Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Fyfe Dangerfield
Nine Songs
Fyfe Dangerfield

From the pure pop of Deee-Lite to the indefinable magic of Richard Burton’s voice, the solo artist and former Guillemots frontperson talks Charlie Gunn through the music and artists that inspire him.

24 March 2023, 08:00 | Words by Charlotte Gunn

“I find lists so hard. In the olden days I would have spent hours and got really stressed, but I tried not to get too like that this time.”

Fyfe Dangerfield – solo artist and former frontperson of noughties indie darlings Guillemots – is sat on a psychedelic couch in his creative space: an old Turkish Delight factory that he’s decorated to bear a striking resemblance to Jimi Hendrix’s bedroom.

“The walls were brown so the first thing I did was cover them with all these different coloured curtains,” he says of his kaleidoscopic decor. “The space you’re in is important. This definitely feels like me.”

We’re chatting with Dangerfield as he releases a new eight-minute track “Shook”. Self-produced and released as a singular, standalone project, the song showcases the limitlessness of Dangerfield’s work. Unfettered by genre or structure, he’s created a dreamlike song that meanders through the songbooks of his past, collecting little flourishes along the way.

For Dangerfield’s Nine Songs selections, we are on a similar journey. Rather than choose music that signposted pivotal moments in his life, he’s drawn to form; to sonic simplicity, to the use of characters in music and the interpolation of mood – most specifically irreverence – into some of the last century’s greatest pop songs.

With his Channels May Change label, and the multi-disciplinary work it produces, he’s interested in the same qualities. Whether on his recent Birdwatcher series of broadcasts, which melded sonic collages and original songs with character work to create a sort of slightly wonky radio show or on “Shook”, we’re reminded that experimentation has always been at Dangerfield’s core.

“There are hundreds of songs I could have chosen,” he says now of the designated task. “These are not the nine most important songs in my life. I think any day I did the list, it would have been different.”

“Under Milk Wood” by Dylan Thomas, read by Richard Burton

Is it OK that I chose this? It is music to me. I so often find myself listening to certain spoken word things for pleasure. Obviously, music is a massive part of my life and it always has been, but I think because of that I can get quite swamped in it and I have to make sure I keep finding the playfulness.

Me and my brother love doing characters. I’ve started doing that anyway over the last few years in the Birdwatcher series that I did. But to me, it’s just a beautiful thing to listen to. What Dylan Thomas wrote is amazing, but then Burton’s voice – “To Begin At The Beginning” – even if you didn’t understand English, I feel as though you could listen to that and it’s so mellifluous.

I’m aware it probably looks like a bit of a pretentious choice. But to me, the timbre of the voice and the language being used in this way, where you understand all the words but I couldn’t really tell you what’s going on. And that’s the rolling nature of how humans speak. I like when things sit on that knife edge, between sort of strangeness and familiarity.

It's not comedy but it is funny, so what is it? That's often the stuff I'm drawn to. It's sort of poetry. It's sort of drama. It's sort of a story. It's sort of some strange dream – I don't know, what is it?

“Groove Is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite

I want to make pop music like this. Again, it’s this humour thing, daftness is so important, and I think maybe over the decades that people have got more bothered about being cool. I may not be right about that, but either way, I think it’s wonderful when you combine a certain irreverence and humour with a beautiful groove.

It’s pop music, but rather than someone singing about being in love or broken up with, it’s “Groove is in the heart”. It’s fucking profound, man! You could write an essay about it! If you want to get into the meaning behind that, I absolutely stand by that – opening up your heart and that’s where everything is. But at the same time, when you're listening to it, you're not really thinking ‘Oh my God, what a spiritual song.’ It's just fun and it makes you smile.

Whilst it's really simple sonically it's got all of these weird little interjections, but it never seems fussy or clever. They probably did it in like three hours or something, but it’s actually got a lot of texture and variety to it.

“More Than A Woman” by Aaliyah

There’s a bunch of tracks from this era that I could have chosen. I almost chose “Rock The Boat” by her. In different ways, there was “Milkshake” by Kelis, “I'm a Slave 4 U” by Britney, “Crazy In Love”, “1 Thing” by Amerie. But I’m really fond of “More Than A Woman”.

I wish she was still around now. It’s one thing when people get sick, but you just think “If you hadn’t overloaded that plane!”, it’s brutal. I’m sure she would still be making really interesting music if she was around today.

“Never Let Her Slip Away” by Andrew Gold

Nowadays, this probably sounds vaguely hip, but when I was growing up in the ‘90s there was a sense that the ‘80s was the height of uncool. It’s interesting how these things shift.

I’d definitely heard this song as a kid, but I got put back on to it by someone a couple of years ago, and in a similar way to “Groove Is In The Heart”, it makes me think, ‘I want to do something like that.’

It’s just so perfect. It’s so simple. Alright, the lyrics don’t have the bite of Mark E. Smith or something, but it doesn’t need it – anyone who has fallen head over heels in love can relate to it. And the beat – maybe there’s some stomping on the studio floor – it doesn't sound like a typical ‘80s track. There’s so much space in it, the synth is so bouncy and then there’s the beautiful melody. Yes, there’s a sax solo – but I don’t mind it! It feels effortless.

