Fashionably late for the party, this Oxford duo’s self-titled debut EP was released on White Label Records at the beginning of the month; what can I say for an excuse? Glad to catch up though, as Skates & Wagons are well worth it.
There’s retrospective grandeur on offer here; even down to the bracketed song titles, as was common at the time, of these four diligently composed tunes of sixties-fashioned mod psych-pop. It’s as if we’d not progressed from the era of The Kinks or Small Faces, The Spencer Davis Group and The Troggs at all. And to hear this makes one wonder if it was ever progress anyway.
Yeah, the dawn of the beatnik epoch, developed from the blues and soul inspired pop of Merseybeat is formulated, tried and tested, and anyone who mimics it is dependant on the only element left to ensure it’s respectable, the quality. Skates & Wagons set such a benchmark, taking a big chunk of the influence from this aforementioned style, but with a fresh approach rather than a shoddy and aged tribute, paling by comparison to its original.
We’ve seen this youthful blast of retrospection recently with the awesome blues detonation of Little Geneva, least to suggest this is more the pop of the fab decade, it also expands to classic electric rock, and is immediately beguiling via its wonderful musings. Skates & Wagons have long established themselves on the live circuit in Oxfordshire and beyond, but the EP is something precured over time like a fine wine. Initially they started working on it as far back as 2011, and completed it earlier in 2020, a testament to that old adage, you can’t rush art.
Opening borderline glam, Just Because you Can (Doesn’t Mean you Should) is possibly the most progressive, early Genesis fashioned, and vocally there’s harmony parallel to Gabriel and Collins. It’s as if Skates & Wagons regress through time as it goes on. Spin my Wheels is decidedly backdated in sound from the opening song, mid-Kinks period of their ‘66 album, Face-to-Face.
A nuanced approach to sixties-indebted structures, all four songs drip with instant fascination, as if you may’ve heard them on a classic radio show. The third tune is perhaps the most sublime, Tender (is the Night) is affectionate acoustic guitar-led emotive mellowness, to slip into a Who rock opera unnoticed. It’s an epic, seasonal-spanning romance themed masterpiece.
Yet, the final tune, Law As I Am True plays-out with the thump of pre-psychedelia sixties pop, but it’s got the kick of how The Jam re-enacted the sound, and it’s catchy because there’s subtle hints and swirls of the imminent next move to flower-power. Together here’s four memorable tunes which would have undoubtedly sailed to the Top of the Pops during that golden era, yet somehow completely original and uniquely fitting for the now.
If we’ve seen a relived trend with scooterists and mod culture recently, these guys are a hot contender to front such a movement. Though I caution them, there’s often a dispelling, or more, overlooked aspect with the current trend, in the interesting and natural progress to the late-sixties beatnik and flower-power movements, and while there’s nothing so “way-out” as Zappa on offer through Skates & Wagons, it does reflect those initial, optimistic changes of the mid-sixties. And in this notion, is what divides the duo from the bulk standard; yeah, fab, love it!