‘Odds Are Stacked’, the dramatic debut single by Campbell L. Sangster, is a track that immediately feels oddly familiar but proves impossible to pin down. It has the feel of an ancient folk song given an electric mauling in a beat cellar and then hauled into a studio, taken apart and reassembled with stirring strings to create an eerie atmosphere. The song’s sparse arrangement allows Campbell’s remarkable voice to shine. The tone husky and the mood is determined: character and fervour triumph over the inert and impassive.
Campbell L. Sangster is the new musical identity of the London-based singer/songwriter Lin Sangster who has one of the most distinctive voices in pop music and a winning way with melodies. Sangster’s work on soundtracks for film and video projects has clearly influenced this hugely cinematic single.
Previously recording as Bad Anorak 404, the acclaimed 2005 LP All In Miniature is jam-packed with gorgeous jazz/folk ballads and blues numbers mixing Brill Building classic compositions with odd pop DIY experimentation. At times Bad Anorak 404 came across like Keyboard Money Mark backing Terry Callier or Julie London singing the Broadcast songbook. It’s no wonder the LP became an underground cult favourite.
It was way back in 1982 that Sangster first attracted attention with the group Send No Flowers who were considered to be the hottest band in their native Liverpool, alongside The Pale Fountains. They recorded a John Peel session and issued a classic EP. Sangster’s singing with Send No Flowers has been described as “the missing link between Pauline Murray and Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, with a wonderful trademark vibrato and shivery quiver” in Kevin Pearce’s book A Moment Worth Waiting For.
The book also mentions how Sangster went on to front a new group Kit, one of the great underground outfits of the late 1980s, who had a country twang, some jazzy trumpet, with, as an unassuming Sangster suggests, ‘soul and something strange’ in the sound. Kit featured bass player Michelle Brown, and for a while she and Sangster had the sharpest haircuts and smartest songs in Liverpool. Michelle would later play on the much-loved The Magical World of The Strands album by Michael Head and the Strands. Fans of that record and Michael’s work with Shack tend to be admirers of Sangster’s recordings.
The origin of Campbell L. Sangster, the name of the current project lies in a heartfelt tribute to family, reflecting the spiritual nature of music steeped in folk and popular song tradition. Sangster Says “Campbell was my mother’s maiden name, and my grandfather Michael Campbell on that side of the family used to sing and play the accordion in the pubs and clubs around Liverpool in the 1950s. It was he who encouraged me as a young kid to take up music, even buying me a Chet Atkins guitar book which might explain that country twang.”
‘Odds Are Stacked’ has the timeless feel of one of the rousing ballads Lin’s granddad might have sung to warm hungry hearts on the coldest of nights. It is effectively a fairy tale about a knight-errant out to win over their heart’s desire, galloping across hostile terrains to stake their claim, and though the odds may be stacked against them they are determined to win the day.
An EP from Campbell L. Sangster will follow this single release. An LP is also being painstakingly put together with occasional contributions from kindred spirits. In the meantime, ‘Odds Are Stacked’ will be available on the Higuera label from January 22nd 2016.