Bill Ryder-Jones – ‘West Kirby County Primary’

The ex-Coral guitarist and Arctic Monkeys collaborator’s third solo album is a melancholy delight

It’s almost 20 years since Bill Ryder-Jones joined The Coral, back when John Major was still in Downing Street, Britpop was at its apogee and the guitarist himself was only 13 years old. As the youngest member of the group, Ryder-Jones’ obvious ability – just listen to his nuanced, sure-handed playing on those first two albums – marked him out as something of a prodigy. But his post-Coral trajectory (which includes playing on and touring Arctic Monkeys’ ‘AM’) has been closer to that of a late, if not outright laggard, bloomer. On ‘Satellites’, the slowcore reverie which serves as the penultimate track of his third (and best) solo album, he effectively issues a mea culpa to that effect when he sings of how, “I got lost in myself/ And time got lost as well”. There are good reasons for that, of course – Ryder-Jones spent much of his lost time struggling with a series of mental health issues that came close to derailing his career entirely – but, in recent years, has found his groove as a solo artist: an unhurried, understated, sometimes lugubrious one, but a groove all the same.

As with 2013’s ‘A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart’, much of ‘West Kirby County Primary’ was written and recorded in the 32-year-old’s childhood home, and the album sounds appropriately haunted by his memories of people and places. The wistful ‘Two To Birkenhead’ recounts a daytrip to the old Mersey seaport (no small feat for an agoraphobia sufferer), and achieves a kind of catharsis from the realisation that, “You only hate the things you think you are”, while ‘Daniel’, written from the perspective of his parents about the death of his brother, is a song that’s as difficult to listen to as it is impossible to forget. Ryder-Jones’ voice – doleful and heavy-hearted, as though he carries the weight of the world on his still-young shoulders – casts a gloom over proceedings like fog rolling in off the sea, but there’s wry humour to be found if you listen hard enough: on ‘Catherine And Huskisson’ he frets over a nighshift-working neighbour who’ll be “fucking fuming” at the noise he’s making.

When the end result is as good as this, however, who’d hold a few hours of lost sleep against him? Whereas Ryder-Jones’ old band inhabited a colourful, self-contained world of soft drugs, spaghetti westerns and Scouse jabberwocky, his own sonic nook might seem smaller and more earthbound by comparison, but it’s no less personal or poignant for that.