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Bill Ryder-Jones ‘Iechyd Da’ Album Review

The word “masterpiece” has dogged Bill Ryder-Jones’ career. It’s been used to anoint the elegant, conceptually-driven If…, the sparse and sorrowful A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart, the more radio-friendly West Kirby Country Primary and sombre Yawn. But being so heavily garlanded doesn’t always seem to sit well with him.

If you’ve seen him live, brusquely fending off demands to play Two to Birkenhead, you’ll recognise a tortured relationship between writing authentically about his own surroundings and not wanting to pander to those who have him pegged as some kind of parochial Wirral poster boy. 

But it’s no use – his music is intimately tied to the landscape, no more so than with this fifth album. He writes what he knows: whether grief, financial hardship or battling to leave his bed, it’s all filtered through the lens of the sleepy seaside town he grew up in. He’s like West Kirby’s answer to a Gormley statue, saltwater lapping at his ankles, rooted to the spot, staring out to the Welsh hills as the sun plummets.  

Homebody vs. romantic visionary: two sides at loggerheads. From opener I Know That It’s Like This (Baby), these conflicting instincts are locked in a struggle of derby-like proportions. “I thought I’d give the world a chance,” he murmurs, simultaneously wondering if he’d be better off staying home forever to binge-watch TV with his girlfriend. 

Musically, despite influences as wide-ranging as Philip Glass, Tom Jones and Jake Thackray, Iechyd Da is still textbook BRJ. There are orchestral builds worthy of Bacharach, with lyrics rasped into your ear at close range. His voice can sound either desolate or disarmingly intimate, shifting from despair to joy in a heartbeat. 

It’s also haunted by the ghosts of older songs. A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart pt.3 retreads some of his earliest lyrical terrain. This could spell out the circularity of despair, the way personal failings can feel preordained and doomed to play on repeat. Alternatively, such familiar touchstones are grounding; postcards from an earlier self. 

There’s an undeniable warmth in populating his songs with the same old faces. Christinha resurfaces, transformed from playground muse to lost companion, as he traces back memories of a shared existence spent “running your baths before American Dad”. There’s also a hero’s return for Anthony (of Anthony & Owen), a lifelong friend who rushed him to Arrowe Park after a bad Xanax encounter . 

But a Bill Ryder-Jones record is never mawkish, there’s always some thread of hope stitched into its lining. Take If Tomorrow Starts Without Me, which meditates on his own death over a buoyant string section as uplifting as anything recorded by the Pale Fountains. Later, Michael Head himself makes a cameo, reciting a Ulysses passage in …And The Sea… It’s a rare moment of escapism for Ryder-Jones, whose work is so often anchored in reality.

We Don’t Need Anyone is a defiant hymn to outsiderhood, whispered with strings that mount as the song goes on, until it starts to feel like an echo of the Beach Boys God Only Knows – so does I Hold Something In My Hand. As well as revisiting his own material, there are enough pop references here to require their own set of footnotes.  

At times, all that nostalgia can hit you like a ton of bricks, particularly when he assembles a choir of primary school children at the Bidson Observatory. During It’s Today Again, he counts them in, cheering on their efforts. “The stars have fallen in,” they chime, “the sun fills up your sky.” It feels like a foreshadowing, but also a poignant throwback to Ryder-Jones’ own days as a Wirral schoolchild. 

“I don’t know why he’s pulled such a blinder,” says my friend Greg, who I bump into when picking up my copy of the record. “He doesn’t want to be famous or forced to tour.” Bad news, Bill – another masterpiece. 

Bill Ryder-Jones’ Iechyd Da is out now. Stream the album on Spotify here.

Orla Foster


Founder and Editor, Clare Deane, shares her passion for all the amazing things happening in Liverpool. With a love of the local Liverpool music scene, dining out a couple of times a week and immersing herself in to all things arts and culture she's in a pretty good place to create some Liverpool Noise.

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