Harbottle & Jonas – The Beacon (Brook View

Release Date: 26th March 2021

There are many negatives to being in a band with someone you live with but one big positive is that when a global pandemic hits and you live with the other member of your duo then you have the perfect to hole up at home and write a new album. Sure, it’s a long shot but it turns out that this is exactly what David Harbottle and Freya Jonas did in March 2020 as the returned to their Devon home in South Brent and set about writing ‘The Beacon’. The album title itself gives you a hint at their homebound status, taking inspiration from the Ugborough Beacon, an ancient site looming over their village.

The album opens with the title track, ‘The Beacon’, which opens with forlorn melodies, shimmering percussion and a real sense of staring out of a grey, rain-soaked window at a beacon wondering when the world will be normal again. ‘Edith Cavell’ comes next and is dedicated to the, well, dedicated NHS staff who, like Edith, save the lives of people from all sides of society. The song itself is a gently lilting folky delight with gorgeous vocal harmonies and genuine reverence in the words sung from the written prose of Robert Laurence Binyon (one of my favourite things about Harbottle & Jonas is that they always introduce me to unsung heroes from history that deserve more attention).

On ‘I Make A Nest’, the band (a trio for this album with the added talents of Annie Baylis) slow things down for a soft and calm ode to the beauty of the English autumn that often gets passed by. ‘Whenever You See A Robin’ is perhaps my favourite song on the album because of its spirit, humour and energy which all go to describe the late Simon Cauty (brother of KLF founder Jim) and his adventures – “A cross between Clint Eastwood and Stig of the Dump” is a great way to be remembered. The energy picks up on ‘Every Creature is a Book’ with a carefree acoustic strum and a gentle bounce in the rhythm section while ‘Lights’ finds Jonas on lead vocal duties and, honestly, she just has one of those voices that brings tears to my eyes and memories of those long gone to the fore.

‘Anam Cara’ is a spoken word piece over the sound of water running and shimmering harmonium which will resonate with anyone who has ever gone swimming in the sea or fresh water and had to force their body in despite the cold. Remembrance and pausing is a real theme on this album and especially on ‘F.C. Jonas’ (a song for Freya’s Grandad Fred) which opens with “How do you measure the life of a man? By years, by words or the lines on his hand?”. Harbottle and Jonas (and Bayliss) have a real knack for gently plucking the heart strings with not one iota of malice, just a sense that it is healthy to really feel your emotions from time to time.

‘Shelter’ is a love letter to the gratefulness of having a place to call home which turns in to a celebration the likes of which we would all pay handsomely for right now. The album finishes with the Celtic ballad ‘Black is the Colour’ which really captures the desperation of grief and the blackness it creates around us. This is another masterpiece of an album which is filled with reflection, honesty, emotion and space – probably the best use of the 12 months that I’ve seen or heard so far.

More information: https://www.facebook.com/HarbottleandJonas