Nottingham Evening Post review of Drawology Show November 2013
The ability to make representational marks on some kind of surface, patient using some kind of tool, is one of the earliest forms of human expression and everything else, including all the artistic movements and isms, follows on. And today, Joe Public still values artworks which embody a degree of God-given raw skill, including the ability to draw well, more highly than installations, films and sculptures made of shopping trolleys.
What then, will the Man and Woman on the Nottingham Omnibus make of Drawology, the new exhibition of contemporary drawing which opened this week at Nottingham Trent University’s Bonington Gallery?
For sure, this is a show where traditional drawing is ably represented by artists such as Bill Prosser, whose fine black and white pencil drawings of domestic spaces – waste bins, staircase landings – force the eye to zoom in with strange fascination on the very texture of carpets, curtains and loose wires.
Yet this is also an exhibition which also aims to seek out different forms of drawing; to investigate, essentially, what drawing can be in a wider extent.
So, at the other end of the spectrum from Prosser, Deborah Harty’s take on drawing – defined in its essence as the representation of experiences – is an enclosed installation of film projections on a glass table.
Between Prosser’s and Harty’s two kinds of drawing we get a broad range of other forms including film such as Maryclare Foa’s ‘Line Down Manhattan’, which follows her as she walks down to the southern tip of Manhattan while trailing a large piece of chalk fastened to a piece of rope. The wobbly chalk line she leaves on crowded pavements and roads is her drawing of Manhattan.
Most of the artworks here, though, are traditional flat 2D images, albeit using a wide variety of tools, such as chalk, pastels and paints, on paper of varying thickness and textures.
You’ve got to be impressed by Patricia Cain’s huge three-piece, titled ‘Riverside Triptych III’, which recreates a cavernous interior with an overwhelmingly intricate arrangement of metallic struts, railings and platforms.
And you’ve got to like Andy Pepper’s iridescent coaster-size squares, which flash shimmering images of grass at you from the floor.
Shaun Belcher, who lectures at the university, as do several other artists here, displays a minimal, anti-art market ethic with his three flat framed squares, composed of squiggles and occasional autobiographical references, which bear titles such ‘P***ed Off Drawing’.
Sian Bowen, a former artist-in-residence at the Victoria & Albert Museum, is another artist here who plays with the rules.
Her three 3D lightboxes, titled ‘Refuge/Silver’ show patterns that are so faint they are almost not there.
On a bright sepia background they look more like the archaeological imprint of ancient organic forms left in the soil.
They serve to bring the exhibition full circle back to the very roots of drawing as humanity’s earliest artistic attempt to make sense of the world that exists beyond the caves of the eyes.
Mark Patterson. November 21st 2013
Left Lion Nottingham – Artist profile 2008
Metro Wayne Burrows – Drawing Out NTU 2008
LINCOLN CONNECT SHOW 2008
“Liked most of the artwork except the Shaun Belcher works as I felt my 5 year old could do better paintings that that. I couldnt see the point in it.”
Anonymous comment on Lincoln show
TYPO: Goldfactory Show at NCN 2006
”Belcher is different again, here showing rough cartoons whose hero is Moogee the Art Dog, wandering through the minefield of the contemporary art establishment. The cartoons are openly hostile rather than merely satirical. the tickboxy culture brutally castigated by Belcher’s spleen probably deserving such a good savaging “
MARK PATTERSON, Nottingham Evening Post ‘TYPO’ show review 20.10.06Mark Patterson
“Belcher cannot be accused of nostalgia or pastoral myth-making but is as vituperative in tone as Larkin”
RAYMOND FRIEL, SOUTHFIELDS MAGAZINE.
..the poems… individually and cumulatively preserve aspects of identity and genealogy rooted in a particular soil and way of life.. …an underlying humaneness.”
STEWART CONN (POET, PLAYWRIGHT )
ROY MARSHALL REVIEW OF LAST FARMER December 2011
Lovely review on poet Roy Marshall’s blog.
A review of ‘ Last Farmer’ by Shaun Belcher, Salt books 2010.
This is a thematically and stylistically cohesive and deeply personal collection. It opens with ‘The Nettle Fields’, a poem which sets both the physical and emotional theme for the book. The narrator is working to clear a field of nettles with his father. As they work they uncover a broken cockpit and the father relates a tale of a crashing warplane.
This uncovering of the past in relation to the poet’s younger self within the context of wider historical setting, in particular with reference to the war and his agricultural upbringing, recurs throughout the collection. Belcher is of a generation at only one remove from the seismic events which informed and shaped his parents and grandparents lives. The lives of his own generation (and I count myself among them, being seven years younger) have witnessed enormous social and cultural changes.
Belcher explores the struggle to relate across to the gap of generations, to find a ‘common language’ with his forbears and with his own past. These poems deal with changing landscapes and their disappearance, with the traces the past leaves in the present.
Perhaps the experience of growing up on a farm exacerbates the feeling of being out of step with both the past and with a changing modern world. Some of these poems convey a sense of being trapped and growing up in an age which is disappearing, where things are falling apart or are already broken like the 78 records that
‘ seemed to break of their own accord.
Splinters of black shellac
bulging the faded paper sleeves
Belcher evokes evenings in which parents play Ray Martin records, and despite this being the early nineteen seventies, try to teach the children to Foxtrot, Tango and Waltz, a world in which
‘Somehow we never quite learnt the steps
even when we stood on their feet.
The physical and emotional landscape of the present is shot through with history which intrudes, unbidden and inescapable. A photo in the newspaper of an uncle’s war grave sparks his mother and father into memories of the uncle’s ‘glider crumpled in a field near Arnhem like a puffball’. The uncle is shot and wounded, but does not die of the bullet but of
‘…poison seeping through his limbs’.
