Last Sunday on BBC Radio 6, Colleen Murphy discussed why the concept album has made a significant comeback with a new generation of music fans in the digitised 21st century. Coincidentally, the next day I arrived in the office to find a copy of Bill Magill’s recent rock drama release, Last Night at the Ha-Ra, sitting on the desk. Now admittedly a rock-drama doesn’t sound quite as epic as the classic rock-opera format made famous by The Who, but there is a certain understated, worldly charm to this record that intrigues the listener – so we decided to delve into its stories…
This album offers the kind of musical storytelling that is rare to find – it tells the tale of regulars gathered at their favourite drinking spot – the tale of their stories, dreams and failures – all told with an eye for both humour and poignancy. Each song reveals a different story – from man diving into the dangerous unknown for the woman he loves, to a tale of assisted suicide, to a character unable to stop a relationship that they know is wrong – Magill ranges confidently from track to track with a kind of talent that only comes for extensive songwriting and musical experience.
The album’s recording personnel are almost as diverse and its characters – featuring Pete Thomas, drummer for Elvis Costello and the Attractions and Daniel Mille, the award-winning French accordionist, Jon Fellowes on guitar as well as Magill’s core band The Vivid Stage and a host of invited guests. Theatrical, poignant and utterly beguiling, it is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year.