William Topley, born and bred in England, nurtured on a diet of blues and rock and roll, has been building a seriously dedicated fan base in the U.S. ever since the release of Prince of the Deep Water in 1991, his first album with his band The Blessing. Producer Neil Dorfsman (Sting, Dire Straits) described him as “the most original songwriter I’ve heard for years.” The influences, still recognisable in his music, were already there - The Stones, Van Morrison, the best of soul and southern rock. Topley was on his way. The album catapulted The Blessing into a world tour, videos in Jamaica, TV stations in Paris and hockey stadiums in Germany with Simply Red and Level 42.
Legendary Rolling Stones Producer Jimmy Miller, who produced The Blessing’s second album Locusts and Wild Honey, was equally enthusiastic. “They’re right up my alley. I haven’t had such a good relationship with a band since Traffic.”
Ever looking for new challenges, Topley decided to go solo for his next album, the atmospheric Black River. And again the fan base grew. Producer Barry Beckett said of Topley: “He’s the best singer I’ve ever heard.” Not bad, coming from a guy who’s worked with Aretha Franklin and Paul Simon.
Next came Mixed Blessing, on which Topley worked with guitarist/songwriter Dominic Miller, best known for his work with Sting. “It’s only a matter of time,” says Dominic about Topley. “Watch this space!”
His next album, Spanish Wells, saw Topley straight off a US tour and straight into the studio. For the first time, Topley blended the premeditated song writing process with the excitement of live musicians making it all happen. “It took me until now to understand the cryptic comment ‘It’s all in the joy of discovery,’ that Jimmy [Miller] made years ago,” says Topley.
And that’s what Feasting with Panthers was about. The songs, written on and off the road, were a journey of discovery, painted against a big sky… tracing the southern states down the coastline across the Triangle into the Caribbean and the patois melting pot… taking a white ship down to Portobello Bay.
The album, ‘Sea Fever”, whose title track is based on the poem by John Masefield, was once again recorded with his band, (Luke Brighty – guitar, James Eller – bass, Jim Kimberley – drums, Mark Taylor – keyboards) and also features a cameo performance by guitar legend Mark Knopfler, who says of Topley: “He’s big-hearted, emotional and strictly legit.”
Sea Fever was recorded over a period of time in studios ranging from William’s own home set up to Steve Winwood’s palatial room, via The Blessing’s old standby in Woolwich, Studio 99. As with Feasting With Panthers the material ranges far and wide in both music and lyrics, from ‘Brian Jones’ (a tribute to the Rolling Stones) to the ballad ‘Step Inside Love’.
Once more the songs reflect William’s love of the Caribbean, travel in all it’s senses both physical and spiritual as well as the temptations of life, emotional and sensual. It is at once cynical and yet also darkly optimistic culminating in a unique sounding project that stands up to multiple listenings as it reveals more and more with each play.
The sound is muscular and sensitive, with the band providing a suitably robust backing over which Topley’s vocals soar and growl emoting each carefully crafted lyric with a combination of dark rum and bitter sweet reminiscence of journeys taken. Listen to Sea Fever now for a taste of what Luke Lewis, President of Lost Highway, calls “contemporary British blues rock at its best”.