Having seen John Lowndes in different bands, I was keen to hear about the latest release from his current outfit, Patchwork Rattlebag. He is without doubt a songwriter of renowned musicianship and a keen ear for melody. A key feature of his work with Death to the Strange was the spellbinding harmonies with Daniel Clarke.
The first time I saw Patchwork Rattlebag was an unforgettable experience. It was clear that John had taken a side-step into new terrain with band mates Chantelle Valentin and Adam Hart. Patchwork Rattlebag is a band that is refreshingly difficult to quantify. John's distinctive, folksy voice is often supported by an unusual electro backing, provided by Chantelle.
Take a listen to Paper Nest with its quirky birdsong backing track on their YouTube channel. Meanwhile, set lists aren't scrawled and taped to a monitor; they're painted and have been known to adorn the stage on fabric. They come across as something of a quirky art collective as well as a group.
With their LH background and high art aesthetic, Patchwork Rattlebag has the kind of juxtaposition that Antony H. Wilson surely would have loved. They're hard to compare to other acts, and label their style 'brain-pop'. While they are keen to reference Nietzsche, they are far from serious, stoic arty types. We went along to Bolton Food and Drink Festival to catch John perform a solo acoustic set. After witnessing his haunting vocals firsthand, I asked him a little more about Patchwork Rattlebag...
The new release, On My Own, is inspired by Nietzsche. Tell us more?
John: "It's informed by Nietzchean ideas about nihilism and its implications. Certain life events coincided with my being introduced to these ideas and so the two things became inseparable in the song. Nietzsche famously stated that 'God is dead'. If this is the case, how can we decide upon matters of ethics, given that the source of their traditional authority has been removed? Secondly there is the autobiographical content. I think it is best that I keep that to myself, because to explain it would risk spoiling the listener's experience."
When/how did the group start?
J: "I was without a band for the first time in the summer of 2014. I had an idea for a direction and just went for it really. I knew that I didn't want to create or join a band that was a fixed-entity. For example, how do you tell a guitarist to shut up for 15 minutes while the seascape blends with the static? How do you tell the DJ that the next three gigs are folk and bird song? Over time we have just naturally become what we have become without tying each other down. Onstage Chantelle works in a sound design capacity and contributes everything from concrete sound to dub reggae effects. She is also the only member that is currently working with video and images, elements that are as important to our output as the audio.
"I recommend that you check out her Girl Disaster Soundcloud page for a taste of what she does solo along with some Rattlebag fragments. Adam Hart has been involved since the beginning. We have been working together in one capacity or other since 2007 so we know where we are with our styles. There isn't much he can't play in terms of instruments.
"He makes music under his own name and under the moniker Year of the Rat. With it being a collective we have various contributors. The Baron von Blackpaths of The Black Paths is a regular collaborator, as is Luke Kupinas (Basement Dad). Morris Cowan was on stage with us and did a fantastic job at our last event, Coda Manchester."
I could see the band doing really well on the festival circuit. What is the ambition for Patchwork Rattlebag?
J: "We have played some really enjoyable gigs at festivals and we're always open to do more. The truth is that we put creation first though. It wouldn't be appealing to us to establish a repertoire and drag it round the country for the next few years!
"In terms of general ambition we abide by the motto 'anything goes'. We have no intention of following the preordained route that is assumed to be the natural way of things by most artists; all of those unwritten rules that everybody follows but doesn't stop to question.
"I have always felt that the composing, poetry and song writing was part of the general philosophical endeavour. That for me is the most important thing and I think that I can confidently speak for each member of the collective in that."
Patchwork Rattlebag's online content is eclectic and interesting. It's well worth taking a look: they have stylistically different versions of their own compositions. If you want to hear something original and new, Patchwork Rattlebag could well be your favourite new band.
On My Own is out soon for free download.
For more info on the band's work see the Facebook page Patchwork Rattlebag
See also www.musicglue.com/patchworkrattlebag
Words by Ian Leslie
Photo by Mark Russell showing the band at the Big Issue in the North Fundraiser Kings Arms,13th Dec 2015