Now billing himself as The Legendary Voice of UB40 (the case regarding illegal use of the UB40 name coming to court this month), ALI CAMPBELL reunites with former band members Astro and Mickey for Silhouette (Cooking Vinyl), a collection of new numbers and reggaeed covers that sounds like, well, UB40. Sticking to a tried and tested formula, the album kicks off with an infectious version of The Beatles Any Time At All (though the promo lists it as Anytime At All) while the other covers take in a nicely three piece brass furnished version of Dylan’s I Want You and obscure Chi-Lites B side Yes I’m Ready. As was often the case with UB40, some covers came via past reggae interpretations rather than the originals directly and the same’s true here with I’m Missing You, which leans on the Lee Roy Gibbons lovers rock version which turned Lionel Richie’s tribute to Marvin Gaye into a straightforward love song, and the title track, which adopts the 1970 Dennis Brown reading of the 1957 doo wop hit for The Rays (originally covered here by Herman’s Hermits), though, in the interests of accuracy, it should be noted that the song’s actual title is Silhouettes. Such slapdash carelessness also extends to I Want You being credited to LL Cool J in the sleeve notes!
There’s also two direct reggae covers with The Pioneers’ Sha-La-La and Ernie Smith’s Ride On Sammy, although the latter’s only available on the iTunes version, while the album’s seventh non-original, Tomorrow On My Shoulder, is actually a previously unpublished song about fatherhood written by Campbell clan patriarch, Ian, when Ali had his own first son.
The remaining tracks are all self-penned, ranging from the social commentary of Cyber Bully Boys, an attack on Internet trolls, and the loping Who Will Remember Them, with lines about “the innocent faceless multitude whose lives were lost for us” sounding like it could have been inspired by the WWI commemorations, to the self-explanatory celebration of Reggae Music, the lilting lovers rock Our Love and the missing you romantic memories of Fajian Sunset.
It’s a long way from the cutting edge and politically charged days of Signing On, but for those faithful fans who’ve long yearned for a return to the sweet pop reggae vibe of Labour of Love, this is an answer to their prayers.
Lining up as Dave Kusworth, Simon Cartwright, Mark Lemon and Carl Bevan, fuelled by the classic rock n roll of the Faces, Neil Young and The Stones, alongside names like The Great Outoors, The Mighty Lemon Drops and The Primitives, Birmingham’s THE RAG DOLLS were one of the leading local lights of the so called C86 guitar band movement. However, unlike others, they never got the exposure or breaks to move beyond local hero status and remain an unjustly forgotten stepping stone between Nikki Sudden’s split with The Swell Maps and Kusworth’s from The Subterranean Hawks and their coming together as The Jacobites. Indeed, several of the Rag Dolls numbers actually wound up in The Jacobites’ repertoire, both live and on record.
Those ‘missing years’ are now being restored to their rightful place in musical history courtesy of Seventeen Reecords, the label tributary of the What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen fanzine, run by Chris Coleman and John Purcell. Very much a labour of love and a desire to give recognition where it’s due, Such A Crime is an 18 track collection of Rag Dolls recordings trawled from cassette demos, live shows, rehearsals and radio sessions. Indeed, the first eight numbers were actually laid down in March 1984 at Beacon Radio in Wolverhampton for the rock show I presented at the time.
Kicking off with the title track, Bevan’s rapid fire drumming laying down the beat, Cartwright’s nasal delivery a mix of vigour and snide, they also feature Pin Your Heart To Me, their classic song that would go on to become a Jacobites single, the stabbing Don’t Try, Lady Lady, a swaggering Stones meet Lou Reed meet The Ramones Rock ‘n’ Roll Club Dance, What You Don’t Know (You Won’t See), the cascading acid pop Lucky Smiles and, again underscoring their chiming Velvets influences, the still terrific Streets Of Gold.
Prior to my sessions, in 1982 the band had recorded in Leamington, I assume at Woodbine with John Rivers behind the desk, from which come four tracks, jangling psychedelic pop ballad Sparrows, a rocky Do Anything, a brass flavoured version of Such A Crime and Snow White, another number that would be later recorded by The Jacobites.
Three numbers were laid down in Birmingham the following year (no idea where), Nine Times Out of Ten, a snare hissing bubblegum pop Fadeaway and an earlier version of Lucky Smiles with a keyboard intro. The remaining tracks consist of a 1984 live version of Fortune and Fame and rehearsal recordings of the midtempo chugging Silken Sheets and a punky, sax accompanied Vanity Box. Remastered by John Rivers with the cover and booklet designed by former Subterranean Hawks member Dave Twist, not all of it may stand the test of time but it’s a welcome and overdue tribute to one of the too long unsung names in Birmingham’s musical heritage.
