Chill-out electronica was a big music movement in the early 00s and a seriously cool one, appealing to club kids and sunset posers alike. But British duo Fred Deakin and Nick Franglen, aka Lemon Jelly, took a different approach to the scene. They were fun.
Many musicians have stories about what influenced their band name; personal epiphanies, significant cultural events, a moniker representing their style of music. Lemon Jelly were named after a funny smell in Fred’s kitchen. When the band performed live they created a happy atmosphere by handing out party bags containing balloons and badges, or involving the audience in a game of bingo with the caller dressed as the Grim Reaper. Then of course there’s the music, often sounding more like nursery rhymes than post-club lounge. Yet despite their daft jollity, Lemon Jelly’s compositions contain some profound undertones, and the travel-themed Ramblin’ Man is no exception.
Lost Horizons, the album that Ramblin’ Man appears on, could, like most of Lemon Jelly’s music, be described as Storytime electronica; soft happy sounds with a childhood sentiment attached, lyricising over ducks swimming in water and the wonder of outer space. With this child’s-eye view of the world, the album serves as a reminder of how beautiful it can be; if, like a three-year-old, you still knew where to look (in the ponds and up in the sky).
The album title also chimes with this idea of discovery. There was a book (and a film) called Lost Horizon written in 1933 by James Hilton, which revolves around Shangri-La, a fictional paradise in a Tibetan valley. This lost horizon; a beautiful place, and/or state of mind, that many of us are unable to reach, can perhaps be found by listening to Lemon Jelly’s album. This is done literally on Ramblin’ Man, as the lyrics reveal prized travel destinations: the earthly representatives of Shangri-La.
The song begins like an interview, where Fred’s father, Michael, asks actor John Standing what inspires him to travel. He responds in a pastorally British manner; ‘Well I don’t know, I suppose some of us are cave dwellers, some of us live in houses, some of us like to be loose footed. I’m a ramblin’ man.’
He then goes on to list where he’s rambled to, and it’s no arbitrary list. The places were chosen by Lemon Jelly fans who were asked to name their favourite destinations in the world. There are some obvious ones; Paris, Koh Samui, Ipanema, and some less so; Kentish Town, North Pole and bizarrely Atlantis (which is still on my list to visit, next to Shangri-La).
‘I suppose some of us are cave dwellers, some of us live in houses, some us like to be loose footed.’Ramblin’ Man, Lemon Jelly
The all-seeing cat
While on the surface there doesn’t appear to be a logical order to the recital, there’s certainly a tonal one. An increased speed of delivery as the list goes on leads to an overlapping of names and reminds us of the abundance of destinations the world has to offer. But hidden within the roll call is a secret message, alluding more to Lemon Jelly’s childish nature than any devil worshipping missive. It comes in the form of a verbal acronym, starting with Brixton and ending with San Jose, and spells out ‘Bagpuss Sees All Things’.
Bagpuss was a magical fluffy toy cat in a British children’s TV show from the 70s. He lived in a shop that displayed lost and often broken items for owners to come and collect. When the proprietor, a little girl named Emily, left the shop at night after reciting a ‘wake up’ spell, the cat would come alive and oversee the repairing of the broken items by other magically animated stuffed toys. Bagpuss fixes lost things, Lemon Jelly fixes lost horizons.
Keep on ramblin’
Musically, Ramblin’ Man features jolly flute sounds and pleasant guitar riffs accompanied by defiant synths which feel like a call to action, veering us towards this newfound horizon. The song finishes with another question directed towards our explorer: ‘And you’re going to keep on rambling?’ The response: ‘Oh yes, have to.’
Don’t we all still want to find our Shangri-La?