‘Roll Back the Night' by GunShock Big Band

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‘Roll Back the Night' by GunShock Big Band

Review

I hope that on the relatively rare occasions (but each one is a blow to my self esteem) when I miss a release date & have to write a slightly belated review, that I hold my hands up. I'm not going to on this occasion though even though the album which I'm going to tell you about, ‘Roll Back the Night' by the GunShock Big Band was recorded in 2010.

It's not abysmal lack of awareness on my part (to be honest I think if I'd missed by that distance I'd probably have just skulked quietly in a corner) but the occasion of a re-issue which brings it to these pages today in the form of its first appearance in remastered form on CD.

A fascinating project which comes from the mind of Keith Fabrique, the album brings together two entire bands, The Glassguns (Phil Farrelly, Mark Fletcher, Sam Farrelly-Banks and Gary Brittain) with Lipshock (Johnny Kingham, Chris Worsley, Shaun Woods, Mikk Cooper and Anthony Marshall) to record some of his own demos from across his career: the idea being not only to share the material but to give relatively new bands some useful studio time with Jon Webb engineering at The Moonbase and Keith producing.

The tracks are "Friend" (whose Parts One & Two bookend the tracklisting), "Run, Run, Run", "Whispers", "Victim of the Charm", "The Ballad of Blackice", "Scratch My Face", "She's Only Looking", "Friends from Venice", "Paradise Circus" and "Snakedance".

In saying "demos", it's worth pointing out that yes, I've already reviewed Keith's own version of "The Ballad of Black Ice",  (as he called it on that occasion) on his 2018 album ‘Talk on the Radio' and you've probably heard it live too: so the stories of some of these songs are more complex than just being gems retrieved from the archives for this project. Apart from those he demoed in a solo guise, others date from his earlier work with bands such as Paradise Circus (I think you can guess at least one of those), Minus One Cuban and Crash By Design.

You'll know his HillzFM radio show I'm sure & if you've listened to it (if not, why not?) then you'll know in addition to his championing of new (local) talent, Keith has not just an encyclopaedic knowledge of music but a love of it too (especially the rock genres). Personally, I can trace a direct arc from that to these songs via a sense of "classic" songwriting which enables them all, regardless of age, to still stand up (there's no embarrassing juvenilia here) and merit being included in the exercise.

That's not to suggest that his knowledge manifests itself as derivative songs: it merely gives him the ideas of structure & form which help other musicians to get grips on the material. It's also worth taking note that since "Black Ice" is a robust enough composition to be successful in this format and Keith's own, it must be the case that the Big Band are able to put their own character on songs originally played by the bands cited above in at least slightly different formats.

Not that I'd wish you to take away the idea that every track features all nine musicians in a Showaddywaddy style two bass/two drums type lineup. Keith shuffled the deck shrewdly and while no cut features one band exclusively, each is played by a sensible combination.

They even got together at the Welshpool Music Festival to reproduce it all live.

Whatever their relative lack of (studio) experience might have been back in 2010, the musicianship on the record is a fine testimony to the qualities Keith perceived in inviting them to adapt his creations (and what trust that must require when an artist hands their songs over to others): we also need to factor in their confidence in playing wit members of bands other than that which they were used to.

So: fine songs & fine players. What could go wrong? Well, I suppose quite a bit in theory, but whatever bumps were on this particular highway are now lost and eclipsed by the success of the outcomes.

That said, I think this review has certain possible beneficial roles. The album is by an ad hoc combination which never played locally nor probably ever will & was made up of two now defunct bands (though you can hear Chris from Lipshock as a member of The Rollocks on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Ten').

Even Keith probably has a higher profile as a broadcaster and producer (he has his own Tinkle Studio) than as a composer: or even as a performer since his gigs do tend to be rather low key. That's all a damn shame and so in combination the re-issue & this article can do a little in terms of putting that right.

It must be quite rare to have an album dedicated to the music of a composer other than the mega famous and as far as I can think, the excellence of all the writing talent of those we showcase in both the magazine & the ‘Hot Music Live Presents' compilations is evidenced by their own performances of their songs. ‘Roll Back the Night' is therefore a unique artefact in relation to our area and the proof of Keith's skills independent of his own interpretations.

I find it much easier to comment on original & well written material and inevitably I have to pass on some which I struggle to see much merit in: those artists could learn much from the songs on here.

I've praised "Black Ice"/"Blackice" elsewhere so won't take your time repeating myself, but in hindsight, any personal preferences I might have for it probably derive from knowing it better than other ones on here which I'm now gaining greater acquaintance with.

The sophisticated, loping grace with which the Big Band endow the sultry "Scratch My Face" (a co-write between Keith & his brother Steve) helps elevate that one up there too: a sort of Leonard Cohen vibe is in there which I like a lot.

I'd score easy points if I could detect ones written earlier and then try to suggest an arc of development but in truth the quality is consistent throughout (presumably Keith started the selection beyond those he wrote during his musical apprenticeship).

I don't know if "Paradise Circus" is contemporary with the ska boom nor indeed whether it originally had that clipped off-beat when written, but regardless, the result, while using the formal elements, isn't much of a slave to them: anymore than "Snakedance" is a Thin Lizzy counterfeit. They merely, at most, give little hints as to what might have appeared on his turntable.

The "Friend" tracks which I mentioned earlier are stately acoustic ones which are far enough removed from the heavy rock of "Snakedance" to demonstrate Keith's range and that of the musicians too: they can all put their feet down hard but also lay back & let space & air in.

"Run, Run, Run" shares a title with both The Who and the Velvet Underground both of whom exerted much (usually unacknowledged) influence on punk/"New Wave" and Keith's song, presented aggressively here, shares the taut jabs of both The Who and punk with the urban exploration of the VU: another one which has grown on me.

"Friends From Venice" is a rather strange hybrid (at least in this incarnation): starting somewhere in the region of baroque English rock, it then dives enthusiastically into Bon Jovi territory: after repeated intrigued listenings, I couldn't swear as to whether we're talking Venice in Italy or LA. It probably doesn't matter.

In very heavy contrast, "Victim of the Charm" goes for that strange area where British rock (and I'm not sure any other nationality would go in this direction: except possibly Sparks or Devo) piled on the archness: and I'm not even really talking specifically Bowie or Roxy Music (well I am a bit) but I heard bits of The Associates & Sensational Alex Harvey Band In there too.

"Whispers" introduces brass and a funk guitar with a vocal of near desperation. It's really nothing like Chic at all and I can't imagine Keith listening much to Spandau Ballet or Level 42 so I'm tentatively wondering is he was inspired by the Average White Band? Seems more his sort of thing.

 "She's Only Looking" also has clipped funky playing but melds them with a more laid-back groove to be cut from precisely the same cloth as "Whispers" (hats off to all concerned though for being able to funk as well as rock).

The Mechanicals Band brought out a record of sufficient internal variety that ‘Miscellany' seemed the best name: given the significant range of musical styles on display here, Keith might have used it too. When you go down that route, albums can lack structural integrity and confuse listeners. Here, you get a great snapshot of what music he likes & is capable of writing well & it's held together by the quality of the performances: not least because they are extremely collegiate: there is no individual grandstanding here.

Keith Fabrique aficionados will buy this album, as will those who admire the musicians on it. If you are not yet among those groups, give it a listen on streaming: I think you'll be surprised & wonder like me why his name is not writ larger in local lore.

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