Tribute to John Lever – “The Red-sided Garter Snakes”


The brain child of ex-Chameleons John Lever and Lisa Rankin, The Red-sided Garter Snakes are an ever evolving band, whose debut album “Endless Sea” (2015) and follow up album “Blue Lake” (2016) have been immaculately crafted, with contributions from some of Manchester’s finest musicians: With Greg Mathews (Bauer) on principle vocals, Michael Reed (Bauer/ Mutineers) on guitar, John Lever on drums, Andy Whitaker (The Sun & the Moon) on vocals/guitar, Andy Clegg (The Sun & the Moon) on guitar and guest vocals from Mary Joanna Coogan, The Red-sided Garter Snakes, are a band worth checking out.

The Red-sided Garter Snake albums have featured  creative input from James  Mudriczki (Puressence),  Paul Denheyer (Fish Monkey Man / Sunstack Jones), David Fielding (The Chameleons), Stephen Wilson (The Cornelius Crane), Simon Collier,  Paul Higham, Jonathan Jackson, Tom Hingley (Inspiral Carpets), Mark Winterburn (Edge Recording Studios), Ryan Smith and  Gordon Rankin.

The Red-sided Garter Snakes are more than just a band, they are a collective consciousness, a sort of  “Mancunian This Mortal Coil”, whose mesmerising music populates a stream of habitats, occupying lost forests, travelling through shadowy passages, delphian doorways, slithering through swamps, shedding skin and evolving through climatic conditions. They are an epic band, an abstract and sublime surge of energy that gravitates, radiates and renews through a series of rebirths. Engraved with The Chameleons DNA, The Red-sided Garter Snakes are native nomads, whose guitar and infused electronica, create an exotic and ethereal soundscape. Through the jangly, jagged riffs, The Red-sided Garter Snakes angle-grind through the murky dry ice, aside the Industrial clatter, cinematic interludes, Eastern scribbles, indigenous inscriptions and robust/thunderous beats.

However, from what has grown from the seeds of yesteryear, The Red-sided Garter Snakes now sadly enters a new chapter, following the untimely departure of John Lever. Forever in our beating hearts, John is a much loved figure whose legendary drumming and understated cool has left an indelible imprint on Manchester’s musical psyche. Although John Lever will primarily be remembered musically as the influential drummer from The Chameleons , all credit must be recognised  for his amazing catalogue of work with The Red-sided Garter Snakes. A band quickly gaining a reputation as a mesmerising live act, it’s from this point I have selected two songs from both “Endless Sea” and “Blue Lake”, out of respect, celebration and admiration for his long lasting legacy.

Taken from the debut album “ Endless Sea” (2015):

“Feel Alive” is an outstanding track, whose stunning vocals soar and elongate against the eastern, exotic soundscape. Through the sitar scribbles, jangly riffs and bolstering beats, Feel Alive  transcends into an underworld of translucent dream-pop, likened to Siouxsie and the Banshees and Cocteau Twins. What’s impressive about “Feel Alive”, is its free-flowing fluidity that effortlessly seduces and captivates its listener . Through the angelic tones of Coogan, “Feel Alive” soars to ethereal heights, spinning an invisible web, whilst standing her ground amongst the cacophonous clangs, prisms and drones.

“Crack in a Paper Cup” is ingeniously crafted, and its abstract soundscape synchronises with the sentiments of the song. Through its industrial jingles and jagged riffs, “Crack in a Paper Cup”, shatters precariously against the reverberating vocals. It’s a wavering, melodramatic work of art, whose neo-psychadelica is customised by the cinematic interludes, offering a poetic narrative. Along with the Fraser-esque backing vocals, “Crack in a Paper Cup”, broods and tiptoes, creating a phantom presence amongst the spectral synths.


Taken from the follow up album “Blue Lake” (2016):

With its oscillating synth, “She Sells”, ponders within the recesses, before taking off at full speed with its adrenaline fused drums pulsating at high velocity. It’s a brilliant track, whose jangly riffs antagonise against the slamming beats, casting shadows amongst the luminous loops. With the distinctive vocals and backdrop of new wave ambience, “She Sells” sits comfortably in the archives of classic post-punk, synth-pop and alternative rock which is ingeniously orchestrated to carry you windswept along a mutating horizon.

Through the new wave ambience and the Spanish-esque riffs, “The Black Horse” side-saddles and crashes against a poetic narrative, unravelling a stream of  emotions, encapsulated through the  lyrics: “…the snakes and vampires come and go…”. It’s a pensive number, a slow burner, which fans its flames against the cool breeze. Subtly cinematic,”The Black Horse” is steeped in brooding intensity that whirls and swirls like a dream sequence. Along with Matthew’s heart-felt vocals, “The Black Horse”, wallows in melancholy that emits a dark romanticism, which drifts into the realms of ethereal/goth rock.

R.I.P John Lever (1961- 2017) xxx