The band formerly known as Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs are now just The Voyeurs. Alongside this shortened name comes widened perspective. The band’s second album takes in the rail networks of Eastern Europe and a transvestite bar in Limehouse in East London. Rhythmic inspiration comes from both The Glitter Band and the Berlin-fermented pulse of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot album. Such broadening horizons were maybe foreshadowed by the band’s personal history – a ‘London group’ whose origins take in Palestine and the Forest of Dean.
The Voyeurs are based in London, but drummer Samir Eskanda was born in the Middle East. Frontman Charlie Boyer’s childhood was spent in the Forest of Dean, where he went to the same school once attended by the sainted hit-maker and recording-studio revolutionary Joe Meek. Charlie says that Meek was ‘a bit of celebrity for all the little freaks at school – we’d often listen to Telstar at the right time of an evening…’ Wow! Can pop-music hot-housing get any better? Certainly Meek’s spirit of adventure is audible in the opening track on the The Voyeurs’ new album, ‘Rhubarb Rhubarb’. ‘Train To Minsk’ is the track that draws on the idiot-savant wunder-chug of The Glitter Band and Iggy Pop. The lyrics range from Belarus to Japan.
‘It’s about the idea of just getting to somewhere else,’ says Charlie. ‘The new album is about interesting sounds and interesting stories. Some parts are lush and almost orchestral, with Mellotron-type sound effects. Other parts are stripped back to almost nothing. It’s a studio record where the first album was a live record.’
This band’s initial impact was indeed down to live performance. Charlie jump-started the band in 2012. He recorded a double A-side single for the Blank Editions label – ‘Ducks’ / ’You Haven’t Got A Chance’ – before assembling a band to elaborate on his as-yet-unperformed songs. By the time they’d played two shows they’d found a new label – Heavenly Recordings. The label was immediately impressed by the way the band imported legendary East Coast American sounds to East London. As Heavenly diagnosed at the time: ‘Perfectly channelling mid-’70s NYC art-punk in the back room of an East End pub, Charlie took the sounds of one blank generation and blasted them out to another.’
The band released their debut album, ‘Clarietta’, in 2013 – a British revision of Jonathan Richman and Television, but with its underlying UK character lit up by hints of the Buzzcocks and Syd Barrett. The album was recorded by Edwyn Collins, singer/songwriter and producer, and much-loved laird of the expansive Orange Juice estates. The album’s persuasive blend of the cerebral and the primitive was saluted by the press. ‘”Clarietta” is no routine homage,’ reported MOJO magazine in a four-star review. ‘A gripping twist on a timeless classic.’ The NME gave the album 8/10 and proclaimed things in rhetorical style: ‘No new bands to get excited about? Give it a fucking rest and listen to this, will you?’
‘Rhubarb Rhubarb’ was played by the same people as the band’s debut album: Charlie Boyer (vocals, guitar), Danny Stead (bass), Sam Davies (guitar), Samir Eskanda (drums) and Ross Kristian (keyboards). But while the personnel stays constant the song does not remain the same. Charlie says that if the debut album had a spiritual home in New York City, the new LP has its heart in London. ‘A lot of the album is about characters,’ he says. ‘There are a lot of domestic themes – sometimes a story about a boy and a girl, with maybe some of the characters moving from song to song. It’s more of an English record – where showtunes and a sense of humour enter the picture, moving on from simple gutter rock.’
The narratives detail domestic violence (‘Pete The Pugilist’) and the chemical glee of the clubber at the break of dawn (‘The Smiling Loon’). ‘Stunners’ takes its title from the now-defunct Limehouse transvestite niterie that, until recently, added much local colour to the band’s adjacent rehearsal space. But where the new album’s words navigate a defined geography, the music has a wider perspective. Key influences include Faust’s abrupt inter-song editing and Kevin Ayres’ taste for exotic instrumental detail. A new premium was placed on rhythm. ‘We were putting more emphasis on the drums than ever before,’ says Charlie. A particular influence here was John Lennon’s ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album, with its occasional reduction to just slapback drums and vocals.
‘The new album has a colder, darker feeling than the first one,’ says Charlie. ‘One of my favourite records is Lou Reed’s Berlin, which swings between a cold starkness and a kind of brilliant pomposity. We wanted to have those two elements – really stripped-down moments of just tambourine alongside ten layers of harmonised guitar.’
The result is an album that looks determinedly out into the world, but also maintains contact with the band’s origins. The album title comes from an old English theatrical device – the tradition where the phrase ‘rhubarb, rhubarb’ is used to produce background dialogue on stage and on the TV.
‘There’s a lot of noise around in the world today,’ says Charlie. ‘I was thinking of the idea of making noise but not really saying anything. The idea of “rhubarb, rhubarb” is unscripted background conversation in plays and on television. Today people are commenting on things all the time, commenting in new ways – Twitter and things. But a lot of it’s just more background, another kind of “rhubarb, rhubarb”…’
At time of writing The Voyeurs are taking their bold new noise across Europe – out with Fat White Family from Oslo to Berlin, Eindhoven to Prague. As The Voyeurs play ‘Rhubarb Rhubarb’ across the Continent the people will surely welcome a new international language – sounds ancient and modern, local and universal.
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