In the powerful ‘The Ice Horses’, timelines are collapsed and blended to bring generational experience together. The poem contains one of the few untarnished images in the book; the new-born child is taken to be shown to his grandfather ‘like a new tractor bought to his farm.’
A complex relationship exists with a world of disappearing accents and ways of living, with lost promise and opportunity, a world to which the writer is simultaneously drawn but to which he seems to feel he may no longer belong, if indeed, he ever did. The power of these thematically linked poems lies in the fact that the past is not one-dimensional country to be viewed through rose-tinted glasses, but one in which there was always disintegration and constant change.
These poems explore the conflict between a compulsion to revisit and to break free from a world which is already ‘Lost like a spitfire over the channel’.
SPHINX REVIEWS February 2012
Two great first one pretty awful…say no more..
I copied the two better ones
The Last Farmerhas an almost prophetic tone as it witnesses the demise of rural life. When recalling his childhood the narrator is not sentimental, rather he portrays farmers engaged in a battle to yield crops from over worked land. The poems of the present are far from bucolic as they describe abandoned farms that ceased to be competitive and ‘pretend farms ‘ that are little more than chemical factories forcing arid land to mass produce food. Ironically some of the sweetest and most poignant images of nature occur in urban poems where a bird or a shrub is exiled to the city, much like the narrator.
The first poems in the collection have the narrator time-travelling between his youth and the present. It’s an effective device: we see the comparison between the care-free child who plays with his tractor in the dried mud and the man trapped in the city who is reduced on Sundays to seeking his nature ‘fix’ in the brown land that fringes the urban sprawl. I got the image of a person trapped in the past unable or unwilling to move on largely because he refuses to accept social change. This is best exemplified in the poem ‘Following the Map’. Here the narrator describes two friends content as boys to
…….jostle and race Corgi, Matchbox and Dinky
…….through those hot July afternoons
However as adults, the narrator recounts that his friend has abandoned rural life for a better future and
…….now sells Porsches in Sweden
…….with hand shakes and brochures pushed into the palms
…….of businessmen whilst I sit here, stalled again.
The tone subtly reveals the narrator’s belief that the friend has sold out, mixed with envy that the man, unlike himself, has been able to adapt and move on.
The poet makes effective use of the ‘I ‘throughout the collection. The result is an isolated figure whose world is populated only with characters from his past. There is mention of a ‘we’ or ‘you’ but the brevity and rareness of the references only enhances his loneliness.
Such isolation reinforces the idea of a prophetic voice warning against our dislocation from the natural world. His argument seems to be that our society is sleep walking in to a partitioning of the countryside every bit as devastating as the enclosure acts of the 18th century. He portrays cities that either consume the landscape as they spread out or surround rural areas so that
…….tarmac roads, steel rails
…….and winding streams and tributaries
…….mesh with hedge rows and power lines
…….in a cats cradle of communication links
At the same time the poet has no illusions about the current state of the countryside. ‘Flint Field’ paints a grim portrait of land stripped of its fertility by over production where “we force plenty with additives and pesticides’’. What is striking though throughout the collection is the narrator’s radical point of view that this plundering of the land’s fecundity has ‘’grown poor through centuries of tilling and reaping’’.
Significantly the poet lays the responsibility as far back as the 18th century, blaming the Industrial Revolution for changing irrevocably the shape of the landscape and creating cities with vast populations that continue to demand increasing food production. To argue his point the poet skilfully juxtaposes past and present in many poems, allowing the reader to see both historical cause and effect.
I am sure this collection will not leave too many readers indifferent. There is an angry and bitter flavour to many of the poems and the themes such as change (mainly for the worse) and loss of past innocence—or at least dignity in adversity—are not comfortable ones.
In several poems the narrator is drawn back by an older person’s recollections to the Second World War and some of the best imagery is to do with that experience. For example, in ‘The Nettle Fields’:
…….He started telling me about a German fighter
…….that came down over his village
…….trailing thick white smoke like silk.
This quotation illustrates also the deliberate and measured rhythmic quality of many of these poems—clearly Belcher has a good ear for the music of the line, the stanza and the whole poem: that is one of the great pleasures of reading it aloud.
At one point in ‘Following The Map’ this reviewer had the strange feeling that his own life was being described:
…….We’d jostle and race Corgi, Matchbox and Dinky
…….through those hot July afternoons until light faded
…….from the downs and flickered on vapour trails.
Sometimes a poem just pushes all the buttons—’Clinker’ with its packed imagery of youth on motorcycle goes from 0-90 in thirty seconds! Certainly, the girl with her “wide grin/ framed by hair dyed to the colour/ of the amber slag we’d find by the rails/ and think was something precious” may be back with her boyfriend pushing a pram, but in one of the best concluding stanzas I’ve ever come across:
…….. . . that’s later.
…….Right now that grin won’t fade
…….and he’s hardly holding on
…….and in front of them
…….there’s every part of England.
Not every poem strikes me with such force and I found the generally melancholy tone sometimes oppressive, but this is a matter of personal taste and in the case of my difficulties with the metaphorical animals in ‘The Ice Horses’ the barrier is my problem, I suspect.
There’s not much cheerfulness in this collection, but the anger is mostly well-directed: targets such as the imperialist past and its legacy certainly deserve some of this attention.
I am genuinely looking forward to Shaun Belcher’s next book: The Drifting Village. Can’t say better than that.
Ruth Fainlight in The Guardian Poetry Workshop 2004
Shaun Belcher’s “On Regarding a Distant Prospect of Oxford with Greyhound in Foreground on a Frosty Morning” and Colm Early’s “My Father Once Saw an Old Woman Being Killed in the Autumn” are ambitious pieces which give evidence that their writers have read a lot of poetry and been writing for a long time, but in both cases I think their poems need more thought – either simplification or amplification.
