In late October Alasdair MacLean, singer-guitarist-composer of the London-based Clientele, crossed the pond for two U.S. appearances—one on WFMU. He was flown transatlantic sans band to promote the new Clientele album, a parlor-pop suite titled Bonfires on the Heath. Bonfires comprises a haunting song cycle graced with falling leaves and foreboding twilight. On his blog, "From Brighton Beach to Santa Monica," MacLean confesses that his work is shadowed by "mental distress and paranoia." There are less benign ways to channel despair.
About the limited U.S. itinerary, MacLean observed: "A friend once told me that Stephin Merritt was being flown from New York to London solely to 'do press.' This seemed impossibly glamorous. They fly you to a different country and put you in a hotel just so you can talk to people — about YOURSELF! You must have some weighty pronouncements to make to the world if that’s how you're being treated. Better greet the journalists with a faintly melancholy smile (oh, the loneliness of genius, the weight of one's towering intellect) and an honest, if distracted, handshake." In fact, this Prince of Looming Darkness was agreeableness personified: a gentleman and a pro, in good humor.
MacLean's reverb-drenched strumming resonated in some deeper recess, which sparked an epiphany the following day. Speaking to Alasdair briefly after the Joe's set, I asked if he was familiar with the work of Vini Reilly, the legendary Manchester guitarist who performs and records as The Durutti Column. Alasdair smiled and admitted he was a fan. Offered a favorable comparison, he demurred, conceding, "I wish I could play as good as him."
On WFMU, MacLean performed five Clientele songs (mp3s from WFMU's Free Music Archive):
The set was engineered by Trent Wolbe (who snapped the above photo thru the control room glass). The unedited performance, including MacLean's commentary, is available in the program archive. MacLean said the full Clientele lineup will tour the U.S. in early 2010—hopefully with a WFMU re-visit—to properly promote Bonfires. Here's a video for the band's "Bookshop Casanova," which depicts Alasdair and bandmate Mel Draisey as fantasy lovers struggling to overcome inhibition at a coffee shop.
N.B.: I've always referred to the band as the CLI-un-tell; MacLean pronounces it CLEE-un-tell.