mike davies column november 2020

THE GORSTEY LEA STREET CHOIR return with another classy single, arguably their best yet, from the upcoming EP in the shape of the piano and bass driven, and fulsome resonant guitar bolstered From A Boy (500 Broadcast Recording Co.), here couched in Morrissey echoes, written following a family wedding and old friends and with lyrics about “a man on a rooftop over a sunrise rhythm” reflecting on the glory days and, if only in his spirit, “running my way back home again”.

ben c

The opening song of reassurance and constancy title track to Weathervane (Bohemian Jukebox) somewhat evocative of early Radiohead, BEN CALVERT releases wholly one-man EP recorded in Stafford between March and August. The tumbling folk pop- with whistling - ‘Bottle of Wine ‘sings of fickle hearts, the cello-accompanied ‘The Traction of The Days’ muses on the passing of time, ‘The Minus Touch’ is a strummed wry Bowie-like number about dating apps disasters and, followed by, ‘Fountain House’, a brief Oriental flavoured instrumental tribute to his favourite Chinese restaurant, it ends with the life-affirming piano and organ accompanied ‘Put Yourself Back Strong Where You Belong’, which he openly admits has more than a hint of blur's ‘Tender’ about it.

While officially defunct having played their final gig in 2015, DANGEROUS GIRLS aren’t about to fade away yet. Prior to that last show, Mykocupa, Chris Ames, Micky Harris, Rob Peters and Jake Simmons piled into the now equally defunct Highbury Studios to record their entire set live which, digitised overdubbed, mixed and engineered by drummer Peters now emerges a limited (100) edition vinyl album (from dangerousgirls.bandcamp.com) and digital download as Highbury Studio May 2015 on Wafer Thin Records, featuring their classic singles, the eponymous Dangerous Girls and a propulsive Man In The Glass with them still sounding just like the raw, punky, fuck you musical upstarts they were 40 years ago.

Worcester’s KINGS OF THE QUARTER MILE (Steve Counsell/vocals and guitar, Pete Juzl/guitars, Dave Smaylen/drums and backing vocals, Brian Richards/bass, Jenny Curtis/backing vocals and Simon Moth /keyboards) are due to release a new album, Whatever It Takes Is What I’ve Got, before the year ends, from which the three singles available for streaming suggest it’ll be one of contrasting musical styles. Springsteen, named for but not about you know who, is a funky little number with a blues rock guitar solo about a female singer baring her heart, soul and live stories on stage, craving the applause, contrasting the unknown and the famous, both of whom leave behind songs worth remembering when they’re gone. By contrast, following a similar theme about an undervalued twice-married woman, who’s disappeared after a life of pain, abuse and disappointment, maybe dead, maybe living a new life, Louisa is a more soulful, keyboards-driven Americana ballad, while The Lie harks more to Dire Straits influences with its theme of broken American dreams.

john napier

JOHN NAPIER follows up his Give Us Some Money EP with the self-released Bandcamp download Things Are Much Worse Than We Had Thought, opening with the jaunty ukulele strummed, bass drum thumping, handclapping title track, a jaunty downbeat singalong to join in with as we all plunge into the abyss. Definitely one for Beans On Toast fans. Switching to strummed and fingerpicked guitars, the whistling Heard It On The Radio is another cheery little number about infringement of liberties as he sings “we are not blind, were just not tough enough this time”, of replenishing empathy with apathy because “our hearts’ not big enough this time”.

It’s back to uke for the jogalong ‘New Frontiersman Part 1’ which, like the banjo-backed ‘Part 2’ where he adopts an Elvis-like speak-sing approach before Johnny Cash takes over turns its attention to supposed technological progress of “a new and better age” where “what we thought was a well spring might just be a money pit” and those who would “destroy whatwe’re trying to pull off”. Finally, there’s the guitar and knocking percussion accompanied, backing harmonies and cascading hymnal cum calypso chords of the slow walk rhythm, acoustic anthemic ‘Lately’, leaving it on another downbeat note of ennui as he sings “no one seems to know the reason why we carry on. I feel like life is passing me by, and I can’t wake up, but I don’t know why”. Great stuff.


Following on from his recent album, SICKY’s back with a new single, Head Rush, a mix of sinewy indie with clandestine spoken parts and a dense, bristling purposeful, guitar -drenched 80s swagger with undercurrents of Bolan and Bowie.

Having released the three Country Darkness EPs of Elvis Costello country covers with Steve Nieve, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King, now gather them together on one album of the same name, opening with Nieve’s resonant, churchy piano setting of the gospel infused Either Side of the Same Town from 2004’s The Delivery Man, trading verses on a faithful reading with a twangsome electric guitar solo from Steve Sheridan. Next up, a Costello- Jim Lauderdale co-write, I Lost You appeared on 2010’s National Ransom as a backbeat driven uptempo country track, but here the pace slows with Nieve providing saloon piano, the vocals giving the chorus more of a kick. I’ll Wear It Proudly from King Of America adopts a Streets of Philadelphia approach with its tinkling piano cascades as the pair trade verses and harmonise the chorus, followed the organ-backed Why Can’t A Man Stand Alone? a slow soulfully swaying song which shouldn’t work as a duet, but featuring a brass arrangement and building to an almost Broadway showtune finale, sounds like a natural.

Co-written by Costello and T Bone Burnett, The Crooked Line comes from Secret Profane & Sugarcane and gets the full Sir Douglas Quintet treatment with a fairground Vox backing before things slow back down with, opening with Lou on lead, accompanied by Nieve’s piano before Michael’s vocals take over, Heart Shaped Bruise from 2004’s The Delivery Man, Dean Beresford’s drums carrying it to a crescendo and Lou picks up the baton for the final line.

One of the more obscure covers, clocking in at nearly six minutes, written about his grandmother’s funeral, That Day Is Done was a slow waltz gospel collaboration with Paul McCartney for the latter’s 1989 album Flowers In The Dirt and which Elvis only ever sang on as part of the Fairfield Four’s 1997 release Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray. Here, Nieve’s piano accompanying the traded verses and harmonies it comes with a full-blooded horn arrangement and a stunning turn from Lou.

Getting into a more classic country mood, the cheating-themed Different Finger dates from 1981 album Trust, here given a very different Texicana arrangement with strummed acoustic guitar and accordion, Nieve adding a cantina piano solo. The it strums its way into break-up waltztime number I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came, another co-write, this time with Loretta Lynn for Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, here featuring Tom Wright on pedal steel.

One of the best known songs, originally written for and recorded as a duet with George Jones for his 1979 album My Very Special Guests, although actually first appearing as a Costello version on a free 7” with 1978’s This Year’s Model, Stranger In The House is a perfect fit for the duo’s trading lines and verses style, jangling and twangy guitars backing the vocals with Nieve on piano and organ.

A song that’s been in Lou Dalgleish’s repertoire for years as part of their They Call Her Natasha show and previously recorded on her 1999 album Calmer, they finally get round to recording a heartstoppingly wonderful duet take on the classic and deeply sad Indoor Fireworks in her simple two voices and piano arrangement. The last of the covers comes with the romantic betrayal-themed Too Soon To Know, originally titled Still Too Soon To Know on 1994’s Brutal Youth, spare, heavy piano notes accompanying Michael’s opening deep and emotionally cauterising vocals before Lou’s more tender yet no less plaintive tones take over for the second verse as organ adds to the accompaniment, the song building to an Orbisonesque climax. It ends, then, with a previously unheard MDC original, the country gospel-infused slow waltzing balladeering Powerless, a hopefully tantalising prelude to their next album of self-penned material.

roots-and-branches.com 2020