Growing Peaches In Oxfordshire is singer-songwriter Nik Barrell’s homage to the positive powers of music.
It’s an album of 10 songs, themselves sweet and tender as a bowl of peaches, that testifies to the therapy of writing music, its ability to dissolve barriers between people, and the shared buzz of playing together.
Nik Barrell grew up in West London with blues, rock ’n’ roll, and R&B, an education manifest in these tracks with clear strains of Buddy Holly, the Beach Boys, and the chirpy New Orleans blues tradition. The band uses a simple, stripped-back instrument combination, without drums or amplification, along with smooth melodies and sprightly rhythms. Barrell’s sincere, troubadour-like crooning and guitar are accompanied by James Fiddes Smith’s chiming mandolin and backing vocals. Mark Strains provides the spine on double bass, Alan Grice plays wondrous piano and Tim Cotterell adds a touch of melancholy on violin. It’s all finished off with the beautiful tones of Sharon Lewis, Anjuli Hararah and Vanessa Thomas on backing vocals.
The songs are also authentic in the way they are recorded: live in one session, without studio retakes. This approach emphasizes the energy of the moment, a key part of Nik Barrell’s optimistic philosophy. He wrote these songs travelling in America and Asia, where he found musical traditions still rooted in social occasions, and untainted by cynicism. This led him to see music as an important ray of light in a sometimes dark world. “Happy songs are not naïve,” he says.
And these songs are happy, they are about hope, and pleasure. They ask you to believe that positive actions will have positive consequences. They bring together a weightless nostalgia and a lively feeling of presence, as if to say, happiness does not have to be a thing of the past.