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Vic Godard & Subway Sect (Gnu Inc) - Live & Rare Volume One

Gnu Inc release a compilation entitled in classic Ronseal fashion – it does what it says on the tin. “Live & Rare...” showcases tracks of variable genres and audio quality panning thirty-five years of Vic Godard’s career. Vic has never been one to adhere to the same style for longer than necessary, and this collection resembles a various artists’ sampler – encompassing punk, northern soul, jazz, swing, film noir, stage musical – and a French ballad into the bargain. The opening numbers are eye-openers for even the most diehard Subway Sect fans. “US C---s” was recorded at the band’s third ever gig in November ’76, and is the first officially released song to feature original drummer Paul Packham. This and “Can This Be True?” from 1977 crystallise the energy of the early Sect, eventually triggering the punk revolution north of the border when they toured with the Clash and the Slits.

“Imbalance” and “Nobody’s Scared” are lifted from a 1978 rehearsal session. “Imbalance” would remain unreleased until 1993’s Edwyn Collins-produced “The End Of The Surrey People”.  Edwyn’s first significant link with the Sect was listening to a 1980 bootleg of the Northern Soul tinged “Holiday Hymn”, now included on “Live & Rare.....”. It seems astonishing now that from deciphering this live tape Orange Juice released their own version as a single. This Sect performance was recorded during their support slot with Siouxsie and the Banshees. The audience – seeing their punk heroes convert to a decidedly non-punk approach - were left nonplussed. The next four tracks encapsulate the period which Godard has described as “the most punk thing I’ve ever done”. Teaming up with a group of musicians who later became the nucleus of JoBoxers, the jazz and swing renditions of “Hey What’s Your Name”, “Stamp Of A Vamp” and “Carriblu”, along with a cover of the Tony Bennett standard “Just In Time” were played at shows supporting the likes of Bauhaus. This along with their appearances in tuxedos led to further adverse audience reactions – one humorously captured for posterity at the beginning of  “Just In Time” here.....(”They’re a bit boring aren’t they!”). “George Blake Masterspy” catapults the Sect into the late 90’s and is a compelling film noir thriller. “Nasty Man”, previously released on the now out-of-print “20 Odd Years” compilation, sees Vic collaborating with Creeping Bent band The Leopards in a blistering tour de force – wonder if it’s time for a studio recording of this?

Two tracks are included here from the stage musical “Blackpool” co-written with Irvine Welsh and performed with The Bitter Springs. A slick version of the title track and a joyous rendition of the unreleased live favourite “The Wedding Song” wet the appetite for the anticipated recording of the entire project – which hopefully will see release sooner rather than later.  Subway Sect’s signature track “Ambition” is included here as a live version from 2004 that bears closer resemblance to Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women” than to the original! “La Maison Ou J’ai Grandi” is a haunting ballad from the sixties – here Vic is joined for the first time on CD by members of Wet Dog.

An exhilarating canter through more stylistic twists and turns than your average three quarters of an hour – and each handled with the touch of the master.

Phil Martin – Before We Go To Paradise (Brentford Records)

Phil Martin celebrates his fiftieth birthday with another notable landmark – the release of his debut solo album. Having appeared with Phil in The Long Decline and Jowe Head & The Demi-Monde, and witnessing him from the audience on numerous occasions with The Bitter Springs and Subway Sect, I’m more than familiar with his infectious off-kilter humour and his peerless improvisational abilities on violin. “Before We Go To Paradise” reveals his additional talents as vocalist and songwriter – with a noted literary bent.

The majority of the album consists of reworkings of classic texts across the ages. “Rolling English Road” marries the words of GK Chesterton with the unashamed Englishness of Robyn Hitchcock. Shakespeare’s “Shall I Compare Thee” is evocatively portrayed, and Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Margaret Are You Grieving” – the album’s highlight – is metamorphosised into a wistful folk composition, effortlessly accentuating the emotion of  Hopkins’ work. William Blake’s “Tyger Tyger” is transformed into a homage to T Rex’s “Ride A White Swan” – the alliance of Blake and Bolan making perfect sense.

