Need a gift for a gifted musician?
‘Welcome the Stranger' was the exhortation on a poster inside the place where our singer, Richard Palmer, now works. That’s The Regal in Worksop, a fairly run down building in a fairly run down Nottinghamshire town.
The Regal is a large old theatre, rather shabbier now than in its early 20th century heyday, but tidied up enough to accommodate many people in the local community who have learning disabilities, mental health problems, or young people who are deemed at risk. It gives themsomewhere to learn and play music, perform drama and dance. It’s a far cry from the BRIT School, and neither Adele nor Leona Lewis feature among its alumni, but it's a comfortable, safe environment where people can gain confidence and belonging.
Richard works at The Regal full time now, helping kids try to find their feet through music and drama, but he first arrived as a ‘service user’, following a serious breakdown of his own. It’s somewhere he feels at home. And the truth is, we also rehearse and record there because it’s cheap – certainly cheaper than Brighton, where we also do some of our recording.
Welcome the Stranger largely comprises music Richard produced in the wake of an album he recorded with leftfield sample artist Broadway Project back in 2003. He sang and wrote songs for The Vessel, masterminded and produced by Dan Berridge. The Telegraph described Richard’s voice as an “impassioned tenor, intoning portentous wonders and fearful doubt”, but maybe fearful doubt can be a tough thing to market – critically it was a success, making most of the national broadsheet press, music publications and internet, but it didn't sell as many units as hoped.
I remember Richard after he’d finished recording it – he seemed hollowed out, edgy and paranoid. Now in his late 20s, he’d just accomplished what he’d wanted to do his whole life, but the reality was underwhelming; he was also dirt poor and had pawned a lot of his equipment. It was not long afterwards that he started to get ill with depression and moved from London back home to Nottinghamshire, where we were at school together. He wrote many of these songs around that time, though others came later.
On the whole Richard’s health is much better now and over the last couple of years he’s put together a little recording outfit to get the songs down, an informal arrangement at first, with a shifting roster of friends and acquaintances helping out, and not much thought of commercial release. But there is a maturity and a depth to what Richard has produced, and the band has slowly coalesced around him.
Ben Reid plays keyboards, drums and bass on the recordings and lends the cultured ear of the classically trained musician. Ben Linacre plays drums with us most of the time now, while I played some guitar on these songs, during and after my time in folk-pop band Grantura. (We’d done BBC radio sessions and picked up a four out of five for our In Dreams & Other Stories album in The Times, but, in the end, ran out of gigs and money.) Local musicians James Smith and Lizzie Ryder have helped us out too, with slide guitar and singing respectively.
So that’s where Welcome the Stranger comes from; a poster inviting waifs and strays to seek help through music. Ben says it crops up in the Bible somewhere too.
Lindsay Clark, March 2011.