Cult Figures; Deritend, Yes Mate!

It’s not just me, is it? Eighteen seconds into the Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary, you know, when it breaks, and you’re like, that’s it, right there. It matters not what youth culture you were into, at the time, or even now, it doesn’t give a hoot about your favoured genres, haircut, colour of anorak, age, gender or race, it just does it, and you, you’re like, as I said, that’s it, right there.

Something similar happens with this Cult Figures album Deritend, out last week; heck, if they haven’t even got a comparable name. Perhaps not so nostalgia-filled, as these are all originals, though the sound harks back to an era or yore, when cookies were in a biscuit barrel rather than your web browser, Tories were governed a demoness made from iron rather than a clown made of teddy bear stuffing, and a wet wipe was when your mum spat into a handkerchief and wiped it over your Space-Dust covered chops.

Mind, as happens when I’m sent files not numbered, it lists them alphabetically rather than in the running order, so the opening track is actually the penultimate Camping in the Rain, but it makes the perfect intro into the world of these London-based masters of retrospection. From its off, it’s, well, off, leaving me to reminisce about those classic post-punk new wave bands of the eighties. At times though, as it’s a mesh of this and reflective of the scooterist mod culture of same period, I’m thinking of the likes of the Jam and Merton Parkas too. Contemplate the musical differences are subtle, though worlds apart at the time, and this sits comfortably somewhere in-between.

To add to their perfection of authenticity, one must note this is the second album from Cult Figures, and is comprised of tracks written in their earlier incarnation between 1977 and 1980, just recorded more recently.

The real opening tune, Chicken Bones, has the same impact, something beguiling and anthemic, setting the way it’s going to go down. Donut Life, which follows, sounds like carefree pop, the Chords, for a comparison. In fact, as it progresses the guitar riffs of next tune, Lights Out, is sounding more pre-gothic, Joy Division, yet with a catchy whistle more akin to The Piranhas. Things get really poignant with Exile, almost dub Visage meets the Clash, and Omen extenuates the seriousness of a running theme.  

“Deritend draws a line under the past,” they explain, “all eleven tracks composed and recorded since our 2016 comeback, simultaneously reflecting a maturity gained in 40 years of life experience, whilst still embracing the accessible three Ps of the early days; punk, pop and psychedelia.” The album’s title owes to a historic industrial area outside Birmingham’s centre, “a few miles from where Gary and I grew up.”

The mysterious iconic name was a bus route terminus and has a strong emotional connection to the band, “evoking the nervous excitement of those long rides into town on our way to Barbarellas. But it conveys so much more: Deritend is an album that reflects on the past, speculates on the future, but for the most part is fairly and squarely a comment on the lives we are living now.” They convey this well, for through its retrospection, subject matter, growing up with the dilapidation of a working-class industrial chip, could equally apply to then, or now.

A timeless piece of art within a captivating musical style which embraces the traditions of generation X, just curled up at an edge like an old poster on the congregated iron fence of a closed factory. I mean Silver Blades and White Noise crave you dive back into punk; there’s a definite Clash feel to the latter. As girl’s names for titles generally do, Julie-Anne is archetypical upbeat but themed of desire, and the sound of it is particularly challenging to pin down, there’s Weller there, but a drum roll you’d expect Annabella Lwin to surface from (of Bow Wow Wow if you need to, Google it, youngster!)

Most bizarre and experimental is the brilliantly executed talky sound of Concrete and Glass. Cast your mind back to 86, if poss, remember Jim’s tune, yeah? Driving Away From Home by It’s Immaterial, and you’re not far from the mark.

The aforementioned Camping in the Rain which could’ve been the opening track, is next, and it’s the epithet of all we’ve mentioned. This combination is not juxtaposed cumbersomely like a tribute act, rather the genuine article lost in time, and it, well, in a nutshell, absolutely rocks. The finale, Privilege is plentiful to summarise; Clash-styled punk rock, themed on the expectations of irritated propertyless youth, akin to Jimmy Cliff’s You Can Get It If You Really Want.

