Earlier this year, the duo of Galen Ayers and Paul Simonon released their album Can We Do Tomorrow Another Day? to uniformly positive reviews. They followed up the album with a short European tour which was also well-received.
According to the press release for the album, it ‘began in lockdown as Simonon relocated to a remote Mallorcan fishing village, where he spent his time, painting, and writing songs. Over an 18-month period he worked with local musicians, playing and busking in the streets of Palma with his friend Ayers. What emerged is a collection of 10 uplifting songs which collectively present a snapshot of pan-European music culture.’
Can We do… opens with first single ‘Lonely Town’ which references the perception of Deià as a ghost town recently aired in the UK press with lines such as ‘Oh little town, you’ve lost your heart’. Elsewhere, on the bouncy ska-inflected ‘A Sea Shanty’, the witty lyrics refer to drunken Brits ‘necking shots in Magaluf’.
‘Room at the Top’ references Chopin, who famously spent a disastrous winter in Valldemossa.
Galen’s command of Spanish and simultaneously light and soulful voice are put to good effect on tracks ‘Hacia Arriba’, ‘Mi Camino’ and ‘No Es Necessario’.
Other cuts have charmingly wayward lyrics that often sound throwaway but are always artful. The lyrics of ‘I’ve Never Had A Good Time In Paris’ meander from sentimental artist in Paris clichés to the sharply observed ‘Breathing in the tear gas, dreaming in my England shirt’ and ‘It’s good to be back on this crummy old street where no-one cares and children swear’.
This track, in particular, neatly captures Galen and Paul’s boho Lady and the Tramp meets Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra vibe, emphasised by the contrast between Galen’s elegant drawl – a classic child of Deià accent, sea-changing from slightly posh English to Mid-Atlantic – and Paul’s gruff London.
Musically, the album produced by Tony Visconti is a melange of ska and reggae, French and Spanish ye-ye, twanging Spaghetti western guitar, the aforementioned swing and a latin touch. Contributors include Paul’s bandmate in The Good, The Bad and The Queen Damon Albarn.
A quarter of a degree and a beer – Galen in Deià
The last time I interviewed Galen was when her excellent album Monument was released.
Early on in our conversation I mentioned that I’d written about many of the oddly influential musicians who have lived and worked in Deia over the years. I reeled off the names: Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth, Lady June, Ollie Halsall, Joan Bibiloni. She laughed and said ‘You’ve just listed all my babysitters.’
Galen spent many of her formative years in Deià. She spent time in the somewhat wild, bohemian Clot with her father, described on her website as a ‘psychedelic rock pioneer…whose experimental intellectualism, outsized charisma, and decades of substance abuse defined much of Galen’s early existence’.
Life with her mother Kristen and stepfather Axel Ball, a driving force behind what became La Residencia, a Belmond Hotel, was very different.
Galen’s bio begins with the statement that ‘There is power in telling your story.’ This is some of her story, as told to me. I began by asking what growing up in Deià was like for Galen.
‘I’m a weird intersection,’ she said. ‘Everyone in Deià’s connected by a quarter of a degree and a beer. My dad was Kevin but I was adopted by my stepdad Axel who took care of me with my mum Kirsten in Soller. But I was also spending time with Kevin and that was very different. I was the daughter of the guy playing rock and roll down in The Clot and the guy who owned La Residencia. It felt sometimes like I was in the firing line.’
With music in her blood, it didn’t seem surprising to me that Galen Ayers wound up as a musician. But her journey wasn’t quite as straightforward as I’d assumed.
‘The story goes,’ she told me, ‘that I, like all the kids in Deià – imagine what you see now magnified hundreds and hundreds of times – had nothing to do in the afternoon while all the parents were sleeping off their hangovers. We would all get together, play music and sing. Apparently, I would take a little stool, go down to Gita’s place, get up on the stool and say, “Today I have a new song for you” and I would sing. All my poor, beautiful Deià babysitters had to put up with my Muppets obsession.’
What were her influences, apart from The Muppets? ‘Actually, if you look at the credits, The Muppets always had the best musicians. That’s why Kevin encouraged it. If you’re talking about influences that stood the test of time, it has to be The Beatles, Bob Marley, guy songwriters like JJ Cale, Clapton and Dire Straits, Paco de Lucia and The Gipsy Kings. There was also a lot of classical music and jazz, but not straight jazz. At boarding school in the 90s, I was influenced by The Cranberries, Radiohead, Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor. My biggest kick is lyrics, so Dylan of course. You get the picture?’
And Kevin, what about his influence? ‘It’s an interesting question. I recently found a letter from him sent to me when I was in my early 20s. He’s saying, “I’m happy that you do music, keep at it and progressing”. He was adamant that I shouldn’t be trained. He believed people should figure out music for themselves if they want any kind of chance at being original. In the letter, he also says that ever since I was a little girl, I’d had excellent pitch and a sense of melody. But then, in big letters, he writes “But if you think you can lead any type of a normal life and do this job, forget it. Think of something else to do.” Most of all, I’d say he influenced me more by osmosis.’
How did she feel about his influence now? ‘I’ve just come back from touring Japan. Now I’m able to see him through the lens of a completely different culture. I always thought Kevin’s Britishness, the punning, would constrict his appeal. But here I am with hundreds of Japanese people who know all the puns. Because he was an advocate for being yourself, Kevin helped his Japanese fans be a lot riskier. He gave them permission to be themselves. As he did me. It made me understand him more. He was always in the moment. But he also worked so hard, especially for a guy who’s always portrayed as sitting on an island being lazy. I’ve realized that his Warner Music catalogue alone is 280 songs. That’s 18 albums right there. The guy was not lazy.’
Can We Do Tomorrow Another Day? is on all good streaming platforms. It’s a perfect Deià summer listen with a nice bite to it.
Photo of Galen and Paul and album cover art supplied by Eleven Management.