Phil’s self-penned “Open Mic” is an all too real anthology of the ever –optimistic musician treading the amateur pub circuit (“Elvis died on the toilet – I die up here every week”), and his accompanying composition “Carless Love” begins seemingly as an eco-promotional statement on the joys and advantages of cycling – but in this story not all is bliss on the saddle. The cover of Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” is retitled to shift the area in question from America’s deep south to Phil’s home town of Brentford. This initially suggests a weak play on words but the change of location is dealt with seriously, sensitively and with a genuine warmth for the town he has also christened his label after. It’s a novel idea to combine established writings with his own, but the ability of his self-penned songs here leads one to anticipate the possibility of the next album being completely self-lyricised. With “Before We Go To Paradise” Phil Martin has revealed some of his capabilities from under that bushel (knowing him he’ll be cracking innuendos at that phrase!) – so further unearthing for the next album would be illuminating. Refreshingly original.

19 Forevva – The Zips (Tenement Toons)

Speaking as someone who wasn’t particularly keen on their teenage years I wouldn’t wish the title of this album to reflect my existence, but it does sum up the energy of The Zips’ second album. This is a mere five years after their debut “Guitars4Hire”, itself released 27 (!!!) years after their first EP.

“Kiddin”, “Barbara Wire” and especially “Zips FM” place the band musically in the poppier rather than the thrashier end of punk. “Secret Life Of A Teenage Punk Rocker” borrows (with permission) the liner notes and celebrity quotes from Andy Blade’s notorious memoirs – even Jonathan Ross is name-dropped here. This is probably the most obvious vocalisation of a non-lyric since The Cure read from the back of a sugar packet on “So What” in 1979 – but why not?  The anti-war sentiments of  “Angerland”, “Stop The War” and most poignantly “Straight To Helmand” nail the Zips’ pacifist colours firmly to the mast. “.....Helmand” juxtaposes the combined newspaper headlines of celebrity gossip against needless deaths in war zones.  The title track rails against the pains of growing older -  pension plans, insurance and the like – but there’s one particular line that should be translated into Latin and put on a coat of arms somewhere - a succinct but beautiful summation of life in general – “You Live You Die You Fuck You Cry”.

“Hooray Henry” – a neat way of thrashing out a copyright dispute is to write a song about it. The Zips allege fashion guru Henry Holland stole the cover design of their 1979 Zips EP. The inside cover of the album displays both designs and the similarities are incredibly striking. The song claims Holland has not answered their correspondence on this matter. This could run and run. The Zips are by no means teenagers but their material is compellingly fresh. Musically they won’t change the world but listening to “19 Forevva” is a damn fine way to spend 37 minutes.

The Gallantiers – Red In Tooth And Claw (self – released)

The album’s opener, “Mystery School” , begins with a ferocity of guitars that appear to allude to John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey”, but Justin Farrow’s vocal immediately conjures images of the New York Dolls and the dark underbelly of the world of  Nick Cave.

Cave’s influence is also paramount on “Stand My Lovely” ,whereas “Crack The Whip” is a no-nonsense solid rocker – tipping its hat to The Stooges. If there was a market for a single to plug and summarise the band then “Escalator Blues”  gets the vote, encapsulating the band’s modus operandi in one fell swoop. A commendable album and Farrow is an incisive lyricist who is not afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve.

The Playmakers EP – The Playmakers (self-released CDR )

Formed in the summer of last year, this Cirencester trio look to be an exciting prospect. “The Boys From Up The Hill” and “She’s A Mystery” reveal sharp pop sensibilities, with the overall sound echoing traces of Three Imaginary Boys-era Cure and Franz Ferdinand, underpinned by bass lines paying homage to the great Peter Hook. Immaculately structured, immediately accessible, and definitely a band to keep your eyes on.

Lee McFadden 22/01/12

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