the mike davies column july 2015


Prior to the much anticipated release of their debut album, BOAT TO ROW are having a fire sale of their previous recordings. Available for download for a tenner (or more) from Bandcamp, Songs 2009-2015 gathers together all 22 of their tracks, from the Crossroads EP though to Tightrope, and including their Christmas songs, all assembled in chronological order with a brief reflective note on each of them by band leader Mike King.


In advance of their new album, erstwhile Birmingham-based outfit EDITORS release Marching Orders, a seven and a half minute slow building anthemic ballad that harks back to the days of Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors with its steady muscular drum beat and  powerful guitars underpinned by swirling keyboards. The band play the 02 Academy on Oct 16.

other half 2

Following on from the success of MY DARLING CLEMENTINE’s touring performance collaboration with Birmingham crime writer Michael Billingham on The Other Half, a new original story inspired by, based around and featuring songs from the duo’s two albums, they’re releasing a studio recording CD  via Hachette Audio , that comes with a 32 page  booklet of the short story and the song lyrics with characters voiced by Graham Parker and David Morrissey (who played Inspector Thorne in the TV series of Billingham’s detective novels) joining Lou Dalgleish, Michael Weston King and his actress daughter Florence King. As well as songs from the albums, including Heart In This Heartache, Going Back To Memphis, No Matter What Tammy Said (I Won’t Stand By Him) featuring The Brodsky Quartet and  the show title mini epic The Other Half, there’s two new numbers, Friday Night At The Tulip Hotel, a  waltzing MDC number about an illicit affair that ends in tears, and  show closer As Precious As The Flame, written by Billingham about the love that lasts when the romance fades and  how “the embers are as precious as the flame”.

After touring the world for the past 30 years and collaborating with such names as Townes Van Zandt, Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen, Jackie Leven, Ron Sexsmith, Kinky Friedman and Ian Rankin, MWK is also planning the publication of 100,000 Words, his first ever collection of lyrics. Each song will include the background story behind it, detailing what inspired it to be written, why it was written and  what was the influence, as well as the  chords and tunings. More info and details on the pledge campaign can be found at

4 sides

The studio where UB40’s Signing On was recorded, formerly owned and run by Bob Lamb and, still working on analogue tape, now under the auspices of  John Mostyn and engineer Rob Peters, HIGHBURY STUDIO is planning a special Pledge Music Campaign album,  Four Sides of Highbury, to highlight both artists that have recorded there (among them the likes of Ocean Colour Scene, Ruby Turner and Duran Duran) and new names through its doors  to help fund services for the next generation of Birmingham musicians. The plan is to record on 1" tape, mix down to 1/4" tape then have it cut at Gearbox’s cutting room where they prepare it for vinyl with no digital interface at all. Then it will be pressed on finest 180 gram vinyl into a two album package (£24 with access pass news updates), in a gatefold sleeve, as well as being available for digital download (£10). Names currently lined up to record new material for the project include Goodnight Lenin, Alternative Dubstep Orchestra, Boat to Row, Big Tent and The Gypsy Lantern, Hannah Molloy, Roland Gift, Rhino and The Ranters, Little Comets, Namiwa Jazz, The Old Dance School, Misty’s Big Adventure and The Bonfire Radicals, embracing genres from Folk and  Soul to Afro Twang and Reggae. Other offers available centred around the project include a £300 world exclusive for six people to hear the original Duran Duran demos recorded at Highbury prior to the band’s  deal with EMI.

Complete Handsworth VIEW packshot

Mention Birmingham and reggae and UB40 is the name most likely to come to mind, followed perhaps by Steel Pulse and Musical Youth. But the city and the Midlands region have a far richer heritage than just these, it’s just that those other lesser known acts are too often overlooked or forgotten.  However, Reggae Archive Records are looking to shed light on these with  The Midlands Roots Explosion Volume One, the first in a series of compilations showcasing some of the unreleased, forgotten and barely known tracks from the vibrant 70s and 80s local reggae scene.

Inevitably, Handsworth looms large, the album leading off with  Steel Pulse’s little heard debut release, 1976’s Kibudu – Mansatta – Abuku. as well as the instrumental version from the original B side Political is another debut release, this time from Musical Youth, released on a small, obscure Birmingham label and featuring vocals by Frederick Waite Snr, a former member of Jamaican hit makers The Techniques. Another leading local reggae act of the time, but one that never found the commercial success it deserved, was Eclipse, from whom comes their 1981 single, Blood Fi Dem.

Steel Pulse were the spark that ignited the Handsworth scene, and it’s well represented here, headed up by  Black Symbol, a hugely influential outfit  led by Fatman, with the track  In The Name of Jah as well as the incredibly rare Rome by their spin-off group Oneness. The band also operated their own eponymous label, from which comes tracks by Man From The Hills (Redemption Day), Sceptre (Ancestors Calling), the previously unreleased Instruments from Mystic Foundation and two by Birmingham dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah (Unite Handsworth, Free Man).  The last of the Handsworth acts  is Carnastoan who, despite recording two Peel sessions, only ever released one Dennis Bovell produced 12”, Sweet Melody, on their own label, from which the skank heavy B side, Mr. Workhard, is included here.  The remaining Birmingham  contribution comes from Iganda, who, again despite a lengthy career, only ever recorded one 7” single, 1979’ Slow Down.