SOUTHFIELDS MAGAZINE 6.1. (London/Glasgow)
Shaun Belcher’s ‘Flint Fields’ explores another aspect of unnatural disaster caused, this time, by generations of commercial exploitation of the countryside. Behind Belcher is Larkin’s ‘Going, Going’ with its splenetic denunciation of the ‘crooks and tarts’ who are spoiling this ‘other Eden’. Larkin’s schematic presentation of past and present sets harmless ‘village louts’ against the screaming kids in the M1 cafe; the vision of England as an idyll of ‘meadows.. lanes..guildhalls’ against an equally imagined ‘first slum of Europe’. Belcher cannot be accused of nostalgia or pastoral myth-making but is as vituperative in tone as Larkin and as ready to blame commercial avarice in the form of the ‘fertiliser salesmen / intent on reaping the highest bonuses’
The Ice Horses : A Second Shore Poets Anthology
(Scottish Cultural Press) 1996
Anna Crowe, Lines Review, Edinburgh (excerpt).
A concern for language, and for how it shapes memory and identity, runs through Shaun Belcher’s work. To be forced to lose your accent, your mother-tongue, is an act of violence that is devastatingly conveyed in the farmyard and slaughter-house imagery of “Severed Tongue”:
My accent was drained out of me.
A slit bullock over a drain
taught to sound better
my nose forced down in a trough of grammar.
The search for his grandfather’s voice becomes a search for his childhood self, and the question that opens the poem – “Where’s they going grampy?” – is finally answered when the poet confronts a butcher’s shop in ” Oxford’s covered market” (an expression bursting with hidden agendas). In the end, the “reflection” that the effort of writing entails seems to offer a process of re-integration : “looking down through my reflection / at a tray of severed tongues. / trying to find a bucket for his vowels.”
In his poem “The Hare-Lip”‘ the search for memory is a search for truth, for clarity of language, an attempt, in spite of the vulnerability of childhood to ” tell a false accent from a real one”.
Reg Little, Oxford Times 4/9/.92 ‘Verse or Worse’
article on Last Gasp Poetry Group.
Mr. Shaun Belcher is an artistic all-rounder. He paints, with his work used as record sleeves, he sings and, of course, he writes poetry. Much of his conversation centres on Didcot. “How can a poet come out of Didcot for God’s sake?” he likes to ask. I wondered whether he was aware that Philip Larkin owed everything to Hull. It was difficult not to be impressed by Mr. Belcher’s enthusiasm.
Some may have been expecting An Ode to Elvis Presley or On Moving to Didcot. Instead we were treated to some emotional poetry about the changing face of rural life in Oxfordshire, dedicated to a member of his family who had worked the land…the generous applause was richly deserved.
As the world goes wonky with financial instability and summer temperatures in October (apart from Scotland where the heavens opened) Blabber’n’Smoke hunkered down in the bunker and set to listening to an album that’s been sitting on the hard drive for some time. Black River is purportedly the final album from Trailer Star, the last in a line of intriguing releases swathed in a mythology summoned from the mind of the man behind it all, Shaun Belcher, Originally Trailer Star was meant to be a legendary Berkshire bluesman who met an untimely end. As his executor Belcher was able to release a series of cassettes and CDs of his music. This culminated in a well received tribute album Moon Over the Downs where Belcher was able to corral a bunch of artists to cover his songs. Now he’s decided to draw to a close this episode with Black River stating
“This is Trailer Star’s final and exhaustive round up. All tracks recorded between 2005-2010. These are all the late great Trailer’s recorded tracks and signals the final volume in the three CD Trailer Archive series from Tstar records.”
Mythology apart the album sounds primitive, home made and home grown. The sound recalls the ambience Neil Young created with Campaigner, stripped down but chockfull of emotion. It’s intimate and ultimately very personal with songs relating to the death of Belcher’s father dominating the latter part. Much is said about the redemptive power of music and one hopes that these stark and dark tales ultimately did some good for the author.
For the listener it’s hard going at times but glory can come from misery. The canon is stuffed full of songs from disenfranchised black bluesmen, poor sharecroppers, troubled minds. Trailer Star mines the same seam as the late Skip Spence on some of the songs here. The fragility and the feeling of being on the edge of toppling over is balanced by the skeletal beauty of the songs.
The album is available in several ways, in fact the whole story of Trailer star can be read on the website where the various albums can be listened to and even on occasion downloaded. Head over there to look at the whole impressive saga.
Painted Spoken (London)
Shaun Belcher’s unique creation Trailer Star appears on two albums, the first by Trailer Star himself, Suit of Nettles. The second is a beautiful tribute album, Moon Over the Downs on Super Tiny Records, dedicated to the tragic victim of a automobile accident “on a deserted downland bend high above Newbury.” It uses Trailer Stars lyrics set to each of the performers’ own compositions. Trailer Star has the same relationship to Belcher as the nearly real artist Nat Tyler has to his creator William Boyd. Though there is fun to be had in “signalling” Berkshire born and bred Trailer Star’s “pivotal position in the development of English country blues” this is a project with lyrical and musical depth. Belcher on Suit and the dozen plus musicians on Moon play and sing it straight, exploring non-metropolitan England through varieties of American form. Oh, and £4 from every sale of Moon goes to Cancer Research UK.
available online at
Bulrush Festival – Wayne Burrows METRO
Blues Matters Magazine Article
Shaun Belcher / Trailer Star will feature in the ‘Unsigned’ section of forthcoming Blues Matter Publication #39 August/September 2007
Latest issue #38 available now £4.95 from Virgin Megastore, Borders, Selectadisc Nottingham and HMV
Trailer Star featured in the ‘Unsigned’ section of Blues Matter Publication #39 August/September 2007
TRAILER STAR “Floodplain Demos”
Trailer Star , a singer songwriter and poet from Oxford and like the title says, these are rough demos of an album due in 2002. Just an acoustic guitar and voice (folky and Cohen-like at times) but there’s enough quality to warrant investigating the fully realised version of these songs.
http://www.americana-uk.com Jan. 2002
Moon Over The Downs Reviews
“… Shaun Belcher, a freelance journalist. Belcher also provides all the lyrics for the record. His writing seems steeped in the nostalgic melancholy of Woody Guthrie or even Thomas Hardy and works very well in a peculiarly English way.”