But, unless all you want is a zig-a-zig-ah and to spice up your life with commercialised bubble-gum pop, nothing here is oven-ready for criticism, just relish yourself in a bygone era, and rock.


The Lost Trades Live Stream their new album on Friday; tickets here

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Tankus the Henge’s Luna Park

London’s Tankus the Henge’s third studio album is released today (4th Dec.) Tis a quixotic rock’n’roll fable, a utopian realm of wonderment with ingenious prose and the composition of a variety performance….

Picked on this new release to scribe a few words about based upon Devizes Arts Festival organiser Margaret Bryant’s thrilled expression when she leaked booking Tankus the Henge for the 2020 line-up, that sadly never was. Yet, sadder is the reality of the era, where so other many events didn’t happen either, and the decline of live music venues. Such is the subject of this inimitable London-based group’s Luna Park, an album out today.

If the pandemic has been a catalyst for music production, and often the theme too, from all I’ve heard it generally focuses on the virus itself. Although Luna Park centres around the decline of music venues, an allegory for what is happening on London’s Denmark Street and all across the UK, one should note while it may resonate of lockdown fever, it was actually recorded during the winter of 2019.

Though nothing comes across melancholic with Tankus, it’s all clouts of glam-rock and funk wrapped in a showy, big top magnificence. They describe their sound as “five-wheeled, funk fuelled, open top, custom paint job, rock ‘n’ roll jalopy that comes careering around the corner on a tranquil summer’s day, ruining the silence and disturbing the bats.” While rock n rolling songs blast, there’s refined moments, as with The only Thing that Passes Here is Time, but it’s gawdy big band fashioned horn-blowing. Picking it apart there’s so much on offer here, like a variety performance in one album, and for this, despite I’m grinch for glam, it’s ingeniously composed and addictive.

Glitterlung, is borderline downtempo “Portishead” triphop, for example, while the incredible Susie Sidewinder comes across as if Lloyd Cole and the Commotions wrote Sgt Pepper. Of course, it relies heavily on the glam side of rock n roll, but there’s rudiments of everything; Deacon Blue to Zappa is showing a bit shoulder here. Each influence it throws into the melting pot is taken with a pinch and is wholly fun. Particularly noted for the amusing element, Staying on the Side of the Dirt was the tune which swayed me, it’s terribly Dennis Waterman theme tune fun, and I mean this is a good way! Chas n Dave are legends, given electric guitars and told to work with Noddy Holder, you might get something along similar lines.

During listening I pondered if this rock opera, and decided more on rock circus. I usually reserve that fairground comparison for the two-tone sound of groups akin to Madness, but it applies here too. It’s not a concept album as such, more a vision. A fantasy of a realm where creativity is celebrated and live music thrives. A place where venue closures are a thing of the past, and corporate gentrification is a non-entity. A refuge from greed and capitalism, and the salvation of independent music, free thought and good-times, packaged in dark, wry satire with a neon glow.

Speaking about the underlying themes at play, frontman Jaz Delorean said, “I don’t think the public knows the entire truth when it comes to the hardships and thin margins of running a venue, and most of the time we don’t want them to. They go out to have a good time and forget about life for a while. Thousands of people work all hours to keep venues, and festivals alive, and at the moment all of it is under threat. The ripples will be felt in every household eventually… We learned and started honing our skill in Denmark Street, in clubs like 12 Bar Club and Alleycat, both of which have closed. Jamboree, Passing Clouds, The Peel, 14 Bacon Street, Madame Jojo’s. All these venues were haunts of ours and are now closed permanently too.  We need to support these small venues so much more.”

