Gabriel Minnikin
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Gabriel Minnikin

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Band Americana Folk

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Dec
18
Gabriel Minnikin @ The Carleton

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Dec
15
Gabriel Minnikin @ The Tide And Boar

Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Dec
14
Gabriel Minnikin @ The Somerset

St. John, New Brunswick, Canada

St. John, New Brunswick, Canada

Music

Press


There are many ways to describe Parakeets With Parasols, the third and latest album from Manchester-based singer-songwriter Gabriel Minnikin: an orchestral country-pop masterpiece; a monolith of intricately carved pop classicism; the work of a modern day Phil Spector; the best album by a Manchester-based artist in 2012.

As far as its creator is concerned, however, there is only one term that springs to mind when describing this outstanding album.

“I’d call this album a leap of faith,” Minnikin says emphatically, over coffee in an empty Band On The Wall. “It’s a complete leap into the unknown. The sheer scale and ambition of it was something I’d never tried
before. But you have to make that leap of faith if you’re a
musician and want to keep pushing yourself.”

To anyone who knows Minnikin or has heard the man speak, such bold pronouncements might seem a tad incongruous. The Canadian-born, Whalley Range-based country-folk troubadour has always seemed the very embodiment of gentle understatement.

Heavily bearded, dressed down in crumpled lumberjack shirt and exuding an enviable sense of lugubrious calm, Minnikin could, as an alternative
career profession, easily work as one of those police negotiators who talks down suicidal people from rooftops. In a movie biopic of Minnikin’s life, you can easily imagine the actor Billy Bob Thornton stepping into his blissfully laconic shoes.

So when he cranks up the hyperbole and starts talking about his latest album as a ‘leap of faith’, it’s safe to say he really means it.

More to the point, that new album in question, Parakeets With Parasols, not only justifies Minnikin’s excitable hubris, it also makes a very strong claim for being the standout Manc music release of 2012.

Awash with opulent strings and brass, soaring melodies and expansive pop arrangements, it’s a record that stands in stark contrast to the image of Minnikin the downbeat country-folk troubadour.

Indeed, such is the album’s consistent tone of sweeping, sugar-coated exultancy that the listener is reminded, somewhat surprisingly, of Walt Disney movie soundtracks. “Walt Disney is definitely an influence,” he concurs. “It all goes back to my childhood: Fantasia was a film I just watched over and over, and some of the scenes have stayed in my head.

The humongous feel of those songs combined with the visual imagery would just take you to another place.

“They’re not a direct influence on this album, but I’ve always admired the sheer scale and epicness of those Disney soundtracks.”

As proven by that Disney revelation, there are clearly many things we have yet to learn about a man who’s become an honorary Mancunian in the past decade.

The singer-songwriter arrived here city nine years ago, eager to build on his already prolific music career. He made that journey to Manchester with his younger sister, Ruth, with whom he has recorded a number of
acclaimed albums under the name The Minnikins.

In the past two years, though, and with his sister flying back and forth between Manchester and Canada to focus on her own music, Gabriel started work on the album that would define his solo recording career: Parakeets With Parasols.

To a large extent, the brilliance of the album lies in Minnikin’s decision to break free from archetype. Rewind two years and Minnikin, then generating much excitable music industry buzz, was offered an album deal for a well-respected independent record label. The only problem was that the label wanted Minnikin to play up to winsome singer-songwriter formula. He flatly refused.

“As much as I wanted to be part of a record label, it just wasn’t right for this record,” he reasons. “It would have been very easy of me to sign the deal and make the singer-songwriter record they wanted, but it was
already in my mind to make this huge orchestral album.

“Artistically, it would have been a major step backwards to make that sort of introspective songwriter album. I already had other musical plans – and so I had to do it all on my own.”

Hence what Minnikin refers to as his ‘leap of faith’. Forging ahead without a record label, he scraped together every last penny and self-financed an album that boldly stepped away from acoustic troubadour cliche: defined by its classic pop structures, bruised romanticism and luscious string embellishments, here was an album which evoked the rich sonic splendour of Phil Spector, Roy Orbison and Rufus Wainwright.

The album’s beautiful string arrangements – which, at their most epic, are performed by a 25-piece orchestra – further demonstrate his impressive sense of resourcefulness.

“I’d go to the Royal Northern College of Music and ask students to play on the album,” he explains. “But asking people to play for free isn’t easy: no-one knows who the hell I am, and you’re asking people to sacrifice their precious time. I must have tried out about 100 classical musicians on this record – bringing all those elements together was the hardest part.”

Much more willing to appear on the album were various luminaries from Manc music’s alt-folk scene.

In the past, Minnikin has collaborated with such acts as Jo Rose, Sam Hammond and The Earlies. So when it came to making Parakeets With Parasols, Minnikin knew exactly who to recruit for his backing band.

“You only have to look at the credits on the album sleeve – there’s hundreds on there!” he smiles.

“And that’s the great thing about this city. Everyone’s willing to help each other out, and it’s an honour that they’ve all played on my record.

- Manchester Evening News


An album created by a Canadian with an unusual gravelly voice will inevitably lead to comparisons with a certain Montreal-born crooner. Indeed Gabriel Minnikin often shows signs of being influenced by the elder statesman of melancholic folk. Yet this is an artist who deserves so much more than being dismissed as a simple Leonard Cohen knock off.

