The Wendy James Band – Queen High Straight

OK, I’m gonna start with a disclaimer. Like many my age – specifically, many blokes my age – Wendy James always had a certain… quality beyond her musical talents that drew us in. If Transvision Vamp were appearing on Top Of The Pops, we’d be happy to suffer the bland cheese of Peter Powell or even La Edmonds, because we knew that soon we’d have the combined ear- and eye-candy that was the latest single from Wendy and the band. Anyone listing artists that typified their era had to include TVV in their coverage of the late 80s.

Fast forward… can it really be thirty years? Sadly for all of us, yes it is, and Wendy is back with a new album. And it’s a brilliant one.

Wendy has emerged from the troubled period post-Vamp, where numerous ventures didn’t quite live up to hopes. But it’s clear that the (I know – cliché time) journey has been worthwhile, because what we have now is a singer that knows herself, knows her voice, and certainly knows what her audience wants.

I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Wendy and the band last year at The Roundhouse in London when she was supporting my good friends The Psychedelic Furs, and (after being mistaken for one of her VIPs!) chatted to her a few times before and after the gig. And it’s an absolute truth that Wendy, like so many of the artists on that quasi-retro scene, loves the thrill of performing just as much now as when she first started.

So what’s the new album like? I can sum it up in the following words.

Firstly, it’s diverse. Twenty tracks with so many different feels. The title track is smooth and sophisticated, and then you’re immediately into Perilous Beauty, a far darker and raw track, almost the mirror image of it’s predecessor. And as you move through the songs, you get these style clashes, as when you move from the sixties sound of Little Melvin through the Truffaut café scene of Marlene Et Fleur to the driving force of Chicken Street. From the acoustic harmonies of Testimonial, to the brashness of The Impression of Normalcy.

Second, it’s so memorable. So many of the tracks have those essential trigger lines that stick in the brain to the point where you suddenly find yourself thinking of them hours or days later.

Next – it’s highly professional. Not that I’m suggesting anything else was expected, but the combination of Nick Cave drummer James Sclavunos, guitarist James Sewards, bassist Harry Bohay, Alex Ward and Terry Edwards on horns, and accordionist Louis Vause comes together to deliver a full, tight sound.

And lastly – and this is possibly the best compliment I think I could give Wendy or any vocalist – there are a few tracks on the album when I honestly pictured the late and very great Kirsty McColl. To bring a sound that evokes her memory is an achievement indeed.

So where does this leave us? Well, it leaves me very happy to be listening, keen to get this virus thing behind us so I can get to another gig, and you clicking here to order your copy: https://thewendyjames.com/store/

Queen High Straight running order:

1. Queen High Straight (4.31)
2. Perilous Beauty (4.08)
3. Free Man Walk (3.39)
4. Stomp Down, Snuck Up (4.14)
5. Little Melvin (4.52)6. Marlene et Fleur (4.00)
7. A Heart Breaking Liar’s Promise (5.11)
8. Here Comes The Beautiful One (3.45)
9. Chicken Street (4.13)
10. Testimonial (4.18)11. Bar Room Brawl & Benzedrine Blues (4.07)
12. Ratfucking (2.35)
13. She Likes To Be (Underneath Somebody) (3.21)
14. Bliss Hotel (4.00)
15. Freak In (3.05)16. The Impression Of Normalcy (3.36)
17. I’ll Be Here When The Morning Comes (4.15)
18. Cancel It… I’ll See Him On Monday (3.37)
19. Sugar Boy (4.00)
20. Kill Some Time Blues (4.18)

The Psychedelic Furs – Don’t Believe

Yes, it’s happened. The thing we hoped for but dared not dream.

The Psychedelic Furs – one of the most eclectic and iconic bands of the 1980s, are not only back touring – something they have been wowing audiences with since reforming in 2000 – but are back writing

Today, I’ve had the absolute pleasure to listen to their first new track since 1991. Twenty nine years. And I have to say: it’s a banging tune.

