It’s not the first time it’s been done, This Bird Has Flown being issued a decade ago and featuring the likes of Cowboy Junkies, Sufjan Stevens and Dar Williams, but, officially launched as part of the Kings Heath Walk Of Fame's Christmas Party on the afternoon of Sunday 6 December at Fletchers Bar on York Road, Rubber Soul Rebound is a 50th anniversary tribute to the classic Beatles album. The brainchild of joint Walk of Fame organisers Bob Prew and Ken Whittaker, recorded at Highbury Studios with Rob Peters behind the desk and limited to just 500 copies, it features a bunch of local artists providing their interpretations of the 14 songs.
Projects of this type can be very uneven in terms of quality and approach, but it’s good to say that, while I personally find Tim Walkerdine’s delivery of Norwegian Wood a little vocally over emphatic, the standard of interpretations and performances is very high. The roster is a mix of the relatively familiar and acts that might be little known in Birmingham itself, let alone the wider region. Abi Budgen (she of the Miracle Tonic) is the first of the former, opening proceedings with Dan Wilkins on Drive My Car, her vocal all sultry Southern belle. Undoubtedly, the best known name here is Trevor Burton whose jangling acoustic version of If I Needed Someone harks to the 60s folk-pop of Dylan and The Byrds, while, in a similar vein, Boat To Row’s Michael King gives I’m Looking Through You a pastoral folksy makeover burnished with strings as it takes flight into the clouds. There’s two other ‘veterans’ of the Birmingham scene, with (Rob) Peters & Dog offering a strummed guitar take of Girl that mirrors the original, albeit with an added wah wah blues guitar solo, and erstwhile Fuzzbox VIX and her MsChiefs providing one of the standouts with a beautifully vocally controlled cover of Nowhere Man, the band providing street corner harmonies behind her. Meanwhile, David Garside rests his orchestral pop sound for a stripped back, slightly jazzy intimate voice and acoustic guitar reading of Michelle.
There’s two other similarly ‘faithful’ covers, The Eggmen (featuring members of local Celick rock outfit the Holy Showband as opposed to the Austin-based Beatles tribute band of the same name) offering You Won’t See Me and, from Sutton Coldfield’s Acoustica, Steve Birkett on steel string acoustic and Bill Hudd on classical guitar for a lovely world-weary In My Life.
Interestingly, it’s the lesser known, more obscure names that provide the reimaginings and interpretations, no more so than (Jack) Goodall who takes The Word and gives it a schizophrenic breakdown that swings between deadpan spoken robofunk with parping minimalist synth and fingerclicks and bursts of full blown piano pop variously punctuated by Thelonius Monk style avant garde jazz piano trills. Slightly more sedate, filtering Carole King and Kate Bush, Eleanor Dattani gets behind the piano to turn Wait into a terrific show tune while Hannah Brown channels early Baez on her strummed anthemic 60s protest folk cover of What Goes On. I’m also utterly enamoured with the watery guitar, piano backed, quivering vocal moody-folk rework of George Harrison’s Think For Yourself by Moseley four-piece Sylvia (from whom new music is well overdue) that could have come from the darker shadows of late 60s Laurel Canyon.
The album ends on a major Run For Your Life rowdy party with everyone involved getting together and taking turns on the lyrics as The Rubber Band with a guest turn on guitar from Steve Ajao. Obviously, nothing here eclipses the original versions (though a few give them a run for their money), but it’s can certainly hold its head high in triumph. Now,, next year Revolver?
Copies of can be bought on-line at https://kingsheathwalkoffame.bandcamp.com/album/rubber-soul-rebound
or from Polar Bear Records on York Road in Kings Heath.