(Trailer Star Moon Over The Downs CD) AMERICANA-UK.COM
“He’s an impressive and authentically steeped writer and deservedly gets an equally impressive if largely little known roster of contributors to interpret his material.”
(Trailer Star CD) MIKE DAVIES, NETRHYTHMS UK
The Star Who Never Was: TRISTE MAGAZINE 2003
How Trailer Star was posthumously recognised and the story of how his tribute album came together
Since the first stirrings of the genre in the late 1980’s – with the release of cover albums of the songs of Syd Barrett, Captain Beefheart and The Byrds on Imaginary Records – the tribute album has become a small, but important, part of the record business. With most of the more obvious candidates having been honoured, the compilers/organisers of the more recent tribute albums have had to widen their remit to include mainstream MOR artists (Tribute to Garth Brooks anyone?) as well as delving deep into the territory of cultdom (More Oar – a replication of Skip Spence’s poor-selling, but critically acclaimed 1969 album) or increasingly tortuous hybrids of styles and artists (You can currently enjoy your Dylan tributes in reggae, blues, bluegrass or gospel flavours, if you so wish!).
When I first stumbled across press for Moon Over Downs, the tribute album to Trailer Star, my initial thoughts were dismissive: a minor US talent who probably stayed unknown for very good reasons – not every new discovery can be a new Nick Drake, or even a new Skip Spence. On closer reading it soon became apparent, from the tongue in cheek descriptions and various unsubtle clues, that the Trailer Star depicted was a mythical figure and had never existed (or at least not in the form stated) and that the source of the songs was Shaun Belcher – a freelance writer and published poet from England. A little research uncovered the facts that he has run a website “Flyin’ Shoes Review” since 1999 (which is dedicated to literate songwriting and claims to be “independent in mind, body and spirit”) and that he had also had some musical ambitions under the title of Trailer Star. Some of the artists gathered together on the album I knew of, others were unknown, but my interest sufficiently piqued, I decided to buy a copy and give it a listen.
My expectations were not exactly high, but even after a first listening, it was obvious that the album was more than just another vanity project and that the combination of Belcher’s lyrics and the artists’ music and performances worked very well indeed.
The whole album stands or falls on the quality of Belcher’s lyrics. Fortunately, they are very good, with several nice twists and turns in his lyric writing that show him to be a man for whom words and their order mean a lot. Several of the songs have American subject matter and, luckily, Belcher is steeped in enough Americana to make them sound true and honest without having to resort to too much lyrical ventriloquism. Belcher’s lyrics with English subject matter are also astutely handled, but whereas you feel that he’s reaching back to the country, folk and blues acts of the mid twentieth century as his inspiration for the “American” songs, when he’s tackling his homeland you feel his touchstone is as likely to be Hardy or Houseman as any current musician. ‘Donati’s Comet’ and ‘The Lynton Flood’ explore historical events and prove that an English sense of place should be no handicap to creating a mythological landscape for song, and that one shouldn’t try and echo American archetypes when they are inappropriate.
Due to the constraints of time and budget many of the songs are quite sparsely arranged – although probably more varied stylistically than I would have expected. Some of the acts on the record have opted for the default mode when providing music to accompany Belcher’s dark lyrics with many of the songs ending up covered in the windswept dust of the American mid-West. Not everybody decided to go down this route and Deanna Varagonna’s jazzy-bluesy reading of “Bled Dry” evokes the jazzy-blues of pre-War St Louis, while Jim Roll approaches his song from the powerpop angle adding handclaps and squeeky organ to make the most upbeat song on the record. More variety comes from this side of the Atlantic with Steve Roberts very Mersey-pop take on roots styles, without ever being derivative and Cicero Buck’s “November Rain” is light and breezy confection that floats along. Other highlights on the record include Robert Burke Warren’s self-harmonising on “Ghost Of What Might Have Been” and James McSweeney’s album opener, “My Little Town”.
Having been delighted by the album I felt that the story behind its creation was worth deeper investigation. And as I half-expected, the story behind the genesis of the album was worth telling…
When you’re down and on your knees, you often find that life’s even more ready to put the boot in than normal. In a particularly bad week in November 2002 Shaun Belcher first found himself unemployed and then a couple of days later discovered that his Dad had been diagnosed with cancer. Feeling powerless in some ways, he resolved to take control where he could and decided to initiate some kind of a charity event. A couple of months later and feeling his musical endeavours were leading nowhere, on a whim, he killed off his songwriting alter-ego, Trailer Star, by emailing the contacts in his address book of his decision. An email interchange between Belcher and Terry Clarke, a long established singer-songwriter from Berkshire, resulted in a change of direction in Belcher’s thinking: Trailer Star would indeed be killed off, but by getting together a group of musicians to cover some of the Trailer Star (aka Shaun Belcher) material, Belcher could probably assemble enough material to make an album and then use the sales to raise money for charity.
Unlike most people with a daydream of making an album, Belcher had a hatful of songwriting contacts and also a stockpile of hundreds of songs, acquired over 20 years, to choose from. As he now admits: “I had the brainstorm of sending out a ‘Tribute to Trailer Star’ email to as many people as possible and see what happened – I had no idea how much a CD would cost or anything – I just went for it. I’ll be honest those were dark days in my father’s illness and the support was lovely. I simply asked them to select a written lyric and they could treat them in any way they chose as long as they kept to the spirit of project.”