Moving down the road a little, Wolverhampton’s represented by Capital Letters, a  band that found considerably more success in Europe than they did here, and whose Jah-celebrating  I Will Never has never been previously released.  Moving further afield, the remaining track here comes from Leicester's Groundation  with the near 8 minute Fa-Ward.

As well as having recently released their first album in 30 years with Journey, Black Symbol are combining their two Handsworth Explosion compilations in  a double set as BLACK SYMBOL presents The Complete Handsworth Explosion designed, according to band member Blobbo “ to provide a much needed link between Symbol and other Ghetto bands, to reveal, an as yet undiscovered talent suppressed by the music machine.” Govering everything from dub to more commercially accessible numbers, as well as tracks by the label’s acts mentioned above (some duplicated, others new), the compilation also features  material from Truths & Rights  (New Language, Saddest Moment), Gerald Love  (Jah Children, Scandal Man) and Black Knight (Let’s Make Up, Feeling). UB40 have had a plaque on the Hare & Hounds, but isn’t it about time  the council also did something to mark the hotbed of creative (and ethnically authentic) reggae talent that emerged from Handsworth in the same period?



Christian apocalyptic indie rockers DISSIDENT PROPHET return with Red Moon Rising, their first release since 2012’s Weapons of Mass Deception, the title, according to singer Andy Jennings, “related to the blood moon mentioned in The Bible, which will usher in the Day of the Lord.” That probably gives you an idea of what to expect, the album opening in familiar swirling, dark guitar style with Human 2.0, a warning about ascribing to the belief in transhumanism whereby man transcends to the state of godhood, before filtering in their country influences on the reverb guitar and bass dominant Comfortable In Babylon (basically, this life is just a staging post for Heaven) while, continuing the warning notes, Writing On The Wall   is an almost Dire Straits-like groove about the impending rapture. The idea that Christ will return to  rule the kingdom is  at the heart of  the hypnotic acoustic guitar backed ballad Jerusalem Descending, a cover of a track by 70s Messianic rock outfit Lamb (Not to be confused with the trip hop duo of the same name), the moody, restrained approach persisting for Fly Away, a track that surely has a  Hebraic musical influence (or at least Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat)  before Dig, about searching for the truth in the Bible, which opens on a jazzy groove with hissing percussion before launching into a fairly heavy rock out. Classic rock major chords are the order of the day on All Coming Down (the final battle between good and evil approaches) with The Who sounding like a prime influence. Shifting musical ground again, The Word (lyrics verbatim from the first chapter of John’s Gospel) nods to the American punk of Green Day and their ilk, shifting between  chugging rhythms and  sharper spikes, then it’s back to stripped down balladry for the bluesy Broken before closing up with the choppy rhythm and  smooth harmonies  of How Long?  conjuring late 70s West Coast FM rock and, in a similar musical mood, reminiscent of Hotel California, He Sat Down, a sort of summary of the Gospel and the life of Christ in three minutes.

Lyrically, you certainly have to be on the same spiritual wavelength to get the most out of this, but, in musical terms, as far as rock albums go this is hugely accessible, high quality listening.

analogue tales


 For  Analogue Tales: Sounds  From Arden (Commercially Inviable),  his first release since 2013’s Two Brothers Leave Home, acclaimed Birmingham Americana-blues singer-songwriter JAMES SUMMERFIELD has left the words to someone else. Or, to be more precise, he has set to music the poetry of Darren Cannan, a conceptual collection of allegories, observations, asides and stories offering a rich and vivid exploration of the city and the  Midlands, variously taking in the Jewellery Quarter,  the old Longbridge Rover plant, the M42, Ladywood, Birmingham city centre and Sutton Coldfield.

Assisted by  contributing musicians Simon Fox, Craig Hamilton, Richard Pharaoh, David Booth and Katharine Griffiths, Summerfield has kept the music understated and minimal, watery, pastoral folk guitar providing the bedrock to several numbers, most notably Jewellery Quarter/Avoiding The Rain in the Satellite Town, augmented here and there with keyboards, percussion, the most uptempo number being Stechford (Iron Lane), which evokes the English country-folk of The Lilac Time while, with its  a capella intro, Feral Cats of Longbridge  is  reminiscent of Matthews Southern Comfort.

As well as the ‘songs’, Summerfield provides the backing for  six readings/monologues, five of which feature fairly familiar local names. The Beat’s  Ranking Roger is featured A Secret War (Town and Country), a poem about the stand-off between urban development and the countryside, though it’s fair to say poetry reading is probably not his forte, while elsewhere Birmingham novelists Mike Gayle and Catherine O’Flynn narrate River (a love song to the Avon) and the bittersweet Beryl Doesn’t Give A Toss, respectively, singer-songwriter and Songswriter’s Café host Paul Murphy reads (unaccompanied) A Critical Mass of Reasonableness and broadcaster Robin Valk does his best Betjeman on There Are Some Occasions you do not Know What to Wear (a poem about a social club punch up). Accompanied by guitar and choral backing, the last reading, the brief, Cenotaph, features Summerfield’s Handsworth-born grandmother Marjorie whose own experience of WWII and the nightly bombing raids brings a poignant note to its six lines about the two minute silence.


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