It’s been 34 years since THE BEAT released their last album, Special Beat Service, after which the band broke up with Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling going on to become General Public, Andy Cox and Dave Steel putting together Fine Young Cannibals and drummer Everett Morton and Saxa forming The International Beat. Things eventually fell apart on all fronts, Roger and Dave briefly reuniting for a third General Public album in 1995, the latter, based in the States fronting The English Beat, and the former releasing a couple of solo albums, forming The Special Beat with former members of The Specials and eventually reviving The Beat, recording an unreleased album in 2006.
However, now featuring son, Matthew Murphy (aka Ranking Junior), alongside saxman Chiko Hamilton (son of the late Andy Hamilton), guitarists Steve Harper and Bobby Bird, bassist Andy Pearson and, floating members, OCS’s Oscar Harrison and Fuzz Townshend on drums, they’ve got a new album, Bounce (DMF Records), that recalls their classic 80s sound, not least since opener Walking On The Wrong Side borrows somewhat from Mirror In The Bathroom. Indeed the whole album and its familiar rhythms sit comfortably alongside Wha’ppen without feeling dated, Busy Busy Doing Nothing Talkin’ About Her and Heaven Hiding terrific slices of chorus-friendly sunny ska pop, while Avoid The Obvious recalls the rude boy shuffle of Too Nice To Talk To and, introed by Hamilton, the dub beat Fire Burn harks to the band’s strong socio-political side as Ranking sings “when criminals of war attain more rights than victims, my god it's a shame, it's insane.”
Elsewhere there’s a tropical calypso lilt to On My Way, the shuffling Work Work Work, a showcase for Murphy, two tracks mixed by Dennis Bovell (the galloping blue beat Side to Side and the dub heavy My Dream) and, perhaps nodding to The Clash’s London Calling, album closer Close The Door. It’s a welcome return from a band that have never really been away and, to top it off, Wakeling’s releasing a new English Beat album next year too.
BONFIRE RADICALS are an intriguing new addition to the city’s folk scene, a six piece that lines up as Shankara Andy Bole on ‘eclectic’ 12 string, drummer Liam Halloran, lead singer Michelle Holloway, doing double duty on recorders, violinist Ruth Lindsay, chief writer Trevor Lines on bass and Katie Stevens on clarinets and kaval. The self-released Albino Peacock is their debut album and comprises a mix of band originals and trad tunes, the latter tucked away at the end of the album in the form of Polska and a near seven-minute I Wish (also known as I Died For Love), the former opening like something you might hear emanating from a yurt (although it’s actually Swedish) before heading into 60s jazz-folk territory that recalls both Gryphon and Stackridge, while the latter’s a brooding lament with Holloway backed by clarinet drone and funereal drums.
They’re an eclectic bunch. The bouzouki-tinged instrumental title track opener setting a sprightly 18th century (by way of the medieval) feel, it switches to a two-part interwoven mix of instrumental and vocal penned by Stevens (Coffee Countdown) and Lines (Pour Black Coffee On My Grave) respectively, an eastern flavoured prog-folk instrumental that Captain Beefheart might have fancied. By contrast Lines’ three-part suite Lucy Hampton’s Wedding is a far more English traditional affair, violin and recorders to the fore on Lucy Hampton’s Wedding Waltz before Holloway steps up for the slow marching vocal section, Lucy Hampton’s Wedding March, closing with violin again for Lucy Hampton’s Wedding Day.
Shifting the spectrum again, Bole’s contribution is the eastern European guitar instrumental Malo, followed by two further Lines numbers, the sprightly recorder and drums led fro-jig Fizzlesticker, a sort of morris dance for goblins, again reminiscent of Gryphon, and the violin and recorders-driven Snitterfield that suggests a waltz for people who have trouble keeping the beat. Finally, there’s Lindsay’s contribution, six-minute prog folk rock instrumental The Left-Hand Reel, although the reel aspect only kicks in towards the end, the rest more of a mournful air. Not immediate perhaps, but those prepared to give it the time to work will find much to reward.
Every now and then, an act coms along you want to claim as having discovered first. Sadly, I can make no such boast about Stourbridge four piece OF KINGS AND CAPTAINS, having stumbled across them on Brumradio.com where their Jack My Boy was deservedly on the A list. Driven by powerhouse drummer Kieran Lock, its one of five hugely melodic and catchy tracks on their Give Em Hell EP (a follow up to last year’s debut album Make It Easy) where their ‘high octane Pop-rock’ conjures various thoughts of Fall Out Boy, Blink- Day and The Clash. Fronted by singer-guitarist Luke Wassell, the line up also features Dean Greatbatch on bass and guitarist Joshua Lomas , the EP kicks off with the equally driving Ain’t Got The Heart and also include the swaggering When You’re Gone and, to show a slower side, acoustic stadium-sized ballad Hold On and, featuring a jittery drum rhythm, the tempo-shifting Get Even. There hasn’t been a major name out of Stourbridge since The Wonder Stuff in the 90s. This bunch are the next one.
Brumradio also led me to two new tracks from Birmingham singer ROBERT LANE whose Ends and Starts mini-album I reviewed earlier in the year. I felt then that, while good in parts, he needed to focus rather than try and embrace a wide gamut of styles, but I have no reservations about either the country-pop flavoured Get You (www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTifoEltatI)) or the more languid, piano-led ballad Own It (www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnnZkny_6Ug) on which the lead’s taken by co-writer of both songs, EMILY EWING. Which, in turn, led me to find out more about her. Originally from Birmingham, but now living in Worcester, she’s been around the local circuit for some while, but has since given up live work to concentrate on writing. She has a self-titled five track EP that’s well worth tracking down, a collection of ballads headed up by the breathily sung Fairytale where she reminds me somewhat of Judie Tzuke. She has a soft, sophisticated style more reminiscent of classic female singers of the late 70s and early 80s than today’s brasher crop, other numbers being the airy In Love and War with its vague trip hop feel, the ebb and flow Know This, a poppier, strings-embellished Merry Go Round and the more muscular swelling, pedal-steel streaked closer Powerhouse. It’s a couple of years since these appeared., so hopefully the collaboration with Lane marks her return to the recording studio in her own right too.