Old House Playground’s second album God Damn That Gold is released on June 11th 2012; it was recorded at Bolton’s Lo Fi Studios in December 2011. Described as a Manchester-based ‘two-piece’, Tryfon Lazos and Andreas Venetantes are the two remaining members of a four-piece band of the same name formed in Greece around 2005; they came here three years ago.
God Damn That Gold is dominated by singer Lazos’s rich deep voice and his literary song-writing talent. Venetantes’ pared-down percussion combined with double-bass gives some songs a rockabilly feel, although none could be described as up-beat; the music is all blues of one flavour or another.
Little Red Riding Hood opens as a rough-edged accompaniment to the voice of the wolf – the unrepentant, seductive predator. Musically, there are several distinct sections: gravelly vocals and a plodding verse quickly give way to a rousing chorus, sung an octave higher over a descending rockabilly bass-line with a loping 4/4 ‘swing jazz’ rhythm, before the voice drops back down to declare in a blues growl:
I wanna eat your body babe
I’m gonna eat your soul
Take everything away from you
And never never let you go
The title track God Damn That Gold has a 1990s US-indie-rock sound (to my ears.) Lyrically the approach is Dirty Realist describing an ordinary man’s experience of nomadic low-life and disappointment in love:
With the storm she went away
With the fire off she came to lay her head
She’ll be on the next train
And I’ll be waving my numb hand
I like the third song Terminal Communion much less. Musically it adds nothing to the album, sounding too much like the first song but less interesting, while lyrically it goes off at a surreal uber-gothic tangent. The lyrics are not the work of vocalist and guitarist Tryfon Lazos, but are by Conor Loughran, an ex-band-member, which makes the song’s inclusion hard to fathom, unless it was a courtesy.
Used Shoes from Down the Road starts with the rhythm heard in Song 2 and then reverts to the 4/4 swing rhythm already heard in songs 1 and 3; luckily it has a very memorable refrain which sticks in the memory:
Do you love anybody babe
Neighbours know why she wears that face
Do you love everybody
Johnnie’s Place has a strikingly different sound; it is Rebetiko which is an umbrella term used to describe several forms of urban Greek folk music. A 9/4 time signature and an intriguing meandering eastern-sounding melody allow the voice to express the most heartfelt self-pity without making reference to American blues. The words of the song are, in fact, a beguilingly straight-forward lament for a night gone horribly wrong – a confiscated bag of weed and the court case and jail sentence which follow.
Dead Man (Track 6) has a more conventional tune, but we’re still in the territory of weird rhythm… again I’m counting 9 beats per phrase, which in this case gives the effect of stumbling, complimenting the song’s narrative.
A Dime In The Pocket has a traditional European sound, almost like a Paris cafe song, in simple 2/4 or 4/4 time. Certainly Old House Playground’s lyrics have plenty in common with the Chanson Realiste tradition common in Paris until the 1940s, which focussed upon life’s seedy underbelly, this song being no exception.
The bowed bass gives Swiss Chocolate, a lament for lost love, a different sound again but, throughout Waltz of the Donkey, I’m finding the bleak mood rather exhausting; Humming In The Mud offers some respite, describing a dream-like narrative bursting with strong visual imagery, but it tends towards the grandiose rather than the light-hearted.
The last song Clonesome Blues looks promisingly frivolous on the lyric sheet – it’s the second song written by the ex-band-member Loughran – but disappointingly the delivery manages to make it sound serious and meaningful.
Tryfon Lazos is an extremely talented singer-songwriter who writes far better songs in his second language than most people could ever hope to write in their native tongue. He and percussionist Andreas Venetantes have travelled through Europe like medieval troubadours, and, as if in punishment for their sins, have ended up here… “In this land the sun never shows…”
Their album, though very dark, contains some great songs and their image intrigues. Photographer Alex Flynn makes good use of Manchester’s dour ‘glamour’ as a 1930s-depression-style backdrop for Old House Playground’s hobo-gypsy swagger. (Note the bowler hat and art deco Ritz signage.)
In the past, Manchester has excelled at depression/recession chic so hopefully Old House Playground are in the right place!