That sort of simplicity is such a fine balance. You can be simple and boring, or you can be simple because you’ve gone beyond needing excess detail – you’ve got to the essence.

And it’s got Freddie Mercury on backing vocals. He was in the studio next door or something – it’s uncredited, but when you listen again, you can hear it. He’s one of my favourite singers, so it’s nice that he’s in there.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles

My oldest brother played me The Beatles when I was about three and I got obsessed. My mum and dad weren’t massively into them, we had most of their records in the house but there were certain ones that were missing.

When I was about 10, for Christmas they got me Beatles For Sale on cassette and Magical Mystery Tour. The Beatles were so huge in my childhood, it’s like they’re a family member. I’ve known this music for as long as I can remember hearing music. I’m aware that some tracks aren’t that good – it’s not like I think everything they did was gold – but I can’t imagine life without it.

There were loads of tracks I could have chosen, but in the end I went with “Strawberry Fields Forever” because this era represents what was wonderful about them. It’s hard to compute now, but to come on to the scene, to have gotten as massive as they did and make great music but still, essentially be the then-equivalent of a boyband.

And so to go in two years from stuff like “She Loves You” to “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “I Am The Walrus”, it’s just mad. If it wasn’t heartfelt, it wouldn’t work.

“Images oubliées, L. 87: 2. Souvenir du Louvre (Sarabande)” by Claude Debussy, Zoltán Kocsis

I had piano lessons when I was younger and the thing I enjoyed the most was playing by ear and playing for fun. That was a big part of my life that I’m sure shaped my work.

This piece, I remember playing when I was about 16 or 17. I got this new music teacher at school and for ages the lessons were really awkward. I had a tendency to just play the notes I thought it should be, rather than follow the music. The Debussy piece was one I really remember from that time and sure enough, when I was listening to it for this, I realised I was always playing the second or third chord as a minor chord and it’s a major chord!

But it was funny with that teacher; for ages there was no spark and one lesson he said, “This isn’t working” and we got talking and had a really good chat. I ended up talking about teenage crushes and from then on the lessons became like therapy and then for the last ten minutes I’d just say what I wanted to play.

But Debussy is one of those people who I really need to get back into listening to. The chords are so rich, so evocative and otherworldly. Certain chords do that to me: they feel both ancient and of the future and of a parallel reality.

“Dinah & The Beautiful Blue” by Thomas Feiner & Anywhen

I heard this track on Late Junction on Radio 3 around 2009. I’d just had a breakup and I was a bit emotional. It was one of those lovely moments where you hear something, stop everything and think, ‘What is this?’. The gorgeous strings, and his voice is so deep. Me and my friend Rob got obsessed, got the album and built up this comical picture of this guy, picturing this ridiculously intense man.

But now, I’ve got to know him, he’s a friend and I visited him in Gothenburg last year. It’s lovely when your first experience of someone has been their music and – in the way that music does – has been a friend to you and given you a hug in hard times. And then you get to be human friends with the person that made it and hang out and have a coffee with them!

Obviously, now I’m not always ‘but you made that track!’, but it’s still forever up there in my favourite things of all time. I think I talked about it in a few interviews at the time and he caught wind of it and dropped me an email.

It’s a very beautiful, cinematic track that I don’t think could have come from anyone else’s mind.

“Balance The Kid” by Raaja Bones

This one is by my friend Jonas Raab. Raaja Bones is actually an anagram of his name and his artist name, but Raaja has become a proper character to us now. Raaja has his own identity. He’s been a huge influence on me, but also, such a small percentage of his music is out in the world. That’s started to shift for both of us over the last year or two and we’ve both started sharing more stuff, which is nice.

I’ve known him for a while. He was part of Guillemots crew back in the day. We recorded some B-Sides with him in Guillemots, but in 2011 we went out to Norway where he lives for two weeks and it was such a fruitful trip. This then led to this whole thing where we were going to do four albums in a year, we put out the first one and then the second one was like Narnia or something and I felt like ‘I’m not going to rush this because it could be so beautiful’.

It’s almost comical now, but eleven years on the music is still bubbling up. But I learned so much from those trips to Norway. There was a period when I was out there all the time, sleeping in the studio in the garden. I was like the guy that lives in the shed in the garden!

It’s been a huge part of my life. As yet, there’s not been much fruit from that out in the world, but I know there will be when the time’s right. It’s been a huge part of my musical DNA, so I wanted to include a track from him.

“Try To Remember” by Harry Belafonte

This is one I heard in Norway while I was hanging out with Jonas. I didn’t really know anything about Harry Belafonte, all I knew was “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)”, which was almost a comedy thing. He sounds so old on “Try To Remember”, but he was only in his thirties. It’s a cliché, but it’s timeless. It doesn’t sound dated to me.

The first thing I thought is that he sounds so kind! It’s one of those perfect examples to me of a song being matched with the right singer and the right arrangement. It’s so beautiful. It never gets overdone – the arrangement and the string flourishes towards the end are perfect, but they're not used too much. It's built around that harp, but it's so simple.

I got so obsessed with the song, I started looking into it more and I eventually found an example of what it sounds like in the musical it was originally written for. It was incredible, because I would never have heard that song and thought twice about it. And yet in this version, it’s all in the delivery.

"Shook" is out now via Channels May Change

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