THE PHANTOM BAND-STRANGE FRIEND.

THE PHANTOM BAND-STRANGE FRIEND.

Over the last year, The Phantom Band have been one of the hardest working bands in Scottish music. They’ve released two albums, Strange Friend and Fears Trending. Strange Friend was released in June 2014, and Fears Trending in January 2015. Both albums were released to widespread critical acclaim, and are among the albums eligible for the Scottish Album Of The Year Award.  

As one of Scotland’s top bands, it’s no surprise that The Phantom Band are considered one of the favourites for the Scottish Album Of The Year Award. Especially with two bites at the cherry. Strange Friend is the first of The Phantom Band’s two eligible albums. It was released back in June 2014, nine years after The Phantom Band story began.

There aren’t many bands who take four years before they settle on a permanent name. That was the case with The Phantom Band. Formed in 2002, The Phantom Band changed names numerous times. The Phantom Band were variously called NRA, Les Crazy Boyz, Los Crayzee Boyz, Tower of Girls and Wooden TreesThen in 2005, they adopted the name Robert RedfordThat didn’t go down well. 

The band were asked to change their name. They also had to remove all references to it from their online presence. As a result, Robert Redford’s only release, The Mummy and Daddy Dance, has become something of a collector’s item. Following their controversial dalliance with Hollywood, the band reformed, under the name Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Their new moniker didn’t last long. Having played a series of concerts in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson released a limited edition cassette. Only 150 cassettes were sold and they too, have become a collector’s edition. After that, Robert Louis Stevenson changed name again. After four years together, The Phantom Band were born in 2006.

The Phantom Band was how the band’s fans affectionately referred to the band’s activities, or some would say lack of activity. A year later, The Phantom Band released their debut single Throwing Bones on the London label Trial and Error Recordings. Released to critical acclaim, Throwing Bones resulted in Glasgow’s premier label, Chemikal Underground signing The Phantom Band. 

Since then, Chemikal Underground has been home to The Phantom Band. They’ve released a trio of albums since signing to Chemikal Underground. Their debut album was 2009s Checkmate Savage. The Wants followed in 2010. After that, nothing has been heard of The Phantom Band. That’s until June 2014, when The Phantom Band released their third album, Strange Friend, on Chemikal Underground. It was released five years after The Phantom Band’s debut album Checkmate Savage.

Before heading into the studio to record their debut, The Phantom Band headed out on the road. They played some of the biggest festivals during the summer of 2007. Then in early 2008, The Phantom Band headed into the studio.

Checkmate Savage, The Phantom Band’s debut album was recorded at Chem 19 Studios in Blantyre, Lanarkshire. Recording began in early 2008, with former Delgado Paul Savage producing Checkmate Savage. The lineup of The Phantom Band on Checkmate Savage included a rhythm section of drummer Damien Tonner, bassist Gerry Hart and guitarists Duncan Marquiss, Greg Sinclair and Rick Anthony, the lead vocalist. Andy Wake played keyboards. Together, they recorded nine tracks which became Checkmate Savage. They were then mixed at Franz Ferdinand’s studio in Govan, Glasgow. Once recording of Checkmate Savage was completed, it was released in January 2009.

On its release in January 2009, Checkmate Savage received widespread critical acclaim. Critics realised this was no ordinary debut. Instead, it was an ambitious and cerebral release. The Phantom Band examined a various  themes on Checkmate Savage. This included over-population and dwindling natural resources. Checkmate Savage were a band with a social conscience. They also looked like being Scotland’s next big band.

Following the commercial success and critical acclaim of Checkmate Savage, The Phantom Band headed out on a series of UK and European tour. Across Britain and Europe, The Phantom Band played to sell-out shows. One of the most memorable gigs was T In The Park, where the Glasgow based The Phantom Band were hailed conquering heroes. There were also barnstorming appearances at London Calling in Amsterdam, the Storasfestivalen near Trondheim and  Sound City in Liverpool. Then as 2009 drew to a close, The Phantom Band played at the prestigious Transmusicales festival in Rennes. 2009 had been a huge year for The Phantom Band. Now they had to begin work on their sophomore album, which became The Wants.

Sophomore albums are notoriously difficult. Often, a band write some of their best material before they’re signed. They’re young, hungry for success and dedicate themselves to getting a record deal. They spend inordinate amounts of time writing their songs. Then when they sign to a record label and enjoy a successful debut album, things change. No longer have they the same time to write an album. Instead, they’re writing on the road, as they tour their debut album. As a result, often, the quality of music suffers. For The Phantom Band, the recording of their sophomore album The Wants, wasn’t easy.

When The Phantom Band entered Chem 19, to record The Wants, the album wasn’t written. So, much of The Wants was written in the studio. The other problem was time was tight. They couldn’t take their time recording The Wants.This caused problems within The Phantom Band. However, with Paul Savage producing The Wants, the album was recorded within the timeframe. However, after The Wants was recorded, The Phantom Band lost its drummer.

