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With only a Radio 2 session to precede it, the debut album from brothers Michael and David Champion appeared like a bolt out of the blue. And for believers in the environmental influence on music, it makes sense the Champions hail from the hamlet of Niton outside the Victorian seaside enclave of Ventnor on the Isle Of Wight, as Down Like Gold sounded beautifully out of time and place, even with artists they could call peers. Combining elder brother Michael’s exquisitely melodic, intensely dreamy and persuasively heartbreaking songs with their folk-pop leanings, his affecting vocal timbre, David’s empathic lead guitar and reinforcing harmonies that only siblings seem able to make, the album was a unique statement - much like the wordVamala, which fell out of Michael’s mouth as he was singing along to a new tune. “It had a nice ring, like a Croatian girl’s name,” he thought.
Second albums always test an artist’s strength in depth, and the 12 tracks that constitute Vamala reach higher and wider than even its sublime predecessor: the up-tempo tracks are punchier (for example the lead single Desire and the title track) while the ballads are sparser and more haunting (head for Forever Be Standing at the Door and Roll Me Out), the sound altogether richer. It proves that Champs were right to make some brave choices. Down Like Gold was produced by friends (brothers too), Jim and Rob Homes (aka Boe Weaver), at Studio Humbug, an old water tower belonging to Osborne House, Queen Victoria's island retreat. To initiate progress, Champs decamped to London for the new recordings.
Vamala remains a definitive Champs record, beautifully rendered and resolutely melancholic. If the album is rooted in love, it’s not just for people. The Isle of Wight is a regular presence. ‘Roll Me Out’, a pure folk ballad stripped right back to voice, acoustic guitar and a spot of whistling, documents Michael’s love of surfing: “it really helps when I’m stressed,” he says. “It’s a metaphor: “roll me out into the blue”.” ‘Blood’ and ‘Balfron Tower’ mirror the conflicting feelings of home. Michael lived with his German girlfriend for a time at Balfron Tower, a classic ‘brutalist’ tower block in East London: “It was quite bleak and miserable, and I got so sick of it, I decided to leave. Back at the island, everything felt clean and pure again. The song is my apology.”