Don’t Believe is the first release from the forthcoming album Made of Rain, which hits our ears in May. Written by brothers Richard and Tim Butler, guitarist Rich Good and drummer Paul Garisto, it’s a typically driving song of melancholy and, well, not quite getting and keeping everything you should. When I close my eyes, it paints a picture of a Film Noir world, with our protagonist working his ass off for fifteen bucks plus expenses a day, inhabiting a nation of deceivers, raindrops, let-downs and mistrust.

All of this is crafted into a technically gifted mix of soaring guitars, solid bass riffs, catchy sax and keyboard fills, enticingly attractive rhythms, narrated by Richard’s unmistakenly unique vocals.

We’ve been waiting for a long time for some new material from the Psychedelic Furs. As I said above – twenty nine years. ..

Listening to Don’t Believe – it feels worth the wait.

Stream the track on Spotify.

The album is available for pre-order here.

Rachael Webster – Find a Place EP

Cool new music alert!

The newly released EP from Sheffield songstress Rachael Webster hit my inbox this week, and it’s well worth making it hit yours as well.

There’s something I need to get on paper (well, on screen) before I start talking about Rachael and her music. I get sent a lot of music and music links, by a lot of different people, and when you look at what’s been sent, you get to know the outcome before you even listen to the music. 

I’ve listened to some awful music, generic, bland offerings, which sadly abound because making music seems so easy for people these days.

I wanted to say that, so that when I start talking about Rachael, and specifically the music on Find a Place, you realise what I mean and where I’m coming from. 

Find a Place is nothing like the reams of music submissions I’ve dismissed above. You know the amount of hard work and application that’s been poured into this EP. It’s well produced, rhythmic, thoughtful, and pitched at the right tone and style for the lyrics. Rachael has a voice of quality and feeling, and she’s writing songs that showcase her voice excellently. 

So the songs…

There’s a really good blend of tempo and feel. I love a good driving rock song, so my favorite is probably Whisky and Cream. In Too Deep is beautifully atmospheric, and the other tracks on the EP (Coming Home, The One, and Lost In My Head) deliver a strong lyrical punch alongside some lovely acoustic melodies and layers.

At the end of all that, the Sound Impression verdict? 

This is where I really ought to develop some kind of rating system. Four and a half porcupines? Sounds like I need to work on that, but whatever measure – we like. And so will you, so go seek out Rachael on Facebook, and go listen to her music!

Find a Place is released on ComRock Records.

Luna Rosa – Fear, Filth, Dirt & Death

The new single from Luna Rosa is being marketed directly to help the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster, and all money generated from sales and merchandise will go towards the funds. So please buy it, or donate directly to the cause, as the victims need all the help they can get.

That’s all I’m gonna say about the charity and fundraising for now, because this is, after all, a music review site and not one of your high street chuggers moved online.

So – the track.

Luna Rosa spring forth from Corby, the town that won the naming rights for the world’s favorite trouser press. However, whilst the most popular unused hotel appliance sits quietly in the corner of the room and serves for nothing but an additional space to hang a jacket, you’ll never be able to say the same about Luna Rosa. Since forming in 2015, they have played at festivals, sell-out shows, and headline slots, sharing stage space with many of music’s big names with their high-energy, high intensity sound.

Fear, Filth, Dirt & Death is a driving, pulsating track, in complete contrast to the Simon Cowell-inspired version of Bridge Over Troubled Water. It’s clearly politically driven, with the theme basically being ‘the rich and powerful don’t care’, complete with references to the NHS, financial corruption, and of course, the terrible events in West London in June 2017.

That’s why it’s not an easy song to review for me.

The song itself has some great hooks and melodies, is well played and well produced, and would generally sit well alongside most others in the Alt-Rock-Punk scene.

