As the successor to Glasgow-based drummer and songwriter Alex Neilson’s well-established old band Trembling Bells, Alex Rex has been a remarkably prolific outlet. At the end of last month the group released Paradise, their fourth record in four years, at an online event through the Glad Café which is available to view on demand for one more week at the venue’s website.
From the pre-recorded sessions for this event, the group – Neilson, Rory Haye, Marco Rea and Neilson’s former Trembling Bells collaborator Lavinia Blackwell – kept back one song for their Scotsman Session: an extraordinary take on Paradise’s vocal-only closing song Every Wall is a Wailing Wall. Filmed in the Glad Café’s sister thrift shop Glad Rags, the band are wearing costumes by Haye’s partner, the costume designer Catherine Barthram, which Neilson hopes give “an off-kilter, slightly deranged panto atmosphere.”
“The song is like a false bottom (to the album), almost like an epilogue,” he continues. “The melody is from a traditional Scottish song called The Merchant’s Son and the Beggar’s Daughter. There was a great version of it by Davie Stewart, the accordion player, who had this incredible drunken style. I always thought the melody was really soaring and sentimental, but I reapplied it to my own preoccupations – they’re more self-scouring.”
“I took inspiration from the book Lolita, which is about self-destructive impulses and desire rotting into something that eats you from the inside out.”
The darkness of the themes, I suggest, is at odds with the music’s invigorating warmth. “Well, I hope there’s a catharsis in these ideas,” he says, “a dignity to that self-examination and working-through of neuroses. Plus, unaccompanied singing in folk songs is the only form of music that makes me cry, so in a lot of ways it’s a tribute to the great traditional singers that I love so much.”
Alex Rex’s new album Paradise is out now on Neolithic Recordings. The group’s pre-recorded launch event for the record is available view until 13 August at www.thegladcafe.co.uk
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