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.


Blank Pages of an Atari Pilot

This extensive belter of eighties-fashioned high-fidelity pop waits for no man, a sonic blast opens it, and the riff wouldn’t sound alien appearing in a John Hughes coming-of-age eighties movie. Visualise Jud, Molly, Emilio et all, dancing around a school library to this latest track from Swindon’s Atari Pilot.

After our glorious appraisal of their previous single Right Crew, Wrong Captain in July, they reckon I’m going to be fair on them again, but really, there’s nothing to dislike about Blank Pages. A review in which they quoted me suggesting, “this sound is fresh, kind of straddling a bridge between space-rock and danceable indie.” Here though, save the strong bassline, the space-rock element is lessened and retrospective synth-pop chimes in a racing beat, twisting this into a real grower on the ears.

Press release aptly cites “everything from Springsteen to Daft punk, Kathleen Edwards to Love,” as influences. As if Daft Punk would work with Springsteen, but if they did, I’d imagine something rather like this. And that alone, makes for an interesting sound, again akin to what Talk in Code are putting out locally, perhaps more so for this single. While we could hinge on an inglorious comeback from an eighties pop star and be thoroughly disappointed by their timeworn platitude and fame induced narcissistic attitude, nostalgia has never been so energetic and fresh when it’s channelled as an influence rather than comeback or tacky tribute act.

There’s a backstory about Atari Pilot, I may have mentioned before but worth reminding. After their debut album “Navigation of The World by Sound” in 2011, a long hiatus took in a serious cancer battle for Onze. But getting a second chance at life gave him the inspiration to get back to writing, and Atari Pilot reformed in 2018 with an acoustic set at the Swindon Shuffle. Reforming the band was actually planned from his hospital bed.

With this in mind, Onze describes the thinking behind this great song, “Blank Pages, like the other songs for the struggle, were inspired by being diagnosed with and recovering from cancer. The songs reflect the highs and lows of life and the struggles we are faced with and have to overcome to reach where we want to be.”

There’s a heartening theme of struggle in the face of change, “it’s also about trying to recognise that we can’t escape ourselves, and asks whether we can use our history and baggage to fire a brighter future,” Onze explains.

It’s a DIY production, recorded and mixed in Onze’s home studio by using Logic Pro X, but sounds stunningly professional. Atari Pilot are Onze (vox,) Paj (bass,) Frosty (guitar) and drummer Andy, and we look forward to hearing more from them. I even managed to review this one without mentioning retro-gaming:


Atari Pilot’s Right Crew, Wrong Captain

Only gamers of a certain age will know of The Attic Bug. Hedonistic socialiser, Miner Willy had a party in his manor and wanted to retire for the evening. Just how a miner in the eighties could’ve afforded a manor remains a mystery; but that erroneous flaw was the tip of the iceberg. In this ground-breaking ZX Spectrum platform game, the Ribena Kid’s mum appeared to guard Willy’s bedroom, tapping her foot impatiently. Touch this mean rotund mama and she’d kill you, unless you’d tided every bit of leftovers from the bash. Turned out, months after the game’s release, one piece, in the Attic, was impossible to collect. Until this glitch became public knowledge, players were fuming as an intolerable bleeping version of “If I was a Rich Man,” perpetually looped them to insanity.

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I swear, if I hear that tune, even some forty years on I cringe; the haunting memory of my perseverance with the impossible Jetset Willy. Music in videogames has come a long way, thank your chosen deity. Yet in this trend of retrospection I terror at musical artists influenced by these cringeworthy clunky, bleeping melodies of early Mario, or Sonic soundtracks; like techno never happened, what are they thinking of? It was with caution, then, when I pressed play on the new single from Swindon band “Atari Pilot.” I had heard of them, but not heard them. I was pleasantly surprised.

For starters, this is rock, rather than, taken from the band’s name, my preconceived suspicion I would be subject to a lo-fi electronica computer geek’s wet dream. While there is something undeniably retrospective gamer about the sonic synth blasts in Right Crew, Wrong Captain, it is done well, with taste and this track drives on a slight, space-rock tip. Though comparisons are tricky, Atari Pilot has a unique pop sound. No stranger to retrospection, with echoey vocals and a cover akin to an illustration from Captain Pugwash, still this sound is fresh, kind of straddling a bridge between space-rock and danceable indie. Oh, and it’s certainly loud and proud.

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A grower, takes a few listens and I’m hooked. Their Facebook blurb claims to “change the rules of the game, take the face from the name, trade the soul for the fame…I’m an Atari Pilot.” After their debut album “Navigation of The World by Sound” in 2011, a long hiatus took in a serious cancer battle. But Atari Pilot returned in 2018 with an acoustic set at the Swindon Shuffle. The full band gathered once again the following year with live shows and a new set of “Songs for the Struggle.” This will be the title of their forthcoming follow-up album, “When we were Children” being the first single from it, and now this one, “Right Crew, Wrong Captain,” is available from the end of July.