The response from the people he had contacted was excellent, with only a handful of acts being too busy with prior recording and touring commitments to submit songs. Kris Wilkinson of Cicero Buck was one of the first people to come on board and was instrumental in helping making the plans concrete. Wilkinson and her partner Joe Hughes had created the Super Tiny Record label to release the first Cicero Buck album and offered to release the album as well as recruiting other sympathetic musicians to the project. “I think I could have struggled on in both time and money and released the CD about Spring 2004, but she brought a lot of American ooompth to the project and next thing you know she has brought in Deanna Varagona and Claudia Scott through her Nashville contacts which was fantastic,” explains Belcher. “She and Joe Hughes also helped put up the money to release the project, which I am eternally grateful for, as I soon found CD releasing and mastering and promotion was not a cheap pursuit. I put some toward the cost and they covered the rest.” Cicero Buck also helped bring the official Cancer Research UK status to the album.
Belcher was also quite relaxed with his instructions to the artists and not too protective of his songs: “The only rule was that they should not change the lyrics, but everything else was left up to them. i.e. the treatment, the length etc. As this was a project done entirely by email – in fact even some of the tracks were posted to studio for mastering by email as MP3’s – then this didn’t always work out due to various breakdowns in communication.” Only a couple of the participants added or changed the lyrics and then not to a substantial degree. “Dan Israel did a fantastic job of extending the lyrics of ‘One Horse Town’ and Robert Burke Warren played with the words of ‘Ghost of What Might Have Been’. Otherwise the lyrics were identical to what I posted on lyrics website which I find amazing and in most cases they caught the mood exactly.”
With all the constraints of time and communication the only major problem arose when Bob Cheevers wrote and recorded a version of ‘Drowning Moon’, a song that that Brian Lillie had already covered. Fortunately, Bob Cheevers is nothing if not a prolific songwriter and quickly selected and recorded ‘These Wishing Fields’. Rather than let his version of ‘Drowning Moon’ go to waste, he used it on his own solo album (see interview below). Belcher was amazed at the speed with which the musicians were working. “In double quick time we had CD ready to release in July 2003,” he now says, not forgetting to add, ” I’d like to publicly thank all the participants and especially Kris and Joe for their unselfish efforts”.
The album certainly holds its head high with any other number of other, more orthodox, tribute albums and rarely betrays its DIY origins and the haste with which it was assembled. The quality of the songs and performances are certainly worth hearing for their own sake, but spending money on the album also gives the bonus of helping with cancer research. (Details of how to order the album can be found at the bottom of this page).
Triste spoke with a few of the artists involved in the project to hear their side of the story.
JIM ROLL TALKS ABOUT “MOON OVER THE DOWNS”
Triste: How were you approached to contribute to the project?
Jim Roll: Shaun [Belcher] just gave me the concept, told me it was a benefit and offered me the opportunity to adapt his lyrics to my music. I had just finished a record where I put music to lyrics by novelists Denis Johnson (“Jesus’ Son”) and Rick Moody (“The Ice Storm”). So this project was right up my alley!
Triste: How did you go about choosing “Clown’s Car” as a set of lyrics you felt you could work with? Anything in particular appeal about it to you?
Jim Roll: Yes. Absolutely. I was drawn to the very strong image of the clown’s car (you could make a poster for the song – just by it’s title. It is very visual) — but loved the fact that it was a melancholy love song at heart. The lyrics played out like a Technicolor movie in my head the first time I read them . . . so I knew it was the song for me. I don’t do desperado-oriented folk songs as well as some of the other artists on the compilation. “Clown’s Car” was perfect for my musical sensibilities. Shaun wrote an amazing song in Clown’s Car. It’s heartbreaking.
Triste: What was the process like working with someone’s lyrics at a distance? (ie in time and geographically) I presume it wasn’t too unusual for you as you’ve worked with writer/lyricists before on other songs?
Jim Roll: Exactly. For me it was a snap. My muscles for this kind of work were already in shape from the Inhabiting the Ball record I did with Johnson and Moody. In fact, this was the exact same process I did with Inhabiting the Ball: Whether it was Belcher, Moody or Johnson, they basically sent me lyrics via e-mail and I got to work on it from my home studio. Proximity, location and timing were all very comfortable to me.
Triste: Were you happy with the results? Personally, I really enjoyed the power-poppy feel which set it apart from the other songs on the album – plus adding hand-claps always gives that basic R&R excitement. Also is it true that the song is going on your next album?
Jim Roll: I love the results. I know it shocked Shaun when he heard it for the first time. I think he needed a minute or two to adjust to the pop elements (the hand claps in particular knocked him off his stool). But after two or three listens I know he loved it. I think it is a great melody and that it matches his lyrics nicely. I intend to put an alternate mix/version of the song on my next record. I already asked Shaun for permission and he was into it.
Triste: Was it enjoyable working with some-else’s baby, rather than your own, or conversely more stressful?
Jim Roll: Oh I really enjoy being a part of another persons vision. As a solo artist I am acutely aware of all of the responsibility that goes into a project like this, and while it is ultimately very satisfying, it is also quite draining. So anytime I can be the side man, fiddler, guitarist, banjo player, or simply contribute a single song to a larger project I am pretty much blissed out. I think Shaun Belcher and Super Tiny Records did an excellent job with this project!!
DEANNA VARAGONA TALKS ABOUT “MOON OVER THE DOWNS”
Triste: How did you get involved in this project?
Deanna Varagona: I believe Kris [Wilkinson] first approached me to join the project: Shaun contacted me shortly afterwards.
Triste: How did you go about choosing “Bled Dry” as a set of lyrics you felt you could work with? Anything in particular appeal about it to you?
