Will Varley is a 26 year old folksinger/ poet/ storyteller and novelist from London. He has been a stalwart of the Acoustic/Folk scene since his early teens, playing literally hundreds of gigs in England and Ireland and supporting some huge names along the way. After growing tired of London in 2010 Varley moved to Deal, Kent and there along with a number of musicians helped to set up Smugglers Records. Smugglers is a collective of like minded independent bands and solo artists who help each other release and tour their music and put on events.
I first heard Varley at this years Larmer Tree Festival and thoroughly enjoyed his set even though I was rushing around between photography assignments and didn’t manage to catch all of the set. I was please to see that Will was supporting Beans on Toast on his autumn tour as it gave me another chance to check him out in more intimate surroundings. Put very simply I was impressed. Unusually, for a an artist who is steeped in the folk tradition, Will plays a nylon string classical guitar and it has a gorgeous rich tone. His performance consisted mainly of tracks from his album “As The Crow Flies”, and showed his mischievous side with tongue and cheek humour and lyrics adapted to suit the moment. I was therefore very much looking forward to reviewing the album.
‘As The Crow Flies’ really showcases Varley’s skills as a songwriter, storyteller and poet. The songs range from a darkly pessimistic view of human evolution in Weddings and Wars to an extremely humorous social commentary on ‘The self checkout shuffle.’ The former gives a four minute potted history of human evolution which concludes that the sum total of human achievement is ‘births, deaths, weddings and wars’. The latter sees our protagonist stealing from a supermarket, being interrupted by a friends mother and ending up having sex in aisle 5 on a makeshift bed made out of frosted shreddies. It may sound surreal but it reminds me a lot of some of the streams of consciousness songs on early Dylan albums. Think Bob Dylan’s Dream from ‘Freewheelin’ or Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream from ‘bringing it all back home.
‘I got this e-mail’ is a very amusing take on e-mail scams which manages to score a political message when he parodies Nick Cleggs ‘achievements’ in reaching level 5 on ‘tetris’. ‘Where the Wild Wind Blows’ feels like a song of dashed dreams and hopelessness, the lyrics played over minor chords in a folk finger style picking pattern. ‘Blood and Bone’ is poetry put to music, it is a story of murder, mayhem and lost love and has the feel of one of Dylans epic fantasy songs.
The title track is touching song of love, childhood and family. Yes it does hint at the struggles of life but it is nostalgic, the ties of family drawing you home. It is a beautiful song, a song of the young spending their wings and flying the nest but still holding onto those family ties. ‘She’s been drinking’ is a tender story that tells of the struggle against drink and possibly drugs. ‘when you’re gone opens with one of the best lines I have heard in many years, “her eyes were as wild as a cornish storm, her heart like the cliffs all battered and worn”. Seriously, just wow! Talk about painting a picture! Unsurprisingly it is a tale of a love lost and a fiery woman.
‘Down the well’ sounds a warning about mans mistreatment of mother nature and the legacy we are leaving our children. Closing track ‘Soldiers On The Wall’ is a travelling song but a travelling song in a dark futuristic world seemingly dominated by conflict and militarism.
‘As The Crow Flies’ is an absolutely delightful album, the songs are well written, well sung and well played. Its an album that gets better with every listen, it is thought provoking, humorous, ironic and yet touchingly delicate. It is one that will be assured of a regular place on my playlist for a long tome to come.