He’s an interesting guy is Mr V. He began playing open mic nights in London in the early 2000s, then set up Smugglers Records with the band Cocos Lovers (who we last saw at Green Man). He released his debut album Advert Soundtracks in 2011 and toured the album on foot, and has since toured another 500 miles via Shanks’s, playing 24 gigs before a sell-out show at London’s Bush Hall.
This new album is his fourth, out on Xtra Mile Recordings. He’s a bit Kate Rusby, in that his music is glum but he’s clearly not. He doesn’t sound like Rusby: it’s just him and his voice and while he sounds a bit Dylan (Something Is Breaking) in places it’s mostly David Gray/Damian Rice, though a more stripped back and mournful sound.
It’s the music you might get in a film where two buddies ponder the meaning of life: Varley’s music would be playing as they walked the lonely moors debating, the camera following them away in the distance. As far as we can tell, he tackles weighty subjects — love, war, the fate of the planet — but while the music is downbeat it’s not depressing. It’s the sound of a man staring into the abyss but accepting it.
As a sample of his lyrics, the ominous Something Is Breaking opens with “There’s money on the table/And blood on the floor/And nobody knows what they’ve saving for/And the cries for peace can’t be heard any more/Over the sound of carpet bombs falling”. Deep.
It’s not all so weighty: February Snow is just about wishing it was spring (though of course it could be about the cycle of life and that spring’s never gonna come back; a funeral does feature in the lyrics so, ok, it is weighty after all). There is levity with We Want Our Planet Back which … ok, isn’t funny at all, but we like the line “Another lie in the right wing papers/Another six million brain dead readers” — its lyric “Let’s make this planet great again” gives away that it’s a rant more against Brexiteers than polluters.
Another album might be criticised for being musically unvarying, but in Varley’s case it’s a powerful simplicity that is used to deliver his lyrics. A very good album.