Review of ‘Made of Light’ on Adequacy

Tymon Dogg – Made Of Light

made of light cover

“It was in New York. I had speakers the size of a wall…They [The Clash] came into my apartment and shoved a tape into my machine. It was “Lose This Skin”…suddenly thunder and lightning erupted all over the city…it was one of those great moments…all the forces came down into that room.” I read this quote from the PR that accompanies the prerelease publicity for Made Of Light and, unusually, I did some research on it before deciding to include the quote in this review as the words are those of film director Martin Scorcese, who I hope will forgive my momentary questioning of his enthusiasm for the song from the Clash’s 1980 Sandinista album for which Tymon Dogg is probably best known. Anyway, it turns out that Martin Scorcese is a big Clash fan, and rates “Death Or Glory” (from 1979′s London Calling album) as his favourite of their songs. It isn’t possible to write about Tymon Dogg without bringing the Clash into it, and it seems very telling that “Lose This Skin” had a similar effect on Martin Scorcese as films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and – one of my own favourites – The Grifters have had on cinema audiences.

I listened to “Lose This Skin” again, with its mixture of Cajun rhythms powered along by Tymon’s violin, the idiosyncratic vocal that doesn’t really sound like anyone else, the way the track stands out on an album that has around forty other tracks on it, and remembering how someone I knew once told me he thought it was the worst thing The Clash had ever recorded. Creating controversy was always an aim of The Clash and the inclusion of “Lose That Skin” on Sandinista may have seemed a deliberate ploy at the time, as well as signalling to their fans that they couldn’t just keep rewriting “White Riot”. Tymon Dogg didn’t begin his career in music as a Clash sidekick though. Born in 1950, he began releasing music in the late-1960s, recorded alongside Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, The Moody Blues, and was briefly signed to Apple records before moving into the West London building where Joe Strummer was one of his neighbours. Playing in folk clubs on the West London pub circuit allowed him to develop his own very singular take on a folk roots influenced sound that, given his early career, Tymon Dogg seemed to have decided was best kept away from the glare of the industry spotlights. After his cameo appearance on Sandinista, he released several albums during the 1980s while keeping his hand in with session work, although it wasn’t until he joined Strummer’s post-Clash band The Mescaleros in 2000 that he completely returned to the musical stage, some twenty three years after recording “The Bitter Thoughts Of Little Jane” which was released on Pye records in the UK, and to very little fanfare.

It says something about Tymon Dogg’s wilfully eclectic personality that a re-recorded version of his 1967 single wouldn’t appear out of place on Made Of Light, and harking back to the whimsicalities of English psychedelic pop of the late-60s, first track “Conscience Money” and its harpsichord and violin instrumentation that owes more to 17th century chamber music than either Barrett-era Pink Floyd or The Clash, and its lyric that speaks of the worst kind of rock star excesses and the social hypocrisy that can accompany musical stardom. Exactly who the targets of “Conscience Money” are isn’t very obvious, and it isn’t since the last Robert Pollard album I heard that a musician has sounded quite so vindictive and wrathful. As did The Clash, actually, and it’s only too easy to envisage Joe Strummer spitting out lyrics like “When I drink champagne / I offer them the fizz” over a quite different musical backing. “Time For Moving On” is a far less challenging song, on every level, as with an acoustic guitar and an air of reflection on past misdemeanors, Tymon strolls off into the countryside of a summer afternoon and imparts his learned wisdom to us with the sort of candour that only really comes with actually being able to remember the 1960s. Perhaps Tymon is only softening us up though, as “Pound Of Grain” is the most vitriolic pro-vegan and anti-food industry song I think I have ever heard, and right from its “Let’s take the children to the abattoir” intro, the strident and wide-ranging lyrics bring in points relating to land use , and quotes from both Bob Dylan and Leonardo da Vinci. Tymon’s outspoken commitment may grate with some listeners, but “Pound Of Grain” is an unquestionably memorable track, right down to it’s “Where’s my cat?” ending.

The album’s title-track is a more measured and thoughtful song than its predecessor: “When you sing / Will the angels sing with you?” asks Tymon of us, over a mid-paced piano and violin based ballad that emphasises the music more than the lyricism, with guitar, piano and Tymon’s violin going off on an improvisational excursion, and “Rock Box Hammer” is an instrumental that develops the band sound, with Tymon and associates having a rare old time in the studio of an evening. “Like I Used To Be” is a different kind of song again though, and one that echoes Mick Jones’s post-Clash band Big Audio Dynamite in ways that anyone familiar with BAD will recognise immediately, in its beatbox influenced timing, its chord sequence, it’s a song that could very easily have been written by Jones himself (perhaps it was).

“Perfect Match” is a tale of relationship pitfalls, with the male and female protagonists putting themselves through all manner of travails to save their lives together, over a jaunty irish jig inflected rhythm that’s reminiscent of The Pogues, and again Tymon Dogg’s lyric raises the song above the commonplace. His characters life stories contain an authenticity that might ring true with a lot of his audience, and the lounge bar refelctions of “That’s The Way It Is” maybe reveals something of Tymon’s own personal dissatisfactions: “I was pipped at the post / By a mobile phone” runs one couplet, and it’s difficult to not feel an element of sympathy, indeed to commiserate with Tymon Dogg, a man who has evidently experienced more toil in his life than many of us, and knows how to communicate it to us without sliding into maudlin remorse. “Modern Art” references Scott Walker somewhere in its double-tracked vocal and paused timings, and its lyric isn’t really about art, more about Tymon cursing his ill-fortune of a hungover morning and, perhaps, a confrontation with his own sense of encroaching mortality, while lastly “Walking Down The Road” is a near-perfect closer for the album, a piano-based ballad to which Tymon’s violin provides an elegiac backdrop, and it’s one song on Made Of Light that ends only too soon.

Tymon Dogg’s entire persona as a songwriter is one based around a searing, unaffected personal honesty, and his lyrics are consistently thought provoking, sometimes quite funny and with so much background in his own, only intermittently successful musical career, you would perhaps forgive his turning his back on music altogether, quietly satisfied with the knowledge that Martin Scorcese thinks he’s cool. He isn’t doing that though, and his website reveals that there is a second album somewhere in the pipeline, for release next year.  Certainly, with a CV that includes work alongside quite a number of well known and influential figures, it isn’t difficult to share some of his own frustrations at the vagaries of the music industry and his own place within it. Made Of Light isn’t the last that we’ll hear from Tymon Dogg.