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Music and CD Reviews ~ Spencer Wakelam

The Universal

Much has been mentioned, in recent reviews and interviews, of those that inspired the music of Terry Shaughnessy, and therefore his band The Universal. Inspirations such as The Who, The Kinks and The Small Faces, yes. But if comparisons are to be drawn with more contemporary artists, I'd say that the tracks on the Liverpool band's new, self-titled album, are far more akin to the better solo work of Paul Weller, all the while remaining superbly original.

Many of the tracks on the album, in particular Revolution, Shine On and Stand Up (with its intro riff evocative of The Seeker) are calls to action - with Shaughnessy's urgent Weller-esque voice, guitars easily measuring up to anything Noel Gallagher can offer, and an undercurrent of Primal Scream thanks to the unmistakeable backing vocals of Denise Johnson.Despite his Modernist sensibilities, Shaughnessy doesn't conform to stereotypes, venturing into the full-on rocker (It Ain't What You Know) and more pensive, poetic tracks (Volcano, Get Yourself Together). Day In Day Out is also the A-side of The Universal's first single; a proper rallying cry, full of feedback-heavy piss and vinegar, and definitely one of the album's stand out songs. It's backed up by The Time Has Come, which doesn't feature on the album, so if you want to hear that you're just going to have get both aren't you? The album and single are out on 10th May on Diffusion Music, but to fully appreciate the energy generated by The Universal, I urge you also to see them live. For more details go to www.myspace.com/theuniversaluk or http://www.facebook.com/TheUniversalBand


Music reviews

Second Time Lucky is an eight piece band from Brighton, formed in 2003 from numerous former ska bands in the area.   They were signed to Rann Records in 2008 and have just released their debut album Drink Sleep Repeat . The style of the album is fairly fast paced and while very contemporary, never strays too far from a traditional ska or 2-Tone sound.   The production is very polished, and the lead vocals of Cat Goodman have a refined feel, leaning towards the Gwen Stefani/Chrissie Hynde end of the scale in their more poppy moments, or Lorraine Müller of The Kingpins/Lo & The Magnetics (for those of you that are down with their Canadian ska bands). In fact if I have one criticism it's that the vocals are at times a little too refined; especially on the tracks about drinking, that cry out for something a bit, well, rougher.   That aside, the lyrics are witty and intelligent, third track Secret Dog in particular raising a smile. If you're looking for something light-hearted, with the commercial appeal of a band like Mighty Mighty Bosstones or The Planet Smashers, I don't think you'll be disappointed with Second Time Lucky.   Drink Sleep Repeat is available direct from rannrecords.co.uk or can be downloaded from all good online stores such as iTunes, Tesco Digital, HMV and Amazon. (With thanks to our Dublin ska correspondent Mark)


SOUND ABOUT YOU - FUZZFACE

An ominous growl of feedback hails the intro of the new Fuzzface album's opening track Our Last Goodbye , a Led Zep style rocker that suggests this might be a different affair to their last outing Are We Nearly There Yet?   And it is.   The LP was recorded mostly live in an old RAF hangar to help recreate some of that awesome Fuzzface stage presence.   Sound About You has several meanings here, that's for sure. (Not Now) I'm In A Hot Tub is a typically witty ode to promiscuity that will be (or has been, depending on when you're reading this) available as a download single.   Take one part Blur, two parts Supergrass and add a healthy dash of Mott The Hoople and you're looking at a recipe for Stale Bread (see what I did there?), a mockney stroll through some melodic tempo changes.   In A Hullabaloo is a theatrical, bluesy vehicle for Adrian Johnson's vocal skills, with a trademark Matt Simpkins Hammond thrashing in the middle eight.   Simpkins ably takes lead vocal duties for Walk Across The Sea , a jazzy love ballad that has an almost hymn-like quality.   Lighter lyrics, an infectious rhythm and catchy chorus harmonies make title track Sound About You the nearest thing to a pop song on the album, but there's still time for more Hammond mentalism to combine with the Bull/Turnbull rhythm section in a thunderous instrumental break.   Essex Nights harks back to the debut album with its scathing lyrics; its funky bassline and organ making a night out in Colchester sound a bit like an episode of Starsky & Hutch.   Elsie Sailed is psychedelia at its rockiest, while the full-volume pure blues number Some Things Aren't Meant To Be features a powerful yet subtle lead vocal from Johnson.   How He Got That Girl is a 90mph psychobilly punk everyday love story about your average mismatched couple, leaving you short of breath just when you need it most for the final track.   In my opinion the masterpiece of the album, I Can't Let You Go is an anthemic finale; uplifting opening chords only briefly disguise the heartbreak described thereafter, each band member throwing everything they've got, lock stock and barrel, into their performance, ultimately making you want to go back and listen to the whole album again just to enjoy the build-up to this wonderful song. Sound About You was recorded loud, and should be played loud.   If you've seen Fuzzface perform, you'll love this album, if you love this album, you'll want to see Fuzzface perform.   It's as simple as that.

