HOWARD JONES – At The BBC

Beginning with their massive box set celebrating ‘Human’s Lib’ issued in November 2019, Cherry Red Records have really gone the extra mile with their Howard Jones reissues. Each release has been afforded a wealth of extras, including bonus DVDs featuring archive live footage and TV appearances where available, and the addition of demos and alternate takes accompanying the main albums has been a fan’s dream. It was especially pleasing to see some love for Howard’s 1992 release ‘In The Running’, an album which saw him transition from 80s synth pop hero to a slicker, older singer-songwriter. Although overlooked by many at the time, it now stands proudly as one of the most enduring albums in the artist’s catalogue.

Complimenting the vastly expanded studio albums, this five disc box set of live materials allows for a different kind of exploration of HoJo’s past, but in hearing performances recorded between 1983-87 it really brings home the fact that he was, arguably, the greatest synth pop performer of the era.

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VARIOUS ARTISTS – Once Upon A Time In The Midlands: The Bostin’ Sounds Of Brumrock 1966-1974

When thinking of the rock sounds to emerge from Birmingham and surrounding areas, it’s all too easy to think of Slade and their chart topping stompers, of Roy Wood and his flamboyant take on glam rock, and of heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. All of those bands really helped to put the Midlands on the map – that could never be disputed – but Brum and its surrounding neighbourhoods offered British music so much more throughout the sixties and seventies. ‘Once Upon A Time In The Midlands’ brings together various heroes, forgotten gems, period rarities, and even the occasional hit in a brilliantly compiled 3CD package that’ll educate as much as entertain.

Although the three discs aren’t in a strict chronological order, this collection has a definite flow, moving through psych and beat groups, into a world of seventies rock and finally ending up with the glam-ish sounds of Blackfoot Sue and an early tune from Judas Priest. As always with these sets, though, ‘Bostin’ Sounds’ works best when approached as a curate’s egg, with the listener dropping in at random on a couple of old favourites and discovering something old – yet new – along the way.

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REAL GONE GOES OUT: The Specials – Dreamland, Margate, Kent 28/8/2021

It’s a bank holiday weekend in Margate. The sun hasn’t shone properly for what feels like an age, but a huge crowd are still clinging on to a summer spirit and are clearly hoping The Specials will bring some extra good vibes to the seaside town on the first night of their ‘Protest Songs 1924-2012’ tour.

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COLIN MOULDING – The Hardest Battle EP

After XTC’s career came to a slow and somewhat unceremonious end, with Andy Partridge recording ‘Spiral’ and Colin Moulding recording ‘Say It’ for, in Moulding’s own words, “the XTC album that never was”, Colin retreated even further from the limelight. Fans wouldn’t hear any more from him for almost a decade. In 2015, he appeared as a guest performer on Billy Sherwood’s ‘Citizen’ album before he withdrew again, seemingly having no interest in fame or re-igniting his career on a full time basis.

The previously unthinkable happened three years later, when ex-XTC drummer Terry Chambers returned from Australia and recorded new material with Moulding, instigating new musical project TC&I. Their sole studio recording was a little scrappy, but somewhere within its DIY style, Colin’s gift for melodies remained obvious. The TC&I project really came into its own the following year when the duo took to the stage for three nights of shows in Swindon, resulting in an excellent live document placing the new material in context with some old XTC classics. A few weeks after those shows, Moulding announced his retirement, effectively putting fans back in the mindset of 2006: was that it? Would we never hear from him again?

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