the mike davies column april 2016

robert lane


A Birmingham-based singer songwriter, as well as guitar teacher, ROBERT LANE has just released his new EP, Ends And Starts, a stylistically diverse – and if we’re being honest – slightly uneven affair that seems more designed to showcase his different sides than work as a cohesive collection of songs. Perhaps Fits and Starts might have been a better title. Thus, it kicks off with the punchy full sounding 70s rock-pop strut of My Love’s In Deep only to switch to the fingerpicked on the road lament It Feels Like 5,000 Miles which nods to the 60s folk revival of Greenwich Village. Things switch again for the 12 bar acoustic Break My Heart Blues, a track that does him few favours and which could well have been omitted, then it’s back to family (and parental) matters for the sparse acoustic Wilful Independent that harks perhaps to early Roy Harper.

In a similar musical setting the unsettling Teardrop Tattoo follows, a fingerpicked tale of the banality of evil sung in the voice of a murdering psychopath as he talks of killing a random stranger, feeling no remorse and embracing prison as no problem for someone like him.

The best number here is Alone Now, a rather lovely, lilting country-tinted waltzer (even if the lyrics are on the dark side) that filters Gilbert O’Sullivan, Lennon and Conway Twitty, the set closing with a brief acoustic resonator guitar instrumental, Mary’s Theme. It’s a bit difficult to pin him down musically and this is really going to be for those already familiar with his live work, but if he could focus on honing maybe a couple of genres rather than trawling across so many, his next release could be much stronger.

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Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies (Steamhammer), the latest rom MAGNUM, slipped under the radar on its release, so I’m catching up here to say that it pretty much delivers everything you’ve come to expect from them, a mix of heavy, riff-focused but melodic rock (such as the steamrollering title track and Princess In Rags which recalls vintage Purple) and soaring muscular ballads (embodied here in the keyboards-led Your Dreams Won’t Die and Gypsy Queens) punctuated by the stadium punchy anthemic rock of things like A Forgotten Conversation with its strings-washed orchestral intro and the swelling Twelve Men Wise And Just. The mid-tempo piano and guitars driven Crazy Old Mothers even sounds a bit like classic Queen. After forty odd years, Bob Catley’s voice retains its power while Tony Clarkin’s writing and guitar work remains undimmed.

wonder stuff

Hard to believe, but it’s thirty years since THE WONDER STUFF went into a studio to make their first recordings, launching a career that, six year hiatus (and one more when Malcolm Treece became a dad) notwithstanding, is still going strong, albeit with only frontman Miles Hunt the only remaining founder member and has three Top 5 albums and 14 Top 40 singles to their name.

To mark the anniversary, they’ve released 30 Goes Round The Sun (IRL), a collection of 12 new numbers following on from 2012’s Oh No…. It’s The Wonder Stuff, notching up their first Top 40 album placing since 1993. Deservedly so because, the line up now comprising Hunt, Erica Nockells, Mark McCarthy, Tony Arthy and Dan Donnelly, it’s their best since Never Loved Elvis.

Following a brief guitar, violin and static instrumental Intro, it launches into the roaring, fiery Don’t You Ever with its stadium rousing chorus before acoustic guitar and fiddle kick off the equally instant folk-streaked tumbling chords of In Clover. A trademark Stuffies circling riff drives along For The Broken Hearted, complete with some background yelps, before slowing things slightly for the softer edged vocals of One Day On’s relatively dreamy pop and a mark of Hunt’s maturity into an emotionally empathetic reflective songwriter

Built around bass, violin and a steady riff, a lyrically defiant The Affirmation flexes the muscles again before continuing the musical mood on the psychedelic pop touches of Last Days Of The Feast, a reminder that he can still give good caustic vitriol too and the equal to any of the band’s biggest hits. With its orchestral arrangement, The Kids From The Green is a little different, both in its melodic form and the lyrics memories of childhood brotherhood and of those who stayed the course.