Formerly from Quinton and now based in Kidderminster, THE HUMDRUM EXPRESS is basically Ian Passey who trades in “Acerbic acoustic pop. Up-tempo exasperation, poetic put-downs and bitter-sweet tales of delusion.” With four albums (All Aboard, Little Victories, Elevation Of Trivia and Clone Town Blues) already to his name, he’s just released new single Cryptic Self Pity (Cynical Thrills), a song he describes as “an infectious slice of baffled amusement contemplating Movember, hipster beards, twitter condolences, branded pint glasses, arboretum gigs, psychic meeting attendees and teenagers who listen to Phil Collins...” Not to mention Harry Redknap. With spoken verses and sung chorus over a sort of krautrock beat, it’s witty (“I once wrote an open letter to Channel 4 but sadly sealed it before posting”), sardonic and, yes, cynical, sporting such influences as John Cooper Clarke, Half Man Half Biscuit and The Fall (though he also cites The Clash, The Specials and The Jam) it sort of fades away rather than ends when you feel (even at just under five minutes) it needs an extra verse to wrap things up, but this is well worth a listen, especially for those who reveled in the caustic commentaries of the younger Miles Hunt.
Chesyln Hay hasn’t exactly been noted as a spawning ground for musical talent, but that looks set to change with the arrival of Taking Time (Solrpony Muzik), the debut album by ARRAN PAGE. He cites David Gray, Dylan and Jeff Buckley among his influences, though you’re more likely to hear Ed Sheeran, and Nizlopi’s Luke Concannon in Page’s slightly mannered quivering vocal delivery and husked tones, a warm, intimate yearning that brings resonance to the album’s themes of time and impermanence.
Opening with recent single, All I Ask, a gently tumbling take me as I am love song with a catchy chorus, it offers 10 tracks of acoustic based songwriter pop, Page backed by Matt Jones on bass guitar and piano and drummer Jack Stuart. He features a handful of uptempo numbers with the bluesy, bass anchored This Is Not A Love Song, the busking shuffle OK Now, a stompingly jaunty When The Wind Gave Up Its Job and the strummed Zero with its Velvets-like bassline, but it’s arguably on slower, more reflective songs like She, the haunting Melissa and Thank God I Don’t Believe where he shines best.
He’s looking to make an impression in an already crowded field, but, bolstered by live work (he seems to be a semi-regular at the Red Lion in Shirley), his distinctive voice and heartfelt well-crafted songs, not to mention the fact that, with his van dyke beard, he has a passing resemblance to Johnny Depp, he could easily plough a paddock of his own.
Reformed in 2011, following the death of original bassist Steve Dullaghan, Coventry sparkle-pop crew THE PRIMITIVES released comeback album, Echoes and Rhymes, in 2012. However, fine though it was, it was a purely covers affair featuring lesser known female-fronted songs. So, the good news is that they’ve just released their first collection of all new self-penned material in 23 years with Spin-O-Rama (Elefant). The even better news is that it’s utterly fabulous.
Crammed with fizzing guitars, ebullient drums and killer melodies more infectious than Ebola, with sugar and lemon drop voiced Tracy Tracy sounding like a teenager having her first musical rush, it wastes no time, kicking off with the title track, a giddy burst of euphoric bubble gum pop with a plinkety guitar break that is ascloseasthis to being every bit as good as the classic Crash. Nor is it a one-burst firework, as Hidden In The Shadows, the psychedelic pop Wednesday World (with Paul Court on vocals), Lose The Reason, Working Isn’t Working (Court again), tumbling call and response duet Lose The Reason, the steady mid-tempo beat of Dandelion Seed and the glorious Petals all making you feel like you’re in the middle of an explosion in a sherbet factory.
However, they do pause for breath now and again with the rhythm stuttering Mod pop Follow The Sun Down, Court’s summery cosmic swirls ballad Purifying Tone and, musical wordplay title fully intended with a worldless lyric that consists mostly of sha-la la, the acid hazed Velvet Valley. A time machine back to the mid-80s, the album ends on a jangling guitar reprise of the chorus line from the title track, with Tracy intoning Let’s Go Round Again. Absolutely.
Not accompanied by what you might call overkill publicity, PEACE slipped out new single, Lost On Me, a month back, the third taster (Money and World Pleasure, featuring frontman Harrison rapping, having enjoyed a similar under the radar release) of their highly anticipated second album. Decidedly baggy disco in sensibility (think Happy Mondays with some extra funky guitar work) it’s very much about the groove with some sweeping keys and sharp guitar hooks suggesting that, while they may never win any Novellos, they’ll be keeping the indie dance floors busy for some time yet.