‘Parakeets With Parasols’ is an incredible multi-layered affair which covers a sweeping range of genres. From it’s beginning the album soars into life, Minnikin’s magnificently eerie tones backed spectacularly by a rich multi-pieced ensemble on ‘Land Of Language’. Indeed with an orchestra listed as containing 23 members (not to mention a band of 15), every song is given an extraordinary depth.

On the unnerving ‘Machine Guest’, Minnikin’s voice begins to sound like a fragile Iggy Pop, whilst at other times his music approaches the work of a particularly croaky Jens Lekman. ‘A Tune’ could even be mistaken for Tom Waits. Yet each track carries a distinctive Minnikin signature. In spite of such grandiose ideas, Minnikin still finds time to incorporate his Americana roots. The low key ‘Arkansas’ sees a sombre country-edged melody backed by luscious strings, whilst pedal steel and banjos battle the wails of a brass band throughout the excellent ‘New Orleans’. ‘Parakeets With Parasols’ is an astonishing album that echoes many of its predecessors, but offers something entirely different. Simply put, it is brilliant.
- Americana-UK


Gabriel Minnikin
Parakeets with Parasols
Self released
Released: Thursday 8 March 2012

Back in 2001 Jason Pierce and Spiritualized released a terrific album. Let It Come Down, filled with lush, sweeping orchestral delights wrapped around Pierce's distinctive voice showcased a band building on the success of their previous work and taking it to new heights. Fast forward to 2012 and Canadian Gabriel Minnikin, on his third album, appears to be doing the same.

Taking in everything from the Americana bluegrass of 'New Orleans' and 'Halifax Blues' to the Bright Eyes-like opener 'Land of Language', Minnikin clearly knows how to structure the unusual into something slightly magical. Nowhere is this best shown than on 'Three', with its sweeping orchestral intro which then morphs into jangly Beatles-esque pop and back again.

Elsewhere, the Spiritualized influence shows on the album's strongest tracks; the gospel sound of 'The Hand That Feeds You' stirs you and the chirpy 'A Christmas at Sea' stands out immediately as a cut above. Although the tendency to verge towards Nick Cave is a little too evident on the closing stretch, with both 'A Tune' and 'Song and Dance' a little too melancholy, the lullaby-like tones of 'Sleepy Dreamy Time' keep things swaying nicely on an album that should see Minnikin have his time in the sun and more; with or without the parasol.

A sweeping, parakeeting delight.
- Soundblab


Discography

ALBUMS

'Hard Feelings' self released 2004

'Wandering Midnight' self released 2006

'Parakeets with Parasols' self released 2012

Photos

Bio

The uniquely talented Canadian singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Minnikin, has been a worker in song since the 1990s, both as a soloist and in collaboration with a range of hugely talented artists. His sound is located in country music and has a rawness of passion that one would expect from the tradition. His remarkable voice grabs you instantly. It is rich, layered, deep and full of texture and longing. Across a number of albums with various musicians and bands, his songs have shifted and developed, but all remain rooted by the same bold heart.

For a young man he is an old timer, honing his skills with Country outfit ‘The Guthries’ and involved in the critically acclaimed albums ‘Off Windmill’ (2000) and ‘The Guthries’ (2002), championed by John Peel and Bob Harris. Here he played, performed, listened, learned and found a sound of his own that would burst forth on his solo debut ‘Hard Feelings’ (2004). Emerging was an occupation of the spirit of songs that are sprung from a tradition yet profoundly unique to him. These songs are tales of captured moments, stories of lives playing out, both emotionally reactive and calmly reflective. Even in this early record, alongside tantalising dark edges can be felt the wry humour and knowing smile of a man navigating the world with all its pockmarks and pitfalls. Throughout all the albums there is integrity of intention and purpose that makes it impossible not to be fully engaged with the shape and tone of the songs. In 2006 Gabriel released ‘Wandering Midnight’ to a hugely enthusiastic response from those inside and outside the music industry.

His lyrics draw you in viscerally with the depth of feeling, with vivid imagery created in snapshots, and breathtaking poetry. The songs have a dark edge of uncertainty, an undercurrent of potential spoken and unspoken troubles. They cast us into a world of both the light promise of fulfilled hope, and the shadow of scattered and ungraspable dreams.

With the 2012 release of ‘Parakeets with Parasols’ Gabriel created an album of epic musical richness and depth. The lyrics bursting with potency remain, but are beautifully swelled by a full orchestra. The vast range of instruments is woven together to form a vibrant dialogue; they complement each other, occasionally sparring to draw you in. But Gabriel unquestionably knows when to pare the sound back, to rein the energy in and leave you in pools of peace where you sink fully into the songs. Female vocals are scattered throughout Gabriel’s work, reflecting a tough steeliness and tender melancholy.

Extraordinary on albums, Gabriel also takes on the role of master of ceremonies at live shows with charisma. Touring he has played with, First Aid Kit, Justin Townes Earle, The Handsome Family, and Caitlin Rose among others. He has earned his stripes playing and touring with his exceptionally talented and wondrous sister Ruth as ‘The Minnikins’ supporting Jools Holland and Jose Ganzalez. Gabriel currently plays solo and with his band, full of grit and fire, ‘The Fast Country’.
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