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Sandwiched between Birmingham and Wales, Worcestershire tends to be the place that rock stars go to rather than come from. Robert Smith of The Cure, Robert Plant, Brix Smith and Nigel Kennedy have all done their time in the area and Stewart Lee, who has family in Malvern, can fairly regularly be found browsing obscure punk singles in the town's impeccably stocked Carnival Records.
Worcestershire has played its part in rock history though. Key punk indie label Cherry Red started out as a live promoter putting on shows at the Malvern Winter Gardens including one of Joy Division’s last shows, as this touring (and now virtual) exhibition details. In the 90s, Kidderminster’s Market Tavern played host to Radiohead – paid a hefty £50 we’re told – and countless other toilet circuit greats in their creative infancy, all detailed in this about-to-be-released book.
But despite suffering a lack of venues – you’d have to travel to Bristol or Birmingham if you want to see a bigger band play in normal times – the place is teeming with corking bands of every genre. Riot grrls, sardonic indie sages, ambient piano players….you name it, Worcestershire has it, and here are 13 of the best things to come out of the county that aren't in a sauce bottle.
His website suggests you write to his Worcester address c/o Shadrack & Duxbury, which fans of kitchen sink dramas and The Smiths will know as Billy Liar’s oppressive funeral director employers, and there’s more than a hint of the kind of northern humour to his lyrics that made Jarvis Cocker a household name. But, alongside tales of public embarrassment in Manchester’s Trafford Centre (see ‘Trial By Lingerie’) there’s also plenty of warmly ribald ribbing of his current locale. ‘Detroitwich’, which tells the fantastical tale of Eminem being lured to Droitwich and only just escaping an untimely end, is worth a listen, as is ‘Malvern Winter Gardener’, a softer-edged portrait of a fading rock star silently reliving his glory days to himself.
The expression ‘a force of nature’ is a much overused one, but when you encounter shitkicking riot punks The VHTs in full flow, you’ll know what it means all right. Imagine a hurricane consisting mainly of colliding cymbals, razor riffs and screaming attitude, all packed into songs that rarely make it to two minutes and invariably leave you in a state of trembling but adoring shock. Big, big wow.
Hailing from Stourport in the far east of the county, Mogg is possessed of a truly stunning, bewitching voice which she employs to devastating effect on productions that are occasionally lightly electronic or, more often, laced with understated but a distinct sense of psychedelia. Check the hypnotic ‘Helping Hand’ or the August 2020 single ‘Arm’s Length’, not a million miles from the eerie, echoing magic of Cocteau Twins or This Mortal Coil.
The White Feather Collective
There’s always a touch of mystery surrounding what this Malvern-based (but half Glaswegian) band are up to. Arguably the county’s biggest band for a couple of years, packing venues and dropping a succession of great, 60s-tinged tracks – ‘Shake It Out’, ‘The Inside’, ‘You Got The Time’ ‘Crossroad Shootout’ and ‘Universal Harmony’ are all corkers - they were apparently in the throes of recording their debut album at the Toerag Studios in East London when all went quiet. Rumours of a split did the rounds but were never confirmed, an earlier this year a new instrumental called ‘Parakeets’ appeared on their socials, stoking the possibility of new activity. If nothing transpires, there’s always Will from the band’s own side project The Heavy Heavy, which is worth a look too.
The wherabouts of Mr Squid himself can’t always be pinned down – he’s been spotted as far afield as the Welsh borders and Finchley in North London recently - but his roots are in Worcester and his band are very much of the county. His second album ‘Rosebud’ is a fantastic showcase for them, as they switch from Ian Dury-esque cheekiness (‘Morris Minor’), effervescent disco (‘Rosebud’) to the spaced out ‘Micro Macro’ and ‘Pale Blue Dot’. At the end of the day though, it’s Squid’s knack for penning a catchy, eccentric and very English tune that helps this album bloom.
The Jericho Racks
What is it about two pieces that makes them determined to sound at least as loud as six or seven people on stage? We’re not complaining in this case, as Worcester’s Jericho Racks know how to fashion that sonic chaos into heavy but groovy momentum very much in keeping with the West Midlands’ reputation as heavy metal’s industrial powerhouse.
Tyler Massey Trio
Massey, a native of Virginia in the U.S., who swapped the low ridge mountains of his home state for the similarly mountainous environs of Great Malvern, is best known as the velvetly toned curator of WMSCP, a weekly podcast to replace the weekly West Malvern Social Club open mic knees up. It’s rapidly expanded from a local band showcase to include music from all over the world and exclusives from some of the coolest labels around.
Tyler has another, or rather two other, skills, namely as a singer and nimble guitarist, and his trio was the first to start staging socially distanced ‘real’ gigs anywhere in the country after the first lockdown, their combination of acerbic lyrical wit, dexterous finger picking guitar and gentle grooves bringing the ‘sold out’ signs back the local gig scene.
With a taste for retro synths, linear Krautrock rhythms and Kosmische flourishes, Korb aren’t one of those bands who put themselves out and about on the local scene, preferring to keep their heads down and plug into a readymade (and massive) worldwide audience for precisely that aesthetic. They started as a cottage industry, pressing their own CDs, but demand from their snowballing fanbase has demanded vinyl – so much so that their just-released Korb II album was snapped up by the wonderfully named Weird Beard label. Pressed in sumptuous psychedelic vinyl, it sold out almost immediately. Bring on Korb III we say!
How to describe the solo piano work of Ben Crosland? It’s a bit like the ambient meditations of Roger – brother of Brian – Eno, a bit like the free thinking of classical modern of Erik Satie, and, well, has a bit of its own unique quality soon. Crosland’s two albums to date, Rainbow Hill – named after the area of Worcester he calls home - and The Turn, written and recorded as storms raged across the country, have netted him a growing audience as Spotify began picking up tracks for their playlists. So as adjectives go, maybe ‘successful’ is the most accurate we can offer.
His name is a definite nod to the musical heritage of his hometown Malvern, being one of the most famous pieces by one former resident Edward Elgar, but Nimrod’s music is probably closer in spirit to another musical connection, namely the Castlemorton rave in 1992 which is, by most reckoning, the biggest ever illegal party in UK history. That said, there’s something epic and grand about his synth-based wizardry that maybe has a foot in both camps.
“A sonic wall of sound, featuring loud guitars, deep grimy bass lines, industrial electronic rhythms, all layered over a hard hitting rock-dance groove.” That’s what Worcester’s The Arboretum say. We reckon they’ve got a Leftfield-style sense of the epic too. It’s only a shame that festival season is off for the time being, as this is the kind of energetic, genre-jumping stuff that would go down an absolute a storm in a field of sundrenched revellers.
Probably the most pop-orientated act on this list, Josie hails from Capetown, South Africa but has ended up in Bromsgrove – just about as close to Birmingham as you can get while still staying in Worcestershire. She’s developed her sound from sunny sounding singer-songwriter material into an interesting fusion of traditional songmanship and more urban sounding rhythms. Check her feisty ‘All Day’ single, subtly underpinned with half reggae, half drum & bass beats, for more evidence.
Another supercharged rock duo, consisting of Jay Kimber (vocals, guitar) and Will Diment (drums, vocals), perhaps with a hazy indie leanings in between the compulsive, monster-sized Rage Against Then Machine combo of riffs and grooves. We challenge you to find a lockdown project with a more honest title than Isolation Shitbox – their debut four track EP, released back in August.
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