Songs from the Underbelly PT. 1
Hailing from the mysterious North East Lancashire hinterland, Vincent Black Lightning are a power trio of a different stripe, comprising Stephen Hartley (guitar/ vocals), Lee Jones (bass) and drummer Bish Davies. There's a real pedigree on display here too. The most discerning among you may well remember Stephen Hartley from legendary Burnley Punk outfit The Notsensibles, whose hilariously brilliant 'I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher' is more than enough to ensure this reviewer's eternal respect. Stephen's onto something rather tremendous with VBL too and their debut album 'Songs From The Underbelly (Part One)' is a DIY treat in the best possible sense with the band's hands-on approach ensuring that each individual sleeve (featuring what appears to be a fetching silver woodlouse) has even been cut to size and hand-printed for our pleasure. And 'Songs From The Underbelly' is indeed a pleasure. Sure, it's easy to view Stephen Hartley as a northern equivalent of Billy Childish with his hardline, DIY approach and VBL's stringent adherence to old-fashioned valve amps and obscure guitars, but ultimately their bracing, sometimes melancholic, but frequently seriously rockin' garage-pop sound is an absolute joy for this writer to clap his corroding lugs upon. There's an industrial-sized warehouse of goodies to get stuck into here. The low-ridin', metronomic and nicely dissonant Northern rockabilly of 'Restless' sets the tone, inhabiting a distant hinterland somewhere 'tween The Fall's 'Grotesque', Half Man Half Biscuit and the long-lost Yeah Yeah Noh, but never sounding remotely derivative. From here on in, they go whichever sweet way tickles their fancy, but following them off the beaten track proves compulsory. Often, they can be dirty and r'n'b-inspired ('No Limit', the 'Gut of The Quantifier'-style 'The Biz') while on other occasions, a little more 60s-inspired melody ('In From The Sidelines') bleeds out despite itself. They're equally effective when they slow it down a little too. 'Cowboy John' isn't exactly a ballad per se, but it's' languid rockabilly setting, lightness of touch and ability to rhyme "rising son" with "six gun" ensures it's a lovely tribute to Hartley's Dad regardless. Elsewhere, 'Head On Hedonistic' - with it's' skinny, Chet Atkins guitar sound, skiffly beat and hilariously daft count in - is utterly essential, as are the oddball musings ("I'm a swine amongst the pearls") of 'You're A Lonely Man, Stan' and the bizarre, Folksy solemnity of 'George's Brother' where Hartley rails magnificently against those everyday irritations ("another daft pillock with a telephone in his ear/ another parking meter where I used to be able to park") that can so easily drag us all down if we're not careful. There are no weak links, though if threatened with a short cut down a steep cliff face, your reviewer would probably plump for 'Engineering Days' and the closing 'Up The Ladder & Down Again' as his fave raves. Like many of the songs, 'Engineering Days' appears to be at least semi-autobiographical and it's' abrasive, East Lancs Beefheart blues is accentuated brilliantly by the sound of what appears to be a lathe droning away. 'Up The Ladder...', meanwhile, is a 24-carat garage classic, with the rhythm section keeping it supple and rocking and Hartley unleashing some mean guitar work and the sort of real men's solos that were always a feature of proper Rock'n'Roll before the widdly brigade took over sometime in the early '70s. 'Songs From The Underbelly (Part One)' is a marvellous debut album. It has absolutely no regard whatsoever for what's supposed to be fashionable, yet it's' surreal and superb Rock'n'Roll is both highly engaging and a timely reminder that it's still the grubbing around in the ever-creative margins that's the most rewarding aspect of this game. Tim Peacock - Whisperin and Hollerin.