My Latest Novel: A Bloody Good Read

more Proust than Jackie Collins

Feature by Jasper Hamill | 15 Jun 2006
Too often it seems, bands gaze for inspiration at desolate cityscapes, grimy tenements or the end of a crack pipe. The pastoral - rich in traditional tales and age-old melodies - is rejected in favour of the grim glamour of an urban environment.

Inspired by a different muse, My Latest Novel brave a look outside the cities in search of the magical whimsy of fairytales and folk songs. Unafraid of incorporating the cultural legacy of a bucolic past, their music is reverberant with faint echoes of sea-shanties, shreds of the noise of riotous ceilidhs and half-remembered lines of poetry. Lead singer Chris, a member of the power couple at the band's heart, says "I suppose we are bucolic to an extent. We offer up a sense of narrative and I think our imagery gives us a pretty good sense of time and space." I ask if the band are as literary as the name would suggest: "I suppose so. Not in a self-conscious way, it's maybe implicit in the way we work."

The narrative aspect to the music is undeniable. During their first album they beguile their audience with stories of repentant sinners at the gates of Heaven and love affairs with women only known "by their fame." Using a clutch of instruments from violins to xylophones, the band flutter between winsome folk and cacophonous post-rock, managing to add focus to their shambolic aesthetic and pin together their disparate influences seamlessly.

Referencing Belle and Sebastian's urbane folk as well as the avant-garde, post-rock leanings of Arab Strap and Mogwai, My Latest Novel's charm lies in their ability to incorporate elements from elsewhere without dissolving into pastiche. Singing in broad Glaswegian accents, alternating between sweetness and abrasion, the unexpected diversions, coruscating crescendos and effortless drama of their music twists and turns like a gripping novel. The Reputation of Ross Francis, a tale of redemption and regret, begins with a lilting plea, "please sir, if you let me in I'll prove sir," before crashing into a cacophonous chorus as its eponymous hero fights "by tooth, by nail, by hook," to claw back his tattered reputation. Ross Francis is "an old a friend of ours, a sort of raconteur," pleased to be the "hero of one of our songs, I hope he actually does go to heaven."

The ebbs and flows of the violent paean Wolves, backed by soaring violins, combine both lyrical and musical melodrama, seemingly gazing backwards to a time "when we were wolves." A desire for stylistic inclusivity is key to the band's praxis, which hinges upon "organically constructed songs… we're always open to new ideas and elements."

The band's first glimpse of stardom came at a Pixies gig where they were plucked from the local circuit and plonked on stage in front of fifteen thousand people At Meadowbank last summer. "It was mad," Chris remarks, "going from playing tiny clubs to appearing in front of all these people. It was a bit bizarre really, but brilliant."

My Latest Novel are just back from a tour with Low, one of their favourite bands, and are in the middle of a mad dash around Britain and beyond to play the album that saw them compared to the Arcade Fire and awarded many a critical plaudit. Chris "can't hear the similarity," between his band and the Arcade Fire, but the two bands do share an affinity for wide-open imagery and the occasional burst of cathartic savagery as counterpoints to the beauty of their melodies.

After releasing an album of striking ambition, Chris insists that My Latest Novel aren't "going to be an overnight thing," claiming that "our first album is just us getting started. There's better to come." However the sequel turn out though, I suspect their career will be more Proust than Jackie Collins.
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