Its theme is of isolation, “and defiance, after the ship has gone down,” frontman Onze informs me. There’s a haunting metaphor within the intelligent lyrics, “you nail yourself to the mast and you pray that everything lasts, you just want to know hope floats, when the water rises, coz it’s gonna rise, take a deep breath and count to ten, sink to the bottom and start again.”

There’s a bracing movement which dispels predefined ideas of indie and progresses towards something encompassing a general pop feel, of bands I’ve highlighted previously, Talk in Code and Daydream Runaways, Atari Pilot would not look out of place billed in a festival line-up with these acts, and would add that clever cross between space-rock with shards of the videogames of yore, yet, not enough to warrant my aforementioned fears of cringeworthy bleeps. Here’s hoping it’s “game over” for that genre. That said, thinking back, when you bought your Atari 2600, if you recall, oldie, you got the entire package of two joysticks and those circler controllers too, as standard; could you imagine that much hardware included with a modern console? Na, mate, one controller, you’ve got to buy others separately.

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So, if decades to come we have a band called X-Box or PlayStation Pilot, I’d be dubious, but Atari gave us quality, a complete package; likewise, with Atari Pilot!


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From The Specials; Neville Staple Band in Lockdown

Photos by John Coles
Artwork by Sugary Staple

If last year’s fortieth anniversary of Two-Tone Records saw an upsurge of interest in this homegrown second-generation ska, it shows no sign of flawing anytime soon. Perhaps you could attribute parallels to the social and political climate of our era, or debate intransigent devotees are reliving their youth, but I’d argue it’s simply an irresistible sound.

One thing our eighties counterparts didn’t have to contend with was the Covid19 pandemic, and musicians of every genre are reflecting on it. Ska is of no exception, we’ve seen many contemporary performers releasing new material on the subject, but here we have a legend doing his thing, topically.

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The Neville Staple Band releases this timely single, Lockdown. A dynamic modern-sounding reggae track, yet encompassing all the goodness of the Two-Tone era of yore. Understandable, original rude boy Neville Staple is conversant with this, a founder member and co-frontman of The Specials, Fun Boy Three and Special Beat. Those influences shine through here. There’s something very Fun Boy Three about this tune, with a slice of poetically-driven Linton Kwesi Johnson to its feel.

As true as the song suggests, in lockdown Dr Neville Staple has teamed up with wife Sugary Staple, to pump out this relevant single, commonly reflecting on the feeling of many concerning the virus and staying safe. “Sugary came up with the idea to write a song about the lockdown,” Neville explains, “which, at first, was a very fast-stomping ska track. We then realised that it was too fun and happy a tune for the theme. Most of us have been quite down about the whole virus thing, so we decided to take it on a more sweet but moody 2Tone reggae route, in a similar vein to ‘Ghost Town’, with some music we had worked on previously with Sledge [Steve Armstrong.]”

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While I detect echoes of Ghost Town, this tune also breathes originality and present-day freshness, confirming progression of the genre rather than a frequently supposed nostalgia. Being a local site, some may recall his visit to Melksham’s ParkFest last year, where an unfortunately damp evening didn’t stop the revelling, and Neville stole the show with an assortment of Two-Tone classics. I was backstage with the wonderful support band Train to Skaville. A chance meeting with Neville, when he popped out of his tent for pizza, humourlessly failed to engage long enough to explain who I was, and ended with him pointing at his pizza-box and saying “yeah, I’m going off to eat this.” I should’ve known better than to harass a legend when their pizza is chilling in drizzle! I nodded my approval, knowing I’d have done the same thing.

Neville was awarded an honorary doctorate from Arden University last year. With a tour, and so many international shows and festivals postponed, the couple decided to do a lot of extra charity work as well as new song writing. DJ recordings for people sick in hospitals or in isolation, personally dedicated to them, was just the start. Sugary and Neville wanted to highlight the work of Zoe’s Place, a charity run for terminally ill babies and toddlers. As ambassadors for this charity, Sugary expressed, “charities like these really do suffer at a time like this, as the focus is on other things. But the work they do at Zoe’s Place is like one of a kind and so very special. They step in when families really do need the support, providing 24-hour high quality, one-to-one palliative, respite and end-of-life care for children aged 0-5 years. A heart-breaking time for anyone involved. We must not lose a charity like this – it is too important and so we will be supporting this, along with other charities we are patrons or ambassadors to, with this single.” And the duo dedicates this song to all those who have been affected by Covid-19.

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Shared to our Boot Boy Radio DJs, you can expect we will be spinning in for the foreseeable future, but you can get it here:

7″ vinyl order https://bit.ly/2NeeoUA

Spotify https://open.spotify.com/album/1s2wuLNQ3q4wsvq7tOUfVh

iTunes https://music.apple.com/gb/album/lockdown-single/1515072018

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Lockdown/dp/B0894K4G1Q


SPECIAL NOTICE – FROM THE SPECIALS, NEVILLE STAPLE & SUGARY:

A MESSAGE TO YOU..! The Legendary Neville Staple (Dr), Sugary Staple & the Band, need your help please.

