“Don’t expect any backup.” That’s the gist of a secret message sent during the Civil War to the commander at Vicksburg, Mississippi, the day the city fell to Union forces.
The note was never received and never even decoded until last year, when conservators at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond cracked the code.
The black absurdity of the message struck a chord for musicians Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave, collectively known as Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, who borrowed it for the title of their latest recording, No Help Coming (Transdreamer).
“It was a pointless message in the first place,” Golightly says. “If they’d have been able to break the code at the time it wouldn’t have made any difference. The city was in ruins.”
Gallows humor is a theme of the new album, and it has been a constant among the dozens of releases from prolific London-born singer Golightly, who cut her teeth on that city’s punk scene. She recently relocated to a hobby farm in Georgia, where we caught up with her.
Do you still collect vinyl? What kinds of stuff do you buy?
I don’t collect records anymore. I had a big collection, which I sold. I needed the money—I lived on a boat and it needed relining with steel. They weren’t bought as an investment, but it’s all I had. I was involved in London with the club scene and was into dancing years before I started making music. I started buying soul gospel 45s, and the more I got into it the more I wanted the choice records. I spent a lot of money, which is not very sensible, and got together this collection of ’60s soul and ’50s R&B.
Why American music? A lot of your recordings have very strong American roots, yet you’re from London.
Well, I think gospel music and early country music are really just hymns. I don’t think they come from a different source.
In England, most people grew up listening to the radio, and it was British radio that pioneered American black music, whereas it wasn’t played so widely in the States at that time. We had an affair with Motown that didn’t happen in America. We had an affair with Stax and Motown in the late ’60s, and that’s what raised us.
In the north of England, the “Northern Soul” phenomenon began with DJs flying to Philadelphia to bring back dance music.
What’s your recording process like?
We sit at the table and listen. We make the lyrics together, so if we’re doing something that’s a duet, we can both sing the words.
Dave has a studio here, and we travel around to interesting empty places nearby. Last time we borrowed a church. This time, we found this abandoned building with a huge sign that said ‘RAR.’ Of course, for us it became the ‘rock-and-roll’ building.
Do you bring other people into the sessions?
No, it’s just us. We don’t like people. We didn’t move out here to rural Georgia because we like people.
How’s the homestead coming? Are you self-sufficient, or working toward that?
We can get whatever we need from local farmers within a spit of the house. We’re really just dabbling because we have equine interests. The point for me was to have the space so that I could breed a horse that I’d wanted for a very long time, and so that I could ride locally. We did plant a vegetable garden. The watermelons did really well. That’s the only thing that grew.