“WE did not intend for the record to be a concept album although there were a couple of cohesive and major themes. However, as we put the songs side by side the album started to take on the form of a descent into Hell — one into the modern world — where man has been told that he is God whilst at the same time being told he is nothing. It is his modern job to find meaning in this void, to find its beauty, to discern Heaven from Hell, to make meaning out of his utter loneliness and at the same time have the capacity for human dreams.”
— Jamie Lee, MONEY
Recorded in London, England, through the bittersweet winter of 2012 and 2013, MONEY will release their highly-anticipated debut album, The Shadow of Heaven, on Bella Union records on 26 August. As might be expected from a band whose lyrics and interviews continually question the human condition, searching for a spark of divinity in a seemingly godless age, it’s an ethereal, soulful record that’s notable for its musical and intellectual ambition. Although ambition is perhaps not the right word. Because MONEY rarely talk about ambition. Such ideals don’t sit well with them. Instead, they talk about anti-ambition and the revision of existing values: the kind of bold gesture already signalled by their unabashedly iconic name — and what a name, a name for the times, a name that means everything and nothing, simultaneously referencing the stuff that makes the world go round and a materialism that the band would seem inclined to overturn in the hope of recovering some higher form of meaning … The Shadow of Heaven is an album that defies convention and cliché, asking us to be courageous enough to see the world in different ways. As lead singer and ideologue Jamie Lee says, ‘Our aim with this band — in all things we do — is to create the world afresh on our own terms.’
Jamie’s fellow band members are guitarist Charlie Cocksedge, drummer Billy Byron and bassist Scott Beaman, a tightly knit foursome who give all the rhetoric and ideas an appropriately captivating musical form. Having met in Manchester amidst a group of friends who went on to form bands such as G R E A T W A V E S and Kult Country, they soon came to embody the creativity of a new generation of artists and musicians who found themselves presented with what Jamie describes as ‘an extraordinary, poetic city’ rather than an historical dead-weight. Taking the place to their hearts and being well-fancied in return, MONEY proclaimed that ‘Manchester is paradise’ and set about creating a city in their own image: a city full of transvestites, drunken lovers and holy fools, a city on the edge of the abyss, splendidly precarious.
Though it should also be said that much of this new dawn was heralded in Salford, Manchester’s darker, sexier sister city, beginning in the Sacred Trinity Church, where MONEY took to the altar all decked in white, with modernist, geometric light installations hanging from the ceiling on long wires in a seminal Now Wave show. It was heavenly … But not for long, for they soon lapsed from the sacred to the profane, decamping to a former bag factory in an industrial estate near Strangeways Prison known as ‘the Bunker’, home to the cult independent label and self-proclaimed ‘cultural regenerator’ SWAYS, who released the band’s debut 7” single, ‘Who’s Going to Love You Now’ / ‘Goodnight London’, to wide acclaim in 2012. Nudity never being more than a belt buckle away, the vinyl artwork featured an outstretched Jamie emerging from the shadows, fully naked. It was the perfect image to mark this new art of revelation.
Seeing an opportunity to create a unique live performance space for themselves and their fellow bands, MONEY went on to curate a series of ‘exhibition’ events inside the Bunker, bearing their souls inside a wooden cage that resembled an elaborate medieval torture device. Thereafter, it seemed that the bar for live music had been lifted immeasurably higher by some lofty Mancunian God. The old venues and attitudes would not do. Instead, creative spaces emerged across an urban landscape that became a kind of canvas, with people finding themselves at ‘parties where you can express yourself however you want’, as Jamie puts it, ‘parties where any band can play’. Preparation for the Bunker nights involved gangs of idealists printing huge posters of cult writers, turning the toilets into shrines to their cultural icons and stapling together pamphlets with titles such as ‘NEW HEAVEN WITHIN AN ANTI-WORLD – APHORISMS ON A SELF-DEFINED UTOPIA’ full of freewheeling philosophy and visions of enlightenment. Those who were there found beauty in the void and cause for ‘celebration in the heart of doom’. They exchanged kisses and manifestos, knowing they’d landed in some kind of heaven, some kind of hell.
The band’s extraordinary second single, ‘Solong (God is Dead)’, was released on the French label Almost Musique, accompanied by a video that set out exactly what they were about: saintliness and sinfulness, innocence and experience, the agony and the ecstasy of the human condition. Referencing artistic rituals of purification, water imagery and blood rites, the video asked us not just to watch but to immerse ourselves.
The Shadow of Heaven consists of ten songs that range from stripped-back piano ballads such as ‘Goodnight London’ and ‘The Cruelty of Godliness’ to the epic ‘Hold Me Forever’ and ‘Bluebell Fields’. It’s an album full of yearning and soul-searching, a voyage of discovery that only ends up finding itself and the sheer, aching beauty of questions asked in full knowledge of their own answerlessness. Forming a distinctive musical and metaphysical idiom for the modern age, this album also insists that the times are not quite as bankrupt or bereft of meaning as we once believed. ‘One of the first places you hear music is at school, or church, with hymns,’ says Jamie. ‘I loved the melodic effectiveness of hymns and the sound in church, with echo and reverberation, I found it very moving. And hymns to me are the ancestors of the pop song.’
MONEY will premiere The Shadow of Heaven in full at the Manchester International Festival on Friday 12 and Saturday 13 July in the Pavilion Theatre. Tickets are available [HERE].
The Shadow of Heaven can be pre-ordered [HERE].
Image © Natalie Curtis at www.16apr79.com.