Sunday, September 5, 2010

NICK GARRIE: The Most Beautiful Nightmare Of All

The Most Beautiful Nightmare Of All

Spaz tracks down elusive British Psych/Folk singer/songwriter NICK GARRIE to discuss the deluxe two CD reissue of his classic 1969 album, The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee 

     Nick Garrie may not be a household name, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t deserve to be. Some of you readers are learning his name here for the first time, while others already hold him in high esteem and insist that he is the most under-rated singer/songwriter of the late ‘60s (and beyond). Most folks fall somewhere in between these two poles, but that’s probably because they’ve never heard Nick’s 1969 solo masterpiece The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas. One listen to this slab of Psychedelic Baroque Folk Pop and you’ll be mesmerized.

     Nick Garrie has been compared to the tender and touching work of Nick Drake mixed with the Pop sensibilities of Billy Nichols and a pinch of solo Syd Barrett, yet those comparisons only touch the surface.  Garrie’s work is unique and moving yet avoids all the self-righteous pretentiousness of other Folk-centric singer/songwriters of his ilk. He’s sweet when he needs to be, worldly when he wants to be and always intriguing, fascinating, mysterious and, most importantly, engaging and melodic.  But was he a Psychedelic Folk troubadour, as many have claimed? 

     “I’ve never categorized my stuff, “says Nick these days. “It made me smile to see it categorized as ‘Psychedelic’!”

     Nick’s original demos were striking, beautiful and often haunting, rooted here on earth yet they obviously possessed a head full of stars.  Once his producer Peter Vartan got a hold of the songs, he brought in an orchestra in order to take them to a whole new level.

      “Lost and confused!” is how Garrie describes his initial reaction to Peter’s grandiose production of his songs. “Vartan was appointed by Disc AZ (Nick’s label). He was a very nice man who did his best.”

     While Nick himself was a bit concerned about the direction of his album, one listen to Stanislas today reveals a collection of songs full of melodic wonder. While comparisons may be made to some of his contemporaries, there is no discernable influence in his music.  He was (and is) a unique songwriter.  It is as if Garrie had arrived from another planet, recorded this wonderfully warm collection of songs and then faded into the mist. 

     While fans and music lovers are completely gob-smacked by the album, Nick’s initial reaction was far less favorable.

     “I was disappointed,” he says, some four decades after the album’s release.

     The most shocking thing about the Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas album is that it was never officially released! The album was doomed once his label couldn’t figure out how to promote and market the album and then its fate was sealed when the label’s head, Lucien Morisse, committed suicide. With all these disappointments, Garrie walked away from Stanislas and didn’t bother to look back.

     In most cases, that would have been the end of that.  While Garrie still recorded sporadically (including releases under the name Nick Hamilton), his output was not exactly prolific.  But the Stanislas album soon became a legend amongst the hardcore music collectors.  It was the holiest of holy grails!  The internet’s far reaching capabilities only helped the legend to grow. And all the while, Garrie was oblivious to the hordes of devoted followers and fanatics who deciphered his every word and musical note. Well, that is until the first part of the millennium!

     “When I started teaching seven years ago, I typed in ‘Nick Garrie’ as a joke.” he says about the first time he discovered that his long-forgotten album had an immense and devoted following. “I was absolutely stunned!”

    By 2009, four decades after his debut, Garrie was back in the studio with a host of devoted followers and new musical co-horts including Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) and Duglas T. Stewart and Francis McDonald of BMX Bandits. The resulting album, 49 Arlington Gardens (Elefant Records), was one of the best albums of the year.  His voice and musical style were instantly familiar, yet age had brought depth and more confidence to the songs.  While not as epic as Stanislas, the album was every bit as beautiful. 

     “The recording was a joy: different young people turning up. It was like a little cottage industry. “remembers Garrie. “I'm very proud and grateful for that album and, yes, I do think one or two of the songs might glisten in the sun, so to speak, and when I play them live, they sit well with the Stanislas songs.”

     While 49 Arlington Gardens may have brought Nick’s career full circle, there was still some unfinished business in regards to Stanislas.  While the album had been officially released in CD a handful of years ago, it was just crying out for an expanded edition. Thankfully, the good folks at Elefant Records were more than prepared to take on the project.

     On The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas, the 40th Anniversary two CD deluxe edition, fans are treated to a treasure trove of bonus material. Disc One contains the original album while Disc Two features a glorious assortment of rare and unreleased tracks including songs of a more recent vintage, Nick’s first single and acoustic demos of songs that would later make it onto Stanislas. It also comes with liner notes written by Garrie. In short, it’s essential purchasing and listening!

     So, what does the man himself think of this long overdue expanded reissue of his mythical and legendary debut album?

     “Elefant have presented Stanislas with the love they give to all their productions.” He says. “I think it’s beautiful and I'm very proud. It gives me a jaunty side step!”

Thanks to Nick Garrie
Special Thanks to Luis Calvo and James Agren

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