‘English Primitive I’ was festooned with praise by eminent critics, including the Poet Laurette, Simon Armitage, and Stewart Lee who labelled it as 2021’s stand-out album. To those asking whether the second volume could maintain such distinguished standards, the short answer is an emphatic, ‘Yes’. With column inches to fill, I will gladly wax lyrical to reveal more. 

In his work with The Wolfhounds and Moonshake, David Lance Callahan’s quality as one of the finest contemporary lyricists could be submerged under their sonic adventures. As a chronicler of modern times, he inhabits the skin of his narrators or characters upon whom he provides commentary, be they rulers or downtrodden, providing vignettes of unease. Musically, ‘English Primitive II’ is harder and more psychedelic than its predecessor but knits together an impressive range of left-field influences into coherent shape.

Opening track ‘The Invisible Man’ has distant samples, warped guitars rising and swelling alongside Daren Garratt’s knotted rhythmic pattern while the narrator, unacknowledged by society, sounds oppressed and ready to explode. Another underdog, a customer services employee, narrates ‘The Scapegoat’ which takes its inspiration from Daniel Pennac’s novel, ‘The Fairy Gunmother’, the weary and quietly embarrassed tone of the vocal delivery suiting the hopelessness of their position. It is set to a droning bottom string guitar, with glockenspiel and harmonies from Anja, combined with samples from easy listening records.

The powerful and those who do work on their behalf frequently come under Callahan’s microscope. With an alluring circular guitar line, ‘Beautiful Launderette’ would make an impressionistic companion to Oliver Bullough’s investigative book, ‘Butler to the World’ in recognising the UK’s shameful role as the money laundering capital of the world (“No matter how engrained the dirt… You’ll always have a starched white shirt.”)

To a magnificent Saharan delta blues groove, ‘The Parrot’ references Pliny the Elder, Ctesias and Chaucer while pillorying political commentators acting as government mouthpieces:

With clipped wings and prehensile claws

Tap dances on a keyboard, can open doors

Climbs up a ladder, a quill in its beak

Pre-prepared content, all ready to speak

‘Orgy of the Ancients’ sets a beguiling melody to a satirically rich portrait of carnivalesque grotesques in the Houses of Parliaments preparing for the latest war. 

Guitar loops and strings ramp up the drama on murder ballad ‘Bear Factory’, the true-crime tale of the contract killing of Callahan’s school classmate and the child’s father. The lyrical observation is excellent, from the father with “a cracking sense of humour, cracking like knuckles” to the deceased child narrator who is “frozen in time a black and white cherub with butterfly collars and fly away hair” with “a bag of boiled sweets/ I’m evaporating like autumn mist/ I’m a gap in the register and an empty desk/ but I really did exist.”

‘The Burnet Rose’ references Callahan’s favourite wildflower and how refreshing it is to hear a musician with sufficient hinterland to be discussing a plant without it being some shallow, knowing drug reference.  The song is inspired by a story of a Yorkshire village close to the cliff-edge where victims of the Black Death were leeching out of the ground into the sea. With Katherine Mountain Whitaker’s pure vocals and Callahan’s evocative guitar-picking, it is the closest the album comes to a conventional folk song.

To a raga Saharan blues guitar mash up, ‘London by Blakelight’ utilises Blake’s poem ‘London’ from ‘Songs of Experience’ to exemplify how his vision of a capital city beset by corruption sounds equally relevant 228 years after it was originally published. 

‘English Primitive II’ is deeply satisfying on all levels. Most importantly, the music is inventive, atmospheric and exciting but with such a quality of lyric writing that the accompanying booklet with illustrations by David Janes would be worth purchasing in its own right. Throw in Pinkie McClure’s wonderful cover artwork and it completes a winning package.

David Lance Callahan: English Primitive II – Out 25 November 2022 (Tiny Global Productions)


I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.