the mike davies column september 2017


Their first album since the passing of Paul Murphy and the departure of Mick Howson to rejoin the reformed Terry & Gerry, THE DESTROYERS return in exuberant, dynamic form with The Massive Gong (Transition), a 12 track sortie into Balkan folk and their trademark mash up of Eastern European and Western music that comprises original and traditional numbers, but always with the emphasis on getting the feet moving. Kicking off with the Bulgarian traditional Dikansko Horo, it moves along to the frenetic horns driven lyrically playful title track, written and sung in urgent tumbling style by Leighton Hargreaves, things slowing down for Jutarn Je Kolo by Balkan composer Dusan Bogdanovic before leaping into another Hargreaves; number, the accordion and trumpets led Not A Jig.

There’s three more vocal numbers, Licence To Sing, a sort of mix of mazurka and French cafe music, about the Performing Rights Society and venues having to be licensed to play music, The Wizard of Warrington written by clarinet player Gaz Jones and accordionist Dave Adams who also sings lead, and Sorrows, Tears and Woes which might best be described as Balkan gospel.

Otherwise, it’s all heads down instrumental dance music, sometimes slow and stately like the violin and piano based Birdproof Squirrel Feeder or Hargreaves’ 80 second Todo es Posible, and sometimes kicking up the dust as on Makedonski Vihur Set, which marries strathspey, Bulgarian folk dance and a stirring Russian folk tune about a Cossack embracing death on the battlefield, and trad album closer Kalinka which segueing into a klezmer tune, features a guest appearance from Howson on hurdy gurdy. There’s also a poignant touch with the inclusion on Farwell, a tune from trumpeter Rob Spalton that serves as a last post to departed members


We Came Here To Work (Good Deeds) is the latest acoustic offering from MILES & ERICA, aka Wonder Stuff frontman Miles Hunt and fiddle playing partner Erica Knockalls, music he describes as “for nights spent at home in genteel company.” Not that you should get the idea that it’s mellowed down and chilled out, Hunts acerbic lyrics and Knockalls’ angular arrangements still setting the tone. That’s said, it’s a very reflective affair, many of the lyrics much having to do with looking back on the years from an older and wiser perspective, notably so on opener When The Currency Was Youth, but also informing things like Waste Some Time With Me, The Witnesses, The Absentee and The Sweetest of Bitterest Ends.

There are, of course, the politically-veined songs, the slow, moody title track written in response to the refugee crisis and the UKIP view of migrant workers while, sounding a positive note, their voices chime together for the widescreen feel of The Good In The World. And, of course, it all serves to remind that they always have a keen ear for a catchy melody, perfectly encapsulated in the circling riffs of A Matter of Circumstance. Here’s hoping it’s a long time before they give up the day job.

In what may or may not prove to be their final studio album, RED SHOES return with a double CD set in It Isn’t Over Yet, divided into an electric and an acoustic side, the former featuring Dave Pegg and Ric Sanders from Fairport alongside drummer Rob Mason with Joe Brown guesting on dobro while the latter is the core trio of Mark and Carolyn Evans and guitarist Nigel King, with Brown playing ukulele on one of the numbers.


There’s two numbers here that have been long standing inclusions in their live set, but both have been radically rearranged. Hitherto, he title track was a dynamic ballad sung by Mark, but here it’s been given a makeover and transformed into a jaunty folk tune with the same vibe as Ring Around The Land and Swansong. Likewise, All Fall Down, their debut single some 30 years ago, will be familiar to fans as another of Mark’s dramatic ballads with its dynamic chorus, except on the acoustic CD it becomes a slower, wearier six-minute number with Brown on ukulele. If you’ve lived with the original versions for as long as I have, the new stylings take some getting used to, but ultimately prove to have lives of their own.

The source of the album cover, the first disc opens with Salters Screen, a band rerecording of a song originally recorded as part of Lend An Ear, a commission by Worcester County Council for a community libraries oral history project, and built around the memories of those who used to visit the titular cinema in Droitwich Spa. The electric set also features the sprightly shuffling Dust In The Hallway, a song about alcoholism, House of Cards, a swipe at the current American political system post Trump, I Wish It Would Rain’s soulful call for a cleansing of the land from the toxic outcrop of UKIP and Brexit, the haunting Maple Tree Boy, based on the true story of a medic at the Normandy landings and the dying young Canadian he attended and how it haunted his life and, a personal favourite, Hostile Place, a heartwrenching song about a collapsing relationship.

Over on the acoustic set, Heart of Stourport Town is the other commissioned project, this a Dennyesque ballad about friendship built around the memories of two women who grew up in houses attached to the Tontine Hotel, built in 1772 to provide lodgings and premises for the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Company. Disc opener Floorspot Annie is a poignant fingerpicked number that will strike a chord with open mike and folk club support act performers while, sung by Mark in the persona of the protagonist, Six Boats is a narrative number about a young husband and father condemned to hang after being betrayed for smuggling while Pirates concerns those who plagiarise others work, covering their tracks to pass it off as their own.

Following the Celtic colours of Mark’s All The Way To Troon, a song about the search for a lost love, the album closes with Carolyn’s reworking of the traditional Reynardine, bringing out the anti-hunt sentiments in a stark reading accompanied just by Mason’s rumbling drums, and, finally, set to an tune by King, Martha’s Song, the lyrics taken from Martha – Trinity of the Chosen, Carolyn’s debut novel under the name of CS Evans. An album of the year, but naturally. 2020