Having recorded The Wants, drummer Damien Tonner left The Phantom Band. Considering The Phantom Band were about to tour The Wants, this presented the band with a problem. A new drummer would have to learn all their songs and then head out on the longest and most gruelling tour of their career. Before that, The Wants was released in October 2010.

Despite all the problems the band had encountered, The Wants was released to the same critical acclaim as their debut album Checkmate Savage. The Phantom Band had overcome the problem of the difficult second album. Now they headed out on tour, with a new drummer Iain Stewart.

Iain Stewart was brought in to fill the void left by the departure of Damien Tonner. It couldn’t have been easy. The Phantom Band had been together since 2002. Despite this, Iain settled in to his new role. 

On the day The Wants was released, The Phantom Band played the CMJ festival in New York. After that, they hooked up with another Scottish band, Frightened Rabbit. The Phantom Band supported them as they played Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, New York and Chicago. Having won over American audiences, The Phantom Band headed home.

There was no time for rest. It was a case of saying hello to friends and family and heading out on a brief tour of Britain. After that, The Phantom Band spent two months touring Europe. It was one of the most gruelling schedules they’d embarked upon. Having started in March 2011, the tour finished just in time for the festival season to begin. There was no rest for The Phantom Band. They played at festivals like Latitude in Suffold, Walk the Line in Den Haag and The Camden Crawl in London. Then to crown this summer of festivals, The Phantom Band played T in the Park in their native Scotland. By now, they were well on their way to becoming one of Scotland’s best bands. However, since then all has been quiet on The Phantom Band front.

Away from The Phantom Band, the six members of the band have various side-projects to keep them occupied. Rick enjoys a successful solo career. As Rick Redbeards, he released his debut solo album, No Selfish Heart in 2013, on Chemikal Underground. Iain Stewart is a member of Bronto Skylift, an experimental rock band. Duncan Marquiss, Andy Wake and Greg Sinclair sometimes, perform as Omnivore Demon. They’re best described as an improvisational group. All these various side-projects are what has been keeping The Phantom Band busy. However, recently, they headed back into the studio to record their third album Strange Friend.

For Strange Friend, The Phantom Band wrote nine tracks. These tracks marked the recording debut of The Phantom Band’s new lineup. The lineup of The Phantom Band on Checkmate Savage included a rhythm section of drummer Iain Stewart, bassist Gerry Hart and guitarists Duncan Marquiss, Greg Sinclair and Rick Anthony, the lead vocalist. Andy Wake played keyboards. It wasn’t just the band’s lineup that had changed.

For the first time in their career, Paul Savage didn’t produce The Phantom Band. Instead,  Strange Friend was produced by The Phantom Band with Derek O’Neill. He also engineered Strange Friend with Paul Savage. Strange Friend was mastered by Kenny MacLeod. It was then released in June 2014.

It was a case of all hail the returning heroes when Strange Friend was released in June 2014. Critics hailed the album as a triumph for the Glasgow-based sextet. Critical acclaim and plaudits came the way of The Phantom Band, on the release of Strange Friend. It’s been a long time coming, but well worth the wait. 

The Wind That Cried The World opens Strange Friend. There’s a nod towards Kraftwerk and eighties synth pop sound as the song unfolds. Eighties drums, keyboards and guitars provide the backdrop for Rick Anthony’s vocal. It’s earnest and thoughtful. Before long, Rick scats, drums pound and the rest of The Phantom Band deliver the chorus. It’s infectiously catchy. Especially when the ethereal harmonies becomes a chant. By then, a rousing anthem is unfolding. From there, the track builds. Synths bubble, while pounding drums, guitars drive this arrangement along and what’s sure to be a festival favourite reveals its secrets.

Clapshot sees a change of style from The Phantom Band. Drummer Iain Stewart’s thunderous drums are at the heart of the arrangement. So are  Andy Wake’s hypnotic keyboards. They add texture to the arrangement, propelling it along at breakneck speed. The Phantom Band aren’t a two man band. No. They all climb onboard and plays a part in the track’s success. Crystalline guitars shimmer, while Rick  seems to have grown into the role of frontman. He struts his way through the lyrics. Later, he’s replaced by ethereal harmonies as this melodic, musical merry-go-round heads into the stratosphere.

Dark and mesmeric describes Doom Patrol. The robotic arrangement marches along. Drums and Kraftwerk synth combine with machine gun guitars. Rick’s vocal sounds not unlike Midge Ure of Ultravox. The same can be said of some of the synths. The Phantom Band draw inspiration from seventies, eighties and nineties. They combine Krautrock with synth pop, pop and later, add some glorious searing, rock guitars. There’s even an Acid House bass added for good measure. This results in a melodic, genre-melting track that’s truly irresistible.

