Pete Astor has featured reasonably consistently in my life down the years. In the mid-Eighties when I was first defining my music taste along with the rest of my personality, he fronted the kind of bands I would have aspired to have been in had I got my act together. The Loft and The Weather Prophets, polite jingly jangly and vaguely literary groups built on the lines of classic guitar outfits:. Television, Velvets, Byrds.
Neither The Loft or The Weather Prophets propelled Astor to either the fame or critical acclaim he clearly envisioned for himself. They sold and went down reasonably well but pulled up few oaks. It's no great mystery in retrospect why that didn't happen for him. His songs ultimately weren't quite strong enough and it wasn't quite the music for those times. At least not the music that was going to be played on daytime radio or reach the Top Ten.
Astor seemed to realise this himself eventually and got himself a daytime job as a lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. He's kept his eye in though, releasing records consistently down the years since. And consistently good ones. For anybody who reveres this kind of thing.
What 'this kind of thing' is, seems to be a very British pursuit. Traditional Pop songs of the kind that used to make the charts when the likes of the Kinks and The Faces put them out, but haven't much since. The kind of songs that the likes of Robyn Hitchcock, Robert Lloyd, Martin Bramah, Vic Godard and Billy Childish specialise in, plough out and tour small pub venues to play every few years. A music that has its own small constituency and maps out its lives.
Astor does what he does, very well. In fact you could actual make a good case that he's really hit his stride properly in late middle age, and latest album Time on Earth is among the best things he's ever done.
It's a sad record in some ways. One that maps the passing of time. Watching the passage of the sand in an hourglass from northerly to southerly bulb. But Astor finds all the small consolations of that process. Even as you watch more and more of your friends pass to the other side as inevitably happens at this point in the road.
Astor is a craftsman and he does a great job. Not many people will hear this record. Certainly not as many as should. But it will be greatly treasured by many of those who do.
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