VINNY PECULIAR – Return Of The Native (Shadrack & Duxbury SADCD013)

Return Of The NativeAn album celebrating his return to his roots after years living in Manchester, with its heady dose of nostalgia and memories, borrowing the title from Thomas Hardy (and with a cover that sees him fork in hand to dig up old ground), Bromsgrove-born Alan Wilkes’ thirteenth album (fourteenth if you include his Parlour Flames collaboration with Bonehead) Return Of The Native is a magnificently parochial collection that really does mark him down as Worcestershire’s Ray Davies. It opens in 1974 at the height of glam rock with ‘The Grove & The Ditch’, a riff driven, feedback laced stomp about local teenage gang rivalries that references, among others, T Rex, heavy rock outfit Jameson Raid and their regular Hopwood bikers’ venue haunt, Lickey Hills pub The Forest Inn, Bromsgove café The Strand, Rocky Horror, The Bay City Rollers, Gary Glitter, Donny Osmond and Tony Blackburn’s on-air meltdown over his split with Tessa Wyatt while Bowie is clearly there among the musical influences. Anyone who ever, as he puts it, got “off their tits” on pills in a Wacky Warehouse will resonate with this.

It’s off to another part of the county for the jangling, punningly titled ‘Malvern Winter Gardener’, a song about a faded rock star and the Malvern Winter Gardens, one of the top venues during the 60s, 70s and 80s, Vinny recalling seeing, among others, the likes of Budgie, Sassafras, The Clash and Eddie & The Hot Rods. By way of shift, ‘Blackpole’, another area of Worcester, spins a darkly jocular tale of a battle re-enactor who, following an unfortunate moment of realism, now haunts the re-enactment fields and his former girlfriend who, as it happens, married the undertaker.

Combining the nickname for San Francisco with a Chinese restaurant in Blackpole, ‘Golden City’ touches on depression and moving on, a subject of several of his previous songs and the calm familiar places can bring, then it’s another string of memento memoriae name checks with the album’s jauntily sunny and boisterous title track which, flitting around Bromsgrove and Droitwich starts with Rik Mayall, Chateau Impney and Dudley Zoo and references the likes of Jim Reeves, Sandy Richardson (a character in cheesy ITV soap Crossroads, since you ask), Coronation Street star Doris Speed and 70s Redditch punk outfit The Cravats alongside local colourful characters and shops.

The lovely Lilac Time-like acoustic strum of ‘A Girl From Bromsgrove Town’ provides the true story of an ill-fated schooldays romance, recalling how he turned up at college to surprise her and found her kissing the girl next door, returning thirty years later to where she grew up. Whether he knocks on the door or not, you’ll have to get the disc to find out.

Some may remember the late singer-songwriter Clifford T Ward who had hits with ‘Gaye’ and ‘Scullery’ in the early 70s. Before finding brief musical fame, he was a school teacher in Bromsgrove and, yes, one of his pupils was, briefly, a young Alan Wilkes, the quietly fingerpicked tumbling melody of ‘The Singing Schoolteacher’ being an affectionate memory of how Ward introduced him to the Romantic poets but, more crucially inspired his musical visions and how they bonded over tales of Bronco and Dandelion Records.

The musical tone sharpens a few notches with the inspirationally titled ‘Detroitwich’, which, sporting Pet Shop Boys influences (‘West End Girls’ to be specific) driven by drums and a paranoid guitar riff spins a semi-rapped fantasy about how, having got the wrong plane, Eminem (“the millionaire rapper who sampled Chas n Dave”) winds up in Droitwich (the former home of Rik Mayall, the song reminds) in a Wicker Man scenario and has to be rescued by P Diddy, stopping off for a pint at The Swan on the A38 before escaping to somewhere safer.

‘On Rainbow Hill’, a ward in Worcestershire, provides the setting for a sparsely arranged downbeat guitar and piano waltzer, the fallout from another love that could never be (“I finished with me when I finished with you”), that melancholic mood spilling across into the six-minute guitars and cellos swathed psychedelic drone ambience of ‘David Swan River Man’, a tribute to another local eccentric who feeds and cares for the local swans and ducks.

It ends gloriously with the poignant emotional cadences of ‘Game Over’, a thematic echo of ‘On Rainbow Hill’ about breaking off a relationship and moving away and then being haunted by loneliness and regrets for could have been, the lyrics specifically referencing Ian Curtis and, of course, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.

You might not get most of the album’s references, but you’ll not fail to feel the universality of the emotions.

