Shelleyan Orphan iTunes Tracks

Shelleyan Orphan

+ {Babacar}

Drawing a line through COCTEAU TWINS and EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL, the quirky chamber pop of SHELLEYAN ORPHAN were a pleasant breeze through the feverish forests of post-C-86 indie-rock. Spearheaded by singers Caroline Crawley and Jemaur Tayle (also on acoustic guitars, etc.), and an orchestral/string-section element second to none, the quintessentially English duo never quite commanded the attention they deserved.
SHELLEYAN ORPHAN formed in Bournemouth, Dorset, in 1980 by Caroline and fellow songwriter Jem. Sharing an enduring appreciation of the works of famous poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, the duo took the group name from one of his works (“Spirit Of Solitude”) and set about conceiving a romantic, musical vision of their own. Teaching themselves the rudiments of their chosen instruments (Caroline now added clarinet to her CV), they subsequently recruited a crew of classical musicians upon their relocation to London in 1982.
Following an unlikely support to feedback merchants The JESUS AND MARY CHAIN (they also performed a session for BBC Radio 1’s Richard Skinner in June ’84), the pair were signed up to Rough Trade Records, releasing a debut single, `Cavalry Of Cloud’ (b/w `Tangled Perpetual’), in September ‘86. This was closely followed by the EBTG-esque vocal surges of the yearning `Anatomy Of Love’ and accompanying parent album, HELLEBORINE (1987) {*9}; named, incidentally, from the orchid that was said to cure insanity. Marrying the middle-England pastoral fantasy and string flourishes of NICK DRAKE (i.e. `Jeremiah’) to airy acoustic pop in the mold of the aforementioned EBTG (The FREE DESIGN also come to mind), the record was an enchanting proposition utilising such “pre-Raphaelite” instrumentation as oboe, cor Anglais, bassoon, cello and viola, alongside lightly strummed acoustic guitars, violin, etc. From the gracious and gentile `Midsummer Pearls And Plumes’, `Epitaph Ivy And Woe’ and `Blue Black Grape’ (a song about Helen of Troy; not an inspiration for Shaun Ryder!), to the aforementioned singles and the beautiful `Melody Of Birth’, SHELLEYAN ORPHAN were worthy adoptees of Columbia Records; albeit Stateside only.
Two years on, CENTURY FLOWER (1989) {*7}, displayed a shift towards a more conventional style of songwriting, while retaining the exotic flair which was their trademark. Accusations of pretentiousness and OTT production values unfairly marred the set somewhat, but Caroline’s dream-pop high-pitches among the delicate thunder of their Baroque backing was never hidden in the flourishes of `Timeblind’, `Tar Baby’ and the belatedly-issued 45, `Shatter’.
A 4AD combo in all but name (and maybe they should’ve been), the ‘Orphan fostered out their best asset Caroline to Ivo Watt-Russell’s THIS MORTAL COIL on their concluding third instalment, `Blood’ (1991); she solo’d on a cover of SYD BARRETT’s `Late Night’ and appeared alongside Deirdre Rutkowski and others on interpretations of `The Lacemaker’, `Help Me Lift You Up’ and `Mr Somewhere’.
Yet despite some favourable noises from certain sections of the press and a high profile support slot to The CURE (where she met boyfriend Boris Williams), SHELLEYAN ORPHAN never managed to rise above cult status; the disappointing HUMROOT (1992) {*5} being their final recording (for now); Boris was now their drummer, Porl Thompson (ex-CURE) on guitar and Roberto Soave (ex-PRESENCE) on bass. This was a crying shame as subsequent press darlings like The CARDIGANS and BELLE AND SEBASTIAN possibly had an ‘Orphan album or three tucked away in their collection somewhere.
As it turned out, Tayle duly worked on under the unproductive Elephantine moniker, probably envious of the fact that the remaining ‘Orphans had opted to form BABACAR for a CD-single: `Midsummer’. Jem would in fact join the world-beat/dream-pop outfit for their low-key eponymous set, BABACAR (1998) {*6}, but songs such as `Mesmer’, `Tree’ and `Peace’ sounded of another time, another place.
Inevitably, although only briefly, SHELLEYAN ORPHAN – Caroline, Jem and Boris – re-grouped in 2000 for their reading of `Buzzin’ Fly’, recorded in tribute to TIM BUCKLEY on the Various Artists double-CD, `Sing A Song For You’. Several years down the line, One Little Indian Records gave the duo of Crawley and Tayle another chance to shine on the long-awaited fourth album, WE HAVE EVERYTHING WE NEED (2008) {*7}. Losing none of their sweeping orchestral touches and adding a few fresh folk ones of their own (gothic trip-hop, anyone?), one could reminisce through the mysterious tales of `Judas’, `Bodysighs’, `Evolute’, `How A Seed Is Sown’ et al.
There was as always something therapeutic in the lush, healing-power “Helleborine” lilt of Caroline’s blossoming vocal cords, and it was indeed sad news that, after a long illness, she died on 4 October 2016.
© MC Strong 1999-2003/GRD series // rev-up MCS Oct2016

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