Recorded as a tribute to his former bandmate Anno Birkin, who died in a car crash in 2001, Shian and The Genre 18 released the second part of the LP series Anno’s Saga on Friday via YSB Records (part one, released in 2018, can be heard here), with 50% of the profits going to children’s arts charity Anno’s Africa. Shian, former drummer of Stony Sleep, Serafin and Razorlight, created the six tracks on this record around Anno’s poetry (a collection of which, Who Said The Race Is Over? is available on cd and in paperback) and recorded them with his brother, fellow Joyzine favourite Ben Fox Smith, who also mixed and mastered the record, and bassist John Roberts.
The album is a twisting, shape-shifting creature taking in elements of jagged alt-rock, meandering psych, fuzzy grunge guitars and more besides to capture the heart of Anno’s words, imbuing them with the heightened emotions brought about by the situation in which they’ve been created. The album is comprised of six tracks, three of which clock in at over seven minutes: the anxious strum, cascading drums and prog-tinged u-turns of ‘Sally’, ‘Storm’s gently building swirl and the glorious sprawl of ‘Youth’ with its big chugging stadium rock guitar intro that spins on a sixpence to a surprisingly funky bass and guitar interchange before segueing into a near-lullabye, and that’s just in the first 60 seconds! Elsewhere ‘Once’ has a pleasing repetitive groove, ‘Girl’ pairs a raw-throated growl with a driving rhythm section and closing track ‘Mad’ warps and stretches its vocals over a gentle strum. Anno’s Saga Part 2 celebrates Anno’s life as much as it explores the emotions connected to his loss – filled with moments of quiet reflection, swirling distorted guitar fury and unexpected dynamic shifts, it’s an album that should provide a fitting memorial to those who knew Anno and an introduction to his work for those (like myself) who are hearing his name for the first time. As the poignant lyric in the closing track repeats, “Breathe again my friend”.
We asked Shian to give us a track by track guide to the record.
Back in 1999 when I played drums for Anno Birkin’s band Flying Mango Attack, I read him some of my random ramblings that I called poetry. ”I write a bit of poetry myself” he responded, unassumingly. I shrugged it off and didn’t give it a second thought until well after his tragic death, when his father showed me endless folders of the most stunning poetry I had ever seen. Eventually I read Anno’s collection of poems, Who Said the Race Is Over. I then picked eighteen of my favourites and began writing Anno’s Saga for my band GENRE 18 in an attempt to bring his thunderous emotions, twists and rhythms to life. Unable to build any fanbase; rejected or ignored by well over a hundred record companies and cursed by Anno’s mother, the band split up in 2011. In 2018 we managed to put some old demos together and finally released Anno’s Saga Part 1. Part 2 was meant to follow shortly but a fall out with the drummer, budget issues and COVID 19 quickly made that an impossibility. I’m happy to say though that we kept the dream alive and have now released Anno’s Saga Part 2 at long last.
I don’t feel comfortable interpreting Anno’s poetry as it is such a personal and delicate topic but I will speak about the musical and recording processes:
This is my favourite structure of any song I’ve written as it takes the tease/build concept to excessive levels and I like to think there is some Captain Beefheart in the production and instrumentation.
For this track I wanted structural complexity to take a back seat. Melody was the original goal so utterly simple verse/chorus/verse/chorus was the way to go.
A respite from the two previous emotionally heavy numbers, this fun, lazy Funk Rock tune was enhanced by the Honky-tonk piano which reminds me of the beloved New Wave band Madness.
I like this raw grimey track because it takes me back to Screaming Trees and my roots in chaotic 90s Grunge Rock.
As soon as I wrote this years ago I knew it would be an absolute MoFo to record and I wasn’t wrong. Even more so than any of the others, the skeleton of this was recorded with gaps of years, down the road from where I was trapped in Colombia through lockdown, so each time I managed to save up a hundred quid and get back to the studio, it was like a whole lifetime had passed.
A strange animal with a life of its own, I wrote this one with John Roberts, the bass player, back in 2009 so it’s older than any song, even off Anno’s Saga Part 1.
Anno’s Saga Part 2 is available now on streaming services and to download via Bandcamp
Introduction by Paul Maps