record reviews october 2015


The Greatest Hits + More (Rhino)


Formed in London in 1962 by keyboard player Mann and vibes man/drummer Mike Hugg, and completed by Mike Vickers on guitar, Dave Richmond on bass (replaced in 1964 by Tom McGuinness) and singer Paul Jones, they began life very much as part of the jazz influenced British blues boom. Two early releases, the instrumental Why Should We Not? And Cock-a-Hoop failed to chart, but in 1964 they were asked to provide a new theme tune for Ready Steady Go, the defining pop music show of the era, and came up with (the first of two hits in which they’d reference the band itself, the other being The One In The Middle) and began a lengthy chart run with a Top 5 hit.

The follow-up, another bluesy number, Hubble Bubble, didn’t fare quite as well, stalling at No 11, but then came Do What Diddy Diddy which gave them the first of their three Number Ones (they also had three No 1 EPs), unquestionably the best known being 1966 classic Pretty Flamingo (on which Jack Bruce played bass, with McGuiness having shifted to guitar, before leaving to form Cream and being replaced by Klaus Voorman)). Alongside The Byrds, they were among the most prominent names covering Dylan material, enjoying hits with If You Gotta Go Go Now. Just Like A Woman and Mighty Quinn (their third chart topper) as well as With God On Our Side off The One In The Middle EP.

In 1966, Jones quit and was replaced by Mike D’Abo, spawning another intermittent run of hits that included Semi Detached Suburban Mr Jones, Ha Ha Said The Clown, My Name Is Jack, Fox on the Run and their final chart hit, 1969’s Ragamuffin Man.

These are all included here, alongside earlier hits such as Sha La La, Come Tomorrow, You Gave Me Somebody To Love (disowned by the band after being completed by session men and released by their old label) and their instrumental version of Tommy Roe’s Sweet Pea.

In addition, the collection features solo hits by Paul Jones (High Time and I’ve Been A Bad Bad Boy) and When I’m Dead And Gone an d Malt And Barley Blues by McGuiness Flint (which featured John Mayall’s old drummer Hughie Flint, singer Dennis Coulson and Gallagher and Lyle) as well as Mike d’Abo’s version of his self-penned Handbags and Gladrags.

However, despite featuring non-hit Up The Junction, it fails to include their fine non-charting version of Randy Newman’s So Long Dad and, inexplicably, totally ignores Mann’s own subsequent work with his Earthband which scored three top 10 hits with Joybringer, Blinded By The Light and Davy’s On The Road Again. It’s a useful collection, but the + More is rather less than it should be.

Mike Davies


The Ordinary Boys (Treat Yourself)

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Ten years on from calling it a day, the original trio of Sam Preston (who wrote Olly Murs chart topper Heart Skips A Beat in the hiatus), James Gregory and Charlie Stanley have got back together, adding Louis Jones on guitar, looking to pick up where they left off. So, as anyone who recalls the likes of Over The Counter Culture and 2006 #1 single Boys will Be Boys will know, that means punchy guitar-driven punky power pop, except this time round they’ve left the Madness influences of 2005’s Brassbound behind.

As such it soars along with a driving flurry of exuberant energy, catchy melodic hooks and choruses with the bounce and enthusiasm of fresh young teenagers who’ve just discovered Green Day, The Jam and Blink 182. There’s no light and shade and (save for the mid-tempo closer Disposable Anthem) the tracks tend to follow the same basic template, often sounding indistinguishable from each other, but the likes of the chugging Awkward, the descending chords I’m Leaving You (And I’m Taking You With Me) and the punchy Cruel are custom-built for throwing yourself around the room and surfing from the stage.

Mike Davies


Gates of Gold (Proper)


Back with their first release in five years, the Hispanic quintet’s 19th album does what it sets out to do, but doesn’t really get you particularly excited to have them back and is unlikely to add much to their following, though the jazzy blues When We Were Free might pick up a few stray Steely Dan fans. Opening with the mid-tempo groove of Made To Break Your Heart, it wanders from the driving electric blues of Mis-treater Boogie Blues and Too Small Heart and the slide guitar Chicago blues of I Believed You So to the acoustic balladry of the title cut and Song of the Sun. It also includes a couple of obligatory Spanish numbers (the jazzy swing Poquito Para Aqui and the mariarchi feel Lu Tumba Sera El Final), but just these sound like stereotyped musical cliches, so does the album feel like a band going through the paces without any real passion for the job.

Mike Davies


My Ass (Fika)


France’s answer to Jonathan Richman, the Swedish-Moroccan Brinks spent much of the 90s as Herman Dune, eventually settling in Berlin, discovering Trindidanian carnival music and changing his name. As Brinks he’s recorded as staggering 100+ albums, become part of New York’s anti-folk scene and, as here, toured and recorded with London-based trio The Wave Pictures (who actually did start out doing Richman covers).

This is their fourth collaborative album, and a decidedly eclectic affair that ranges from music hall influenced and penny whistle-featuring opener My Camel, the (very) vaguely Johnny Cash meets Lou Reed twang chugger Brighton and the ramshackle sax parping calypso Fire To Mind to the brilliant and insanely infectious mid-tempo calypso gospel Berlin, Think About You, another Egyptian-tinged number about a camel and the titular ass, the breezy jazzy upright bass and cornet (?) swing Wakefield, about getting laid on a rainy day in Yorkshire, and the hybrid snakecharmer/war dance rhythms of With My Chin.