Deanna Varagona: I enjoyed his lyrics quite a bit; but I wanted a story that I could feel coming from my perspective: “Bled Dry” fit being a woman and American more to me than most of the others.
Triste: What was the process like working with someone’s lyrics at a distance?
Deanna Varagona: Not a problem in general as I often write my own songs lyrics first; I started writing as a poet first; so this can be quite natural.
Triste: How often do you co-write songs?
Deanna Varagona: I have not done a lot of co-writing; but it can be quite natural to work with/off another persons ideas:
Triste: Were you happy with the results?
Deanna Varagona: Mostly; it was a fun task. I would have liked a little more time to live with the feel of the story, but that was my fault; as it came at a very busy time for me.
Triste: Was it enjoyable working with someone else’s project, rather than your own?
Deanna Varagona: I often work with others, i.e. Lambchop, Bevel and others. I often like to sit in or play with new musicians to keep things and ideas fresh.
BOB CHEEVERS TALKS ABOUT “MOON OVER THE DOWNS”
Triste: I believe Shaun Belcher asked if you would participate in this?
Bob Cheevers: Yeah…Shaun asked me, along with a bunch of other artists who he liked, to choose a lyric of his for the purpose of doing a CD – part of the profits from its sale would then go toward cancer research in the UK. I’ve lost friends to cancer. In fact, just two weeks ago my best friend of 41 years died of liver cancer. I was with him for the last 5 days of his life till the moment of his death.
Triste: I know you initially recorded “Drowning Moon”, but leaving that story for a while, what attracted you to the lyrics of “These Wishing Fields”?
Bob Cheevers: The lyric to “Wishing Fields” had a longing to it that reminded me of some of the characters in my Civil War songs…the toil and the suffering that was overshadowed by the hope for a better tomorrow.
Triste: Normally you write your own lyrics. What was it like writing the music around pre-existing words?
Bob Cheevers: It was surprisingly easy. Plus you have to remember I’m a Nashville songwriter and have lots of experience in writing from every angle of a song.
Triste: I think your version of “These Wishing Fields” is very good – you’ve certainly put the Bob Cheevers stamp on it. Are you happy with the results?
Bob Cheevers: Absolutely happy with it. I’m very proud of how it sounds and the mood it portrays. Its a perfect enmeshment of two people’s work.
Triste: Can you tell me the story of how you recorded “Drowning Moon” by mistake? Is it going to be on your new album?
Bob Cheevers: When Shaun told me to choose a lyric from the ones on his web site, I did just that. What I failed to do was look to see if someone else had chosen that lyric already. I was really taken by the story of “Drowning Moon”. I first asked Shaun if he minded that I change a few words here and there and maybe add a line or so. He said he didn’t mind, so I sorta reshaped the lyric into what I felt made it stronger from a rhyming, rhythm and story standpoint. Then I wrote the music and told him how excited I was about “Drowning Moon”. His reply was “But Bob, someone else has already chosen that one”. Ooops! By then, I was so invested in the song and so pleased with it, I knew I’d have it to use somewhere along the line. As fate would have it, my upcoming CD is a guitar/vocal CD of songs that I feel real good about playing by myself. Its called One Man One Martin, and “Drowning Moon” is the second track on the CD.
STEVEN WILCOCK – TRISTE MAGAZINE 2004
Various Artists Moon Over The Downs
The Trailer Star Tribute
One of the most beautiful Americana records that have been released over this past year is without any doubt this captivating album. The “tribute to a star that never was” is a concept album conceived by Shaun Belcher, a most creative character who, amongst innumerable other activities, runs the Flyin Shoes website. The fictitious Trailer Star is the deceased musician to whom this album has been dedicated. Shaun wrote the lyrics for 15 songs and had them put to music and recorded by a fine selection of Americana artists, mostly troubadours from the folk genre. Sometimes the songs are more rock-related, like the solid Kinks-ish Clown’s Car by Jim Roll and Brian Lillie, with a heart-warming Augie Meyers-organ. The 15 tracks are 15 beautiful songs, which, in spite of their diversity, constitute one coherent whole. They paint a picture of the darkish, Twin Peaks-like world of Trailer Star. As the album is actually a chain of great songs, it is nearly out of the question to mention its highlights. Let’s try it anyway: the haunting The Devil’s House by Claudia Scott and the renowned multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplan will deprive anyone of one’s sleep. These Wishing Fields, One Horse Town and My Little Town by Bob Cheevers, Dan Israel and James McSweeney respectively, are intimate, personal revelations in the style of Guy Clark and Willie Nelson. There’s the intriguing, almost chilling November Morning Sun by Cicero Buck, with the highly talented vocalist Kris Wilkinson, whose harmonica creeps up and down your spine. Lambchop’s Deanna Varagona calls up goose pimples with the dismal Bled Dry, Ronnie Elliot relives Johnny Cash in the dark Devil’s Address, there’s an obsessive violin in Brian Lillie’s Drowning Moon, with direct, unemotional vocals. Need one go on? This has become an album that will absorb the listener completely, that will embrace him, to never let him go. The fact that the greater part of the proceeds of the unique project will be donated to Cancer Research in Great Britain is yet another incentive to buy this must-have album.
Bert van Kessel
Insurgent Country Website, Germany
MOON OVER THE DOWNS — THE TRAILER STAR TRIBUTE
First of all buy this album as a minimum of £8.00 goes direct to Cancer Research UK. Secondly buy this album because it is simply excellent.15 Alt. Country stars , some new to me , covering the songs of the enigma that is Trailer Star.
