Poet laureate Simon Armitage launches 'ambient post-rock' band

Most modern poets laureate have released recordings of their work, but none hitherto has put out an album billed as providing “ambient post-rock passages, jazz flourishes and atonal experimentalism”. But that’s the latest direction for the current incumbent, Simon Armitage.

Armitage and his band LYR, which includes musician Richard Walters and producer and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Pearson, have signed to “post-classical” label Mercury KX, with their first single, Never Good With Horses, out on Friday, and their debut album Call in the Crash Team to follow in the spring.

“We’re lining up some shows as well,” said Armitage. “Or as they call them in this business, gigs.” LYR will be appearing on 9 March in Leeds, and 10 March in London.

Armitage said the songs on the first album started as “sort-of poems, hybrid things between songs and lyrics and poems”.

“I quite often read them at events, but I think they were reaching out for tunes and musical setting,” he said. “This allows me to indulge an aspect of lyricism which is generally not available on the printed page.”

Never Good With Horses, in which the poet’s downbeat recitation is joined by awkward keyboards, impassioned vocals and soaring strings, evokes the sadness at the end of a relationship. “That phrase ‘Never Good With Horses’ just drifted into my head one day and the whole thing just fell out of the title, like a venetian blind,” said Armitage. “The speaker is a woman describing her disenchantment with a partner who exhibits traditional male characteristics of insensitivity and a lack of empathy.”

Never Good With Horses by LYR

The poet described LYR’s music as “electronica, ambient, spoken word by definition – something quite genuinely hybrid”, with all 10 tracks adopting the perspective of a different fictional character. “They’re monologues or soliloquies from people in personal crises,” he said. “They’ve all been written since 2008, which probably has some bearing on that.”

Armitage said he was not the only poet laureate to have released music, citing John Betjeman’s 1974 album Banana Blush – although Betjeman subsequently dismissed it as a “vulgar pop song record, a serious lapse in taste”. He also proposed a new party game, where players suggest the kind of band former laureates might have performed with: “Tennyson in some sort of grunge band, maybe.”

But even though his voice features on Call in the Crash Team, the poet insisted he has no intention of breaking into song. “My singing days are over,” he said.


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