South Coast Statements - The Model Village
 
Portsmouth's experimental indie/ska/punk outfit The Model Village have gone through a few line-up changes of late, including a temporary disbandment, but they're back causing a bit of a stir on the Pompey live circuit, and have made a recent appearance performing some acoustic numbers on The Quay FM.  This collection of tunes is raw, and by no means the finished article, but when you consider the majority (if not all) of it was recorded on a portable 8-track studio in someone's front room, it's all the more impressive.  A blend of ska, reggae, punk, new wave and even a dabble in psychedelia, the witty, socially aware lyrics say "We're here, we're from Southsea and if you don't like it - bollocks".  Tracks worthy of a mention in dispatches are stomper The Currency of England, thoughtful New Wave Bliss, the funny Pistol Grove (available here to listen to), Career Moves which could have been written by a young Bruce Foxton, folk-ballad Adam & Eve and the infectious When Scum and Skate Collide, a tribute to the beauty and ugliness of the Pompey/Southampton derby match.  It's refreshing to hear a British band singing in their real accents rather than the usual insipid, mid-atlantic pretention, but the Model Village need to make sure they don't let it become a gimmick.  Billy Bragg's already cornered the market on that one.  South Coast Statements is an interesting little showcase though, and The Model Village could be a cracking little find for the right label.
 
Check them out at myspace.com/themodelvillage


I was going to wait until my copy of Grasp's new single, Summertime, was delivered by HMV before I reviewed it.  But is seems that if I do, it'll be at least Autumn time, so I'm going to go off the A&R preview copy kindly given to me by Andy Cullen.

Grasp

This is the third single release from the Essex darlings of the live Mod circuit, and I have to say it's the best so far.  I'd heard it in their live set at Skegness, then attended the launch gig in Brick Lane earlier this month, so I already had a good idea what I was going to say about it.  Penned by Andy Taylor, the lyrics are an uplifting ode to the joys of feeling the sun on your face and the wind in your hair, all wrapped up beautifully in a symphonic arrangement of chords from Spencer Taylor and Gary Weeks.  It has a real feel of Jimmy's highs in Quadrophenia, helped in no small way by Mark Hines' clever take on Keith Moon in the middle section.  Grasp's debut single Time To Go didn't quite reach the top 40, but if that's the yardstick, then Summertime deserves to go streaking into the charts while we've still got some good weather to enjoy it in.  Buy it, and let it catapult your soul.


We've been sent just about all the latest releases on the Biff! Bang! Pow! label by that champion of Mod and Indie music, Mr Paul Hooper-Keeley. Firstly I must apologise to him for taking so long to get reviews written, but he did send an awful lot, all at once!  Hopefully I'll be able to get through them in instalments.

The first two CDs I want to tackle are his compilations, Shake! and Shout! so I've poured myself a large cold one and settled down in front of the keyboard. Both the CDs are loaded with some excellent, stand-out tracks by bands old and new. Of the seventeen on Shake! the opener Get It Together by The Solarflares grabs you by the nuts with its gritty Medway sound, then before you've had a chance to get your breath back you're dragged along at hectic pace through an Online Pharmacy by Tom Hingley & the Lovers. Taken by The Points has a nice 90s Manchester feel to it, and reminds me of some of the great unsigned bands I've seen in pubs around the country. Yeh-Yeh's Don't Try has the real Revival feel that they're well known for, and sets you up perfectly for the brilliant Peace of Mind by Small World, up there with The Solarflares for best track of the album. I played this at a recent scooter do and it got more attention than any other tune in the entire set. The Goldenhour combine a Mod sound with their familiar West Coast style smoothness for These Things (which I'm bound to like because I like them and they're bloody nice blokes).  Francis by The Embrooks is a total mid/late 60s throwback full of influences from The Kinks, Quo, Floyd, The Who and probably even The Moody Blues.  It's hard to put a finger on it, but it's a good, foot-stomping rocker.  Follow that with the wall of sound that is J60's Other People Say, and you'll be transported to a low-ceiling, sweaty gig with grinding chords making the amps, and your sternum, vibrate.

