Peter Bruntnell interview

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Peter Bruntnell is American. For a start, although he isn’t too keen on the expression, the songs and structures on his most recent CD, the best-selling “Normal For Bridgwater” fit firmly into the “alt-country” bracket, and he acknowledges the effect that Neil Young’s “After The Goldrush” has had on his work.
Further, all three of Peter’s albums have been issued on US labels. The more rock-orientated, yet still mercilessly melodic “Cannibal” and “Camelot In Smithereens” both appeared on Almo Sounds, a label set up by the indefatigable Herb Alpert, a man who knows his way round a good tune. And the career-defining “Normal For Bridgwater” is released by the American label Slow River.
Yet Peter is as un-American as can be. Still living in outer London, though in the process of relocating with his family to deepest Devon, he considers himself to be a native of the suburban town of Kingston on Thames, although he was actually born in New Zealand, of Welsh parentage. In actual fact, the album reflects several lengthy periods spent in Vancouver, so the feel is more Canadian than anything else.
Peter’s natural environment is playing in crowded bars, either with his four-piece band or with his guitarist sidekick and brilliant instrumentalist James Walbourne. Ten years on the dole and playing throughout the UK and Europe, plus six or seven Stateside visits, have turned Peter into a consummate live performer, to the extent that he thinks (possibly correctly, although to the non-hyper critical ear, the album sounds just magnificent) that “Normal For Bridgwater” is best experienced live:
“I suppose I do feel happy with it, although I did get quite a shock when I listened to it about two months ago, because we play the songs live now with a lot more dynamics and in a more relaxed way. But I do still like the record and I like the songs on it.”
It sounds very much as though Peter, after casting around for a musical modus operandi, has experienced the serendipity of choosing a style which also happens to be truly commercially accessible.
“Well, I don’t set out to write for anybody other than myself, so I don’t really consider it commercial, even though it might be. It’s not something I’m conscious of.”
Are the songs on the forthcoming album in the same style?
“Yes, they’re a continuation of the last record. With my first two albums, I was confused, whereas with ‘Normal For Bridgwater’, I decided I was going to do exactly what I wanted to do, and if people like it, great, and if they don’t, tough. That’s why I’m quite pleased that the one I consider much more honest is the one that people like more.”
What on earth can be the significance of that odd album title, and indeed the languid “NFB”, its accompanying song?
“A couple who are friends of mine ran a particularly rough pub in Bridgwater (a small town in the UK West Country), and the landlady was telling me one day that the doctors in Bridgwater use the abbreviation NFB (= Normal For Bridgwater) when describing their test results for slightly disturbed local patients.”
If you think that’s eccentric, it’s not half as charming as the album’s undoubted highlight (and live tour de force) “By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix”.
“That was an item on a news programme one evening, where there was a group of people in England who wanted their bodies sent to Phoenix, Arizona for preservation in some cryogenic tanks, to be frozen and then revived in the future. But the weight of a human body made it too expensive to ship in an aeroplane, so they’re going to cut the head off the first one that dies and freeze that.”
A new album from Peter is eagerly awaited, but it seems the wait will have to be a little longer:
“I’ve got twelve songs written and my management company is in the process of talking to a couple of labels, so the record will be recorded before the end of this year and released early next year.”
Does this mean that the association with Slow River is no more? Suddenly, the normally intensely communicative singer finds himself totally speechless. After a long pause, all Peter will offer is:
“Umm … I don’t think we’re gonna do another record with Slow River.”
Would you care to elaborate?
So that’s that. But the moment the conversation returns to music, Peter is back on top form:
“There’s a song on the new album called ‘Tabloid Reporter’. It’s about a journalist from the News Of The World who posed as a potential business partner, lured the Radio 1 DJ Johnnie Walker into a meeting and asked him to score him some coke. Consequently, Johnnie got thrown off the BBC for a while, so I wrote this angry song which attacks that journalist and others like him.”
It’s going to be another classic.
From Amplifier magazine, November 2001