Weakened offers a funkier note with choppy rhythm, scraping siren-flaring violin and staccato vocals, followed by even choppier, rhythmically whirling Misunderstanding Burton Heel before ending on the title track’s anthemic upbeat (and autobiographical?) Americana –Folk flavoured celebration of glorious days. And, on the evidence here, of many more to come.

tower

As those who are into their acoustic music and local singer-songwriter scene will know, run by Tom Martin, the TOWER OF SONG in Kings Norton is a regular weekly haunt. It and they are celebrated in a 2 CD compilation, By The Window Where The Light is Strong, which features some 38 different acts, both locally based and frequent visitors.

As is inevitable with this kind of project, the standard varies wildly, depending on personal preferences, and it’s fair to say that the best stuff here is mostly by already fairly well established names, Kim Lowings (who offers Lullaby off Historia), Chris Cleverly (Dawn Before The Day from his Apparitions album) and the Bristol-based British American outfit The Rosellys with Maryland.

There’s some veterans of the local scene here. Martin (joined here by Helena Roswell on the folk blues Like It’s The Last Time) alongside Sam Cornwell (Are There Yet, a number which applies a familiar refrain to the refugee crisis), erstwhile Slender Loris singer Andrew Morton (the fingerpicked African Cargoes) with his Thackray-like enunciations, Mike Bethel (scratchy acoustic blues Run Comrades Run) and even Andy Wickett (name spelt incorrectly on the credits) with the unexpected bhangra sounds of Secret Garden.

I have to confess to not having heard of the others, and there’s one or two I’d have preferred to have kept that way, but of these particular stand outs would have to include Pete Kelly with his McTell-like Cowboy For The Day from the 2013 Room of Dreams album, an airy, ethereal From The Shore Of The Sea by Single Mum, Emma Langford (Under A Starlit Sky) who I reckon could sound pretty good with decent production, Terry Foley’s gospel ragtime swing through the trad Dead Or Alive and Eamonn Reilley’s six minute early Dylan-like Bells Of Bournville. One for judicious use of the skip function perhaps, but nevertheless a welcome showcase for the venue and the acts involved.

Gerry Colvin

Following on from the demise of Colvin Quarmby, GERRY COLVIN returns with a new band (Jerome Davis on double bass, Lyndon Webb on guitar, Michael Keelan on fiddle and Trish Keelan on accordion and backing vocals) and his second solo album, Six Of One Half A Dozen of the Other. As with its predecessor, Jazz Tales of Country Folk, it mixes up the styles, offering a cocktail of, well, jazz, country and folk in the service of songs that, as ever , run the gamut from play to poignant, personal to political. Of the latter, the slow waltzing Celtic hued The Thistle and The Rose was penned as reflection on the Scottish Referendum about the ties that bind the two nations, and references Alan Breck, the hero of Stevenson’s Kidnapped, while the lengthy The Rainbow Season is a brooding meditation on how complacency has seen a shift in the world economy and the rise of new markets in the East. On a playful note, the jaunty country sound of Johnny Cash Shirt is about the fad for collecting celebrities’ clothing, the equally countrified I’m Postponing My Rehab Till Tomorrow muses on prevarication while the frisky hoedown God In The Bar envisages the Almighty drowning his sorrows over his mistakes (kipper ties, mankind) in a heavenly honky tonk populated by the likes of Benny Hill, Dean Martin, Jeremy Corbyn, Usain Bolt and Alfred Hitchcock and a house band comprising JJ Cale, Mozart and Elvis.

The personal and poignant is movingly captured in both The Waiting Room, a song about hospital visits to his dying mother, and My Country, a sort of home thoughts from abroad celebration of England its people. Naturally, fractured relationships play a part, here in the Monkees-echoing Before addressing the yearning for the earlier days of long-term relationships while, though not in the thematic territory. By contrast, serene romantic bliss wafts over the smooth final cut The Last Two People Left On Earth Tonight, a number surely inspired by Bill Evans jazz classic The Two Lonely People. There’s not a weak track here, but I have to say my personal highlight is the album’s double bass chugging, strings swathed cascading folk-rock opener The Man With The Watch, a song inspired by the true story of a wristwatch that stopped at the exact moment his then girlfriend left him and sporting a terrific acoustic guitar Texicana middle eight. Available from his website (www.gerrycolvin.co.uk), it’s another reminder that, while he may not be a household name, he’s one of the finest writers and performers this country’s produced.

roots-and-branches.com 2017