Start a New People

Burgeoning musical ensemble The Jepettos take us on a brief but pleasant journey in sound

Belfast-based husband and wife Mike and Ruth Aicken have been writing music together since they first met in their mid-teens. Over the years, they have honed their sound and style, and recruited Derry~Londonderry trio Emma Flanagan, Colm Hinds and Daniel Kerr to form The Jepettos.

Yes, just like Pinocchio’s creator, except spelt differently. But the real question is: can they carve out a niche for themselves in the increasingly competitive Northern Irish music scene? The answer, if their debut EP Start a New People is anything to go by, is a resounding yes.

In a previous review of a live performance, I concluded that The Jepettos' music had 'a dreamy quality', and that there was 'plenty to like'. Not a defining critique, perhaps, but those qualities are enforced along with a richer sound in a well produced debut that suggests a very bright future for the ensemble.

Inspired by the likes of Lisa Hannigan, Belle and Sebastian and their Belfast co-native, Duke Special, the Aickens have crafted a promising recording. Like Mr Geppetto himself, the band tugs our strings – our heartstrings, that is – but in a nicely understated manner. There’s no sensory overload here.

Start A New People is a slow-burning record, one that requires patience to fully appreciate it. And despite the heaviness of a wide range of instruments, there is a strange subtlety too. There may be some abrupt changes in tone and the occasional drowning out of voices, but, being a fledgling recording, such flaws can be forgiven.

You get an idea of the themes prevalent on this record by glancing at the cover art – a photograph of a child by a window, looking out towards a watery horizon. It suggests that The Jepettos are interested in the joys of discovery, the world beyond the doorstep.

Despite its catchy chorus and piano assist from Duke Special himself, single 'Goldrush' (above) isn’t the best song on the EP. But the lyrics, which focus on looking back and forward, are a great summation of the project’s general tone.

It’s on 'Something In The Air' that The Jepettos’ numerous components – including Mike and Ruth’s vocals, ukulele, melodica, clarinet and especially glockenspiel – begin to really serve their purpose. The delightful backing vocal in the first verse is the highlight of a very moody, chilled out number.

It is, perhaps, asking a lot for the all-too-brief if good natured 'Journey' to match up, but a nice guest vocal from the Aickens’ six-year old daughter helps make it memorable. Hopeful lyrics combine with an excellent trumpet solo from Jonny Leddy on another highlight, 'Should've Kissed You More'. It’s not quite in the class of Belle and Sebastian, but it isn’t that far off.

The fast-paced, multi-layered refrain of this track suggests that, after a period of experimenting with their sound, here at least The Jepettos are happy simply to let themselves go. And it’s by continuing to do so that this band may reach their peak.

EP highlight 'Good Times' (below) is a beautifully structured, effortlessly bouncy song that gives the Aickens’ vocals their best chance to shine. It recalls the strengths of Kate Nash without her weaknesses – all of the energy, but less of the affected precociousness.

Listening to Start A New People brings back memories of Adventures In Gramophone, and remembering how much talent, despite the rawness, that was on show in Duke Special’s first album. His new friends in music have every chance of experiencing the same levels of success in the years to come.

Start A New People is available to download on Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon.