Peter has selected two very different acts to support him on tour – each reflecting his own musical tastes.
Inspired by the unique song-writing talents of a new band from Liverpool Peter did not hesitate to pursue Sizer Barker and sign the band to his new record label imprint Pre Records. Daby Toure, who will perform solo, is one of a new generation of young talented African artists who draw on traditional roots transforming them with European-influenced pop sounds.
Liverpool, late spring, 1996. Carl Brown is walking through a cemetery with a friend, a dog and a headful of songs when his attention is caught by a headstone bearing an unusual name: ‘William Sizer Barker.’ Flash forward a week and Brown is sitting in his car when a large truck passes by. On its side, the name of the haulage company: ‘William Barker.’ He takes it as a sign. One day he will form a band. And Sizer Barker will be its name.
Sizer Barker – intriguingly strange yet reassuringly familiar. Rather like the music on Hotel Juicy Parlour, a debut album that has been gestating within Brown since that overcast day in the graveyard.
So how did we get here? After school Carl Brown starts learning the ropes in a Liverpool recording studio. He wants to be an engineer but his official job title is Tea Boy. He makes tea for a local producer, Ken Nelson, who will go on to work on the debuts of Badly Drawn Boy and Coldplay.
Eventually Brown gets to twiddle some knobs himself. One of his first jobs is on a demo for an unknown local singer-songwriter called David Gray. He starts to wonder what life is like on the other side of the control room window and sings backing vocals for the Lightning Seeds and Terry Hall. Soon after, he picks up a guitar and starts writing songs, inspired by his love of Seventies singer-songwriters in general and Joni Mitchell in particular. He sends a tape to Nanci Griffith and she sends back a Christmas card from America, saying how much she enjoyed it. Encouragement is found in strange places.
Then Brown gets a call from another local band he’d once engineered. They’re riding high in the charts with a song called Female Of The Species and they want him to step in for their sick guitarist on a US tour. Suddenly he’s in LA, about to become a pop star. He parties like it’s 1999. Because it is.
But just as he’s about to make his live debut with Space, the singer loses his voice and the tour is cancelled. Brown’s dreams of stardom are shattered. For now. But he’s been near enough to smell it. Back in Liverpool he forms a band called Fuzzy Logic and gets a publishing deal for his songs. Once again, stardom beckons. But the publisher only wants him to write line-dancing tunes.
Despondent but on a creative high, Brown house-sits for a musician friend who’s gone travelling in India and discovers his collection of unusual instruments. In a flurry of activity, he starts writing songs and lyrics, inspired by life, love and random words and phrases from magazines. He records a home-made demo under the name The Modernaires.
Then Brown calls up Space’s manager. He loves the songs, offers him a deal and sends him into the studio with whizz-kid producer Markus Dravs (Eno, Bjork). Brown decides on a new name – Sizer Barker. In December 2000 the spectral ballad Day By Day is released on his manager’s own Hug label. It instantly becomes single of the week on Radio 1. The critics love it too: “Strange and wonderful,” says the NME. “Floaty, gorgeous and Scouse,” offers Melody Maker. “A wonderful, idiosyncratic thing,” declares the Guardian. Then… nothing.
A follow-up single, Something In The Park, is due to be released on 14 September 2001. It’s pulled. Suddenly no one wants to put out a song about being afraid in Manhattan.
Sizer Barker shrink from a quintet to a quartet and dwindle to a trio. There’s Brown plus Tim Bruzon, who started out playing church organ before the divergent influences of AC/DC and Autechre led him towards the twin epiphanies of guitars and distortion, and Maria Hughes, a bass guitarist in love with Blondie and The Beatles.
They go back into the studio and come out with an album that defies categories. It’s got the pop sensibility that seems inbred for Liverpudlians ever since the Four became Fab; heart-melting melodies and catchy choruses are all over it. But there’s a darker undercurrent at work. Pretty songs implode into weird electronic fragments and sudden squalls of rock guitar, subterranean horns emerge from nowhere and then, just as swiftly, disappear. Found sounds drift in and out of the ether: distorted telephone messages from friends declaring that ‘Something very strange is going on.’ Indeed it is. Unusual instruments abound: a zither here, a harmonium there; recorders and accordions floating in and out of the mix.
But they don’t have a deal until Dravs, now working with Peter Gabriel, plays him the unreleased songs by the unsigned band. Peter Gabriel tells Brown how much he likes the album and offers to release it on his label.
So here we are. Eight years on from that day in Smithdown Cemetery. Five years after Sizer Barker were formed. Three-and-a-half years after their debut single. It’s been a while. But the best things come to those who wait.
The new album “Hotel Juicy Parlour” will be released on Pre Records in July 2004. Distributed by Virgin/EMI. (website coming soon at http://www.prerecords.co.uk/sizerbarker)
Sizer Barker Tour Band
CARL BROWN (Vocals, guitar),TIM BRUZON (Guitar),MARIA HUGHES (Bass),DAVID O’DOWDA (Keyboards), KARL PENNEY (Drums)
Daby Toure, or just ‘Daby’ as he’s known in the world of music, grew up in southern Mauritania, an arid land where the sands of the Sahara mingle with the grasses and stunted trees of the sahel, and where the Arabic and Moorish cultures of North Africa blend into the many distinct cultures of black west Africa. Like all young Africans, Daby soaked up the melodies and rhythms of his Soninke people without thought or effort. But from an early age, after falling in love with bands like The Police and Michael Jackson, he knew that he wanted to create his own music and move beyond the cosy limits of his people’s musical traditions.
In 1989 Daby’s father Hamidou Toure, a doctor and amateur musician, was called to Paris to join Toure Kunda, a seminal group in the history of world music and the African scene in Paris. Hamidou sold his house to pay for his son’s ticket. The young Daby was intoxicated by the musical riches he found in the French capital, especially the leftfield jazz scene, and he soon became involved in several groups, eventually teaming up with his cousin Omar to form Toure Toure. Despite objections from his father, who feared the hardships that a musical career might heap on his son, Daby relentlessly pursued the grail of a new Afro-centric pop sound. After disbanding Toure Toure, Daby locked himself away for several years to work on his first solo album ‘Diam’, collaborating with electronic musician and digital wizard Cyrille Dufay. Daby may be proud of his African roots but he values creative freedom above all else, and shuns any obligation to be more ‘African’ than his heart and soul tell him to be. ‘Diam’ is a superbly-crafted contemporary pop record, that blend the sounds of Africa, Paris and international pop in equal measure. After being touted to almost every single record label in France, ‘Diam’ eventually found its way to the offices of Real World Records, who are releasing it worldwide.
The new album ‘Diam’ will be released on Real World Records, distributed by Virgin/EMI