The Bevis Frond 2024
Photo: Anete Lapsa / Fire Records

The Bevis Frond Return with Double LP ‘Focus on Nature’

The Bevis Frond’s Focus on Nature is a diverse set and a testament to how good songwriting and solid musicianship, in the right hands, never grow old.

Focus on Nature
The Bevis Frond
1 March 2024

The music business can be a vicious machine. It elevates fragile souls with beguiling smiles to the pinnacle of fame, only to drop them when the hits stop flowing or musical trends change. It banishes many gifted songwriters and musicians to a life of obscurity – darkling voices shouting in empty fields. Some artists – Karen Dalton, Nick Drake, Tim Hardin, and Badfinger’s Pete Ham – end up broke and dead before their time. Others – Vashti Bunyan, Mark Eitzel, Luke Haines, and the Bevis Frond‘s Nick Saloman – sustain long careers on the fumes of persistence.

Focus on Nature, Saloman’s29th album as the Bevis Frond, a band in which he was often the only member, presents a defiant stance against obscurity. “I’m waiting here for the hug, a little bit of recognition,” he sings on “The Hug” before busting out one of his exuberant guitar solos. On “Here for the Other One”, he cues up in the rain outside a rock show, indifferent to the famous headliner overshadowing the support act he came to see.

These glints of humor and irreverence are clues to why Saloman has survived so long on a tiny ration of notoriety. Now in his 70s, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist sounds as vibrant as he did in his early 30s when he recorded Miasma, the Bevis Frond’s 1986 debut, in the back room of his home in Walthamstow, London. Early albums recorded solo on a cassette Portastudio gave way to studio productions and a full backing band, but Saloman’s energy has remained consistent throughout his lengthy discography. 

A small but devoted fanbase has stuck with him all the way. The Bevis Frond Appreciation Society, a page Saloman co-moderates on Facebook, allows fans to share their favorite songs and gigs from the Frond’s four-decade history. Saloman checks in regularly to answer questions and correct impromptu transcriptions of his lyrics. “Here for the Other One” lambastes artists who “lose contact with [their] fans” – something Saloman scrupulously avoids.  

Focus on Nature delivers frenetic rock in the opening track “Heat”, the punk-spirited “God’s Gift”, and the psychedelic “A Mirror” (whose vintage organ and backward guitar recall those early homebrewed albums). Listeners new to the Bevis Frond may hear echoes of Pavement, Guided by Voices, the Lemonheads, and Teenage Fanclub – groups with whom Salomon traded influence during the 1990s. For older fans, Focus on Nature is more subdued than the madcap psychedelia found on such early albums as Triptych (1988), with its nineteen-minute climactic freakout entitled “Tangerine Infringement Beak.”

Saloman has always shuffled the fruit bowl, however, alternating the rockers with folky acoustic songs. Focus on Nature contains several fine ballads, including the title elegy for the natural world in which a grey fox appears like Reynard to guide the narrator. “Happy Wings” turns a fast-food jaunt with the grandkids into a bittersweet meditation on consumer culture. “Hairstreaks” follows several fierce rockers with a poignant reflection on mortality: “There’s a footpath at the end of time / And a suitcase that I guess is mine / And a signpost that points the way to oblivion.”

Lines like these vary the mood in an album of stylistic twists and turns. “Empty” is an urgent rocker recalling Saloman’s grungier work of the 1990s – records like 1991’s New River Head (released during a short-lived deal with Reckless Records). “Mr. Fred’s Disco” and “Big Black Sky” are guitar showcases combining ragged improvisations à la Neil Young with melodic lines reminiscent of such bands of the 1970s as Wishbone Ash.

Saloman has always maintained a Ray Davies-like devotion to Englishness in his lyrics and singing. This approach is most pronounced on “Leb Off”, Focus on Nature‘s first single, in which samples of horses’ hooves and English chatter evoke the streets of London. But where Davies once evoked nostalgic scenes of village greens and Tudor respectability, Saloman’s vision is an anxious, post-Brexit world in which people “stand with gaping window eyes” amid “cracked plaster” and impending “demolition”.

The title “Leb Off” derives from “London Electricity Board Off” – a notice used to deter squatters in abandoned buildings. Moments like these make Focus on Nature an album for the times, as Londoners roast in summer heat only to shiver through winters wondering how to pay the electricity bill.

Saloman’s previous album, Little Eden, recorded during the lockdown of 2021, featured him alone on all the instruments. On Focus on Nature, he is joined by longtime bandmates, including guitarists Paul Simmons and Bari Watts, bassist Louis Wigett, and drummer Dave Pearce. Salomon’s daughter Debbie, an occasional collaborator since the early 2000s, returns to add backing vocals on several tracks. Live-sounding performances and unfussy production give the album a classic feel without sticking to one musical era.

The Bevis Frond’s Focus on Nature is a long album (its LP edition occupies two discs on purple vinyl) that’s difficult to absorb all in one sitting. Its 19 tracks sweep a range of emotions, from Saloman’s cantankerous rants on the foibles of modern musicianship to his poetic reflections on the process of aging. The album gallops at full speed one minute and pulls back the reins the next. For an artist of such longevity to remain so vibrant is rare. Focus on Nature is a testament to how good songwriting and solid musicianship, in the right hands, never grow old.

RATING 8 / 10