For me, however, the last thing I imagine that the victims of the fire need is more anarchy in their lives. The tragedy was preventable, and yes, the inquiry will identify those culpable and then justice will – at some level – prevail. But linking it to perceived or even actual assaults on the NHS is disingenuous. This was,to me, not a failing of national government – irrespective of which party was in power at the time any local decisions were made that contributed to the tragedy – and the two things are, to me at least, very different.

Anyway – time to sum up: Fear, Filth, Dirt & Death is a good song, worth listening to, and for the purpose of helping the victims at Grenfell or just for a big protest sound blasting your eardrums, well worth investing in. I just wish that it had been released apart from the disaster, because the two don’t sit well together in my mind.

For more info on the band and release info for the track, please see their Facebook page.

Kevin Hewick – Driven By Love, Driven By Hate

Driven By Love, Driven By Hate is the latest album from Kevin Hewick on Botheration Records.

Kevin’s one of those musicians you really think you should know well. Hailing from Leicester, he’s been playing music for five decades, and in 1979 became the first ever acoustic artist signed to Factory Records, the label that brought us such esteemed acts as Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays and a brief liaison with OMD and James.

Over the years he’s been associated with many different acts and labels, and has supported everyone from The Fall and Joy Division to Showaddywaddy, Fairport Convention and Lene Lovich. It’s fair to say his influences are varied and widespread.

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Kevin brings this background and his personal battles and demons into his music, and they are very apparent on Driven By Love, Driven By Hate.

The seventeen-track album takes you on – yes, I know – a journey, through distinct landscapes and emotions. You start by walking away from all the crap that weighs you down and holds you, a task that seems impossible to complete. You get dragged back into the morass of the world, with political lies and commercial necessities clashing and knocking you around. You realise that the escape is a myth, and that by confronting the demons and finding your own way, you become (as Kevin puts it) “the uneasy rider of the easy riding dream”. Then you arrive, at a place of child-like simplicity where the seemingly important becomes trivial, and the apparently meaningless becomes central.

Kevin’s vocals and melodies come through with clarity and strength, and his choice of supporting musicians bring every song to your ears as the next step on your trek. End to end, in order, is definitely the right way to listen to the album, but there are some stand-out tracks for me that condense the story into a little drabble.

Memory Coma evokes mellow hopelessness with longing for something more. Season 3 addresses the reality and the need to hang on to hope, and Jackson Pollock Pebbledash is altogether more upbeat, and positive, promising a potential future in the sun.

Kevin is a real storyteller, novelist, lyricist and – having had the pleasure of meeting him recently – a very cool bloke. If you want a soundtrack to your summer that challenges and enriches, you could do worse than popping over to his BANDCAMP site and buying the album.

Track listing:

  1. A Robe, a Razor and a Bowl
  2. Country Mile
  3. Life is Too Kind
  4. Driven by Love, Driven by Hate
  5. Memory Coma
  6. Watch and Learn
  7. My Friends the Rats
  8. The Inheritors
  9. Imaginary Victory
  10. Season 3
  11. Shattered Soul
  12. Arizona Highways
  13. Uneasy Rider
  14. Jackson Pollock Pebbledash
  15. Radcot Lawns
  16. Glen Parva Dogwalker
  17. Tinks

The Psychedelic Furs, Leicester 2018

Tuesday, June 12, 2018. An epic day.

In simple facts, I drove 2 hours to Leicester, went to a gig, caught a few hours sleep in a B&B then drove back home the next day. The truth, however, is so much more…

First of all, when I arrived I had to locate another place to stay, as the first one stank as if someone had died there. Literally. A quick search on booking.com found a cheap, but clean alternative. after checking in, a short walk through the park bought me to the O2 Academy on the Leicester University campus.

It was there that the day turned awesome. I met up with my good friend Paul Garisto, who had invited me up for the day. For those who may not know, Paul is not only an excellent chap, but he’s one of the most solid, creative and brilliant drummers around, plying his trade with The Psychedelic Furs. More about them later.

