The Truth: 'Rising Heights' is the new single from Drew McConnell's HELSINKI, and the first to be taken from his new album, 'A Guide For The Perplexed'. 'Rising Heights' is out on February 23rd with 'A Guide For The Perplexed' - his follow up the 2014 DIY release of 'Coast Of Silence' - following swiftly on March 2nd. As the name may suggest Drew McConnell's HELSINKI is the side project of Drew McConnell, bass player in Babyshambles and musician to the stars, judging by his vivacious CV and the roll call of musicians on this here record.
For as well as 'A Guide For The Perplexed' guest artists such as Pete Doherty, Albert Hammond Jr, Fionn Regan and Emma Gillespie, the free-flowing HELSINKI band vibe incorporates the stellar talents of drummer Seb Roachford (Polar Bear), bassist Spencer Brown, guitarist Matt Park (Mystery Jets), keyboardist Stephen Large (Squeeze, Paul Heaton), percussionist Jamie Morrison (The Noisettes, Stereophonics) and violinists Johnny Fielding (Larrikin Love) and Gillian Maguire (Soko, Swim Deep). These are the industry's backroom dreamers helping to haul Drew into the limelight.
Indeed the sweet irony is that on the terrific lead-off single 'Rising Heights', Drew stars on his vocal lonesome. Like the rest of 'A Guide For The Perplexed' it is a song with its heart on its tattered sleeve and its tattered sleeve reaching for the ragged sky, a coy melody uncurling from a nonchalant gumbo of organic acoustic soundscapes which are jaunty and sulky and trampy and ever-so-gently riotous, frequently all at the same time. At one choice moment in 'Choices' you will experience the exotique sounds of French reggae, and nothing will ever be the same again.
Somewhat amazingly 'A Guide For The Perplexed' was recorded live over TWO DAYS in Ben Hillier's studio, the Pool Room in Bermondsey, by engineer Mark Rankin (Adele, QOTSA, Florence & The Machine). "I guess you could say it was produced by me," says Drew, "But really I just played the guys the chords a couple of times on the acoustic guitar and told them loosely how I'd imagined it to sound arrangement-wise. I know all these guys so well and have played with them all so much that we have a kind of shorthand with each other musically. It didn't even strike me as an odd way to do it until I'd spoken to people about it afterwards. It does give the recordings a certain freshness though, as for everyone in the room the songs were literally brand new. The parts you're hearing are being imagined, executed and recorded all at once."
He knows his musical onions, does Drew: as well as this here Helsinki project and the Babyshambles day job he went barking mad with Mongrel alongside various Arctic Monkeys and Reverend And The Makers, and has performed with a multitude of other characters, from The La's to Lethal Bizzle to Africa Express with Damon Albarn, Gruff Rhys and Flea in Lagos and Paris - all this alongside his long-term involvement with the Love Music Hate Racism movement. Heck, his provenance is so profoundly impressive search hard enough and you'll find that a baby-faced Drew appeared on fierce panda's 'Mosh & Go' compilation a few lifetimes ago as part of a punk band.
So he's lived a few lively lives, has Mr McConnell. Even so, the free-flowing communal musical vibe of Helsinki is surely light years away from the fight club gang mentality of, say, Babyshambles, right?
"Well, the guys that play in Helsinki are all my closest friends, really," he ponders. "Besides being the folks I look up to the most musically they're also the folks I drink with, go on writing holidays with, walk in parks talking about girls, art, politics, arguments, breakfast cereals, astronomy and dishwater tablets with. They're the people that populate my life - I share a flat with two of them. The record makes me so happy because I hear their personalities all over it.
"A gang? Well, you might not find us bowling through Soho together wearing leather jackets, but it's not unusual to see a handful of us stumbling through Highgate Cemetery arguing about Miles Davis and the Arab Spring..."
Come feel some stumbling acoustic gumbo love here:
Club Fandango & fierce panda present
Pandamonium '15 Day Five
+ DOE + FAKE LAUGH
Wednesday January 14th 2015
London Hackney Sebright Arms (31-35 Coate Street, London E2 9AG)
Advance tickets: £7.00