Dan O'Farrell & The Difference Engine

When I was younger so much younger than today I had a collection of children’s books by an American author called Richard Scarry. I remember owning “Best Word Book Ever” and “The Please and Thank You Book”. They featured some unique artwork along with a worm called ‘Lowly’ in a green hat and a red bow tie, who popped up randomly across all the pages of Richard’s books. At the ripe old age of 50 I had totally forgotten about these books until the latest album by Dan O’Farrell & The Difference Engine landed on my doormat and the album is entitled “Richard Scarry Lied To Me”. My first thoughts are, is this shocking revelation true and why is Dan picking on the author who passed away in 1994. Well, I had to listen to the album to find out what this nonsense is all about, in a way I am somewhat glad it’s Richard Scarry as I could not cope if it was Roald Dahl.

Dan O’Farrell is the former frontman of Southampton band ‘Accrington Stanley’ and this is the third album with this band ‘The Difference Engine’ which features Rick Foot on double-bass and also former member of “Accrington Stanley” Chris Walsh on drums. The band recorded the album with a series of complete live takes at Eastleigh’s “Factory Road Studios”, overseen by Rob Sansome. Andy Lewis then added his sonic artistry to these raw recordings and spent a week in Southampton working with Dan in his shed to overdub guitars, backing vocals, harmonicas, percussion and handclaps. Nancy Tomkins dropped by to add gorgeous flute to “Slow Magic” and Chris, Rick and Rufus Grig sent files via email to add to the mix. Andy then mixed the album at home in London and then the whole thing was beautifully mastered by Mike Thorne at “Rimshot Studios”. The plan was originally to wait until after Covid-19 was over and give this album a big launch night somewhere; but then Dan thought life’s too short and the songs were relevant now, so it was decided to launch the album in early December.

Dan explains “Richard Scarry Lie to Me” “is an attempt to write something a little more upbeat and outgoing after the deep political angst of their first eponymous LP, and the state-of-the-planet sadness of their second album These Dark Ages Are Hurting All The People That We Love. I feel we have “partially succeeded” in the upbeat stakes (you can take the boy out of misery, but you can’t take the misery out of the boy…) but I’m also very proud of our songs; the variety of moods and the sound that we have achieved through working with Andy Lewis who has brought a confidence, a sparkle and a gifted guiding ear to proceedings”. The album’s inspiration is also discussed by Dan, who to puts the record straight “there may be a generation gap here…but if you grew up in the 70s there is a high chance that your parents thrust a Richard Scarry book under your nose so you could find “Lowly Worm” on every page. The books are delightful – brightly coloured depictions of anthropomorphised animals working in perfectly harmonious societies. A 4 year-old me particularly loved “What Do People Do All Day”. Which seemed to promise a utopian vision of urban life. The world used to seem safer/organised and fair…But Richard Scarry lied to me/it’s broken beyond repair, the utopia hasn’t arrived yet. And Lowly Worm is dead in the bottom of a Tequila bottle”.

The album features fourteen tracks taking on a variety of topics, along with plenty of subtle influences from a host of artists and bands. It all kicks off with upbeat opener “Here It Comes” and right there and throughout is Dan’s ever-reliable vocals; like a comfy pair of slippers, it fits perfectly with its surroundings. It has more than a nod to The Beatles with its recognisable layered guitar sound, which also features some notable saxophone work by Alfie Grig. “Dear Life” sees Dan keeping things real and desperately holding on through these treacherous times, singing the vocal amid the wonderfully flowing piano and double bass.

“Slow Magic” is a flowery burst of positivity with an infectious flute from Nancy Tomkin, along with the chuckling banjo and harmonica of Andy Lewis. A gem of a song with the power to uplift, which is clearly needed in these current distressing times. Track four “I Am Afraid” is where Dan lists all the things that scares him. The lyrics cleverly jump from tongue-in-cheek moments to more serious issues. The track is where the album got its name from where Dan declares “Richard Scarry Lied to Me, it’s broken beyond repair”. The album’s lead single “What Do I Know?” sees the band trying out some different textures with rhythmic Boss Nova beats, coupled with some delicately delivered acoustic guitar.

“Hedgehog” is a gentle 2 minutes 22 lullaby where the prickly creature is used as a metaphor for stating how we sometimes all feel. The ability to roll in a ball and shut out the world when the need arises. Here Rick Foot’s cello-like bowed double-bass has us gently drifting off into a sublime dreamland. The joyous ‘In The Sun’ snaps you out of the imaginary ball you have wrapped yourself in, with Rufus Grig’s vitalizing piano and Rick Foot’s backing vocals just showing the band’s skilful strengths. The album takes a much more serious turn during “Extinction Man”; clearly the darkest song on the album, which was written at the height of the extinction rebellion protests last Summer and opens with a mess of suburban noise. The band create an atmospheric gem producing some stunning moments of creativity, a tune I am really looking forward to hearing live. (if we ever get the chance!!)

Dan O'Farrell & The Difference Engine

“Wipe My Mind” is a little reminiscent of the Johnny Cash train track shuffle, while ‘Fill My Lungs’ acts as a sonic book-end to earlier track “Hedgehog”. “Resignation Song” Dan explains “is a first-world problem to be sure, but being a deeply unpopular singer-songwriter in end-of-days Britain can grind a man down. We take a riff-laden stroll off the leash; and are proud to have finally used the ‘bald man at the barbers’ line he has been saving since my follicles deserted me, many years ago”. “Tempus Fugitive” shows the band once again getting creative with some impressive effect-laden electric guitar work, showing that they can rock when they want to. As we begin to wrap things up the usually politically charged self-confessed lefty Dan (sorry I meant to keep politics out of this article, but I did it well until track 13) couldn’t resist to writing a song out of the last remnants of the shitstorm we call Brexit, detailing the sadness of closed borders and lonely helplessness. Notably Andy Lewis’s mellotron strings add some dramatic atmosphere to proceedings. Final track “Tame Atlantics” has a nautical feel with seagulls in the background and with gentle waves lapping at the shore. A sort of calm before the storm moment, not really feeling like the end – more like the beginning.

At a time when we all need a distraction; this is a set of recordings that has the ability to entertain, while sowing various seeds of thought into our brains about many relevant current affairs. It’s an album that shows a huge amount of effort has been put in in all areas during very difficult circumstances, with excellent results.

Dan O'Farrell & The Difference Engine

Here it Comes
Dear Life
Slow Magic
I Am Afraid
What Do I Know
In The Sun
Extinction Man
Wipe My Mind
Fill My Lungs
Resignation Song
Tempus Fugitive
No Deal
Tame Altantics


Words by David Chinery (Chinners).

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