On reading the trailer notes (excuse the pun) I was completely taken inby the sad demise of Trailer Star.On further investigation however , all is not as it seems.This is indeed an urban legend worth looking into.O.K. I’m digressing slightly from the point but I would invite you the reader to take up the challenge to find the real Trailer Star. Back to the album,15 tracks penned by Shaun Belcher, English poet ,songwriter a.k.a Trailer Star? Whoops I’m digressing again! I listened to this album cold without reading the liner notes or even the track listing. Iwas convinced that the songwriter was an American Alt. Star in the making. Wrong! He’s British Hooray!
Many of the songs do conjure up images of dust bowls,one horse towns, the devil and heartache, so it was great to see that Shaun is from our own fair shores. There are no duds on the album although I found the closing instrumental maybe a little surplus to requirements. Stand out tracks for me were ‘ Clown’s Car’ by Jim Roll possibly the only upbeat number on the album although still tinged with sadness. ‘Drowning Moon’ by Brian Lillie ‘ Made a cross out of sticks and bones’ images of bayou moons , shadows and things not of this world left me feeling slightly uneasy, a theme running through this whole album. The wonderful Bob Cheevers leaves his inimitable mark on ‘These Wishing Fields’.Ronny Elliot’s rendering of ‘Devil’s Address’ is just a classic angst laden song about heartache and loneliness.
I could go on and on about the quality of this record so please do yourself a favour and go out and buy the damn thing! To sum up ,a quote from ‘The Lynton Flood’ sung by Kevin Meisel ‘Nobody knew where the water came from on that fateful day.’ Then again any quote from any song would sum this superb compilation.
Trailer Star = Five Star
Yours in all that is good about music.
David Tongberg – Medicine Music Reviews
Various – Moon Over The Downs: The Trailer Star Tribute (Super Tiny Records)
“A tribute to the star that never was” it says on the sleeve, tongue firmly in cheek as it details how the underground folk country star, a seminal influence on English country blues, died when his pick-up left the road near Newbury, leaving behind only a rare collection of demos and old reel-to-reel tapes. The web site even has a nice picture of the tribute ceramic teapot to go with the CD box set.
It’s an amusing wind up, but there a serious backdrop. All the lyrics to which the fifteen artists have set music to honour their lost colleague are written by freelance journo Shaun Belcher whose father suffers from cancer and a minimum £8 from each sale is going to Cancer Research UK.
He’s an impressive and authentically steeped writer and deservedly gets an equally impressive if largely little known roster of contributors to interpret his material. Anglo-American duo Cicero Buck, who run the label and whose singer Kris Wilkinson was instrumental in getting the project together, offer the sunny leaving song November Morning Sun while other familiar names include Lambchop’s Deanna Varagona (a dusty acoustic blues Bled Dry), Terry Clarke (armed with 12 string for art meets history in a metaphor number Donati’s Comet) and Bob Cheevers (doing his Willie Nelson meets Townes on Wishing Field’s tale of a failing farm).
But the lesser known names are no less wonderful. James McSweeney’s country blues My Little Town sounds not unlike Stan Rogers, Brian Lillie gets blues swampy (you can even hear the water sloshing) on the moody Drowning Moon while Ronny Elliott sounds uncannily like Johnny Cash on the magnificent Devil’s Address, a song that should indeed have found its way to the Man in Black’s door.
Elswhere I’d make note of Diana Darby’s spooked Desert Dust, Kevin Meisel’s Prine-like The Lynton Flood, Jim Roll’s jaunty Jonathon Richmanesque Clown’s Car and the closing English Country Heart 12 string dobro instrumental by guitar virtuoso Ian Kearey, but there’s nothing here to have you press the skip button and several warrant hefty use of the repeat. Old Trailer would have been darn proud.
NETRHYTHMS CO UK
. Mike Davies ~ Netrhythms.co.uk
MOON OVER THE DOWNS
sounds like a soundtrack…
Release date: July 1, 2003. Visit the official Trailer Star website.
“Moon Over The Downs is a unique collaboration combining the lyrics of ‘Trailer Star’ with performances by some of the best artists in the alt-country and singer-songwriter field.”
If you listen closely you might begin to think your ears are playing tricks on you. At least a couple of the singers sound, at times, like some really big “names…” Full tracklist and artist details on lyrics page.
Sound effects lend a visual quality to many CDs these days, and it’s easy to imagine some of them making the jump to the big screen without much effort. I can almost see this one…
Short Q & A about Moon over the Downs
Q: This “Trailer Star” thing — what’s it all about?
A: “The Trailer Star Tribute is a bunch of singer-songwriters associated with Flyinshoes Webzine, for songwriters who write other stuff. They’re taking Shaun Belcher’s lyrics and using them with their own music to create a tribute to ‘Trailer Star’ – a ‘fictional’ character created by Shaun Belcher who thinks he’s the alt-country Bernie Taupin). The author killed off Trailer Star when he realised that he had the vocal talents of Leo Kottke – ‘a geese farts on a muggy day voice’
Q: Well, the CD is much much better than I thought it would be. The only thing that might be better is a fresh basket of homegrown tomatoes.
A: Old Willie there again. Tomato? That Townes’ old label aint it?
Q: Yeah, but I was thinking about a Guy Clark song. You like Townes?
A: Well, he was always a lot better than most people thought.
Q: So… all lyrics/words really were written by Shaun?
A: Yes and all music was composed and sung by the artists listed on the CD…
Q: Do you know that voice prints are as unique as finger prints and DNA strands? I could almost swear I heard Willie, but my memory is always playing tricks on me and the wordz’n’muzic are starting to run together now so I really don’t know quite what to think at this point because I’m usually pretty good with voices… I’ll have to listen to it again. By the way, I wanted to mention that your package arrived without a return address. You must have a great deal of confidence in the postal service… either that or you were about to fall asleep at the wheel when you mailed it out…
A: Asleep at wheel? – have been for years:-)
Q: Well, I guess that’s it unless you want to go on the record with anything else…
A: Here’s the first review…
from Marq’s Texas Music Kitchen
Moon Over the Downs: the Trailer Star Tribute
* * * (out of 4)
This is a highly original, musically diverse and very listenable
charity album with partial proceeds to go to Cancer Research UK.
