the mike davies column january 2019


UB40(the Robin Campbell one) mark their 40th anniversary with the release of For The Many (Shoestring Music), their first new material in five years and the first with Duncan Campbell, Easily their best for some time, all original material it opens in infectious form with The Keeper (the only one on which Robin sings lead), combining both their catchy reggae sound along with dub elements. The album reunites them with Birmingham rapper Gilly G on Moonlight Lover as well as Jamaican artist/producer Kabaka Pyramid on the lurching Broken Man, and deejays Pablo Rider on the classic reggae pop skank of I’m Alright Jack (one of two written by Duncan) and Slinger on the seven-minute Gravy Train, both of whom also appeared on Baggariddim.

The effects-laden What Happened To UB40, featuring Earl Falconer on lead, provides a useful update while, Brian Travers’ sax in fine fettle, the album closes with All We Do Is Cry, a collaboration with British Asian urban musician Hunterz, who previously co-wrote and sang on Reasons from the 2005 album Who You Fighting For, and a track that easily ranks alongside the band’s classics.


MAGNUM release Live At Symphony Hall (Steamhammer), a double CD marking the final date on their 2018 Road To Eternity tour that, blending classic and new material, finds them in blistering form. Kicking off with When We Were Younger, vocalist Bob Catley and guitarist Tony Clarkin firmly display the magic that has kept the band at the peak of its powers for decades. The big rock drivers like Sacred Blood 'Divine' Lies, . Lost on the Road to Eternity, the strutting Peaches and Cream and Vigilante are full of fire and fury, but, it’s always the majestic anthemic ballads that prove the highpoint of the show, setting out with a ten minute How Far Jerusalem and building to the superb Les Morts Dansant and Don’t Wake The Lion before everything climaxes with the mass crowd singalong of When The World Comes Down. Terrific.


An early taster for their forthcoming album, Rivers That Flow in Circles, Birmingham’s BOAT TO ROWrelease Spanish Moss, a tempo and musically stylistic-shifting affair that layers African percussion and electric guitars over a persistent bass line, before the instrumental playout with a wash of guitars, synths and violins. The album promises to be a more expansive and explorative musical palette than their debut.

red shoes

Although released for Christmas, RED SHOES’charity single remains wholly relevant, Time Stands Still features Mark providing the cascading strummed acoustic chords while Carolyn sings a moving lyric that draws attention to the homeless at this time of year, 50% of all profits being donated to Crisis UK. Available as a download from their website


Self-styled quirky folk popist, TOM PEEL has new single Black Hole available on his Bandcamp site. One of the best things he’s recorded, featuring just him accompanied by simple repeated electric guitar pattern, with accordion arriving towards the end, it’s a moody ballad that essentially reflects on existence and mortality. A rough edit of a reworked Subscription Club song with Andrew Souter it’s due to also feature on an upcoming EP/album.


For those who don’t know, as well as a singer-songwriter, CHRIS TYE also composes soundtrack music, his most recent being for and Irene’s Ghost, a documentary about a son’s search for the mother he never knew that proved one of the big hits at last year’s London Film Festival.


Were it not for his radio unfriendly nom de musique, SICKY, Mick Butler would likely be a much better known and celebrated singer songwriter, his indie pop riddled with melodic earworms. Case in point being stick-up new single Give Me Your Money, due for release in January, opening with electronic noise and a tension build guitars and drums intro recalling Do You Love Me, it rides a driving shuffling rhythm that suggests the sort of riff Marc Bolan might have crafted were he to have holed up with early Prince.

Black country Americana singer-songwriter Joseph Hicklin, aka DEATH BY STAMPEDE, has released Contemporary Depressive, a 5-track download/stream EP that, exploring the contemporary nature of depression, serves as an acoustic introduction to his music. With a dusty, slightly gravelly vocal reminiscent of the Handsome Family, Rod Picott or Willard Grant Conspiracy, it opens with Daydream 27, a mid-tempo fingerpicked chug musing on how “we all die on our own”. It’s followed by the choppier, early Dylan-like strum of Neon (Reflecting) with its urban paranoia and a chorus about how “going to where the neon glows. where angels dance without halos.” Songs of Love & Truth takes the pacing down again before building to an urgent climax, lines like “the moon is a thumb print on a dirty widow” and the future being “just a fat man with a bird upon his shoulder singing songs of death but also love and truth” underscoring his way with words and imagery.

Fool is another aching, world weary, introspective fingerpicked ballad (though with, unfortunately, a four letter radio no no) about being stuck in a rut and a sense of impotency how, since “life isn’t real and death is a joke” you may as well make the most even if “it seems so brave and it seems so cruel to live like a god and die like a fool.”

It ends set, it would seem, in a mental health hospital, with the slow melancholic gradually building sway of My Morning Pill, a feeling of helplessness and ennui where “nothing but smoke came out of my mouth” and “my whole life’s like a train past my window sill” mingled with a desire to crawl out of the black hole “and get through the year and get through the day.” Closing with the line “I was an addict, just after one taste, it’s not too bad, I know now darling”, this is a breathtaking debut and unquestionably among the finest Americana releases of the year, you really should seek him out, he has the potential to be one of the greats.


OCEAN COLOUR SCENE have released their first new material in five years with a self-titled four track EP (Moseley Shoals), headed up with Another Bard May Chant, which despite the title, is a slice of hornsembellished guitar fuzz psych rock rather than one of their folksy numbers. Again featuring brass, Be With You is a mid-tempo soul pop ballad while they rein things back for the gorgeous acoustic love song Because You’re Mine with its seasonal flavours. It closes in Lennon lurch along, descending scales I Am The Walrus mode with Standing In The Place, originally a poem sent to Steve by Paul Weller that has morphed into a swayalong with brass, piano trills and crowd-friendly chorus. 2020