When not working with Kim Lowings or Chris Cleverley, guitarist David Sutherland can now be found accompanying singer Kathryn Marsh as acoustic duo ASHLAND. Formed last October, they’re currently recording a debut album under the guiding hand of Wolverhampton singer-songwriter turned producer Dan Whitehouse. Three tracks have currently surfaced as an EP, the Nick Richards-penned Funny Old World title track and, written by Sutherland, the gentle fingerpicked, slightly jazzier Blue (both of which are available as a free download at https://ashlandduo.bandcamp.com) with the physical version having the bonus wistful This Heart, more calling to mind the days of early 70s contemporary English folk than the current crop suggesting they’re likely to find favour among audiences with a fondness for Jacqui McShee, Miranda Sykes, Hilary James and Vashti Bunyan.
Having left Ocean Colour Scene last year, ANDY BENNETT makes his first bid for solo success with Hole In The Road, an acoustic-based single that, featuring him on guitar, bass and drums accompanied by piano and strings, radiates Beatles influences (something also evident in the Magical Mystery Tour feel of the video) and McCartney in particular. It’s backed by the acoustic Three Wish Genie, but unfortunately the CD fell foul of the Royal Mail and I can’t find it online, so I have no idea what it sounds like.
Back in the day, Mick Butler used to be in Scream Jeezus, going on to be part of Papa Mantra and Sumo before finally following a solo path as SICKY. He’s just released his second album, Lost Souls Found (the follow up to 2014’s Loveland), a dozen strong collection of muscular, often blues-streaked indie on which, given there’s no credits, I’m assuming he plays pretty much everything. It’s a heady brew, the brooding I’ll Be Around full of the sort of orchestral flourishes you’d expect from a Bond theme, a full sound that returns for Black Waltz, while, by contrast, Dynamite opens with hints of skittish drum and bass before turning into an itchy almost calypsoish rhythm, Get Me A Gun is carried on a throbbing fever sweat pulse, Am I Warm nods to Bowie colours, Someday Child is whistling summery pop and, closing up shop, Bad Ass runs from a sparse, breathy intro to a dark waltzing swell over the repeated line “must have been a real bad ass.” This is ambitious, thoughtfully constructed and forcefully performed stuff that deserves far more exposure than the Mick’s current under the radar profile.
Another name with music CV dating back to the late 80s, Robin Surgeoner used to be the guitarist with Dan Dare’s Dog. Since then, as well as maintaining a musical career, he’s been involved with theatre work, Disability Art, Equality and Diversity training programmes and competed three time as a swimmer in the Paralympics. And got an MBE and a Gold Medal. With former Paul Foad of Au Pairs fame playing lead guitar on a couple of tracks, he’s just released Black Thursday, a new album as ANGRYFISH on his own label. Titled after a Disability Arts Project and sung in nasally Billy Bragg meets Mike Skinner tones with scratchy indie funk guitars and a touch of Ian Dury, it is, as you might imagine, agenda-driven with numbers, like the opening Reward, the witty Far Queue and Special Needs, about pushing for equal rights and treatment. Building as it goes, it gathers to a head, the tender ballad The Last Time Ever I Saw Your Face, featuring Foad and Chris King on electric piano, paving the way for the psychedelic guitar distortion swirls of Clutching, the lurching, loping rhythms of The Tale of Basement-Billy (a song about the government’s bullying of the weak and disabled) and the similarly themed six-and-a-half minute jazz-blues shrug title track, with a hidden bonus reprise of Special Needs to round it off. Agit-prop rock in the tradition of Wire, Gang of Four and, indeed the Au Pairs, it’s something we could with more of these days.
Another songsmith with a political and social agenda to his material is Stourbridge’s DAVID JENKINS whose self-released debut album, Hammer $ Cynical embraces folk, pop and world music and is based on his own experience of love, loss, faith and politics. I have to confess I wasn’t immediately taken with it but, while I’m still not a fan of the opening The One In My Heart, revealed more and subtler riches, with several of the songs addressing the paradox of how religions which preach peace are used to wage war. The most obvious of these is jaunty, whistling folk blues Distorted Faith Blues, but the theme’s also present on the hypnotic The Gun & The Olive Branch, which, featuring tabla, unfolds over a mantra-like Arabic drone melody in its call for emancipation and liberation from political corruption and tyranny, and Heaven Help Me where you might feel like adding Labi Siffre to such acknowledged influences as Richard Thompson, Elbow, Anoushka Shankar, Bruce Cockburn, Joni Mitchell and Lau. I suspect George Harrison is in there somewhere too.
With the instrumentation including manjira, bongos, dholak and Cajun drums, glockenspiel and Anna Downes on violin with producer Chris Welch playing cello and organ, other impressive tracks include You Dream of Diamonds (which deals with Third World child poverty), the harmonica braced The War You Don’t See, tender plea Heal Me Now, A Line In The Sand (a take a stand against corporate soullessness number where Martyn Joseph looms large), the snake charmer sway of Reign Of Blows and, Carrie Garrett providing harmonies, the closing country-folk fingerpicked acoustic Follow The Light with its choice to either do what you will and curse at the stars or find faith. Well worth seeking out and letting it grow on you.
Launching with a gig at the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath on March 14, Into The Fire is the lead track from the debut EP by beardy Wolverhampton folkster RICHI JONES. Having already racked up over 2,000,000 You Tube hits and beating 10,000 other entrants to win the OPen Mic UK contest last year, he’s now taking the next step with this softly caressed ballad that reveals a breathily husky, Irish accented voice reminiscent of Newton Faulkner and Jack Savoretti. A free download is available at www.quarrystreetconsultancy.co.uk/richi-jones-into-the-fire/