Can you wonderful people please donate just £3 towards this project (which will also get you 2 signed exclusives pics), or any random amount, or check out the mega exclusive vinyl 45 & CD gift set offers (these are going really well, and are extremely rare limited edition items, so grab them while you can). You just click this link and choose your reward, to then register your donation.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fromthespecials/lockdown-ska-2020-from-the-specials-neville-staple-and-sugary/   


If you like a bit of ska and reggae, catch me on www.bootboyradio.co.uk Fridays from 10pm GMT till midnight!

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Numb Tongues, Kings and Dukes

If you like your soul and blues with an authentic vintage feel, look no further than this new Bristol group, The King Dukes…. 

 

If Bristol wasn’t the birthplace of a “new cool” through electronic blues in the nineties, with the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead, it certainly led the way. I have to take a deep breath, fetch my pipe and slippers; this is a new era of anti-pop, an era of retrospective tendency, where traditional instruments override our technological desire of the pre-millennium. An era where technology is used only to market, allowing sounds to hark back to a time before drum loops, rap, and the DJ as king.

The king is dead, long live this exciting renovation, and long live The King Dukes. I’m honoured to give you the low-down, about their new journey. Formed in Bristol in April, a merger of a variety of local bands, including Crippled Black Phoenix, Screamin’ Miss Jackson and the John E. Vistic Experience, The King Dukes combine said talent and experience to create a unique, authentic sound, dipped in a heritage reuniting contemporary slices of British RnB with a dollop of Memphis soul.

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Set to unleash their debut album ‘Numb Tongues’ on October 25th, I’ve had a listen or ten, and can plainly see why it’s been picked up by UK label, Paratone, as well as French label QSounds Recording. Chatting to guitarist and frontman, Marc Griffiths, I asked him what’s in a name, predicting it might relate to Duke Ellington. While pondering he sent a YouTube link of a track not on the album. This song, titled King Cyrille, is Hammond organ boss reggae, akin to Harry J’s Allstars. It’ a tribute to West Bromwich Albion player Cyrille Regis. “The team used to come out to Liquidator,” he explained, “it’s in conjunction with West Brom, for their podcast, so we did something similar.” Momentarily contemplating the name possibly nods more to Duke Reid, Marc cleared it up, informing me they had a residency at the Old Duke in Bristol, “but that’s named after Duke Ellington.”

I can see why, aside this one-off tune, Numb Tongues is not only dependent on a classic RnB sound, there’s sprinkles of jazz, blues, yet formulated like Stax or dare I say it, Motown. It rolls out in a manner able to slip its tunes into a set of old-time soul unnoticed. Caril-Anne, for example, is up-tempo soul, beguiling through that recipe of yore, simplicity. Kid Gloves is another lively number, foot-stomping soul with a subtle nod to rockabilly akin to The Big Bopper. This one reminded me of Jack and Elwood Blues marching back and forth.

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But if this four-beat soul formula rings through tracks like I Gotta Go, and Gone, Gone, Gone is stepping, handclapping doo-wop reliant, Rub You The Right Way hooks into a blues riff taking me to Howlin’ Wolf, and True, True, True nods to bebop. This one has a sublime vocal by April Jackson, who holds a note like Etta James. Generally, the vocals are as polished as the aforementioned soul legends, yet grittily Caucasian, like Jim Morrison’s finest hour.

As a whole there’s much going on here, but whether there’s echoing vocals like the ballad, Dying Man, with a breezy jazz-come Otis Redding passion, or, like Marlo Cooper, it’s a blast of instrumental groove, comparable to Stax session musicians Booker T & the MG’s, it’s all stylised and flows superbly. In fact, it was mention of an Otis Redding post on their Facebook page which got Marc and I chatting; glad I did now.

With Marc and April, there’s drummer Dan Clibery, bassist Mandrake Fantastico, Henry Slim owning that Hammond Organ and Harmonica, and a fiery three-piece brass section with Joss Murray on Trumpet, Rebecca Sneddon on Tenor Sax and Sarah Loveday-Drury handling the Trombone.

Together they’re a force to be reckoned with. Throwing modern recording techniques aside and using methods for a fifties-sixties sounding album, such as recording a section with multiple instruments all at one time, and playing period-specific instruments, The King Dukes have captured perfectly this raw, vintage backline on ‘Numb Tongues.’

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We’ve seen a similar blueprint around our way with the brilliant Little Geneva, and if this is the trend then I’m in, hook, line and sinker. Although, naturally, those ol’ time classic soul songs never wane in appreciation, sometimes looking further afield to the rare grooves, like Northern Soul aficionados, often the tunes never make equal approval in production and quality. Numb Tongues meet this notion in middle; The King Dukes deliver fresh material with honours, and if heard in 1965 would surely be considered classics.

You can pre-save a copy of Numb Tongues here, there’s an album launch on December 7th at the LeftBank in Bristol; I’m keen to hear of anyone willing to bring these guys local for a gig. As you know Devizine doesn’t usually cover Bristol, too much going on and not enough hours in the day, but when it’s this good…….


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