Sunday, 4 October 2015


CD Review

Lions and Butterflies

Going by the blurb The Portraits consider themselves an "alternative" folk band whose aim is, "To stand up for the common man, speak out against the wrongs of the world and to somehow make it a better place for us all.

Lorraine and Jeremy Millington,
The Portraits
Laudable as that philosophy is, that's not alternative folk, that's what folk music is and should be, not exclusively, but it certainly should be a healthy part of the genre. Admittedly it's often the case that some folk music is mired in the past with songs about the loss of the shipping, mining, textile or steel industries, and while there is a place for folk musicians to be chroniclers of history and they should be applauded for never letting the politicians and powerbrokers forget the wrongs and corruption upon which they built their careers and reputations.
However, there are plenty of wrongdoings going on right now which need to be brought to the fore through the talents, music and songwriting of people who care, and so often those people are folk musicians. Among them are couple Jeremy and Lorraine Millington.
So at the very least, for nailing their colours to the mast The Portraits deserve to be recognised. They very cleverly keep their music light almost as if to balance the seriousness of the subjects they sing about. Lorraine's voice has real clarity and a humility as though she wants to stay in the background so as not to intrude on the message such as on the first track, Walls of Silence. The ballad is critical of London's mentality which draws talented people in like a trawler and yet ends up letting so many slip through the net or to be discarded. Exile is a much quicker paced song with Jeremy adding harmonies to his wife's lead. It points the musical finger at forgotten people who are locked up for what they have said or sung about a particular regime and while the media may occasionally focus on high profile cases such the recent debacle of Pussy Riot generally it doesn't really care.
Fairy Lights moves the pace on even faster and a whole train of thought was sparked by seeing lights across Africa from an aeroplane window. Much lighter in theme is Moon Song although still an indictment of modern life were we all seem to be living our lives through lenses or recordings yet Lorraine sings of a beautiful moment which is locked in her memory of her baby son being transfixed by the moon.  The Cloud is an explanation of Jeremy's time of dark thoughts and depressive moods. The Song could almost be seen as cathartic as well as a way of offering hope to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation. The main characteristic of their style is the juxtaposition, almost contradiction of their music being light while tackling deep and dark topics, this stops the tunes from getting maudlin or even depressing. Dueting again Monochrome is a song about how the links to our past can be all around us how. We can take in the same steps and see the same sights our ancestors saw and often never give it a second thought.
The Rest of Time covers a wide range of themes and emotions based around a charity event they organised to bring together 2,000 voices to help cancer charities. Something which is very close to Lorraine's heart after her dad died of leukaemia. The song is a big production with a strong African flavour. What goes around comes around is an almost religious mantra of those who feel there is kharma and everyone gets their comeuppance or reward sooner or later and the gentle song Payback looks at this idea pretty thoroughly and finds it wanting. Nostalgia, which opens not unlike the M.A.S.H theme Suicide is Painless,  is another duet with Jeremy hankering for time travel to go back and give his experience and advice to his younger self but of course the paradox is you can't put old heads on young shoulders and the experience which shaped him into the person who wants to go back and eradicate the mistakes would be changed ad infinitum.
The penultimate song Small But Strong is partly testament to the human spirit but more so about the inequalities of society were you are judged by the amount of money you appear to possess and everyone else is left in their wake.
The Portraits new album
The final track is a rallying call sparked by the Syrian crisis which goes back more years than people think and we are now reaping the unwanted rewards with victims fleeing in their millions to find somewhere safe.
The Millingtons use this as a starting point but with the a Capella song they widen the focus to the world and call use as fellow humans not to stand by and do nothing about the suffering of others.
Lions and Butterflies is probably one of the most overtly political albums around at the moment and the Millingtons make no apologies for that, fortunately it's not preachy it is simply the couple saying this is how we see things, what do you think?
It's an album which is easy on the ear and credit to the list of people who have helped produce a collection designed to make you think. Remarkably they have used their considerable musical skills to keep the tunes light without dulling or detracting from the edginess of the messages. There is a market for more albums like this.

Lions & Butterflies is out now through Sensorypulse Records.