Yet Luna Park is more then the sum of its parts, there’s gorgeous portrayals and the well-grafted, thoughtful characters of a novel, in disordered or decisive situations. If anything twisted my opinion on flares and glitter it’d be this very entertaining scrapbook of sounds.

https://www.tankusthehenge.com


1/2 Dove – 1/2 Pigeon with Micko and the Mellotronics

Had to chuckle to myself, trying to find this album stored on my phone I kept thinking about Mike & The Mechanics! Just, No, leave it; nothing of the sort, London’s Micko and the Mellotronics debuted last year with the single The Finger, the accompanying album 1/2 Dove – 1/2 Pigeon is due for release Friday (27th November.)

We’ve come so far since Television’s Marquee Moon, neo-avant-garde anarchism comes across cleaner this decade. You Killed My Father, now you must die, is a tune lesser aggressively executed than you might imagine from the lyrics. There’s a fairground, vaudeville style to Micko & The Mellotronics, wrapped in wryness, at times; which you don’t get with Sonic Youth, but unpredictably often spawned cringeworthy from the Velvet Underground.

Melancholic free, though; there’s nothing retrospective on offer, this is post art-punk, a distant cry from Talking Heads, feistier, it floors the vox, elevates to high-fidelity and fires on all four cylinders. At times it shadows Pulp, and at others Blur creeps in, but throughout, it’s fresh and exhilarant. Welcome to the eccentric and individual biosphere of Micko Westmoreland, actor and creative, hitherto renowned for solo releases and material as The Bowling Green.

The Mellotronics initially began playing out as a three-piece with founding member Nick Mackay (drums) and the enigmatic addition of Vicky Carroll (band “wicket keeper” and bass player). In 2018, the band were joined by revolutionary guitarist Jon Klein (Siouxsie & the Banshees/Specimen, and founder of the iconic Batcave club) who also adds his flare to their upcoming debut.

A stellar array of special guest musicians feature too, including The Specials’ bassist Horace Panter (a friend & collaborator who has worked with Micko on an annual charity record alongside Rat Scabies for the last 7 years), horn impresario Terry Edwards (PJ Harvey/Madness/Nick Cave) and alternative violinist in excelsis Dylan Bates (Waiting On Dwarfs/Penge Triangle), plus the late Monty Python/The Rutles/Bonzos great: Neil Innes. Early videos for featured singles ‘The Finger’ and ‘Noisy Neighbours’, have also seen the band working with actors Paul Putner (Little Britain) and Susy Kane (The I.T. Crowd, Gavin & Stacey) respectively.

½ Dove – ½ Pigeon is elated trialling, chockful of historical and philosophical references, palpably paranoid of a modern apocalypse and merged in citations to pop-culture, at times rocking, others a tad unnerving. But while power-driven guitar impediments contribute to the discomforting moments, off-kilter horns counteract it with this sardonic glee.

Contradictory this arrangement puts your defences up, akin to walking into a modern art gallery not knowing what to expect. I wanted at times not to like it, as tracks like The Fear does what it says on the tin, but Good Friend is having-it joyously and bought me around. If I remain undecided it’s due to my own personal preference, and have to tip my hat at the ingeniousness of the writing and composition. It took me some adjusting to fully appreciate, yet I feel those leaning harder to post-punk rock and emo-indie will take Micko & The Mellotronics as new idols.

This is especially true of the next single released from it, Psychedelic Shirt. A coming of age theme, eighties set, when the culturally cool was at loggerheads with Thatcherite careerism, and tribalism was rife on the dancefloors of the local disco. Micko sums his notions, “Psychedelic Shirt tells the story of venturing to an out of hours school disco in a dishevelled scout hut in Leeds. Where Top Man flick heads had seized upon my newly procured paisley shirt and sought about destroying it. I’d taken it off because I was too hot, left it on a peg in the boy’s loos. Later, I found the article, ‘mopped up in the fluid, screwed up in a ball’ on the lino floor as the song’s lyrics state. I was forced to make a choice between victimhood or empowerment but left contemplating shades somewhere in between…”

It’s one slick album, razor-edged rock’n’roll meets avant-garde pop-art meets satirical Edgar Allan Poe short story, but in a cracker of fun.

