In Conversation With LYR

Image Credit: Daniel Broadley

LYR is an interesting musical proposition. Made up of poet laureate Simon Armitage, guitarist/ backing vocalist Richard Walters, and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Pearson, their 2020 debut album, Call In The Crash Team, was recorded during lockdown and used recordings of Armitage reciting poetry into a dictaphone kept on his desk as its starting point. Whilst many similar projects have centred around setting a poet’s work to music, it is clear from LYR’s 27th October show at Omeara that this is something different; a real band, not an art project, which happens to have the current poet laureate as its frontman.

This is not to suggest that LYR is a straight-up rock act, however. Whilst not providing a ‘soundscape’ in which Armitage’s words sit passively, on record there is a definite sense of that kind of approach being fashioned into the song-like, verse-chorus-verse structure. Live, however, their music really comes together; the more expansive, ambient quality of their work is given far more edge and bite, as well as added volume, by what Walters called in my interview with him the ‘five very tired people’ in the van. There was a noticeable contrast between these two sides of the band. The extensive visuals on stage, which were incredibly effective against the stark, brick backdrop of Omeara, and Armitage’s music stand gave a somewhat performance art air to the proceedings, but this was balanced out by the on-stage demeanour of the band. It’s not every day you see the poet laureate drinking a can of Guinness and making jokes about how, if they were playing the gig in Huddersfield (where Armitage is from), there would be a chorus of police sirens accompanying them. Yet the projections behind the band stood in for these noises of chaos and potential trauma, reinforcing Armitage’s lyrics about lost love and boredom in post-industrial Britain, providing further visual cues to match the already evocative music and lyrics. Whilst one might argue that LYR is a vehicle for Armitage’s adolescent dreams of being Mark E. Smith, with the song ‘33 1/3’ being a love letter to the idea of the vinyl record which could only have been written by someone who grew up in the 1970s, these reflections on growing old do not sound like those of a man who is either bitter about the present or overly obsessed with a supposedly glorious past. Instead, LYR presents detailed and engaging vignettes of a past life which musically look forward. Walters’ assertion that LYR intends to exist as a real band, not just a musical outlet for an already established poet, was evident from their live performance. I sat down to interview band member Richard Walters a few days before the gig.

How did this record come together? Obviously, this was a lockdown recording. How did that work?

We were always doing things remotely, because of where everyone is at. Pat is down in Devon, I live in Hampshire, and Simon is up in Yorkshire. It always had to be done back-and-forth. Luckily, with studio technology, you can get away with that. But recently, especially touring at the moment, we have been working on the second album—it's much nicer to be doing that in the same room together. It's been a project that was almost made for lockdown because we were so separated.

How has it been touring this material, since you made it in lockdown but you can now play it to people?

It’s amazing. It feels like we've been waiting for that since the band formed. Prior to the tour, we had only done a handful of festivals because of the lockdown restrictions. You're probably going to see five very tired people. We've really worked on how it looks live and kind of having visuals that feel quite immersive. We want it to have a life beyond just the music. So on this tour, we've been working on visuals and lighting. I think you're going to love it. It's much heavier than it is on record as well. It's got a bit more edge to it.

Did you have the words first and then put the music to the words?

With the first record, we had recordings of Simon speaking, and then we worked around it. But as we move on, we're mixing it up—sometimes Pat and I write music together, sometimes I write a song usin