When Sligo-born Perry Blake released his first, eponymously-titled, album with Polydor in 1998 there was a buzz of expectation in industry circles. Here was a rare package: an articulate songwriter with an exceptional melodic sense who understood, instinctively, the art of constructing a pop song. Citing influences as various as European cabaret, west coast funk, and 60’s & 70’s film scores (especially Bacharach and Barry), Blake compiled a collection of songs that uplifted with their melodic hooks as much as they saddened with their glimpses into the damaged or disappointed lives of his characters.
The reaction to his debut album was ecstatic. A number of music magazines tipped Perry Blake as the “next big thing”. Jo Wiley, on BBC Radio 1, made his first single, “The Hunchback Of San Francisco” her single of the week. Word was beginning to get around. Meanwhile, Universal swallowed polygram, and anything that wasn’t Britney was booted out. The musical antennae of the French however had been picking up something distinct and original from across the water. (The album went Top 40 in France), and already Blake was becoming a cult figure there. Not surprising, then, that he was soon signed by hip French label, naïve, for his second album.
“Still Life” was released in December 1999. It was a darker album than the debut; perhaps a purer expression of the melancholic soul of Blake’s songwriting. It was propelled by some glorious ensemble playing, and the growing assurance evident in Blake’s singing. There was an altogether more organic feel to the album, further bolstering his reputation among his fans, especially in France, but also extending this reputation to other European countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy and Greece. However, he remained virtually known in Britain and Ireland.
After touring the songs in Europe, to increasingly enthusiastic audiences and to massive critical acclaim, Blake went back into the studio having been invited to write the soundtrack for a French film - “Presque Rien”. Three new songs were recorded and combined with “Wise Man’s Blues” and “This Time It’s Goodbye” from “Still Life”, were released as an EP soundtrack for “Presque Rien” in may 2000.
More live dates followed in Europe, to growing audiences. One of these, at the Cirque Royal in Brussels for Belgian cultural week, became a live album released in September 2001. “Broken Statues” saw the songs from the earlier albums deconstructed and re-invented with the Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles. It also saw the inclusion of Blake’s personal take on the Diana Ross “I’m Still Waiting”. The album’s austere arrangements and emotional directness again drew glowing reviews from the European music press with Holland & much of Scandinavia now joining in singing his praises.
In April 2002 Reekus released Perry’s studio album “California”. Recorded with a live band over a 12 day period in Belgium and co produced by Italian composer Marco Sabiu, the album draws comparisons with classic old Motown, using lush strings, brass and choral arrangements. It has always been difficult to find a box to put Blake’s music in, but with “California” he has made a record that is instantly recognisable as Perry Blake. A single from that album, Ordinary Day, was a hit on Irish radio. His last album on Reekus, Canyon Songs, was somewhat of a departure in style, with a distinctive country feel.
“Perry Blake is a musical maverick who is keeping pop safe for thinking people” (Hot Press).