Britain’s first dad-rock retro folk band use humour and domestic memories to explore real-world issues.
The All Night Chemist are a four-piece London-based band, formed in 2021, led by banjo player and singer-songwriter Jimmy Grayburn, an erstwhile junior doctor during the pandemic who spent that time and subsequently looking at the world we live in and translating his observations into song. Grayburn’s influence is clearly English and American folk music, which combines intriguingly with the 70s rock influences of guitarist Benji Tranter and bass/keyboards player Calum Perrin. Ben Howarth on drums makes up the quartet. The band has been playing up a storm around London, describing themselves as the first dad-rock folk band, and appearing to build up quite a loyal following. ‘Lunchtime Special‘ is their debut album and carries many traces of the aforementioned influences, often all of them within one song. Take the opener ‘Caroline’s Effluent Services‘ which opens as an English folk song, incorporates a spoken middle section and then rocks out towards the end, or ‘Chasing Time‘, a bit like a sea shanty which speeds up to a folksy knees up. ‘Sandwich Song‘, on the other hand, has a very Manfred Mann keyboard riff. And ‘Pig in a Sock‘ has a psychedelic outro wrapped around a song about letting you be yourself, even a pig!! Fascinating domestic memories dot the album – The closer ‘Malt and Cod‘, for example, is an amusing reminiscence of taking cod liver oil with malt extract.
Grayburn is an interesting songwriter, in turn rather tongue-in-cheek and deadly serious, often surreal, humourous and empathetic, viz ‘Billy’s Back at the Bar’, a simple tale of a man who suddenly starts singing different songs than usual at his go-to bar, until the raconteur announces that Bill’s mum just died, and the songs he was singing were those that she sang to him as a child. ‘I’m in Love with my Phone’, another 70s throwback, is a song about loneliness and the crutch of technology to keep people in touch. ‘Dirty Moustache‘ is a great song about not being the blonde Adonis that his potential girlfriend would like him to be “Greasy hair and a dirty moustache Is all I have to show For a foolish man who would ever let A fine woman like you go, But you wanted them all in white, Teeth to match, Golden hair But here’s the catch You liked the mean The worst you’d seen But did you ever Want any of that.” Some of the tracks require several listens to catch fire and their interpretation is left to the listener. ‘Canada Goose‘, for example, seems to emanate from Grayburn’s time as a doctor – “I see the island plastered on your arm That cruel mark, caught in the dark A humane restraint to “do no harm””. The title appears nowhere in the lyric but it symbolizes leadership, teamwork, loyalty and protection. It starts as a banjo-driven folk ballad then bursts into a rocking outro with keyboards, guitar and banjo trading licks, overlaid with wordless vocalizing.
Not everybody will enjoy the timing changes and spoken parts, but Grayburn’s voice can be quite versatile (check out his Neil Young impersonation on ‘Another Borrowed Tune‘) and the band’s harmonies and instrumental abilities are impressive. A fascinating debut, and they very likely are great fun live.