Shout! kicks off its 18 tracks with Ian Page and The Affair's new version of Prove It, which I was lucky enough to see live at Southport this year (see our photos page), and belts along into the ear-popping Good Will Come by Phaze, featuring the talents of the wonderful Fay Hallam, pre-Trinity (review of her new album and single to follow folks).   Watch Out by Modus is an infectious number that left me wanting to know more about vocalist Sarah Kennedy, led me to the snappy website http://www.themodus.net, and delayed this review by several days. Sorry. Australia's finest Green Circles give your eardrums a thumping with Kneejerk Reaction; great but could have been brilliant if it was 30 seconds shorter. I love the riffy, Hammond groove of Roundabout's Without Her; it's a real bouncy tune.   Be transported back to the 60s with Givin' Up On You by the Impact Four; it's impossible not to imagine the drummer shaking his hair about as you listen to the Cross Section style chorus and middle eight. Then shoot forward to 1979 with another one from Yeh-Yeh -   set off for that rally to the sound of Weekend .   For those that like a Hammond-driven instrumental, you can't beat the awesome Dirty Barbara's Dirty Dreams by The Leicester Squares - Small Faces meets The James Taylor Quartet - a track they could play at Hipshaker and none of the fancy-dress brigade would bat a mascara-laden eyelid.   Just when you think it can't get any better, live circuit favourites 17 Black hit you with Movers and Shakers, which I can tell you sounds brilliant on an iPod when you're riding your scooter.  Take My Time by The Hideaways makes you want to chill, click your fingers, have a shmoke and say "nicccccce", just before you to get picked up by the seat of the pants and hurled through the ride on the waltzers that is I Can't Don't Want To Faster by The Shambles, another iPod special that makes 65mph on a PX200 feel like 120mph. Finally, wind it down to a gentle acoustic end with Grasp's answer to Oasis, Don't Know Why.All in all, Shout! and Shake! are great showcases for bands you might have forgotten, not heard about yet, seen once live and really liked or always been a fan of, and I can recommend them both. Now I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the third CD in the trilogy, Shimmy! All are available at biffbangpow.org.uk


Grasp - Time To Go

Grasp

Although Grasp have been regulars on the Mod/Indie live circuit for several years, this is their debut single released on Biff Bang Pow! Records. Class production by Ian Page (of The Affair) captures some the band's live energy by emphasising the rhythm section of Mark Hines' thunderous drums and Spencer Taylor's menacing bass (Page also lends a hand with some subtle keyboards).  Andy Taylor's vocals give more than a passing nod to an early RnB Jagger and Gary Weeks' whistling lead guitar takes the whole thing along at breakneck speed. 3 minutes 12 seconds of pure breathless rock'n'roll joy. It reached 21 in the Radio 1 Indie Chart in Autumn 2005, and the great thing about the single is the two other tracks on it, Sitting In The Back Room and Get It On, which I think are even better.  Listen to Time To Go here, listen to the other two tracks by buying the single!  biffbangpow.org.uk