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On the Climbing Frame with Gecko

If our last music review from Ruzz Guitar impressed me for its exploration of traditional blues styles, note I’m not conventional and you need not rewind progress to appease me; I love Climbing Frame, the second forthcoming album by London-based Gecko, equally, but for completely opposite reasons.

Partly, it reminded me of the time Louis Theroux rapped for one of his “Weird Weekend” episodes. In the mockumentary Theroux was advised by the US rap producers to “keep it real,” yet upon drafting lyrics about eating cheese and driving a compact car, sardonically citing as that as what is real to him, they contradictorily sniggered it off and recommended he rapped on cliché subject matter; bling, hoes, cold cash, etc.

If commercial US hip hop has lost its direction, UK rap thrives and remains faithful to the origins by pushing new boundaries. But if you feel the midway “cocknee” chat-come-singing style, the likes of Lilly Allen and Kate Nash, has come of age and flatlined for being samey, Gecko is a refreshing breeze of originality, and so multi-layered it’s difficult to pin it down and compare. Fact is, I’m uncertain defining it as “rap” is a fair shout, as hip-hop fashioned beats here have been left to the bare minimum and what we have is intelligent chat, often thought-provoking or comical, which slips into song over either acoustic indie guitar or retrospective electronica pop; as if Scritti Politti met the Streets.

If you’re contemplating, sounds rather geeky, I’d reply ah, it could head one of two ways, and in the hands of many it’d be bad news, but I’m happy to report Gecko accomplishes it in a proficient and highly entertaining way.

Awash with sentimental or witty verses reflecting on all manner of unique themes, the bulk of Gecko’s thoughts are honest observations, whole-heartedly personal, often retrospective anecdotes. Gecko does not uphold the ego or bravura of prominence; rather like Jarvis Cocker, there’s a contestant notion he’s opening his soul and depicting his innermost feelings, but is never without a punchline, and never afraid to show compassion. After a spoken word intro, for example, the opening song, “Can’t Know all the Songs,” is an upbeat riposte which any live performer could identify with; the annoyance of an audience shouting requests he doesn’t know. It’s ingeniously droll.     

But if the opening tune cites Gecko’s mature issues, the title track follows on this juvenile running theme, reflecting on childhood. The climbing in frame in question is a fallen tree, an amusing photo of Gecko estimated age of eight as the cover design reinforces this notion. Gecko perceives the unusual and expresses it inimitably, here, a reference to an age where we once recycled nature’s way for childlike kicks. Hope that the youngest people in this world will turn the apocalyptic hand that they’ve been dealt into something positive that we have not yet seen; “they weren’t trying to be symbolic, they were just having a laugh, but where most saw an obstacle, they just saw a path.”

Soaring does similar, but reverting to a simple acoustic guitar riff, it highlights the awe of childhood innocence in discovering something they think is exclusive, only to be knocked back by their parent’s clarification. I can’t detail it anymore without it being a spoiler, but believe me, if you don’t see yourself in this song and laugh out loud, you must’ve been born an adult. However, Gecko twists the narrative with genius writing akin to John Sullivan, and completes the track with a sentimental and virtuous moral. Hence my concern of my comparison; UK rap is not nearly multi-layered enough; don’t know why I even mentioned it really, only in desperation to pigeonhole this unique sound.

After this other recollection, Gecko proceeds to explain the theme of the next song, and performs a sublimely sentimental tale of Laika, a Moscow stray used to send into space, from the point of view of the dog. Perfect example of what I’m getting at with my originality angle; who dreams up a theme for a song on this subject? Gecko is part songwriter part author, Jack London in this case, and a damn good one to boot.

Furthering the childhood theme and his unpretentious tenet, he takes it to the next step with a real recording from his childhood, displaying the roots of his talent.