Mike Davies

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A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Having released their Death and Other Animals album to wide acclaim last year, FAUSTUS return to the well to lift ‘Slaves’ (Westpark Music 87333) to head up their new 5-track EP, their first for the Germany-based label. You should, of course, be familiar with the number, an arrangement of an 1840 call to arms against injustice meted out to the common man in England taken from the Ruth Tongue archive at Halsway Manor. Also from the album is a radio edit of ‘One More Day’, while ‘The Knife of Brian/ Bluebells and Beech Woods’ is a six-minute instrumental comprising two waltzes, the first a melodeon wheezer, the second a more stately woodwind led affair, hitherto available as an album bonus download. Meanwhile, ‘Thresherman’, the Roud 19 ballad about the rural poor, was, as long time fans will know, recorded by Sartin and Kirkpatrick on The First Cut, the 2003 album in their previous incarnation as Dr. Faustus. Here, it’s a live March 2015 recording from The Lights in Andover, as is the fifth track, a what was then work in progress preview of ‘Slaves’ itself.

THE SWEET WATER WARBLERS are an all female Michigan trio, comprising Lindsay Lou, lead vocalist with The Flatbellys and 2016 Best Vocalist nominee for the International Bluegrass Music Association and fellow singer-songwriters Rachael Davis and Mary Erlewine who, as well singing, trade such instruments as piano, banjo, uke, double bass, banjo and fiddle.

Out at the start of March, the self-released With You is a five-track collection of self-penned material and, featuring Davis on powerful gospel-styled lead, an inspired arrangement that sets the lyrics of one traditional number to the melody of another with ‘House of Amazing Grace’. Davis also contributes and plays banjo on the pure-voiced close harmony Appalachian-styled ballad ‘Lazarus’, featuring Erlewine on mountain fiddle.

Erlewine herself has two numbers, ‘Too Soon’, a number that lives up the trio’s name and is sure to earn them a new Be Good Tanyas tag, and the closing guitar and piano love song yearner title track. The remaining number comes courtesy of Lou, kicking the EP off with the bluesy a capella ‘Sing Me A Song’, herself on lead and sharing the three part harmony chorus, setting the seal on an auspicious debut and introducing a name we’ll be hearing a lot about in the months to come.

Bringing Americana closer to home, BROKEN FLOWERS are a three-piece alt-country outfit from West Yorkshire, lining up as singer Anna Mosley on rhythm guitar, Darren Gibbs on lead and Mike Brown on bass. They’ve alreadty released an album and follow that up with the self-released six-track So Many Shadows. They’ve cut their teeth on the UK country circuit and the EP reflects an awareness of the need to appeal to a range of tastes and audiences while keeping the feet on the dancefloor. Opener ‘Stephen’s Song’ is a solid mid-tempo chugger with swaggery hooks and is, in turn, followed by the slower dance paced ‘Easy On Me’, a mood echoed by the bruised heart love and loss notes of ‘Right About Now’.

But if they colour within the lines, they do so with confidence and bold strokes, prepared to challenge the quick fix approach with two six-minute plus numbers, the rolling punchy country rock of ‘Anywhere’ and mid-tempo demo closer ‘Sunday Morning’ with is Texicana guitar flavours and Mosley’s twang. And to top that there also a near eight-minute ‘I Saw A Light’, a slow burn soulful smoulder about the 1838 Huskar colliery disaster in Barnsley that shifts into a thundering, desert guitar howl climax before ending with the words “You keep the gold we pay the price,” spoken by Mosley’s seven-year-old son, the same age as her great great great uncle, James Burkinshaw, the youngest of the 26 children to drown when the pit flooded.

THE BROTHER BROTHERS are actually twin brothers Adam and David Moss based in Brooklyn. Adam is plays fiddle in a variety of old styles. Guitarist David is originally from Peoria – no, we can’t figure that out, either – and has two albums to his credit. Together they play a sophisticated Americana which still maintains the edge you look for in the genre. Tugboats would seem to be their recording debut, a six-track EP of mostly original songs – the cover isn’t very informative.

The title track is a slowish country waltz with a clever lyric rooted in their home city and a nice bit of philosophy: tugboats go slow because that’s the way to pull a heavy load. ‘Bird In A Tree’ is an up-tempo fiddle song that could pass as traditional. ‘Columbus Stockade Blues’ is traditional, made famous by Doc Watson and here given a rhythmic finger-style guitar part and a brief fiddle break. ‘Come Back Darling’ is a fiddle backed exercise in harmony singing – rather ponderous when compared with the rest of the set but ‘Notary Public’ restores the lightness we’ve enjoyed so far. ‘Cairo, IL’ is probably by David, Illinois being the link. It has a slightly west coast feel except for the fiddle breaks which firmly locate the song further east.

Oft-compared to Ray Davies, following on from last year’s mental-health themed concept album, Silver Meadows, [Fables from the Institution], VINNY PECULIAR has released a new four track EP, The Fairer Sex (Shadrack & Duxbury SAD EP 012). Another concept collection, this time it centres around gender-linked identity, opening with gradually swelling piano-backed reincarnation ballad ‘I Came Back As A Girl’. Sexual exploitation provides the theme for ‘House of Girls’, a deceptively dreamy keyboards-led melody couching a lyric about porn webcams and the ‘gentlemen’s’ clubs run by the likes of Stringfellow and Hefner. Again built around melancholic piano, ‘No Reply’ is a wistful reflection on the end of a relationship (“I don’t want to be your new best friend, so I can never see you again”), while the final track, ‘Trial By Lingerie’, is a synth and percussive click track setting of a playful poem offering “a lighthearted look at male humiliation in an M&S Lingerie department.” Basque in its delights.

