Camden School For Girls is a single sex comprehensive school, in North London. It is a specialist music school. Many successful people were educated at the school including Emma Thompson, Deborah Moggach, Sarah Brown (Gordon’s wife), Charlotte Coleman, Tamsin Greig, Fiona Millar, Geri Halliwell and Ellie Rowsell.
Ellie Rowsell listened to chart music until her mid teens at which point she started to be influenced by the folk music of the North London Irish community. When she was 18, she came across an online video of Joff Oddie playing guitar. They formed Wolf Alice in 2010 and released an eponymous E.P. Their acoustic sound turned electric with the addition of bassist Theo Ellis, and drummer Joel Amey two years later. “Blue Weekend” is the follow up to “Visions Of A Life” from 2017, which won the Mercury Music Prize. Whereas “Visions Of A Life” is a noise rock/shoegaze album, “Blue Weekend” has a more varied sonic landscape, with intimate ballads, melodic midtempo songs with lush harmonies, high-energy punk rock and keyboard-driven, orchestral sounds. Despite (or because of) the variety, the lyrics are provocatively authentic. Ellie Rowsell said “Every time you’ve been your more authentic self and people like it, that gives you the confidence to be even more authentic the next time and open up a bit more.” Joff Oddie puts it more succinctly, “We’ve become songwriting adults“.
Wolf Alice took their name from Angela Carter’s 1979 short story, “Wolf-Alice”. This tells the story of a feral child abandoned by nuns in a house inhabited by a vampire. Alice Carter wrote that “like the wild beasts, Wolf Alice lives without a future. She inhabits only the present tense, a fugue of the continuous, a world of sensual immediacy as without hope as it is without despair.” It’s tempting (and possibly accurate) to use this quote as a defining mission statement of Ellie Rowsell’s band.
A few years ago, backstage at a festival, Ellie Rowsell had a run-in with Marilyn Manson. “He’d just finished playing his show and everyone was backstage in the artists’ area. He came up to us and went, ‘I love your band.‘ Then his compliments became more and more hyperbolic, like, “I listen to you every night before I go on stage” And then I looked down and I realised, oh my God, he’s got his hand up my skirt with a GoPro.” She told the festival organisers that Manson had been filming up her skirt. He has since been accused of abuse by several women.
Ellie Rowsell said that The Beach (the first song on the album) and The Beach II (the last song on the album) are both about friendship. Whereas the first was “tense and anxious”, the last song was more positive. “So it’s nice that you start this journey that went from bad to good, to basically feel uplifting and hopeful.”
Delicious Things describes a hedonistic, drug-fuelled escape around Los Angeles but comes to the realisation that perpetual pleasure doesn’t necessarily lead to fulfilment.
Lipstick On The Glass has another strong melody and Joel Amey’s drumming provides a gut wrenching backdrop to Ellie Rowsell’s delivery.
Smile is an aggressive song with lyrics such as “I am what I am and I’m good at it/ And you don’t like me, well that isn’t fucking relevant.”
By contrast, Safe from Heartbreak (If You Never Fall in Love) is almost an Abba pastiche with a memorable melody, catchy chorus and wonderful harmonies.
Ellie Rowsell said that How Can I Make It OK? is one of her favourite songs on the album: “Although the lyrics aren’t very cheerful, the music is, and it’s one that makes me feel uplifted in terms of sounds and stuff. I find it to be quite dancey.”
Play The Greatest Hits sounds like Bow Wow Wow on speed with bassist Theo Ellis playing a thundering, portentous bassline while guitarist Joff Oddie provides a pressing wall of noise over the chorus.
Feeling Myself is more dreamy as Ellie Rowsell explores the nature and consequences of sexual independence. The joyous feelings conjured up by the final verse provide another divine moment.
Ellie Rowsell wrote “The Last Man On Earth” a few years before it was recorded. She said that she “wanted it to sound a little bit like church music. I was imagining a choir singing ‘Let it shine on you‘” This was the lead single from the album.
No Hard Feelings explores the heartache of separation. Joff Oddie’s guitar playing is restrained and in combination with lyrics such as “There’s only so much sulking/ That the heart can entertain” evokes strong feelings of regret and unhappiness tinged with the excitement of an uncertain future.
Wolf Alice are another band I had never heard of until a few weeks ago. My instinct to dismiss a popular, successful band have, once again, been proved misguided. This album is full of imaginative, emotional and memorable music.