Opening doors from her home village in Ryde, Isle of Wight to Berlin’s biker bars and mountain top cabins in France, Angelina’s debut album took her to places beyond imagination. Visceral second coming Last Cigarette, sees the self-taught songwriter stride further from isolation, to embrace collaboration whilst embarking upon a deeply-cleansing journey through swampy voodoo blues and a wildly unchained vision.
“Last Cigarette’s spark emerged from a vision of Bessie Smith roaring around on a burnt-out motorbike, in some God forsaken desperate town…” she reveals. “A place where you live by your wits, the streets are full of memories that burn your heart, gates swing on rusty hinges, you choke on diesel fumes and witness apparitions of jujitsu vigilante gangs riding the wall of death with balls of fire belching out of exhaust pipes.”
Capturing the sound and truth of her blues heroes Blind Willie Johnson, Ma Rainey, and Charlie Patton, Last Cigarette takes the old-time influence of Angelina’s critically acclaimed debut LP Vagabond Saint, and sees a tougher, meaner artist emerge. Anguished vocals tell tales of dangerous highways in smoky transit vans, a coal miner from Paul Benny’s night paintings, or any day that has turned to rat shit. Through raw riffs and crying lines of frustration, its hefty rock stomp could dislodge loose floorboards as she navigates dark clouds to unleash her own wildly turbulent tempest; “It’s lyrically weathered, bereft by lost love and darkness… migrating through anger, acceptance, relief and strength,” she says. “Many of the lyrics are a heart-torn reaction to a relationship breakup; it was a slow death, a tough but realistic chapter.”
Music as therapy is a well-worn cliché but writing for self-preservation can offer the perfect distraction from life’s turmoil. Following a disciplined routine, Angelina quit her day job, sights set on perfecting her solo performance and exercising her emotional demons. Taking to her local coffee bar with acoustic guitar in tow, filled with fury and hot chocolate, she grew in creativity and confidence. “I wrote day and night as a detox; I changed my diet. I painted my house a different colour… I have a “Do Not Disturb, I’m Writing” notice pinned to my front door and just get on with it. Most songs were written in one draft, simple thumping blues chords. My voice led the way…I let it go where it wanted.”
Riding the coastal breeze of her seaside dwellings, Angelina’s music is where nature and nurture meet. Growing up she’d listen to sea shanty bands, gospel, 20s jazz singers like Billie Holliday and the country blues of Mississippi Fred McDowell or Blind Willie Johnson favoured by her Chinese mother and English father. Listening to those recordings, Angelina would teach herself how to sing; Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey would guide the way for the young singer as she attempted to channel their spirit through her own unique voice. “I would practice a sentence from a track for hours. I remember hearing a field recording of female country blues singers working on the land and it spoke volumes to me. I learnt loads of the songs and rehearsed in different rooms which changed the sound of my voice; the bathroom was great for that moaning blues sound with its natural reverb.”
Once, after testing out the reverb at a house party, Angelina’s musical education continued when she was taught a valuable lesson by a travelling American blues singer, who told her through a whiskey-soaked miasma, “You got the tools but ya don’t know how to use ‘em”. Undeterred, Angelina continued looking towards her heroes – Karen Dalton (“Everything about her vocal story and sound, her voice goes straight to the jugular”), Wanda Jackson, Memphis Minnie and Jo-Ann Key. Later finding herself Stateside, learning all the jazz chords whilst staying in the home of Hawaiian slide guitar guru, Bob Brozman.
The years passed, honing her sound and song craft – Angelina could often be found braving the elements and busking the isle’s small towns. The epiphany was finding a kindred spirit in fellow island dweller and producer/multi-instrumentalist, Rupert Brown (Roy Ayres, Pete Molinari, Jill Scott, Robbie Robertson, Daryl Hall, and resident drummer at Liam Watson’s Toe Rag studios). Giving the fruits of Angelina’s old time influences their glory through a 21st Century vision, unusual instrumentation and raw mechanical production,her debut album Vagabond Saint’s sonic cocktail accentuates the guts and grip of a true collaboration. “Rupert is a wizard and talks to the spirit of the song,” says Angelina. “When I go to the studio it’s like stepping into a space ship; you can go anywhere it’s an out of body experience... there’s nothing quite like it. I went to the studio with a bunch of songs, my guitar and some homemade soup, and it all came from there.”
A process of re-sculpturing and exaggerating observations of real-life, Vagabond Saint’s lyrics are equally inspired by the art world; two tracks were written on a day trip to a London gallery; Somerset House’s exhibition of Night Paintings by Paul Benney resulted in ‘Vagabond Saint’ and ‘Manola’ was named after Alexej Jawlensky’s painting of the same name. The paintings reached out to Angelina and she took it upon herself to create stories for them, depicting loneliness.
“I identify with the image of the vagabond saint, the lone wolf, mysterious figure, free spirited, thinker with no belonging... the Isle of Wight is a beautiful part of England but you create your own world behind your front door... your own dream shack where you can travel anywhere.”
Yet, circumstance will always lend itself to creative opportunity. Vagabond Saint’s success lead to a European tour and U.K support for Duke Garwood, recording with Blow Monkeys’ Dr.Robert, and being invited to join Wonderful Sound and Monks Road Records’ Down the Willows collective (Angelina’s track ‘Golden Day’ is a favourite of BBC Radio’s Gary Crowley). Reuniting with Rupert Brown (drums percussion, auto harp, B.V’s) Last Cigarette is bolstered through production duo Boe Weaver (guitar, bass, keys), Barrie ‘Little Barrie’ Cadogan (electric and slide guitar), and The James Hunter Six’s Jason Wilson (double bass). Session players Joe Glossop (Keys) and Gary Plumley (Flute) plus 5 singers of the Peoples Choir of St. Louis, also feature.
Between the distressed wood and velvet curtains of Boe Weaver’s boutique Studio Humbug on The Island – a golden-era space within an old water tower on the outskirts of Queen Victoria's Osbourne House estate - its glam cabin interior offered the perfect hideout for Angelina’s own band of outlaws to hatch their master plan. “Humbug is an apothecary of potions and spells, a laboratory where words and emotions conceive sound,” Angelina tells. “We breathe thoughts in and out like magic smoke rings, the air smells like an old leather suitcase. Sharing in the intense depths of musical thought and decision-making was like witnessing a mirage of genies moving round a Ouija board like whirling dervishes. I didn’t want the recordings to finish or to ever leave.”
Last Cigarette is fierce. These songs have been stirring deep within, waiting for the right moment and have now awoken Angelina’s inner voice. Knowing her mind and living for music as seriously as her heroes, she is about to ‘Throw Petrol At The Sun’ and set it on fire.