Lyrically downbeat (life on the road and relationships don’t go together), but generally musically chipper, it’s a curio for sure, but a hugely enjoyable and toe-tapping one.

Mike Davies


Music Complete (Mute)


On their first album without Peter Hook following the acrimonious split, the absence of his bass line is clear (though replacement Tom Chapman does a good job of emulating it), but it’s equally obvious that they haven’t fallen apart without it. Indeed, if anything, with Gillian Gilbert back on keyboards, they feel more reenergised, at least once they get past the forgettable opener Restless. It kicks into proper gear with the driving synth-funk of Singularity (which opens on echoes of Joy Division), co-penned (as is the equally urgent Unlearn This Hatred) with Tom Rowlands from the Chemical Brothers, and keeps the momentum going with the motorik Plastic, while the melody line of Tutti Frutti sounds uncannily like FGTH’s Relax. It features additional vocals by La Roux’s Elly Jackson as does the retro disco funk of People On The High Line, and she’s not the only guest voice in evidence. Brandon Flowers lends his distinctive tones to the fabulously infectious Moroder meets krautrock closer Superheated while the iconic Iggy Pop takes charge of the cold, dark Germanic feel of Stray Dog, speaking the lyrics like a film noir voice-over.

It coasts somewhat on the adequate, but unmemorable Academic and The Game, which sounds like something the Pet Shop Boys might have scrapped, but generally this is a very promising rebirth.

Mike Davies


Only The Now (Castaway Northwest)

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If you don’t count the spoken word Smelling Dogs, it’s been 19 years since Tom Robinson released an album of new material; however, being exposed to a variety of music via his Radio 6 show seems to have spurred him back into action on the other side of the microphone. Musically, there’s no great change between then and now, the songs generally with the folk-punk style, although nothing too rough round the edges, while, lyrically, he’s very much on the social justice path of his early days and the Faith, Folk & Anarchy project with Martyn Joseph and Steve Knightley back in 2002

It opens with Home In The Morning, a lyrically playful farewell to London number that adopts a tango rhythm for the verses, easing you in before the first of the harder-hitting numbers with Merciful God, a Middle-Eastern musical colouring with Gerry Diver on violin carrying along the barbed irony of the lyrics inspired by an interview with an Iraq War, bomber pilot who said he believed in “doing the job that God put me here for” , underlining a school of thought that pervades many a crusading religion.

Opening with Colin Firth reading a BBC News headline report about the withdrawal of support for family cases and joined by Martin Carthy, Lisa Knapp and Billy Bragg, The Mighty Sword of Justice is a folk protest number about how you get the justice you can afford, dropping in a reference to Rebekah Brooks along the way.

Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall is a spooked bluesy track about the suicide of a family friend suffering from depression, the spoken lyrics interspersed with the title line chorus featuring Manchester singer/guitarist Lee Forsythe Griffiths and then another name from the thesping world arrives in the form of Ian McKellen duelling with rapper Swami Baracus on the vaguely calypso-punk Holy Smoke, another religion-themed number where Robinson sings about rolling up pages from the Bible to make a toke. McKellen returns later for another spoken contribution on the motorbiking as metaphor nostalgia of the jogalong One Way Street. Robinson sounding a little like Bowie with John Grant duetting, the catchy Cry Out is one of the poppier folk tracks while the reflective age-aware Never Get old teams him with the fellow former punk TV Smith.

The choppy Risky Business takes one last poke, this time at the banking sector (“Sue me suckers – I don’t care no more, now government money’s made my job secure”), before title track, featuring piano, acoustic guitar and brass, closes the album on a fuzzily warm old-fashioned sounding note about appreciating life and people while they’re there, a theme echoed in the album’s sole cover, Robinson sharing vocals with Gerry Diver and Martin Carthy on a simple, reflective version of The Beatles’ In My Life.

The topics are, perhaps, a little obvious, but that doesn’t detract from the conviction and honesty of the album, a welcome return from a perhaps somewhat underrated talent.

Mike Davies


South Broadway Athletic Club (Bloodshot)


If you like your guitars jangling and ringing, then Brian Henneman’s boys are for you. It’s solid American bar band rock n roll, packed with sharp drums, catchy chugging melodies and crowd-friendly choruses. They open the show with Monday (Everytime I Turn Around) and keep that ball rolling to the end, slowing it down here and there, as on Big Lotsa Love, Smile and the soulful ballad Ship It On The Frisco, but mostly delivering music to swing a Budweiser bottle at. They crank it up on the punchy riff riding I Don’t Wanna Know, skipping like the Byrds through the countrified canine tribute Dog, grind out appropriately heavy riffs on assembly line slog Building Chryslers and circle the line dance, leg slapping crew with XOYOU before 12 string jangle brings things to a close with the Shape Of A Wheel. It’s nothing groundbreaking, just honest, old-school, folk-rock influenced blue collar American guitar rock n roll. And they do it better than most.

Mike Davies 2020