noddy Holder.
On the bouncy, super-catchy pop of Eanie Meany, a young Jim sings: “If you don’t give my football back, I’m going to get my dad on you.” The title track meanwhile is a mellow instrumental that sounds like the theme music to a forgotten Derek Nimmo vehicle from the ITC stable (with Derek playing a vicar moonlighting as a private detective in swinging London).
How to Be So Real is laid back melancholic pop, while Key of C bounces quirkily off the turntable, but the start of these two very different songs share a musical theme that often pops up on a Noir LP. It took me a while to realise what it was and then it hit me: they sounded like the ident music for some forgotten ITV regional franchise. And who doesn’t like the crisp, catchy bars of a good TV ident?
Part two: Jim Noir (2008)
Welcome Commander Jameson starts Jim’s second LP hinting at a slightly harder, rocky sound, but it’s followed by the brilliant All Right which, in 4 minutes 20 seconds, combines retro-futuristic pop with occasional harmonies that answer a never before asked question: what would the Kings Singers sound like if they’d used a vocoder?
Don’t You Worry combines a melody that could be theme music, perhaps written by unsung, genius TV composer, Alan Hawkshaw, of Dave Allen at Large fame – if he had access to more synths perhaps – with Jim’s trademark wit reassuring the listener: “Don’t you bloody worry, I’ll be fine.”
Happy Day Today combines ecstatic pop with a bigger rock sound and Beach Boy harmonies – and I’ll wager that even the grumpiest listener will find themselves unavoidably tapping their feet to this wonderful tune, but like many of Brian Wilson’s great works, there’s a hint of melancholia hidden between the hooks.
Part three: Jimmy’s Show (2012)
The closest Jim comes to a concept album perhaps, with quirky, catchy and witty psychedelic numbers exploring the dreams and fears of suburban Manchester. X Marks the Spot starts the LP with a chunky, rocky instrumental before songs like Tea, Sunny and the brilliantly titled Driving my Escort Cosworth to the Cake Circus, hint at paranoia and public nuisances in the gardens and side roads, and potentially perilous trips to the corner shop.
It’s hard to pick out a standout track here, but at a push I’d go for The Cheese of Jim’s Command – another big, sounding retro-futuristic pop epic that calls back to the Jim Noir LP.
Part four: Finnish Line (2014)
On which Jim releases his inner Beatle – and he’s wearing McCartney’s Get Back beard and the green trousers George sported on the rooftop gig. There’s a groovy late period Beatles sound on tracks like The Ancoats Dream, Strange Range and Make Me Do it Again. But there’s still room for super-catchy, analogue and harmony driven pop like The Broadway Jets, while Stone Cold Room could be the song George Harrison might have made if Paul and John had let him use his Moog synthesiser a bit more on Abbey Road.
Part five: A.M Jazz (2019)
If Finishing Line was Jim’s Beatle album, is this his Brian Eno one? That’s way too simplistic a description, but this is very much a LP of rich, almost ambient soundscapes, and intriguing early Roxy synth flourishes, among some perfect and intriguing sounding laidback pop.
Feel O.K and A.M Jazz sound like they should perhaps be on a LP called Music for (Manchester) Airport. Hexagons meanwhile starts with a groove that could be the accompaniment to the For Schools and Colleges TV clock, before female vocals and wait for it, a chunky guitar solo, turns this into so much more. Jim also lobs in a tune that sounds like classic TV music – the brief and wonderfully eccentric Wonders Amber which, to my ears, sounds like a cousin of the One Man and His Dog theme.
So that’s five full length LPs, not counting the mini-album, Deep Blue View. But I did say I’d describe five and half reasons to like Jim, didn’t I? Let’s return to 2010, and the Melody Junction EP.
This could be a perfect taster for someone new to Jim: alongside brisk power-pop, wistful grooves and an intriguingly odd instrumental, there’s the genius title track, Melody Junction. Only Jim could have taken the musical foundations from a public information film advising drivers on how to deal with road junctions – and then slowly turn it into what should have been a new pop classic.
❉ You can find out more about Jim and hear his music at https://jimnoirclub.bandcamp.com/ or support his latest project at https://www.patreon.com/jimnoir. Follow Jim Noir on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JimNoirOfficial.
❉ Den Cartlidge is a writer of submissions rarely accepted. After two failed novels, he’s currently working on a memoir.