Paul and I sat in the park for like an hour, just chatting. Music, family, drums, politics, drums again, (quite literally ‘All Of This And Nothing’) which is the way I like to be – doesn’t matter if you share earth-shattering philosophies or complete nonsense, it’s about spending time. Thanks, Paul – it meant a lot to me that you’d take time out for me.furs 3

 

Back inside at 4pm for sound-check, and I met others from the band and beyond. The lovely Amanda Kramer, the awesome saxophonist Mars Williams, and Rich Good, a really great, really cool guy who was also so nice in taking time to talk with me.

I also met a couple of other guys who were such great company and whom I enjoyed spending time with – Jude Rawlins ( former Angelhead and Subterraneans frontman and current guitarist with The Lene Lovich Band – see HERE) and Kevin Hewick, a great singer-songwriter in his own right who works with artists on labels such as Sorted, Pink Box, and Botheration.

Sound check over (it was a little strange stood in the middle of the venue listening to the band at full volume) we had a little time to hang around, swap stories, me to grab a burger, and then it was time for the gig and the arrival of my great mate Pete Galer, who drove up to meet me.

First up –  The Phenomenal Rise of Richard Strange.

Richard Strange

Richard’s stage show was more than a show, more than a collection of tunes. It was pure theatre at its best. His roots go back a long way to his first band, Doctors of Madness. To give you a hint, they were supported by The Sex Pistols, The Jam, and Joy Division. Yes – supported. The album he performed with his band was originally written in 1981, but has eerie connections to modern day US Politics.

Then…… it was time for the main act.

I’ve said this before, but there’s something about this band, this group of brilliant musicians, that I really… get. There’s great songs, with lyrics that appear at once simple and then phenomenally deep. There are driving rhythms and haunting melodies, unbounded energy and vibe, and the whole thing is sewn together by the two Butler brothers, Tim on bass and Richard with his unique vocals. These are guys who know their art – and it is art – and you never get less than everything.

Starting off with the seminal Dumb Waiters from the great Talk Talk Talk album, through songs such as President Gas, Heartbreak Beat, India, Heaven, Mr Jones, Into You Like A Train, and finishing with the iconic Pretty In Pink, they held the audience in the palm of their hand all night long.

furs 2

After the gig, I had the pleasure of catching up with Richard and Tim, along with their guest for the night, Roger Morris – an original member of the band way back in 1977. It’s true – hanging with your heroes is an awesome thing, and they are all just well-grounded, normal people. Although I had heard Richard’s joke about the hairdresser before – it just seemed polite to laugh…

They even signed my vinyl copy of Talk Talk Talk for me…

ttt

Thanks guys – an excellent day, a brilliant gig, and a memory made for life. Until the next time, safe travels, my friends!

Brandon Neal – Bird Song

The latest track to hit the Sound Impression inbox was a lovely little acoustic number from a chap called Brandon Neal.

Brandon hails from that epicenter of UK music, our very own Detroit or Nashville. Yep – Leicester. Which (and bear with me on this) isn’t quite as crazy a leap of the imagination that you might currently be thinking. After all, Leicester has provided us with Walkers Crisps, a burial site for Richard III, and the most unlikely Premier League winners fathomable. So great music? It’s a given!

And Brandon’s newest track proves that point.

Brandon1

Bird Song mixes a clear, well-balanced acoustic rhythm with a strong yet vulnerable vocal line from Brandon. There’s a great ebb and flow to the strength and intensity to both, which perfectly matches the wistful lyrics.

What really works well, and cuts through as a nice surprise, is the switch of vocal lead partway through. Lucy Moore has a beautiful voice, and the difference between her vocal and Brandons elevates the song to a whole new level, only bettered when they continue together with some lovely harmonies.

This was the first song of Brandon’s I’d heard (aside from his Facebook jaunt with Laurence Crow that you can read about here) and it certainly won’t be the last.

Check out his Facebook page for more about him, his music, and his excellently cultivated facial hair!

