the mike davies column june 2017


Some 31 years since they called it a day, THE MAN UPSTAIRS recently reunited, playing a packed Kitchen Garden Café to launch their rather belated debut album, Home From The Picnic (Firestation), original frontman Nigel Sewell aka Gerry Colvin joined by fellow founding member drummer Rupert Knowlden alongside second jazzier incarnation vocalist Carolyn Bennett and (then guitarist, now bassist) Tim Simpson and, on guitar, Mick Vousden, who joined the third and final incarnation after Sewell’s departure, replacing Alan Smyth, who went on to produce the Arctic Monkeys.

Man Upstairs Cover

During their brief three-year existence as a recording outfit, they released a single and a couple of EPs, but the tracks intended for an album have remained unreleased until now. The collection features 28 tracks (though, sadly, not their tongue in cheek homage to Housewives Choice, possibly because of BBC copyright on the tune), including the Smyth-penned debut single Sad In My Heart (a  lost torch jazz classic)  and Country Boy, quite possibly the only song to feature the word Swarfega, the percussive snap of the debut  EP lead track The Consumer Song (tune nodding to Peggy Lee’s Fever). The bulk, however, is seeing light of day for the first time, and, while one or two do show their age, most feel perkily fresh in their jazzy swing, particular highlights being Bennett’s samba swaying Raging Fool, the band-penned fingersnapper Cry Baby Cry, and, from Sewell, the jazzabilly Don’t Be Afraid of the Dentist, the brass coated No Smokes Without Fire (two versions thereof), the bass jiving You’ve Gotta Keep The Beat in Ballroom Dancing and, taking Paul Anka  on at his own game, album closer My Way. It’s good to finally have these out there and, just maybe,  a trip into the studios for something new might not be out of the question too.

After 20 years in California, ex-pat Matthew Edwards returned to his hometown of Birmingham and, being a songwriter, did what songwriters do and documented it in music. Hence Folkore  (Gare du Nord) by MATTHEW EDWARDS & THE UNFORTUNATES, part recorded at John Rivers’ legendary Woodbine studios in Leamington Spa and part in San Francisco, the band augmented by contributions from such stellar names as Dagmar Krause, Fred Frith and PJ Harvey keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman.

matthew ed

Opening with a track titled Birmingham, it’s a heady concoction that conjures thoughts of Robyn Hitchcock, Bowie and Editors, tight rhythms interwoven with spooked, moody melodies where cellos, theremin, harpsichord and (notably so on Lazy) farfisa organ intermingle with forceful guitars and insistent percussion.

The prowlingly sung loping title track has a mist hung hedgerows feel reminiscent of The Dancing Did, while, by contrast, the swirling sonics of When We Arrived At The Mountain  recall Bowie’s Berlin era/ I Can Move The Moon features crisp insistent clopping percussion and psychedelic as he bemoans losing touch with his spiritual side, “ from Genesis to dissolution in the blink of an eye”, recalling Hitchcock in his psychedelic Soft Boys days.

At the other end of the scale, The Willow Girl, underpinned by harpsichord and cello, is a reflective ballad  sung in hushed tones that harks back to the sort of baroque progressive folk of the late 60s explored by the likes of  Roy Harper, Meic Stevens and Comus, Then there’s the more intense, muscular psych noise of Song of Songs before they rock up the pace for the clatter along closing Bowiesque  number A Young Man.  Good to have him back.

Victories-at-Sea-A-Place-to-Stay

 VICTORIES AT SEA have been quite for a while, but return in terrific form with their A Place To Stay EP (Static Caravan), a near 30-minute five track collection of sonorous atmospherics with washes of pulsing electronica, percussion, keys and guitar that opens with the gradually swelling Litke with its wordless vocals throwing down a gauntlet to the likes of  Explosions In The Sky and Mogwai. Inspired by the state of anxiety that pervades today’s world, it’s an ambient tapestry of echoey mixed back vocals and massive widescreen keys and drums storms of sound, the machine gun drums, choral like backdrop and soaring vocals of Echoes contrasting with the slow, industrial, bass heavy slouch of Yellow Sky. Mirroring is a near six-minute engulfing swell and it ends on a literary nod with the cosmic surfing waves of  Aldous. This is tumultuous stuff.

lions2

 A Wolverhampton-based music and art collective headed up by songwriter Tim Baker, LIONS OF DISSENT  forge a dark, powerful sound on new release Feel The Bliss, a song about seeking salvation and peace of mind in a world of uncertainty that stalks along on the same sort of  steamrollering leviathan drum sound  to be heard on parts of The Wall while keyboards swirl around it. An album is in the works and, on this evidence, should prove well worth waiting for.

© roots-and-branches.com 2017