Owen Harvey – Disappearing Strangers

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5

Owen Harvey is a young Nottingham-based songwriter with a taste for a very distinctly acoustic sound, which he is currently providing tasters for at various support spots around the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire area, warming up audiences for the likes of Steve Earle, Nik Kershaw and most recently Diana Jones. I suspect that with the attention Owen is receiving during these appearances, it won’t be too long now until his name is at the top of the bill. Joined by a whole family of Adeys and in particular Russ on guitar/mandolin, James on bass and Dave on harmonica, the band make a sound on Owen’s debut album, that is immediately accessible and which is utilised perfectly well on both the CD and in live shows, where the trio of Owen, Russ and James perform these songs in pretty much the same manner as on the recorded versions. Owen speaks highly of his fellow musicians, “they’re family really, I’m really lucky to have them on board as musicians; they’re supposed to follow me as backing but I follow them because they keep the structure that I need to keep for the songs”. The singer-songwriter is at pains to point out that none of this would be possible without the help and assistance of his friends “I’ve always been a solo acoustic artist but I always wanted to play with other musicians, that’s my forte, I love to play with other artists, I love to get the vibe, when you’ve got a riff going here and someone accentuates on it, it’s always great to just build on that”. One suspects that Owen has been playing his music from an early age, which is hinted at by the inclusion of a photograph on the inner sleeve, which reveals a very small fedora-wearing Owen Harvey, almost obscured by both the hat and the enormous acoustic guitar resting awkwardly upon his lap. With most debuts, the question often arises about how much of the songwriter’s life up to that point is included in the songs. “The funny thing is, I’ve not been writing for that long; I think I started writing in 2005, so it’s still in its early stages, but it’s definitely a massive thing for me”. As is often the case, the best way of discovering what a new songwriter is all about is by listening to the songs. “City Lights” opens both the album and his recent Cosmic American live set at the Fishpond in Matlock Bath. The song provides a good starting place with its rich acoustic backing of both 12 string and 6 string guitar, together with electric bass, and is set against an unfussy melody, a good opener in both cases. It’s difficult not to be drawn into a song like “How We Dance” with its infectious mandolin riff, which meanders in and out effortlessly between the verses and the chorus of ‘How we danced under the marquee at your dad’s house today; how we danced under the midnight moonlight stars’. The song conjures up the sort of dancing found in a Jack Vettriano painting rather than your local night club. Other highlights include Untitled, a song that could easily have been called “She Loves Me More Than Life”, which provides a snapshot of youthful romance in both the playground and later in the workplace. The song “Disappearing Strangers” according to Harvey is like ‘a cat with nine lives’. Originally put aside indefinitely, the song was only included on this collection due to Russ Adey’s insistence and therefore the song is not only included here but also provides the album with its title. Concluding the album, Sail to the Coast offers some of the deepest felt lyrics; ‘my love is stationed in the marrow of your bones’, which Owen explains “I suppose it’s one those things where you’re sat at home on the couch and you’re writing a song with your guitar in your hands and you want to say something and it never comes out, the chord hits and the lyrics come out and you look back and you think wow, that absolutely encapsulates exactly what I was feeling at that moment”. I asked Owen if songs are coming more easily now the first album is done, “More so really because you’re more away from home, you’ve got more time to reflect on things, more time to travel, meeting new people, seeing different things and the big thing as well is, working with the Cosmic (American) group you get to work with a lot really good artists and you’re learning all the time, you’re learning different guitar riffs, you’re learning how to talk about things in a different way”. Owen seems to have learned a lot from his American peers and has for instance adopted one of the most under-used live presentation methods that this reviewer wholeheartedly approves of, that of providing musical backing during the introductions of the songs; not so much talking over the introduction, but preceding the performance with more of a theatrical presentation than usual. I suspect these little touches will see Owen Harvey’s popularity grow before too long.