Diversity of Experience – The Vintage Calvinos feature

Whilst it’s nice to receive free music through the post there’s a certain degree of trepidation attached with receiving a physical artefact as opposed to, say a bundle of MP3s. When it’s cost someone money to send you something, what if I don’t like it?

Consequently, the more I receive from Stereogram, the more I’m convinced that the next one will be the one I don’t like. They’ve had a good run so far, but how long can it last?

Since I knew nothing about the Vintage Calvinos before opening a package the other week I was concerned that ‘An Invitation to Infamy’ might be the album to end that run.

Except it was clear from one play that, resoundingly, emphatically, it was not. Yet again I’ve won in the Stereogram lottery.

As is par for the course the Calvinos don’t sound quite like any other act on the label. Instead they sound like they complete another essential part of the wider jigsaw puzzle that is Stereogram – I’ve a suspicion that if the Vintage Calvinos didn’t exist then Jeremy Thoms would have to invent something very like them.

What is it that makes ‘Invitation’ stand apart from the rest of the catalogue? Stereogram records rarely lack in ambition but ‘An Invitation to Infamy’ dials that up several notches with a dizzying array of instrumentation applied to the 13 songs.

Strings feature throughout such as on driving opening instrumental ‘Prelude’ and the quieter ‘Alice’ and the former in particular remind me of Lomond Campbell’s ‘Black River Promise’. Yet a couple of songs into the record ‘So Many People’ features what sounds like a brass band imparting joie de vivre to the song’s choruses as a contrast to the otherwise mournful verses.

This is typical of the record – the arrangements vary from one song to the next never allowing a particular sound to emerge. Yet there’s undeniably a sense of cohesion to the set and the overarching impressions I get from the record are those of  joyful energy and melody.

Both ‘You Are Always on My Mind’ (no, not that one) and ‘No Room at The Inn’ (which sounds a bit like poppy, early Triffids) have already been put out as singles. Yet ‘Invitation’ seems to have an endless supply of similarly catchy material which could act as attention grabbers.

One of these is ‘Handsome Boy’, which manages to sound reminiscent of both label-mates St Christopher Medal and Glasgow’s Randolph’s Leap, whilst the rockier ‘Last Tango’ is another. ‘Rock Dreams Part 2’ draws on similar influences to another Stereogram label-mate, Roy Moeller, albeit with far more opulent instrumentation.

Ahead of today’s release I managed a quick chat with Vintage Calvinos mastermind David Baird to find out a little more about the record.

First up, David explained that the Vintage Calvinos are a disparate group of musicians brought together specifically to realise his ambitions for the record.

“The Vintage Calvinos aren’t an entity as such. All of those who played on the album are involved with other groups which cover a wide range of styles as I wanted a diversity of experience and approach to playing.

“The drummer is a jazzer who has done numerous sessions, Iona MacDonald has her own folk band Doghouse Roses, Jeremy has his Cathode Ray, I’ve done work with Knox and the Vibrators and so on.”

Applying that diversity to the individual tracks followed on naturally from David’s original songwriting.

“Firstly, I wrote the songs, worked out how I wanted to arrange them, went into the studio with Paul Davidson who plays on the album and he recorded guide tracks. I then approached the musicians whom I wanted and we set up sessions.”

To an outsider it seemed like the process of realising such an ambitious vision for the record would be fraught with difficulty, but David reckons it all went smoothly.

“There weren’t any major challenges with the ensemble other than arranging times when we could all get together. The vision I had for the album is pretty much how it has turned out. I wanted each song to be different, an eclectic mix you might say.”

David is quite clear about what’s most important to any Vintage Calvinos tune.

“My main priority with a song is the melody. The arrangement can be smart, the playing exceptional, the production just right but, for myself at any rate, if the melody is weak, you’ve wasted your time.”

As is often the case with Stereogram acts, an album appearing on the label is often the culmination of many years history.

“I’ve known Jeremy a long time and when I told him what I was working on, he immediately suggested I come on board with Stereogram. As it turned out, he played and sang on a few songs and then went on to mix and master the album as well.”

I honestly can’t recommend ‘An Invitation to Infamy’ enough and it’s available on Stereogram from today.

Here’s one of the singles that preceded the record:

The launch party for the album takes place tomorrow (Saturday 28th) at Under The Hammer, North Silver Street, Aberdeen from 2pm til late.


  1. Uncle ellwyn says:

    Great review. You have convinced me to look up this album,

  2. It’s a good ‘un for sure.

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