My formative years and the decade I attained puberty (if not maturity) were the 1980’s. My important school years, my first drink, my first girlfriend (and first kiss, but that’s for me to remember) and, most pertinent to this review, when I started to really understand and enjoy music.
You may find this hard to believe now but, at the time I had proper bouffant new romantic haircut and a propensity for the same style of music. Simple Minds, Ultravox and Duran Duran were my favourites but I also enjoyed Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, The Smiths, Fine Young Cannibals and all sorts of bands with a punk/pop edge to them.
It does seem strange but, in this decade that style almost forgot, a band was formed in my home town that played this type of music but never really showed up on my radar. It seems weird that, over 30 years later, I see some of these guys in the pub and have a drink with them and yet never knew they were in a band right on my doorstop, oh the fickleness of fate!
To quote the band’s own publicity material: “Initially formed in 1980 from the residue of the Bridlington/Hornsea Punk Rock scene, the band went on to become ‘the’ live act to see in and around East Yorkshire. Spreading their wings following management and recording deals IR as they became known, toured extensively building up a loyal following around the UK.
Things were looking up – the elusive deal, TV appearances and a bulging gig diary would surely help them on the way to wherever it is bands aspire to reach. The Polydor deal crumbled, so undeterred the band released two singles on their own Cowboy City label. ‘You Need Shoes’ and ‘Life In An Elevator ‘were both crowd faves when IR played live but yet again the fickle finger of fate picked at the scab of fame.
Lead singer Steve Skinner was invited to play with Orange Juice and left the band on the day ‘Life In An Elevator’ was released (Steve continued to work with Edwyn Collins for many years). The band carried on in his absence, changing direction, haircuts and clothing. The compass fell out of the tour van and IR lost their way.”
In 2010 the original members decided to reform but, unfortunately, original drummer Spec found his other commitments meant he couldn’t carry on with the band. Like a Knight in shining armour (okay, like a teacher on a bicycle) the younger and fitter Joel Cash stepped into the breach seamlessly and saved the bacon.
Over the next few years IR played some well received gigs and released a popular EP ‘Sonic Lightning’. The interest in their live performances and the reception that the EP received persuaded them to enter the studios and, along with sonic guru John Spence, to record a new full length album ‘No Country for Old Men’. Following high levels of interest the band decide to release the album through their own ‘Cowboy City’ label on Monday 17th June 2013.
As well as Steve Skinner (vocals and guitar) and Joel Cash (drums), the band consists of David Waller (guitar), Chaz Cook (bass) and backing vocals on the album are provided by Laura Skinner and Maisie Banks.
After over one hundred reviews of progressive rock and metal, heavy rock, hard rock and even death metal, it may seem strange that I would review an album that sits squarely in the cultured pop arena but, let’s face it even us authors should expand our horizons every now and again. Never forget that I follow the holy mantra of ‘good music is good music no matter what genre it is’.
Album opener If I’m Going Down gives you plenty of idea of what is going to pan out in front of you across the whole record. The country style twang of the guitar and Skinners deadpan vocals will feature throughout, to my ears Waller seems like a Duane Eddy devotee and I really like the laid back style of his playing. The songwriting combo of Skinner and Waller have crafted some great tunes on this album and this is one of the highlights. The accomplished rhythm section of Cash and Cook back things up ably and the added cache of the backing vocals has a real 60’s Motown feel to it. Don’t Ever Change sees Skinner take on a more earnest, Chris Isaak tone to his voice and the track has darker, Smiths style to it. It is edgy and nervous but lifted to a brighter level by the chiming harmonies of the backing singers. The repeated chords are quite hypnotic and the song neatly comes to a close. A dose of Monkeys style upbeat enthusiastic music anyone? That is what you get with I Don’t Know What it is But I like it a Lot. With a vocal delivery more akin to Lloyd Cole it still has that 80’s edge to it and the staccato guitar has its roots firmly in the pop punk of the same era, you just can’t help smiling whilst you listen to this song, it is exceedingly infectious and catchy.
The lyrics to He’s the Man are very clever and the song has an aloof feel to it. Laid back guitar and softer vocals take the lead as the song meanders on its lazy course. To me there is a touch of the inventiveness of Elvis Costello to this track and a definite folky feel to the whole song. It’s My Paradise appears to be a tongue in cheek pastiche of the classic track ‘It’s My Party’. The chord progression and dulcet tones of the backing vocals add heavily to the 60’s influence, you might say it lacks ultimate depth but it is well constructed and Skinner delivers another cultured vocal performance. A funky, upbeat, punk pop love song from left field, It’s All Tongue in Cheek has a stylish, sweet sounding riff and another impressive contribution from the rhythm section. A brilliant rock n’ roll guitar solo that Bill Haley would have been proud of and silvery vocals all add to the listening pleasure. Let’s Rip it Up has that 50’s rockabilly feel to it as well, mixed in with definite pop/punk edginess. It makes for a frantic little number that will surely see vertigo inducing hairstyles bouncing around on dancefloors throughout the country. Steve Skinner even has a hint of The King about his singing on this track. In fact, you can almost imagine an Elvis style curling upper lip as he delivers the machine gun vocals.
The Beast of Love takes us to more personal experiences in the songwriting but that classic, edgy, guitar still drives the track on. With even more of a country blues feel heavily tinged with punk and liberally sugared with pop, it is incredibly infectious and could easily be the soundtrack for a David Lynch inspired US TV show. The ever present and always impressive backing vocals add an additional layer of sophistication to what is already a polished delivery. More laid back and with a whimsical feel Love Train is a more straightforward track but no less listenable. Taking me back 30 years to that formative decade in my life, it is nostalgic and brings back all sorts of memories. The guitar and rhythm section deliver once again on this stroll down memory lane. Cowboy City would seem to be autobiographical, appearing as it does to deal with the reformation of the band. More a songwriters track than a pure pop creation, there is much more sincerity and seriousness to this song. The gently strummed guitar and sincere vocal lead in the track before the chorus takes a slightly more bombastic side. There are definitely shades of folk rock king Billy Bragg to this song, a narrative rather than just a straightforward verse, chorus construction. The album comes to a close with The Old River Bed and that infectious pop/punk style returns. Some superb slide guitar and a jaunty beat add a layer of amusement and reminiscence to the song. The classy riff and nicely executed vocals deliver the typical IR sound and finish the album off with aplomb.
Not my usual poison then, ‘No Country for Old Men’ is an enjoyable journey through nostalgic times. The breezy backing vocals that invoke memories of all girl groups like The Supremes are a clever touch but it is the excellent songwriting skills of Skinner and Waller that are at the core of IR, crafting catchy pop with a hint of 50’s rock n’ roll yet firmly rooted in the 80’s scene. The current artists that exist in the extremely bland music charts of today could do worse than have a serious look at themselves and a listen to this album to see how it really should be done.