There’s no right or wrong place to craft words and music together – just the one that works for you. That comfort zone might be bang in the middle of a sandbox in an ocean facing front room or it might be around the fire in a cut off cottage on the edge of Wales’ green desert. Or it might be right there in your childhood bedroom in your mum’s house in West Kirby. For Bill Ryder-Jones, that room acted as a retreat; a place to make everything make sense. It was where his immaculate new LP was conceived and recorded.
Whatever went down in that bedroom (naked or not), it shaped West Kirby County Primary – Bill Ryder-Jones’ third solo record. Lyrically, the ten songs are made up of pin sharp, thoughtful and sometimes painfully honest observations. Sonically, it veers from shared-sofa closeness to overdriven, chaotic, speaker-blowing hugeness – a sound so full it’s scarcely believable it was achieved in the upstairs room of a family semi.
While Bill previously described his last record (2013’s A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart) as having been inspired by the feeling of being between “the ages of eight and fourteen and that couple of hours after school before you’ve been called in”, West Kirby County Primary finds the writer in a very different place. Here, lovers are caught in tempestuous, doomed voyeuristic relationships where “desperate times call for desperate pleasures” (Two To Birkenhead) and “a lasting glance is turned missed chance as fortune favours everyone but me” (Wild Roses); street life is dreamily observed from a perch somewhere in the city centre (Catherine and Huskisson) and tragedy and loss is forensically raked over (Daniel). The intensely private nature of some of the songs on West Kirby County Primary came from periods of harsh self-analysis.
In different hands or in different times, the comfort of the bedroom and the deep analytical thought process behind the songs could combine to create an impenetrable and doomy record. But West Kirby County Primary – recorded and produced almost entirely solo, mixed with James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Foals) and given finishing touches at Liverpool’s Parr Street studio – is very far from that. Here, the music provides a crucial, often-forceful counterbalance to the soul-searching lyrics. For Bill, it was about bucking ingrained songwriting wisdom.
“When you first start out learning music at school, you’re taught that major chords are uplifting and minor ones will always signify sadness. I think when people use major chords combined with sad lyrics, it produces something incredible. Bands like the Velvet Underground, Joy Division, the Bunnymen, Pavement, people like Euros Childs and Gorky’s, Gruff Rhys and the Super Furries… none of them have been afraid to mix things up; they’ve all ended up being inspirational on my songwriting in their own ways.”
If it takes influence from some of those artists, West Kirby County Primary rarely shows it. The whole thing feels like an invitation to a private world; one where the songwriter has gone through a process of painstakingly detailing his thoughts, his failings, his hopes and fears and allowed the listener to eavesdrop. And it’s a record that should see Bill Ryder-Jones taking his rightful place alongside that long and distinguished list of the great songwriters of the North West.