Conceived by freelance journalist Shaun Belcher (whose father is being
treated for cancer), and put together by Kris Wilkinson (of
Cicero Buck), there are fifteen artists from both the US and UK
who have written songs especially for the album. The fictional
Trailer Star was an underground folk hero who never made it to the
mainstream, dying under mysterious circumstance and
leaving behind a legacy for modern day artists to carry
The finest moments captured here come courtesy of Cicero
Buck and the wondrous November Morning Sun, Diana
Darby’s Desert Dust and Bob Cheevers’ These Wishing Fields.
Terry Clarke’s Donati’s Comet has some great lyrics, but the
strident musical presentation fails to capture the song’s lyrical
heart. Ronny Elliott’s Dusty Trees is straight out of the Johnny
Cash/Kris Kristofferson songbook, memorable, but
hardly earth-shattering. Overall a neat little album that is highly
(ed. note the Ronny Elliott track is actually called Devil’s
Various “Moon Over the Downs – the Trailer Star Tribute” (Super Tiny Records 2003) Available: Now
Conceptually this album is brilliant. A spoof tribute to a great lost underground folk artist whose van left the road somewhere near Newbury is a very clever way to link the artists together. In reality, the purpose behind the album is very noble indeed. A massive £8 from the sale of every record is being donated to Cancer Research UK. The album has been put together by Cicero Buck and Shaun Belcher, a freelance journalist. Belcher also provides all the lyrics for the record. His writing seems steeped in the nostalgic melancholy of Woody Guthrie or even Thomas Hardy and works very well in a peculiarly English way. So far, so good bit the question remains. Is the music up to the quality of the overall concept and layout? The answer to this is yes and no. The first half of the album is fantastic, containing some extremely well crafted songs. To this listener however, the tail end of the album contains too many home demos and half baked ideas. Cicero Buck themselves provide the highlight of the album with the haunting ‘November Morning Sun’. Also particularly strong are contributions by Steve Roberts and Jim Roll with ‘Dusty Trees’ and ‘Clown’s Car’ respectively. Elsewhere quality is slightly more variable. Terry Clarke’s ‘Donati’s Comet’ and ‘English Country Heart’ by Ian Keary let standards slip somewhat but Bob Cheevers provides a strong tune with ‘These Wishing Fields’. There is nothing unlistenable on this record and it is harsh to criticise the music too much when the album is for such a worthwhile cause. Buy this record and do your bit, even if you might need to use the skip button on a couple of occasions.
Live Review at 12 Bar Moon Over the Downs Launch
from MAVERICK MAGAZINE
12 Bar Club, London, July 30
Yonder Mtn String Band
Borderline, London, July 30
As I arrived at Tottenham Court Road underground station I knew that I had a busy night ahead of me! At the Borderline was the bluegrass ensemble Yonder Mountain String Band, and on the other side of Charing Cross Road was a special charity gig at the 12 Bar Club starring Cicero Buck and Bob Cheevers. So 1 had it all planned out,at 7.30pm there was to be a media-only mini-set at the 12 Bar and then I could watch the first part of Cicero Buck before heading over to the Borderline just after 9pm when the headline act normally began. Unfortunately, best laid plans and all, the Yonder Mountain boys were starting at 8pm and doing two sets without a support, DAMN! I thought to myself (or words to that effect).I headed into the small 12 Bar for the mini-set, to find apathy rampant, as I was the sole representative of the country music press, which was very poor show as it WAS for charity, and also the fact that the country music fraternity is always moaning about the lack of support of the British fans and then shows the same lack of support itself (all except Maverick that is). Cicero Buck started the half hour set off with a brief explanation of the charity, and the lovely Kris Wilkinson explained that they were pleased to announce the release of the album MOON OVER THE DOWNS: THE TRAILER STAR TRIBUTE ALBUM. A charity benefit album with partial proceeds going to Cancer Research UK. Kris went on to say that fifteen artists from both the US and the UK had given their services to this recording. Trailer Star was an underground folk hero who never made it to the mainstream, and died under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind a legacy for modern day artists to carry forward. Shaun Belcher (whose father is being treated for cancer) is the progenitor of the charity album and the mythic folk legend, and was also adding his support on the night. If any of our readers are touched by the charity, or just love the edgier side of alternative country, you can find out more by logging onto the website: www.supertinyrecords.com Cicero Buck started the short set with their offering on the CD, the wonderful November Morning Sun, followed by the very well-known No More I Love Yous, written by Joe Hughes and made famous by Annie Lennox. Kris then showed off her fantastic vocal strength on the amazing new song If I Can’t Sing. Bob Cheevers then took to the stage to perform a couple of tunes, and 1 was hugely impressed by his troubadour style, very akin to Willie Nelson. Ably supported by Geoff Haves (one half of Haves and Haves), Bob sang the story- song Common Ground, before being joined on stage by Janis Haves to sing his contribution to the CD, These Wishing Fields. There follows a review of the Yonder Mnt. String Band and the Cicero Buck set but alas no review of Bob Cheevers who played a fantastic long set supported by wonderful playing and singing by The Haves…..I hope this sets record straight and thank all people involved in project for their fantastic work)
report by DAVID KNOWLES
MAVERICK MAGAZINE September 2003
“Moon Over The Downs: A Trailer Star Tribute”
will be “Album Of The Week” in my next radio show
on the air here on June 8th
Radio Voce Spazio Alessandria, Italy
Moon Over The Downs at number 10 in
Euroamericana chart for April 2004!