the mike davies column november 2016

mdc

Congratulations to country duo MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, and writer Lou Dalgleish in particular, for having their song No Matter What Tammy Said (I Won’t Stand By Him) named by Country Music People as one of the Top 50 country songs of the last 30 years. Personally, I’d have said the last 50 years, but hey.

harry jordan

Once again BrumRadio has been a source for discovering some names that had passed me by. HARRY JORDAN is actually Hayley Jordan (she adopted the masculine name in tribute to Debbie Harry), a feisty Birmingham rockabilly singer whose backing band includes Terry Lilley from Terry & Gerry on double bass. She’s already released one EP, Blowin Up Your Jukebox, comprising Birmingham Jail, the clattery Maggie May (not Rod’s, but the tale of a local ‘nasty rotten lass’) and the title track (oddly starting off sounding like you’re tuning in part way through) and there’s an album due early next year which will feature the train rattling rhythm of Magic 8 Ball, the bluesy rockabilly belter Bad Woman and, my favourite, the bad girl swampy twangsome Devil In A Push Up Bra. Can’t wait.

rooks

Although she no longer lives around these parts, ROOKS, alias songwriter Jenny Bulcraig, hails from Birmingham and earlier this year released debut EP The Game & The River via HeartInMouth Records. Featuring four numbers, it opens with the title track, the quietly sung guitar jangle and synth backed intro suddenly giving way to a scampering rhythm as it transforms into urgent bubbling alt-pop. The near six-minute God Knows is a contrast with its steady, metronomic rhythm and hushed, breathy, almost hymnal vocals gradually swelling to a crescendo and fade. At times she reminds me of Annie Lennox and the same’s true on the tempo switching krautrock styled rhythms of The Heel of My Hand which has more of an R&B influence, while the lovely cascading ballad Sidelines, with its samples, hisses and beats, perhaps nods to Bat For Lashes. We’ll be hearing much more of her, mark my words.

jessica

Though now based in Oxford, JESSICA LAW comes from Wolverhampton and, working as a trio with Nick Siepmann on guitars, bass, percussion and, cello and Rachel Hughes on piano, with herself handling mandolin and resonator mandolele, she trades in what she terms dieselpunk, which roughly translates as the dark folk numbers that comprise her recent six track mini-album All The Sad Stories. Although Kate Bush is rather apparent on the tinkling, cobwebby Death Insurance, Law cites Beth Jeans Houghton among her influences, something more readily apparent on the tango rhythms of Polite while, elsewhere, All The Sad Stories conjures a sort of Clannadesque folk and the carnival waltzing No Damage has cabaret colours. She has a versatile and intriguing voice that warrants far wider exposure than she presently receives.

cool

RICKY COOL has been a fixture on the Birmingham live scene for decades, initially with the Icebergs back in the 70s and subsequently fronting any number of combos, including the Rialtos, Big Town Playboys and the Hoola Hoola Boys. These days he’s the leader of six-outfit the IN CROWD, the line up of which includes double bassist John Potter whose background includes The Wide Boys, Special Clinic and The Toy Hearts, and Nigel Darvill, well remembered to us old hacks as keyboard player for Mean Street Dealers. Not to mention being dad to Arthur (Doctor Who/Legends of Tomorrow) Darvill. They play a cocktail of New Orleans, Texas and Chicago rhythm and blues and early Jamaican ska served up on new album Flamingo Nights, the title track a homage to the legendary Soho nightclub of the 50s and 60s, the birthplace of the Mods. A mix of covers and originals, the former kick off with Sounds Like Locomotion, an instrumental written and originally recorded by Sounds Incorporated in 1962 and previously covered by Cool on the Hoola Hoola Boys live album, then, following the ska-styled title track, comes Must I Holler, a more uptempo, organ driven version of an R&B number written and recorded by Jamo Thomas in 1971.

The best known of the covers will inevitably be a faithful reading of Booker T’s Time Is Tight, but also in there you’ll find The Skatellites You’re Wondering Now (previously covered by The Specials), Delroy Wilson’s blue beat hit I’m In A Dancing Mood, Muddy Waters’ I Feel So Good, a Tornados-like take on Lonnie Mack instrumental Wham, a ska rework of Morricone’s The Good, The Band and The Ugly, taken at a slower pace than previous similarly styled versions by The Scofflaws and Ennio Ska, and Bobby Parker’s 1958 Get Right which recalls both vintage Georgie Fame and early Manfred Mann.

