words by maria sledmere
For many of us, January is a time for earnest soul-searching. In the bleak city, deprived of greenness, it’s easy to feel lost and a little out of sorts. Glasgow is, by and large, utterly overcast. In lieu of a dose of Vitamin D, the new video from Trembling Bells brings all you need to survive the New Year. Released in advance of their freshly-announced, brand new album ‘Dungeness’ – released on March 30th via Tin Angel – ‘Christ’s Entry to Govan’ is a delicious slice of maximalist psych-folk with all the bombast of its preacher’s spirit tempered with humble backdrop, collaged iconography and flirtation with medieval weirdness. Discerning the influences for this song involves flying bewildered through Biblical passages, mysterious narratives of stained-glass windows, religious frescos and ancient philosophy, but the paper trail feels pretty exhilarating.
Clad in kaleidoscopic styles of the sixties, blending Pagan and medieval influences with charged Americana, anthemic pop, neo-Celtic vibes and many a fadeout scene transition, ‘Christ’s Entry to Govan’ is a postmodern feast of psychedelia, served with sufficient irony to pull off the lyric grandeur without dampening its mischievous, playful joy.
Whether cavorting in spooky masks round a bonfire, marching across bridges or parading their costumes past Govan takeaways, there’s a refreshing sincerity to the band’s eccentricities. Among all the silliness, the song itself feels muscular, wearing its psych credentials under full security of Lavinia Blackwell’s lilting Sandy Denny-esque pipes. There’s something genuinely rousing in the religious lyricism, flavoured with twists of Glaswegian, tongue-in-cheek humour, climaxing in the competing refrains (“and the bells go ding dong / when Christ enters Govan” vs. “to begin and never cease”), whose oscillating tempos call up the hallucinogenic Hellenism of Hazlewood and Sinatra’s ‘Some Velvet Morning’.
January might be a time of quiet, of lights being silently disassembled from shop windows, the clouds rolling in, but it’s also a time of rebirth. The first bulbs are already coming up, the days grow longer. Whether you believe such rebirth involves Our Lord’s entry to a certain Glasgow parish, or whether you see it in the progressive arabesques of a psychedelic guitar solo—hell, whether you taste it in a spicy Govan curry—Trembling Bells are here to remind you, trademark chimes in tow, that it’s all good faith, all good fun and instrumental excess. And is there a better way to knell in the New Year than with this glitter-tinged, irresistibly comedic, sweetly reflective spirit that blasts through the blandness of everything?
You can check out the video below right now; here’s what Alex Neilson has to say about it:
I’ve never studied music formally for fear it would kill my interest. Or at least railroad my sense of what was creatively possible. Instead, my musical activity has always been nourished by an interest in other media – mainly art, poetry and film. This song was inspired by the Flemish Expressionist James Ensor’s painting Christ’s Entry Into Brussels (1889). It has a demented, processional feel that’s over burdened with detail. It blurs symbols from Ensor’s personal history with epochal events and recasts the landscape of his youth as one of cosmic significance.
This is a song about a life spent in preparation for greatness and greatness never arriving. I’ve lived in Govan for half of my life. It’s a neglected place with a forbidding reputation, but not without its charms (like your mum). There are lots of independent shops, arts initiatives, a beautiful library and Govan Old Parish Church is one of the undiscovered jewels of Glasgow’s cultural landscape (although we did very nearly get beaten up while filming the video for this song there).
Pre-order the new album here