Described as maximalist cosmic voyagers in the publicity blurb, FREE SCHOOL are a sort of Birmingham pop-dance answer to Daft Punk with echoes of Faithless wafting round in the background. With producers Andrew Porteous and Stephen Alcock as the bedrock (and the writers), the debut album, Dancing On The Dark (Static Caravan) enlists a collection of local vocal collaborators, each bringing different colours to the variety of styles Thus, Tomlin Mystic from local reggae outfit Friendly Fire Band conjures thoughts of Seal or Finlay Quaye while French Cousins, which features the band’s live singer Greg Bird, nods to Saturday Night Fever era disco by way of Scissor Sisters. Tomlin Mystic returns, this time alongside Katy Prado, for Major Crimes which brings reggae flavours to a Human League mood, while Bird has three further appearances, taking the falsetto spotlight on a Mobyesque Ugly Kids and joining forces with wonktronic outfit Maps for the throbbing march beats of Good People, a track reprised in blessed out mode for a further seven near as dammit minutes closer. He also pairs with rising star MC Sigmund Freud on End Time Ministries, his serene vocals providing a contrast to the latter’s metronomic spoken delivery that prompts thoughts of some Roger Waters rap number.
The remaining two numbers are just the duo at work, Don’t Make Your Life So Hard, an 80s clubber that samples E.W. Wainwright’s jazz classic The Healer/Don’t Break, and the euphoric come down instrumental Hudson’s Whistle, adding a classy finishing touch to one of the year’s best nu-disco offerings.
Recorded over two years at Highbury Studios, I Found You Here (Nocturne) is the debut album by Birmingham folk five piece BOAT TO ROW. Consisting entirely of previously unreleased songs, it’s a mix of contemporary and traditional colours with a strong pastoral feel that throws up the regulation Nick Drake references along with The Incredible String Band, Matthews Southern Comfort, and early Paul Simon.
Fronted by the distinctive soft vocals of songwriter Mike King, there’s an often otherworldly feel, as evidenced by the skipping rhythm of As The Day Is Long and the suitably creepy Whistle And I’ll Come To You, inspired by the classic ghost story and punctuated by sudden cymbal clashes. Metronomic rhythms and cascading chords percolate through Handsome Beats, Truth And Silence, the scurrying Home Is Just A Word and a violin-haunted Sylvia, but they’re equally effective on slower numbers such as Passing Thoughts’ lovely lullaby of loss and regret with its fingerpicked guitar, banjo and cello and, Hannah Fathers on keys, the slow waltz sadness of The Tarriff. Another lament of loss and emotional turmoil, The Hunt is built on just guitar and strings and Turn The Page has an almost hymnal quality, his exposed voice and strings gradually being washed with a melodic swell. It’s been a long time in coming, but it’s been well worth the wait.
A teenage indie four piece from Wolverhampton lining up as Tasha Jones, Jon Murphy, Theo Williams and Matt Gregory, JUMP THE SHARK recently got to record at Abbey Road and their latest single, Robot Song, is to appear on the 2016 BRIT award compilation CD, following their Young BRIT 2015 award. An interesting tempo and style shifting number with a collage of influences that includes Hendrix, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac, all wrapped up in a fuzzed melody, it clearly says this is an outfit to keep a very close eye on.
Let me first say that I have a lot of time for SUNJAY as a musician. I like his voice, his guitar playing is outstanding and he writes good songs. However, his latest release, Black & Blues, is quite awful. Or, to qualify that, awful in the context of what it is. A stripped down voice and acoustic guitar collection of 10 blues covers, recorded in the space of a single day, it sees him delivering versions of such well-known numbers as Drop Down Mama, Nobody Wants To Know You When You’re Down and Out, Pallet on the Floor, Delia, One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer and Baby Please Don’t Go by the likes of John Hooker, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Willie McTell and Big Joe Williams. His fingerpicked guitar work is masterful, albeit slightly technical, but the problem lies in his delivery. The blues is a genre born from and about suffering, it’s about often brutal life experiences, but listening to Sunjay sing Delia, a song based on the murder of a 14-year-old girl, he might just as well be singing a takeaway delivery menu. Clean and clinical, there’s simply no passion or feeling to the way he puts over the lyrics. Indeed, his version of St, James Infirmary, is one of the worst ever recorded. This is blues for people who don’t like or understand the blues, perfect for background listening in a hotel restaurant, but, for anyone with the remotest interest in the real thing, utterly unlistenable.