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Jon Downes - 2018 - "Coldharbour"

(46:13; Jon Downes)


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I am not sure when I first came across Jon Downes, or even how it happened, but some years ago I came across this ageing hippy who was running what was ostensibly a weekly newsletter for the wonderful Gonzo Media. However, Jon had obviously decided that being a plain music magazine concentrating on just the output of one label would be quite boring, even for a label as diverse as Gonzo, so instead he decided to produce a magazine that would cover anything he found interesting, especially if it was regarding the sub culture. We soon found that our views aligned and I have a regular feature within it, called Kev’s World (http://www.gonzoweekly.com). When I popped over to the UK last year I visited him and his wonderful wife Corinna and he was incredibly excited to see me, although I am still not sure if it was my presence or that of the cake that Corinna had baked for the occasion. Although I have come to Jon through his stewardship of a magazine regarding (mostly) music, he is actually best known for being a cryptozoologist; one of those strange people who spend their lives hunting across the globe for animals otherwise only known from folklore. He founded the Centre for Fortean Zoology – the English-speaking world’s biggest and best cryptozoological organisation – in 1992 and has kept his hand on the tiller ever since. He has written, or edited, several dozen books on such diverse subjects as history, tropical fish, UFOs, cryptozoology, rock and roll and three critically acclaimed novels. One of these, ‘The Song of Panne’, is quite unlike anything else I have ever read, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a broad mind (also, if you enjoy fantasy, then Corinna has also written some novels, and ‘Ethna’s Journal’ is also well worth discovering). He has worked as a nurse for the mentally handicapped, ran the fan club for Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel and all sorts of other things besides. But none of this really pertains to the subject at hand, as Jon has also been making music all his life, and has just released his twelfth album, in what has been – from a commercial point of view – a spectacularly unsuccessful music career. I haven’t heard any of the other albums, and to be honest was rather concerned when Jon sent me this, as what would happen if I didn’t like it? Could it be the end of a wonderful friendship? I mean, I have taken photos of tuataras just to send to Jon, and my world is far richer for having him in it so could I write a destructive review if I needed to? Thankfully I didn’t feel the need, as I really enjoyed this. Okay, so the drum machine is a little basic, but there is an English eccentricity and style to this which is incredibly appealing. Imagine Robert Wyatt with Roy Harper and Arthur Brown, with more than a smidgen of Daevid Allen thrown in, deliberately lo-fi, and you may just start to get an idea of what this album is like. It is an album that belongs in the late Seventies, in the alternative underground scene, and one can imagine this being picked up by Stiff Records and being celebrated back then. It is shambolic early XTC, with songs that are as catchy as hell. So what if the vocals sometimes are a little sharp or a little flat? I can’t imagine this being any other way. This is English independent music which brings a smile to my face, and I find it hard to realise that Jon recorded everything himself in the potato shed! While the main instrument is layers of keyboards, it is the vocals and intelligent vocals that make this album what it is. Jon is one of the cleverest people I have come across, and he uses his wordsmithing skills to great effect. The lyrics to “I Fucking Love You” are incredibly poignant, dedicated of course to his wonderful wife, while political comment about Thatcher and Reagan is still alive and well with Jon. This isn’t polished popular music, it was never meant to be. Instead it is about one man laying his soul bare for all to see, and letting us all into his psyche, which is a strange and wonderful place to be sure. I can guarantee that I won’t hear another album quite like this for a long time, and am feeling blessed for having heard this. This is music from the heart, music made because it had to be, without any thoughts for anyone else ever actually hearing it. At the time of writing Jon is feeling like a rock star as he has actually sold eight copies of the album to date. Go on, let’s get him into double figures, and then see where it goes from there. Everyone will always think of Jon as a cryptozoologist, and it is there where he can most often be found in the popular press, but this proves that he is so much more than “just” that. I loved it.

Kev Rowland: October 2018


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