mike davies column march 2021

Formed in 1977 and pivoting around the duo of singer Gary Jones and guitarist Jon Hodgson, CULT FIGURES made their debut two years later with Zip Nolan, backed by the Swell Maps, followed by the In Love EP before grinding to a halt. They returned in 2016 with The 166 Ploughs A Lonely Furrow, songs from their past finally making it to disc. Now they’re back with their first new music in 40 years in the shape of Deritend (Gare du Nord), an 11-track collection of punchy energetic New Wave featuring Barney Russel on omnichord and stylophone with bassist Lee McFadden and drummer Stuart Hilton that conjures thoughts of The Jam, notably on the opening Chicken Bones.

The album named for Birmingham’s historic industrial area, the songs turn an eye on the past, present and future, Silver Blades a memory of the city’s 70s iconic skating rink (also immortalised by Fashion), albeit more about things getting violent on a Friday night, while the jangling guitars and spoken delivery (thing The Streets or Parklife) Concrete & Glass waxes nostalgic for the old Soho, London’s West End and Tin Pan Alley replaced by new high rises.


The equally catchy Donut Life recalls Jones’s job as an in-store baker “in the Sainsbury’s underneath the Euston tower” and the monotonous pre-dawn minimum wage shifts of “going round and round in circles” arranging them in rows of five to be deep fried, packed, labelled and stacked, while the bass throb riffing Lights Out, written by Hodgson about the darkness within, resonated with a tense period when Jones was awaiting the (all clear ) results of an MRI scan for a possible brain tumour.

Constructed around a slow drum beat and buzzing keyboards swirl, Exile perhaps relates more to the sound of early Ultravox, a song about despots (and I suspect Trump was firmly in mind) eventually getting their comeuppance, while the tempo picks back up for the circling, buzzing guitars of The Omen which traces a similar theme and on which I’m sure I can trace traces of Doctors of Madness intermingled perhaps with The Alarm.

McFadden’s bass again does duty for the splendidly rowdy crashing White Noise with its suggestions of early Who while cresting Hilton’s battering drums Julie-Ann is back to the melodic attack and hooks of The Jam, the album ending with the staccato rhythms of Camping In The Rain, a memory of a disastrous Hodgson family holiday and, finally, the heads down energetic barrage of Privilege as, acidly channelling the voice of those don’t want to wait for the good time to come, Jones sings “Give me what's yours or I will take it/I've got a sense of entitlement”. Defiantly and exuberantly rooted in the sound of anger and energy of the late 70s UK guitar bands, they fully deserve to live up to their name and more.


Jodie Schofield aka Brum Radio’s SHEBEAT has two new tracks currently streaming, the bubbling pop of Believe with its 60s-ish backbeat shuffle and whistling and, with a touch more echoey Spector and splashing waves effects, the more shoegazed balladeering So Into You (www.shebeatmusic.bandcamp.com)


OVERPASS are a relatively new Birmingham quartet whose new single Otherside Of Midnight was heavily featured on BrumRadio. They’re described as being influenced by the Arctic Monkeys and Oasis which, throwing in some keyboards, tells you pretty much all you need to know about the track.

Brummie ex-pat Maggie Kahal is readying a new SCARLET FANTASTIC album for later this year, preceded by the lyrically optimistic single Better Day, a smokily sung piano tinkling ballad drama haunted by strings with hints of Piaf, Springfield and Moyet, featuring the title sung with a staccato machine gun delivery while angelic choirs hum in the background.

roots-and-branches.com 2020