My first encounter with Henry Ireland, though I doubt he remembers it, took place in September of 2013 at a festival of quiet music called Shhh. I don’t go to music festivals very often as they mostly take place outside in the summertime and I’m not really an outside in the summertime kind of person. Also, I find it challenging being among people, especially in large numbers, for prolonged periods. Thankfully though, this festival was an indoor one, taking place in Bristol's Folk House, a very nice venue located just a short walk from my home. Knowing that I didn’t have far to travel if I got anxious and wanted to go home certainly made it easier for me to attend than it would have been had it not been so close to home. Anyhow, I’m glad I went. The music was lovely, there was a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, and I met some nice people.
One of those nice people was Steve Brett, another was Henry Ireland. They had a stall together at the festival, selling CDs, records and merchandise by various bands on the record labels they run/co-run, Stitch-Stitch Records and Polite Records respectively. I chatted a little with Steve and bought three albums from him, two by The Middle Ones and one by The Lonely Ponies, all of them really great albums. Although I didn’t talk so much to Henry, or buy anything from him, he made a positive impression on me and I made a mental note to find out more about his label and the bands on it.
The first things of Henry’s that I listened to were his Polite Podcasts. There were four of these, each one released as a free download on the last day of each of the last four months of 2013. The podcasts include music by, among others, The Middle Ones, Palomica and Two White Cranes, as well as interviews, oral histories and field recordings. They are beautifully constructed things.
I met Henry for the second time in February of 2014 at another indoor music festival, this one was called Tell Everyone Everything and took place at Bristol’s Southbank Club. This was also the first time that I saw his and Steve Brett’s band, The Nervy Betters, play. I really enjoyed their set and I’m very much looking forward to hearing their upcoming debut album. By this time, I had also become aware of another band Henry’s in called Tiger & Panda but I hadn’t yet listened to them.
I’ve always found it difficult to like a band if I dislike their name and hard not to like a band if I love their name. Tiger & Panda is a name that I love. I love tigers, whether they be of the fictional variety (Hobbes, Tigger), or the real thing (I rarely watch nature programs but can easily watch ‘em for hours if they’ve got tigers in ‘em), and pandas are, of course, quite lovable too. Of course, bands with great names can often turn out to be disappointing when it comes to their music. With Tiger & Panda however, this is certainly not the case.
Tiger & Panda are Henry Ireland and Oliver Watson. They both sing and play various instruments and they both write songs. Henry also does artwork and design for their records which have all been released on their own label, Polite Records, which they run together with fellow performer Phil Dodd.
About a week ago, I finally got around to buying some of their music, having listened to a few tracks online and having liked the sound of what I’d heard. Among my purchases were a couple of EPs that I’ve fallen quite deeply in love with.
Sent I November, released in April of 2013, is an eighteen minute long, six track EP. It is also, without doubt, one of the most beautiful and moving records to have been released in recent years and one that I hope will go on to be discovered by many people who, like me, missed it when it first came out. I’m not going to try and describe the music to you or give a detailed analysis of what I think each of the songs mean but I would like to say a few words about one of the songs and what it means to me.
The song is called Late in November and it’s one of those rare songs that, from the very first listen, spoke to me. I don’t know what inspired the song or who Henry is addressing when he sings it, maybe a close friend or relative, maybe himself, or maybe nobody in particular. When I listen to it though, the person he’s addressing is me, or, more specifically, me a few years back, when I lost my mother.
“Are you fed up with yourself?
And do you need a god, to tell you it’s alright?
And is that your god, up front in a wooden box?
And does god’s absence, keep you up at night?”
It is a remarkable song. Every word speaks directly to my experience, to my feelings. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression all of my life and I find it very difficult to connect with people and to express myself. Music has always been essential to my survival, it comforts me, helps me to cope with my feelings of alienation and sadness. When I hear a song that, like this one, says the things I haven’t managed to say myself, I feel a little less alone in the world. Just knowing that somebody else has maybe gone through similar struggles to me and they are managing to go on and face another day, gives me strength to do the same.
“You say mother take me back, let me be nothing again, let me be nothing again
But a full stop
But your mother isn’t here
After how far you have come, you’re the only beating heart
Late in November, in your old family home”
How many times in my life I’ve longed to be nothing but a full stop. How alone I felt in my old family home. It’s all there in this song, and in the performance too. Late in November came at me when I was least expecting it and made me think and feel in ways that few songs do. I don’t write songs myself but, if I did, I can’t think of any song I’d feel more proud to have written than this one. I realise that not everyone will feel such a personal connection with a song like this but I don’t think that matters a great deal, we can all recognise when something is real and comes from the heart and that’s the case with this song, and all of the songs on Sent I November. It’s a wonderful record from start to finish.
Since the release of Sent I November, Tiger & Panda have recorded and released another EP. It’s called Party Tzar and was recorded just a few weeks ago and released just a week or so later. They have been joined on this record by drummer, Peter Burke, and so have elongated the band’s name to Tiger & Panda & Goat.
Party Tzar was recorded in one day and released very shortly afterwards. It was created quickly and it sounds like it. If that sounds like a criticism, it’s certainly not intended that way. What I mean is that it sounds fresh and unrehearsed. It’s like the difference between a scripted speech and somebody saying what they really feel, in the moment, in their own words. A lot of bands are great live but fail to capture that in the studio, Party Tzar is what it sounds like when they don’t fail. Sonically speaking, this record is a rather more lively thing than Sent I November, they make a bit of a racket on this one but it sure is a beautiful racket. Henry and Olly’s songs on this record are absolutely terrific. My favourite Henry song here is I Am Done, the lyrics once again speaking to me/for me, “I don’t go out much anymore, not as if I went out much before.” My favourite of Olly’s songs is Goodbye Old Friend, which contains perhaps my favourite line on the whole record, “Perhaps I’ll see you in the supermarket, we’re both always quiet so a nod would do then.”
Party Tzar is my favourite release of the year so far, and I can’t see anything beating it really, at best something equally great might come along, seems unlikely though, unless these guys put out another record. Early days, as I’ve not been listening to their music for very long, but Tiger & Panda are fast becoming one of my favourite bands around. I think it’s fair to say that they lived up to the promise of their name.