The others are all Cool originals, the loping ska/r&b fusion My Kind of Party, the jaunty harmonica led calypsoish The Coconut Question and the playful Estrellita, which can only be described as ska mariachi. As Dobie Gray put it, if you want a good time you need to be in with the In Crowd.

Broken Witt Rebels by Rob Blackham 3

Rapidly earning rep as one of the best live bands around, BROKEN WITT REBELS, the Birmingham four piece comprising frontman Danny Core, bassist Luke Davis, James Dudley on drums and lead guitarist James Tranter, have a new self-released five-track EP, Georgia Pine, that confirms their prowess in the studio too. It’s not hard to discern the influences, ranging from Led Zep and Thin Lizzy on this side of the pond, as embodied in Low, and, as heard on the slow soulful chugging Suzie, Southern blues rock like The Black Crowes, Lynyrd Skynrd and The Black Keys on the other, although perhaps Core’s rasping throaty warble most calls to mind Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon or Gary Stringer out of Reef.

BWR album

The EP’s a solid balance, opening with the heavy blues of Low with its Plant-like speak-sing delivery and ranging between the title track’s country infused soulfulness (on which Davis ably demonstrates his chops), the stripped down five minute blues moaning ballad Getaway Man and the more uptempo, punchy and indie rock closer Gun. Expect 2017 to be their year.

YOU KNOW THE DRILL are a five-piece pop punk outfit in the manner of Weezer, New Found Glory and their ilk and Losing Streak is the debut EP, surging out of the traps with the big chorus, mosh friendly Peer Pressure before surging forwards on propulsive drums with Less Than You, another number about teenage alienation and feeling lost in the world and the pressures it brings to bear. Heads Up is slightly poppier, the stabbing guitars unexpectedly giving way to a brief respite from the charge with the line “I let my demons inside” sung over acoustic guitar, drum machine and piano before renewing the flurry.

You-Know-The-Drill

The biggest surprise, however, comes after the mid tempo 411, the EP closing with Repose, a song themed around death, which starts out on a simple acoustic guitar and vocal before it too plugs into the sonic wall of which the other numbers are built. Inevitably, perhaps, for a debut release, they go for a core sound and style that offers a little variation between the tracks, but there’s enough hints here to suggest they’re more than capable of developing and expanding as they progress.

jaws

The third of the so-called B-Town trinity, alongside Swim Deep and Peace, JAWS were the last of the three to release their debut album and are now also the last to produce a second. Simplicity (Rattlepop) marks no major changes from Be Slowly in that, opening with Just A Boy, it offers a further helping of their swirly, keyboards-dominated dreampop with its fuzzy, chiming guitars, the lyrics frequently drowned in the wash of echoes in which the vocals are set, often feeling as though you’re listening underwater. What does emerge, however, the further into the album you get, is how akin to a surf-drenched Pet Shop Boys they are often beginning to sound, particularly on Right In Front Of Me and the gently undulating 17.

Interlude is, as the title suggests, an instrumental transition between the two halves of the album, although the only striking difference between the two is that the marching beat Work It Out has more of hushed shoe-gazing narcotic ambience evocative of Dean Wareham and that the words to A Brief Escape From Life are more discernible than most. The Invisible Sleep ends things on a turbulent note that belies its title as it works its way a distorted climax of an album that plays to the band’s strengths, but never really seeks to explore beyond them.

guy jones

Now living in Halesowen, but originally from Great Barr, GUY JONESis a folk-country troubadour of the Petty/Springsteen persuasion, his current release being the Kicking Stones album. Recorded in Brooklyn with various session musicians and also featuring fellow Birmingham singer-songwriter Kerry Smythe, it opens on the easy rolling acoustic Down Right Easy before cranking things up slightly for Better Ones with its ringing electric guitar, organ and cascading chords. Ringing changes throughout without moving too far from its core, the title track is a mid tempo dusty scuffed shuffle, Girl of 93 and When Summer Comes Around tender fingerpicked ballads, Sky High more inclined to the 80s country rock of a Don Henley and Little Guys a stadium roots rocker with a scorching guitar solo. It ends with My Town, a tribute to childhood Great Barr friends that filters Petty, Bryan Adams and maybe a little Bob Seger that brings a solid album to a solid close and makes you wonder why he’s not far better known than he is.

roots-and-branches.com 2016