The Hightown Pirates was formed by Simon Mason. He penned the critically acclaimed rock n roll memoir Too High Too Far Too Soon: Tales from a Dubious Past in 2013. Back in the 90s, Mason was known as a ‘chemist’ to some of the biggest bands then before falling into heroin addiction and since recovering. In his book, he recounted his debauched exploits at Glastonbury Festival where success as a rock star always just eluded him. He was then “rescued” by Banksy from a stolen camper van. Since 2006 he has been clean and fully pouring his efforts into his creativity.
Hightown Pirates is now a kind of modern collective of musicians initially conceived by a friendship with Mick Head of The Pale Fountains and Shack. Having toured with The Libertines this led to Pete Doherty producing the artwork for their debut album Dry and High in June 2017. Now they release their second album All of the Above (digitally) on May 1st (vinyl later in the year) and it has been a real labour of love for him and the band. Recorded at Viva Recorders Studios in London, it’s released by Port Royal Records.
Intro track ‘All of the Above’ kicks off proceedings with a surreal vocal of Hello repeated continuously. Then an insistent jangly guitar and drum beat arrives followed by a nice bit of northern soul brass section. This then leads into ‘He Who Lies Flat’ which has the same catchy beat and a brass section fanfare before Mason’s vocal is complemented by female harmonist Shireen Liane. This has a slight rock opera feel (it brings to mind The Who) and has razor-sharp lyrics.
Meanwhile, ‘Girl from the Library’ is fluid and poetic. Mason weaves a tapestry together of diverse characters and lives like vignettes. She reads all the broadsheets, no-one steals them anymore, on her lunch break with a roll-up, outside the library door.
I love the seductive wail of a flute introducing ‘When The Soldiers Come’ and a great wah-wah guitar combines it well. There’s more of that gorgeous flute in the next track ‘The King of Hearts’ which is languid and sublime. Hypnotic bass is provided by Matthew Starritt of Treetop Flyers and there’s a great bit of Hammond organ in there too.
The standout track is ‘Down on Love Lane’ combining a big band sound and Paul Weller style vocals before dropping down a notch into tender lyrics of a misspent youth. We wrote letters, we shared records, thought our youth would never end, smoking by the phone-box as we tried to call our friends. It evokes memories those of a certain generation will relate to (in your bedroom with the lights down, we listened to John Peel).
This album won’t win prizes for anything new as such. As Mason himself said, “To be clear, if you’re looking for some kind of, rock n roll re-invented wheel, you ain’t gonna find it here”. However, the passion and talent has to be lauded. Mason is a teller of stories, of some lives, lived, others hidden and lost, of hopes and dreams and everything else in-between.