Once upon a time, that fine folk trio and darlings of the festival scene, The Queensbury Rules regaled us with tales from the dark heart of Staffordshire and beyond. The Rules though broke. In their place, the duo Wilcox:Hulse took over the mantle with an eclectic collection of well crafted acoustic songs (the pair currently working on their next album due out in the Autumn).
At the same time, on the premise perhaps that less is more, Gary Wilcox also embarked on a solo journey embracing the wide-open spaces of indie rock and pop with his electric proposition "Don't Call Me Ishmael". He pushed his boat out and a willing crew signed up for the duration. "Underdog Songs", the debut album released in 2015 earned plaudits a plenty for all concerned yet it still felt like it was Gary's ship.
Fast forward to May 2017, the band launch their second full length release "I'm Broken, But I'm Fine" at the King Street Studios in Newcastle Under Lyme.
The transformation is staggering, Don't Call Me Ishmael now feel and play like a complete unit, they are as one, the ship belongs to the crew, it's an all-inclusive co-operative that catches the wind in their sails. We are cast off.
We start at the end, the inwardly focusing "Mile End" which offers the title line of the album, if only life was simple and we could be fixed by "tape and araldite".
And whilst we in the audience take a moment to try to contemplate the trials of life, the band don't, they rock.
"King & Queen of America" references everything from Ziggy and the Spiders to Samson & Delilah at the same time as we notice the drumming of Sophie Bret Tasker. Her action is as sharp and precise as a five blade Gillette razor. We bounce to the rhythm of Rob Haubus on bass. We are rocked by multi instrumental Jack Tasker who wields a mean electric guitar and doubles on keyboard. Gary Wilcox, in the centre, offers the visual focal point, his spirited vocals never sounding better.
Better than butter spread with a hot knife, we encounter the plucked, stroked and occasionally strummed viola of Matt Plant. It's as refreshingly welcome and comforting as a warm pikelet on a cold day. So is "In a Previous Life I Painted Portraits" which examines the feelings of self-doubt and value.
Value of loyalty comes with the addition of "Monument" from the first album, a song written about Roy Sproson, a local hero from Gary's team, Port Vale FC. Sproson, a one club man, notched up over 800 appearances for the Valiants and despite playing for the majority of his career as a defender, he only ever recorded two yellow cards to his name. "Monument" though is a tribute to all local heroes whoever and wherever they may be.
Wherever we may all be, the quality of writing that "Don't Call Me Ishmael" can muster stands out, they engage you the listener, they tell a story and it inspires like only the best teachers can. You're left wanting more.
It feels like a race through the new album, there is a power to the music. As we sprint to the finishing line, a camera flash and "To The Moon" is a freeze frame not to be missed, Sophie sings. She has a wonderfully bright and crystal clear voice. It shines as it reminds us that emotionally we all need a lift at times. Gary, unusually takes the glass half empty position whilst Sophie's is the voice of positive thought. You wonder how it will end. It is DCMI's new single and it's the best thing they've done to date to my ears.
Negative comments are also dismissed in "Paul Simon". The message is no matter what people say you should try your best, a song which focused me to do this review having been faced with Emily Jones staggeringly jaw danglingly appraisal of "Underdog Songs" an album I had previously intended to cover. Having read her perfect prose I did at the time did what any self-respecting wannabe scribe would do. I congratulated her online and gave up. Not this time though. Not ever again. Thanks, DCMI for the well needed and deserved kick up the pants.
The Paul Simon theme continues with a rocking up tempo cover of "Boy In The Bubble" Jack Tasker's reminiscent of Hendrix guitar work, exceptional.
All too soon the tape is in sight, "The Provincial Athlete Throws A Race" closes the set, a song that I always felt a little forced lyrically when I first heard it as a stand-alone in advance of the full album release.
Yet it isn't and it's my own fault. I'd listened to it too quietly, here in the King Street Studios it's belted out, my perception forever changed as I make another note to self, headphones and volume, like a Double Diamond works wonders.
In "I'm Broken, But I'm Fine" Don't Call Me Ishmael have a diamond of an album, and to any would be promoters and festival organisers who are reading this, snap these guys up. Quickly. You'll be Happy Ever After.
Happy Ever After, that's a promise better than most politicians offer.
Support on the night came courtesy of two artists. Kez Liddle from Stoke On Trent, who offered guitar and voice in a captivating understated style. Her slight delivery and subject matter perfectly suited, "Enough" a bitter sweet relationship song of expectations or the lack of, "damaged goods are always the cheapest and so's the last things on the shelf".
The main support was Maddy Storm who hails from Manchester. Maddy undoubtedly possesses a fine distinctive voice which has been likened to Kate Bush for its wailing intensity. A voice I would have preferred to listen to with a little less heavy use of the effect pedals on Telecaster she wielded which, while adding volume to the overall sound, did tend to detract somewhat from the overall experience.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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