The Darlington Sessions is truly a lovely little surprise. Recorded at the tail end of last year at Darlington Road Studios, it’s nine tracks of pure acoustic bliss from some of the UK’s greatest punk rock performers at the moment; Roo Pescod (Bangers), Giles Bidder (Great Cynics) and Kelly Kemp (Livers and Lungs). Each performer contributed a couple of their own tracks and the rest were worked on collaboratively; at least, that’s what it says on the tin. Everyone lends a hand and makes appearances on the tracks throughout. Although each of the ‘solo’ tracks have their own distinct style, you can definitely feel the presence of the others and the rest of the musicians who have helped them out in the studio and along the way. It’s precisely that feeling of community that makes The Darlington Sessions so wonderful. Take Bidder’s ‘My Babylonian Wheelie Board’ – an ode to the simple joys of skateboarding. Without Pescod’s gruff rasp and Kemp’s soft tones, it’d feel as empty as the landscape it describes. Instead, it takes on the warmth of a summer evening on the South Coast. Great stuff.
Much like in their main projects, each one of these little gems has a story to tell. Most tracks are short – all less than three minutes – but that’s ample time for a brief snapshot into a troubled relationship, a confession of hometown blues or a rousing affirmation of punk rock camaraderie. There’s plenty of lyrics that resonate deep within your core and put a smile on your face at the same time, like Kemp’s charming line about becoming a scratchcard millionaire in ‘Homes and Castles’, and Pescod’s fantasies of smashing up H&M in ‘Hammerwhammer’. There’s a certain honesty to the whole affair; not one that’s missing in their full-time bands, but one that’s amplified through the really beautiful simplicity of the tracks at hand. There’s a distinctly British voice throughout too, one that’s often lacking but sorely needed in our alternative music scene today, but it wouldn’t be alienating to an international audience at all – these are songs about the kinds of things we all go through at some point.
Although each track is as well constructed as you’d expect, there’s a huge sense of play that runs abound throughout the sessions. Tracks like ‘Under The Table’ utilise dark and discordant rhythms and violins and pianos add extra, understated layers to really bring out the potential in songs such as ‘Bedtimes’ and ‘Earth Abides’. The Darlington Sessions are fun, born out of good times and good hangs, and it just so happens that good musicianship comes into to mix as well. If that’s not worth four of your English pounds, then I don’t know what is.
4.5 out of 5 high fives!