VINNY PECULIAR – Silver Meadows (Fables From The Institution) (Shadrack & Duxbury SADCD011)

Silver MeadowsBack in the day, when he was just Alan Wilkes and before embarking on a career in music, Vinny worked in various long-stay mental health and learning disability hospitals as a mental health nurse. During this time, he also regularly visited his schizophrenic brother, a patient in one such. He has now gathered those experiences together for a concept album, set in the fictional Silver Meadows, an 80s institution for those with psychiatric and learning disability issues. He’s been likened in the past to Ray Davies, so imagine, if you will, a sort of mental health facility Village Green Preservation Society, with rather fewer laughs.

Here he sings of the patients, the staff and the care, or lack of it in a world overcast by the fear of isolation, of the spectre of the then impending care in the community, of friendships forged and of cruelties inflicted.

It opens with the scene setting piano-accompanied semi-spoken ‘The Institution’, introducing you to the daily routine and patients and staff such as Charlie from the social club being pleasured by the girl in the kitchen, a pretty young psychiatrist on LSD, Rick, the charge nurse who beats up patients, and “women who have lived here all their adult lives”.

Things pick up musically and lyrically on ‘Everyone Has Something To Say’, steady drum beat, oohing backing vocals and chiming guitars driving a reminder that everyone in these places has a story to tell, you just have to be willing to listen. Echoing classic Kinks, ‘This Is What I Do Now’ sees the arrival of a new nurse, but it’s still the same routine for the patients who are always being kept just a little longer, just that this one doesn’t have a beard like Bob did. There’s another new arrival in ‘The Saviour of Challenging Behaviour’, psychologist Andy Merrit sweeping in with plans to revolutionise everything and allow the patients to be who they want to be, only to inevitably fall foul of bureaucracy and those who resist change before leaving almost as quickly as he came.

There is change, unfortunately, it comes in the shape of ‘Community Care’, a circling guitar motif backdropping the woman from the agency’s attempt to persuade a long-stay patient she’d be better off in the outside world, living alone, but your life still managed by those with the purse strings.

The landscape shifts with ‘Hospital Wing’, keyboards and drums underpinning a biting indictment of end of life care in the story (informed by the fate of his brother) of a young man with a terminal genetic condition, secreted away into a side room to die, dignity stripped away, chocking as an uncaring nurse shovels food down his throat. Then it’s back to the milieu for ‘Room Management’, a punchy, perhaps Bowie-tinged, rock-infused number about an experiment in supposedly therapeutic sessions of controlled occupation by some university student, but none with a purpose.

Returning to the theme of care in the community, the title track is a jangling guitar number lit by the rays of a waterloo sunset and the musical spirit of Goffin and King as, now older and unable to make it in the outside world, a former patient returns to the place where she once “felt safe and sound”.

Musically upbeat with a mix of 60s pop and a country beat, ‘Albert’ is one of two tracks that focuses on a particular individual, a runaway teenager with “a restless spirit no psychiatrist could tame”, always on the lam from some secure facility or another. The other is ‘Gerald the Porter’, who, alongside his regular duties, also serves as the place’s dealer, taking the inmates eight mile high with everything from Columbian blow to mushroom tea,. Sandwiched in-between is the brooding Spanish guitar backed ‘Self Help Skills Unit’, supposedly a chance for the patients to learn how to care for themselves, but essentially just a doss off for the staff who lounge around behind the two-way mirror.

Initially, the sprightly ‘Wednesday Club’ would seem to alleviate the downbeat mood with a love story set in the hospital disco, until, in 1984, the place closes down and the two lovers are told it’s time to move on and separated. Which brings us to the final two cuts; ‘Waiting Games’, the poignant tale of a long-stay patient with locked-in syndrome who falls for the new psychology student who, like everyone else, fails to see the mind and the man behind the body waiting to be released. Finally, there’s the pointedly ambiguously titled ‘The Back Wards’, Floydian guitars summoning a neo-classic backcloth to a searing account of institutional abuse in the hidden away punishment block for disruptive patients, given a black aspirin knuckle sandwich and a good kicking where “nobody hears you when you scream, everyone says it was nothing”.

It’s an incredibly bleak and depressing image of mental healthcare in the 80s and 90s and, while you hope that things are different in today’s enlightened times, with a constant stream of scandals in the headlines, you fear they’re probably not. If Ken Loach ever feels like doing a stage musical, this is his book.

Mike Davies

We have set up a new UK & U.S Storefront for brand new CD/Vinyl/Download releases recently featured together with a search facility for older stuff. The link for the folking store is:

Click to order featured CD/ Vinyl/Download/Book/DVD

Buying through Amazon on helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website:

‘Hospital Wing’ – official video: