When: Wed., Aug. 21, 9 p.m. 2013
I first heard of Nick Garrie only a couple weeks ago, but like pretty much everybody else I had a good excuse for my ignorance—the expat UK singer-songwriter’s discography spreads just three albums across 40 years, and until recently none of them was easy to find. In 1969 he released his debut, The Nightmare of J.B. Stanislas, for a small French label called Disc’AZ, which had been so impressed by his demos that it financed sessions with a 56-piece orchestra playing gorgeous arrangements by Eddie Vartan, brother of singer Sylvie Vartan. But the label owner committed suicide shortly after it came out, leaving the album in limbo and all but lost to the world (it was reissued in 2005 by Rev-Ola). As Nick Garrie-Hamilton, he released a second album in 1984, but though it was a hit in Spain it remained unheard almost everywhere else. After that he largely left the music biz, becoming a schoolteacher outside London; it wasn’t till 2009 that he made his third record, 49 Arlington Gardens (Elefant). Garrie is surrounded on the album by Scottish pop connoisseurs and fans from the likes of Teenage Fanclub and BMX Bandits—his baroque pop clearly struck a chord with lovers of 80s Britpop, out-tweeing the music of labels such as Subway and Sarah. Elefant reissued its own version of Stanislas in 2010, adding a second disc with alternate versions and previously unreleased tracks, and last year Garrie performed the whole album with orchestral backing at the Primavera Festival in Spain. To be sure, it’s a mixed bag: “Queen of Queens” is the worst sort of British approximation of country music, making the Beatles’ version of “Act Naturally” sound like the work of Bakersfield pros. And “Bungles Tours,” a tooth-rattling dose of dancehall-style rock, suffers from cliched tack piano and an oversweetened bubblegum melody. The album’s high points, though, are so extraordinary that Garrie’s obscurity boggles the mind. The irresistibly hooky melody of the multipartite title track rolls along atop post-George Harrison guitar leads and orchestral swells that both burnish its tunefulness and undercut it with darkness, and “Ink Pot Eyes” sounds like a prototype for all the soft rock to come in the 70s. For this Chicago visit—one of only four dates on his first U.S. tour—he’ll perform solo, focusing on the music from Stanislas. —Peter Margasak Circuit des Yeux, O.W.L., and Ryley Walker open.