Simon & the Astronauts – Simon & the Astronauts

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Simon is Simon Wells, musician, writer and participant in one of Boo Hewerdine’s song workshops. The Astronauts are Ben Hewerdine, Boo Hewerdine, Findlay Napier, Chris Pepper, Karine Polwart and Darden Smith. Simon and the Astronauts is a fascinating and surprising album, with Simon bringing a lyrical concept to the studio, spontaneously writing and recording with the assembled musicians. The speed of production brings an economy and edge to the proceedings. Everyone sings or adds their voice and despite pop electronica, edgy poetry, delicate music, dirty guitar, and rootsy Americana, there is an earthy classic English psych pop whimsy that binds it all together. Simon’s writing runs through the whole album and his spiky passionate spoken poetry fires out of “Tight Metal Jackets” and “Patti.” He is a singular and passionate voice, breathing fire and edge into the words. The final track written for Patti Smith is a glorious poetic hymn for a 70s time and place. How many songs circuitously name check Devo, CBGB’s and legendary East Of England indie record chain Andy’s Records. At times as edgy at Velvet Underground’s “The Gift” its a rewarding listen. Tracks like “Astronauts”, “Airmail” and “Box Of Tears” feature the always excellent slightly wry and melancholic vocals of Boo. Boo’s son Ben, himself a talented songwriter and musician plays and sings on “Granchester Meadow” and “Trampoline.” Part jazz torch song, part Larkin poem and featuring a historic recording Leon Theramin playing his eerie instrument, “Zinc” is a powerful piece. “Love Is” with glorious vocals from Karine Polwart is a life affirming Anthem and a beautiful list of that unpicks what love is. Luckily those kitsch naked cartoon characters from a billion 70s posters don’t get a look in. As well as contributing to the rhythmically lyrical “Tight Metal Jackets”, the excellent Darden Smith contributes “Oscar” a new wave Elvis Costello piece of Americana. Simon Wells’ vision and voice makes it hang together, while the supporting players add colours that create sparkle and deepen luster. As a solo performer, in a duo or a connector through his workshops Boo Hewerdine is a creative force. This is a sparky, sometimes raw and often beautiful album that touches and connects so many musical points and flavours into a cohesive whole. Wonderfully packaged album, with a kind of Dan Dare, Men in a shed, Boys Book Of Adventure type humour too.