Sometimes it feels as if James McArthur and The Head Gardeners are being set up to take the fall if the resurgence of folk music doesn’t completely encompass the British Isles. Which would be a shame since Intergalactic Sailor is quite a charming record. Comparisons to early Pink Floyd and John Martyn aside, while rooted in plucked guitars and hushed vocals, the warmth and wood of this disc have undeniable charms.
This time out Head Gardeners Jim Willis and Johnny O, are joined by Liam and Joel Magill from Syd Arthur’s band. Their sonic pallet creates a bed resembling early Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac on ‘Hard Landings; without removing itself from the folk idiom, no easy trick. McArthur is dealing with topics of huge import as the world is confronting problems of epic proportion, “What is the story? Draining the jungle after hearing of the black gold” he sings on ‘Clearing Up’.
Recording was split between two studios, Wicker Studios, recording home of the Magill’s, and East Wickham Farm, the childhood home of Kate Bush and still owned by the family. From these locations The Head Gardeners and the Magill crew have created a subtly complex bed for McArthur’s ruminations on the integration of nature and nurture, our role in creating a new relationship with the environment, and how we connect with our fellow man.
Guitars pick swiftly while the bass delivers huge notes reflecting the challenge faced by ‘Plane Sailors’. Recounting how planes land on the sea and pick up water to put out forest fires, while McArthur examines thoughts of those on the front line, “I hope that the wind doesn’t blow the villagers fires. I hope that the cool of the sea brings it all down.”
The strings of ‘Drain The River’ seem to reflect a different era, perhaps a more innocent time when natural selection and surroundings balanced scales more easily. Today’s environment isn’t quite as simple. Mournful in nature, the strings underscore how man’s influence isn’t always for the better, despite our best intentions.
James McArthur and The Head Gardeners have created a disc that underscores the best of folk music from the latter half of the twentieth century onward. Rather than reflecting the genre’s roots, Intergalactic Sailor offers the case for a progressive folk that transforms rather than trivialising the experiences of past generations, heading toward the future with a new sense of purpose.