Bill Ryder Jones lives a double life. You may not have heard his name but you will definitely have heard his music. He’s received a Mercury Prize nomination with The Coral and spends his free time drinking pints with Alex Turner (or at least that’s how I like to imagine their friendship). He lives so close to the spotlight, even lending Arctic Monkeys his writing skills from time to time, yet always choosing to remain in the shadows. So much so that he still remains in his hometown of West Kirby, on The Wirral, which lies just across the Mersey from all the glamour and musical history of Liverpool. This scenic peninsula where he was raised is the inspiration for his third solo album, ‘West Kirby County Primary’, which was written and recorded in his childhood bedroom. However, it feels almost as though this place is more than just a lyrical muse for Ryder Jones; it’s a perfect reflection of his impressive yet understated career.
As a whole, ‘West Kirby County Primary’ can appeal to everyone. On the surface, it’s relaxing and inoffensive, the perfect background music for trudging through your work day. However, for those who choose to delve deeper, which you really should, you find evidence of Ryder Jones’s past. His first solo album was purely instrumental and, despite adding the vocal aspect, his talent for arranging and layering music is still obvious. This multi-instrumental aspect is what sets him apart from the plethora of other men who own a guitar and can grow a beard so think they can call themselves singer-songwriters.
This album is only the second time Ryder Jones has graced us with his voice, something which he claims to find difficult and uncomfortable as he has “always liked the mystery of an artist that doesn’t give too much away”. Writing heartfelt, lyrics that convey raw emotion doesn’t seem to faze him though. Listening to ‘West Kirby County Primary’ feels like a glimpse into his childhood, with his voice, although not classically perfect, transporting you there with ease and intrigue. The extended instrumental intro in the song ‘Satellites’, followed by incredibly personal lyrics, is a great example of the perfect pairing between a beautiful composition and the thoughtful, emotional stories he has to tell.
Now is probably a good time to reveal that I too grew up in West Kirby and when you have to explain where that is to every new person you meet, it is pretty exciting to hear references to the area scattered throughout a mainstream album. It may not be obvious to a casual listener (or anyone who grew up anywhere else in the world) but Ryder Jones stays so true to the place he writes of. The song ‘Two to Birkenhead’, my favourite on the album, provides me with my first ever opportunity to be positive about anything to do with Birkenhead. The lyric “desperate times call for desperate pleasures” precisely sums up everything about the place, whilst being general enough to let the listener attach their own meaning.
That’s the beauty of this album. It’s about something so specific but also so broad. The stories he tells can be interpreted in so many different ways, all of them set to a well-crafted multi-instrumental backdrop. The first listen can feel a little samey but if you power through, every song develops each time you listen. If this is what staying in your childhood bedroom can do for you, then maybe it’s time I moved back home.
I hope I can make you slightly smirk but not quite laugh.