Man-buns and Beards – punky folk on Facebook

So it’s seven thirty in the evening, and I’m in that hiatus time between eating a pasty and going out to rehearsals, and what do I find to fill an hour?

My old mate Laurence Crow (a.k.a. The Artist Formerly Known as Wolfe Sunday) sat cross-legged on the floor with his friend Brandon Neal, throwing out some acoustic tunes in lieu of their evenings gig, called off because the Beast from the East snowed them off.

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Although I’ve never reviewed a live Facebook event, this was actually pretty cool. New songs and old favourites, plenty of well-groomed facial hair, barnets that suited an early-2000’s David Beckham slightly less than they do Laurence, and some great laughter with the online audience. If it were possible to throw some digital underwear, they would be drowning in Marks and Spencers’ finest!

Nice one guys!

Find them on facebook at either https://www.facebook.com/billytalented and https://www.facebook.com/brandon.neal.5201

Filthy Militia – Innocent Until Proven Filthy

Growing up in the late seventies / early eighties as I did, I hit the punk / Two Tone movement square on. Being from the ‘good’ side of the tracks, my friends and I naturally gravitated towards the ska revival movement of Two Tone for several reasons: it was happier and more accessible to us; we were a mixed-race group and the message of inclusion and what would now be termed ‘anti-fascism’ was at our core; and none of us had mothers who would let us grow mohawks.

As such, I love finding new artists whose roots and influences lie in the same place, and North London-based Filthy Militia are one such band.

Their debut EP, Innocent Until Proven Filthy, dropped into the inbox this week. So I was looking forward to a return to my youth and evenings spent arguing the relative values of The Specials against Madness, The Selecter against The Beat.

What I got was something different – a set of tracks which seemed to find their base more in the heady days of Jamaican Ska than it’s rougher, punk-influenced offspring, but with a definite nod towards the punk-inspired bands I grew up with. There’s a lot more brass than we got in the revival, where guys like Saxa and Rico sometimes felt more like an affectation than an integral part of the sound. Here there’s no mistaking the excellent stabs and fills.

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We start with Up In Smoke, an energetic blast which is very danceable and jaunty. Storm Warning is slightly darker, with hints of The Clash, and is probably the closest to the revival sound. Be Real takes you right back to the Sixties with it’s laid back vibe hinting at Prince Buster’s pace and attitude. Finally, Little Sister keeps us firmly in the decade of my birth, with even a suggestion of California surf thrown into the Caribbean mix.

For a four-track EP, Filthy Militia have managed to convey four very different elements of ska, and as such they show their versatility and knowledge of the genre. Certainly if I find myself in their neck of the woods, I’d seek out a gig.

For more information, go to their Facebook page at facebook.com/filthymilitia/ and give them a like!

Joel Gardner – The Idea

I was very pleased when Joel’s new EP, The Idea, dropped into my inbox this week. I’ve felt a little starved of new music lately, and was keen to listen to someone fresh.

The Idea is a very accomplished, very polished set of tracks, which were written by Joel whilst out sunning himself in the Canary Islands. There’s certainly a warmth and a distinct palette to the EP, as jaunty pop butts up happily against melancholy anthem.

My favourite track was Made Me Believe, which has a real emotional depth that is well supported by the melody building slowly, almost to a cliff-edge, before finding a path back down to quieter water.

There’s not really a weak track in the collection, with I Will Find and If I Could Love You particularly good, and it’s clear that he’s hit the mark with this one.

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If I was to look for a constructive comment, I think I’d like to hear something a little edgier, a little more… unrefined, I guess. Joel has a great voice, and an undeniable ear for melody and how songs can be constructed. I have no doubt that he’d also succeed at deconstructing songs, and I’d love to hear some of his energy on tracks that expose more of the rawness that emotion can – and often does – deliver.

Overall? A Sound Impression likes this a lot, and will certainly be revisiting Joel’s material. Nice one, mate.