It’s a chockful album of twelve tunes, Breathe maybe the most commercially pliable with uplifting eighties synth-pop goodness. Yet Always and Pass it On plod like nineties indie anthems, Stereo MCs fashion. Whereas there’s a piano-based ballad, All I Know, and whoa, back to acoustic splendour with an immature narrative called A Whole Life. Here, Gecko writes from the perspective of a child just started primary school, giving a speech to a reception class about his experiences in ‘big school.’ This is, quite simply, ingenious writing and played out with sentiments so ultrafine and intelligently placed, you could listen to Climbing Frame over and over and still pick out elements you may’ve missed.

Best start then, as it’s released this Friday, 23rd October. It’s so multi-layered and original I’d highly recommend it to anyone, loving any genre, with an open mind, and perhaps a twinkling for nostalgic dreams.


Grupo Lokito Brings a Cuban-Congolese Fusion to Devizes Arts Festival

Images by Gail Foster

 

Can’t come out to play today, despite the finale of Devizes Arts Festival is all totally free. Three fringe events across town; The Hot Club (opps, nearly typed hot-tub then) at the Three Crowns at 1pm, Josephine Corcoran reading her poems and an open-mike session at the Vaults at 5pm and last, but not least, they’ve Circu5 closing the festival at the Cellar Bar, Bear Hotel at 8pm.

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For me, what’s been the best Devizes Arts Festival line-up ever, came to an explosive and marvellous conclusion last night when the Corn Exchange filled with the absolutely unique and gorgeous sound of Grupo Lokito. A packed Saturday night of the widest demographic you’d expect in Devizes, proves word is out; they’ve made a fool of anyone who attains this pompous, straitlaced pigeonhole they’ve so wrongly picked up. It has been a surfeit of talented and quality entertainment, amazingly diverse, and something our town should be very proud of.

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My thanks and praises go to all the organisers, who’ve worked their socks off but retained a smile and positive attitude throughout. So as the band members of Grupo Lokito mingled in the foyer, there was an atmosphere of delight for if this sundry group blend into a city’s world music setting, they were certainly a breath of fresh air in Devizes.

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The further away our ears travel from our perceived impressions of music, taken from what we’re exposed to at home, the harder it is, I think, to pinpoint and define the variety of styles. That’s what makes world music so fascinating. But, without recognisable covers or pastiches, and such a free-flowing sound, it does make a review somewhat tricky to write. Not helped by our brilliantly informative interview with Grupo’s keyboardist and manager Sara McGuiness, who outlined the nature of the band’s style.

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It intrigued me, Sara labelling the sound of the Buena Vista Social Club nostalgic and polarized, despite its positive effect in spreading Cuban music, to just how this night was going to go down. Indeed, Salsa dance classes had congregated, with their magnificently sassy style and gracefully romantic moves, yet I questioned if the music fitted. Salsa dancing tends to make use of traditional Rhumba, this was definably not. It was contemporary dance, do-what-ever-you-like dance, so while the salsa dancers didn’t look out of place, some arbitrarily bobbed along (myself included) and others tried to mimic the frontmen’s choregraphed hip movements, like guests on the Generation Game, none of it mattered. The concentration was on pure enjoyment of this glorious and peripheral style of music and it was thus.

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Evenly paced throughout, I observed this Cuban-Congolese fusion ecstatically. Noticing African sounds, like township jive in a particular tune, only for the next to be decidedly Cuban, and what followed them, a curiously exciting blend of the two to the point it neither mattered nor favoured one over the other; it’s just marvellous music without labels.

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I tingled when popping back to the foyer to ensure Devizes Market Place still existed and I wasn’t at Womad, informing photographer Gail it felt like I was on was holiday, a holiday I couldn’t actually afford!

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And that, in a nutshell, is the indication of a quality and exotic night. A big group hug for the Devizes Arts Festival, what a super conclusion…. Can we book Ziggy Marley next year, otherwise how are you going to top that?!

 

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