Atacama sounds like a lost Johnny Cash song. Just an acoustic guitar accompanies Rick’s pensive, heartfelt vocal. Before long, drums and quivering strings enter. They don’t crowd Rick’s vocal. Instead, mostly, the arrangement is understated. Later, the drama builds, and guitars quiver.  Rick’s vocal becomes an impassioned scat, as he draws inspiration from Neil Young and Bob Dylan. In doing so, he delivers a vocal that’s emotive and impassioned. For everyone who enjoys this track, then Rick’s debut solo album, No Selfish Heart is a must have.

Deliberately, and slowly, chords are played on the guitar and piano as (Invisible) Friends reveals its secrets. They’re played urgently. Stabs of keyboards set the scene for Rick’s vocal. It’s tender, wistful and becomes ethereal. Meanwhile, drums, organ and the piano are combine with guitars. Rick, accompanied by beautiful, ethereal harmonies delivers a vocal that oozes emotion. It’a as if the lyrics are personal and he’s drawing on his own experiences. That’s why this is one of Rick’s most compelling performances.

As Sweatbox unfolds, you’re introduced to a much more avant garde side of The Phantom Band. It’s not unlike disco, but with a lo-fi, lysergic twist. There’s even a nod towards Duran Duran. Literally, the arrangement bursts into life. A myriad of unorthodox instruments are deployed. This includes a collection of vintage keyboards. They join the rhythm section. The other instruments add an experimental sound. It works really well. The arrangement just flows along. You’re captivated. Rick delivers another vocal masterclass. His vocal is veers between slow, soulful and dramatic, as buzzing synths and blistering, choppy guitars are added as the track heads towards its crescendo.

Melancholy describes No Shoes Blues. Guitars shimmer and quiver as the bass and drums join forces with keyboards. They plod along as Rick delivers a soul-searching vocal. Heartache and  hurt fill his vocal which sometimes, reminds me of Jeff Buckley. It’s a cathartic outpouring of emotion. He cleanses himself of pain and hurt. Meanwhile, the slow, moody, dramatic and chiming arrangement accompanies him every step of the way during this six-minute Magnus Opus.

Women Of Ghent sees another change of direction from The Phantom Band. Drums, retro synths and chiming guitars combine to provide the backdrop for Rick. He’s accompanied by harmonies as the cascading arrangement unfolds. Synths shimmers and glint, hypnotic drums pound and crystalline guitars chime. Gradually, the arrangement builds. Eventually, it’s ready to reveal its hidden depths. By then, the track has taken on a hypnotic, almost anthemic sound as Krautrock, synth pop and even a hint of psychedelia combine seamlessly.

Galápagos closes Strange Friend, the third album from The Phantom Band. Straight away, the track takes on an eerie ambient sound. That comes courtesy of the myriad of the percussion and synths being deployed. A strummed guitar and despairing vocal from Rick are hidden behind the percussion. Although the arrangement is busy, you can still focus on Rick’s vocal. It’s full of emotion. Then all of sudden, the percussion disappears. So does Rick’s vocal. After that, swathes of synths take centre-stage. They circle above the arrangement, before disappearing into the distance. The result is an atmospheric, ambient track.

Nearly four years  have passed since The Phantom Band released The Wants. That’s a long time for a band to be away. Music can have moved on by then. So can their fans. They’ve found new bands. As a result, any band away as long as The Phantom Band must have something special to tempt their fans back. That’s the case with The Phantom Band third album Strange Friend, which was recently released by Chemikal Underground

On Strange Friend The Phantom Band set about reinventing their music. They combine everything from ambient, folk, indie rock, Krautrock, pop, psychedelia, synth pop. There’s even a brief nod towards Acid House and prog rock. Strange Friend is without doubt, a truly eclectic album. It sees The Phantom Band draw inspiration from Can, Kraftwerk, Ultravox, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jeff Buckely, Johnny Cash and Brian Eno on Galápagos. The result is a rich, eclectic and captivating and compelling musical tapestry.

The music on Strange Friend is a real emotive roller coaster. No two songs are the same. One song can be beautiful and ethereal, the next dark and dramatic. Other times, the music becomes eerie, haunting and lysergic. Several times, Rick’s vocals are heartfelt and impassioned. They tug at your heartstrings, and you share his pain and hurt. Then, all of a sudden, the music becomes anthemnic, joyous and rousing. Hooks haven’t been spared. Truly, the music becomes irresistible and infectiously catchy. Without doubt, The Phantom Band are sure to win a lot of friends when they play Strange Friend live. There’s many a festival favourite on Strange Friend, which marks a welcome return to form for the Glasgow-based Phantom Band.

After nearly four years away, The Phantom Band were back, and better than ever. They’ve grown and matured as a band, and have reinvented themselves musically. The Phantom Band’s genre-melting music won friends and influenced people over the summer months, as The Phantom Band make their return to the festival circuit, where they showcased their critically acclaimed and eclectic album Strange Friend. A year later, and The Phantom Band’s Strange Friend is one of favourites for the prestigious Scottish Album Of The Year Award.

THE PHANTOM BAND-STRANGE FRIEND.

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