fuzzface

Are We Nearly There Yet? is the debut from album from Colchester-based band FuzzFace. Having seen them live twice several years ago, I tried to describe them, but I think the band's own website puts it best when it says:"Immediate, raucous and earthy, FuzzFace's mix of R'n'B, northern soul, blues, gospel and country with quirky English charm is unique and irresistible. Having cut their teeth in smokey clubs and rough pubs, FuzzFace have earned a fearsome reputation for their heavily improvised live shows".Fortunately the album, a tribute to that great British institution, the seaside town, translates a good deal of live grittiness thanks in part to the production techniques used by Matt Simpkins, who also provides vocals, guitar and the best Hammond I've heard since McLagan. All The Best Things combines a pacey rhythm similar to The Who circa A Quick One, with vocals akin to The Creation. The opening acoustic riff of The Autumnal immediately reminds the listener of Marriot's The Universal, but has more upbeat breaks, and Mark Turnbull's Moon-esque drum fills are like those on Shout and Shimmy.  Special demonstrates the impressive upper range of lead guitar/singer Adrian Johnson's vocal talent over a Coffee And TV type riff. Possibly the theme track of the album, Idiot Country Boy starts with a gritty blues harmonica, then with little warning shifts into Ray Davies style lyrics and jazz saxophone interludes from bass player Toby Bull. It also contains the immortal line "He said have you ever been punched in the face before?   I said yes a few times, I'm expecting a few times more".   Norristown is the album's only instrumental, which gives Simpkins a chance to demonstrate his considerable Hammond ability. It also smacks of the band's Mod influences such as The Small Faces, Booker T and The MGs and Steve Winwood.   Tommy's Holiday Camp meets The Village Green Preservation Society in the comical Someone Else, where Johnson and Simpkins also get to demonstrate their acting skills. Sunday Morning sounds like an old R'n'B or soul hit with its Hammond and brass, being sung by Bowie in his Ziggy phase. I know, but just listen to it. Peeping Tom is another cleverly written song that again reminds of The Kinks, with a touch of Syd Barrett's Arnold Lane.  Bide Your Time has Simpkins again on Hammond and lead vocals, with Johnson and Bull providing perfect backing harmonies. The haunting intro of acoustic guitar, accordion and Johnson's trademark playing of the electric guitar with a violin bow combine with Simpkins incredible vocals to give a Led Zep style feel to the anthemic Do Yourself Right; my favourite track on the album.  Finally, the bonus track, There's a Hole In My Guitar is right out of the sleazy, mockney accented Small Faces textbook and cries out for audience participation. A very impressive debut disc that illustrates the pedigree of years of live performing.   Highly recommended listening. Good tracks: 11 out of 11Best Track:  Do Yourself Right Worst Track:  There isn't one.


OCS

A Hyperactive Workout for the Flying Squad has been much anticipated and, I'm glad to say, doesn't disappoint. The boys stole away to a Scottish hideout to record the album, and I think the isolation has served them well.  It kicks off in traditional OCS style, with the thumping rock track Everything Comes At The Right Time which has an intro reminiscent of their live cover of Day Tripper, and I can see it being a great opener on the upcoming tour.  The next track, the first single from the album which has already enjoyed chart success, Free My Name is an uplifting floorstomper that comes much closer to being Northern Soul than Make The Deal did on North Atlantic Drift.   Wah Wah is a cover of a George Harrison song, and the quality shows through.  I haven't heard the original, but this version benefits from rich vocals and a great brass arrangement.   Drive Away is the current single, a slower ballad with a heartbreaking melody that I hope is a softener for a possible third single - more about that in a moment.   I Love You is an anthemic tune with a vocally challenging chorus that Foxy says is his attempt to meld Roy Orbison with Velvet Underground.  It takes time to grow on you, but if we all took notice of the lyrics, the world would be a better place.  Track 6 fever; the location of the recording studio may well have influenced This Day Should Last Forever, which has a happy, celtic mandolin and violin combo that makes you want to dance like you've had too much ale.  Now then, what OCS album would be normal without one track to court controversy?   Move Things Over, according to the forum on the OCS website, has the fans split down the middle in true Marmite style.  If I said it's an easy/cheesey listening slowy, you'd guess where my opinions lie.  Moving on.   Waving Not Drowning is vaguely Oasis-esque, with an incredibly catchy chorus that's near impossible to shift once it's in your head.  Now then, remember what I said about a possible next single? This has to be it: God's World - the gospel according to Ocean Colour Scene, is the perfect rock single from start to finish. It has everything a record needs packed into 3min 21secs, with its soulful female backing vocals it's sure to become a live favourite, and cries out for a guest spot from PP Arnold. I haven't felt this good about an individual track since I first heard Dreaming Of You by The Coral, and if The Scene don't release this as a single, they deserve everything they get.  How do you follow it? Well, with Another Time To Stay. Vintage OCS, with beautiful, soaring strings. Verging on the symphonic.   Have You Got The Right is rather like a late Beatles, White Album or Let It Be song, with violin and sombre cello putting meat to the bones, and a thought provoking one at that.  I don't want to put you off the penultimate track Start Of The Day by saying imagine Pat Benatar's We Belong meets Sit Down by James, so I'll say this: two wrongs apparently CAN make a right. The final song sees OCS drummer Oscar Harrison's debut on lead vocals, My Time is a mellow, summertime reggae track with deceptively profound lyrics that Oscar delivers like thick melted chocolate being stirred with a velvet covered spoon. Okay, to sum up:
Good Tracks: 12 out of 13
Best Track: God's World
Worst Track: Move Things Over
Buy It?: This is classic Ocean Colour Scene, so if you like them, you'll like this.

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