The Lancashire Hustlers are big favourites here at Harmonic Distortion. They comprise of Ian Pakes and Brent Thorley, a pair of songwriting musicians originally from Southport, who now live and work in London. Their work exists outside of prevailing fashions, and is instantly recognisable due to the duo's vocal harmony blend. They're also adept at arrangements, textures and instrumentation. Where the pair really excel however is in their songwriting. Previously they've addressed ruthless ambition, politics, corporate greed, the building of the Titanic, travel, the difficulties of art appreciation, and plenty more besides.
latest album, Big Ask, came out about a month and a half ago, since when it's been a
welcome companion on my daily commute to work. This time round
they've not opted for the kind of grand conceptual theme that formed the basis of their earlier
pop opera albums - there's no overarching narrative or storline. Instead it's an inward journey, with songs addressing the
elusive nature of love and happiness. These are sophisticated songs, born of the
big city, yet yearning for a simplification. In
short they strip away at all that's unnecessary, and
focus on the stuff that really matters - love, truth, beauty. It's a
thread that runs through all the songs on Big Ask, whether wishing for
passion ('Your Cool Reactions', 'You Who Only Play at Love'), lamenting joy's fleeting nature
('Happiness On a String') or appreciating the sublime beauty of the
natural world ('Bluebell Painter'). They lay
the writers' hearts on the line and wish that others could do the
same. A big ask indeed.
of the Lancashire Hustlers' key influences is Ray Davies of The
Kinks. Much like the best of Davies' songs, the songs on Big Ask have a slightly removed, keen sense of observation. Whether
deliberate or not the back cover image on Big Ask lends
weight to this theory of Pakes and Thorley as observers. It's a photograph of the pair in a tile-walled cafe, drinking tea, their
attention and eyes focussed on something happening across the room
and out of shot. Who knows, perhaps what they're witnessing will
feature in one of their future songs. I'd like to think so.
Anyhow, enough theorising, I'll leave you with that thought, because right now I'm off to press play again.