‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.
My discovery of Medway/Canterbury band Wheels was the happiest of accidents. That’s what most musical discoveries are.
One Saturday when, no doubt, the Gills were playing a home match which my girlfriend was watching, I decided to head over to Gillingham myself. A singer-songwriter called Didi Bergman was going to be performing at The Barge. And as I quite liked her music, it seemed like the decent thing to do.
Ms. Bergman seems to be something of a catalyst for stirring (and sometimes re-stirring) an interest in Medway music. Phil Dillon – who you’ll often see at various Medway gigs armed with his trusty camera – will tell you that it was through her that he rekindled his love affair with music from the area and discovered Hospital Bombers, a band fronted by Chris Austin, a pivotal player in Medway music until his untimely death in 2013.
My 2010 visit to listen to Didi’s beautiful, delicate folky songs may not have led me to Chris Austin, but it did lead me to Wheels. And for that, I guess I owe Did Bergman some debt of gratitude.
Wheels were a band which didn’t quite fit into any genre. They were folk-ish. But there were Latin American textures and sub-Saharan rhythms. Their songs sprawled on and on forever – in the best of ways – with something new and interesting always guaranteed in the next few bars.
In reviews I wrote of Wheels shortly after my introduction to them, I ended up using the terms Prog-Folk and Math-Folk. I also described them as shambolic – again, in the best of way – and they actually seemed to like this description.
‘Forget It’ comes from Wheels’ album of the same name, released in 2011. It’s typical of many of the songs from the record with its themes of suspicions exchanged between “us” and “them”.
Both ‘Forget It’ the song and Forget It the album champion non-conformity. The message is clear: you can’t rely on “them” – whosoever “they” are: corporations, organised religion or even ones peers – to help you be true to yourself. “In the shadows of doubt we’ll hide until the flame’s gone out”, Rew Oates sings on this track. ‘Forget it. Forget it. We’ll have to find our own way down.”
And it’s an escape that will prove far from easy: “you can’t hear the wind fro the clamour of the cars round here/we could talk through the night, but only if the lights have gone out”.
For all the doom and gloom of the lyrics – the sense of persecution at the hands of those who want you to conform – ‘Forget It’ doesn’t sound like a sad song. The South American feel of the song – thanks in no little part to Neil Sullivan’s intricate guitar playing – adds something of a fiesta feel to the proceedings.
Even this works within the non-conformist ethos. Why be like all the other bands with their strict adherence to verse, chorus, verse, chorus structures – with the occasional bridge thrown in for good measure – when you can just wander off the beaten track and create something far for interesting and utterly unique?
Given everything that’s been said above, it will come of little surprise to hear you can’t get Forget It from the usual suspect retailers like Amazon or iTunes. And since the band parted ways in 2012, following the farewell release of their EP, ‘Get Out Claws’ (also very good), it’s not like you’ll be able to pick up copies of the CDs at a gig.
But if you can beg, borrow or steal a copy of Forget It, do so. It will be a very sensible decision indeed.
Read more about Wheels and plenty of other bands and musicians from Medway in my book: Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.