❉ Punk supergroup SGC’s sound lies somewhere between classic garage rock and roll, psych and outright psychedelia.
“The Sensible Gray Cells’ new record has a full-on sound, with in-yer face guitars, melodic bass lines a-plenty backed up with strong, enthralling drum patterns providing a thumping backbeats one minute, and subtle touches the next. Fancy a bit of vintage Farfisa? And other noises? Look no further. It really is an album that throws up a few surprises.”
It is seven years since the release of The Sensible Gray Cells’ debut long player, Postcard From Britain. It was conceptual at times and full of comment on the world we lived in back then. Pre-pandemic, pre-Trump, pre-Brexit, and written when human beings integrated with each other. At times, directly. English Summer spoke of ‘festivals cancelled’ and asked ’where’s our summer gone?’. As if! Its lively skiffle beat is an example of SGC drawing respectfully on vintage music styles. SGC’s sound lies somewhere between classic garage rock and roll, psyche and outright psychedelia, with sharp wit, comment and opinion infiltrating the lyrical matter. “Paul Gray and myself being garage-psych aficionados would rather hear more of this kind of music and this is our contribution to the cause.” Captain Sensible has said.
Now in late 2020, a follow up album is upon us, Get Back Into The World. The trio are very much an English punk super group, with members spread across The Damned, Johnny Moped, CASE and Eddie and the Hot Rods. Ray Burns, aka Captain Sensible, and classic and current era bassist Paul Gray, make up The Damned and Eddie and the Hot Rods contingent, with drummer Martin Parrott (aka Marty Love) replacing Anthony Thickett on drums for this record. The Captain was an early member of Johnny Moped, and Marty Love has been behind the drum kit for the band since 2015.
The Damned stable has been busy during 2020. The band’s original line up of Vanian, Sensible, Scabies and James are reuniting for a series of gigs in 2021 (pandemic permitting), This is the second release involving Paul Gray, following on from the recent Professor And The Madmen’s Séance. He was joined in the latter recording by legendary drummer Rat Scabies, who himself has appeared on two further albums issued during 2020, by The Sinclairs and One Thousand Motels.
The Sensible Gray Cells’ new record has a full-on sound, with in-yer face guitars, melodic bass lines a-plenty backed up with strong, enthralling drum patterns providing a thumping backbeats one minute, and subtle touches the next. Effective lead and backing vocals, too. There are also Hammond organ and keyboard splashes. Fancy a bit of vintage Farfisa? And other noises? Look no further.
It really is an album that throws up a few surprises. Let’s check some detail.
The album opens in belting style with high tempo rocker Sell Her Spark. There are few sporting venues that provide the atmosphere of Selhurst Park, home to Crystal Palace Football Club. This tune is an ode the intense, bouncing vibe of the Eagles’ ground, with the noise of the red and blue clad fans providing an escape from day-to-day life. The rivalry with Brighton and Hove Albion is mentioned. Captain Sensible supports Palace, and in case you haven’t figured it out – Sell-Her-Spark = Sel-Hurst-Park.
Title track Get Back Into The World has a far more reflective quality. At the same time the planet is so connected globally we are getting more disconnected at a personal level. The song tackles this, pointing a finger at the likes of Amazon for telling us what to buy, and what we think we want/need to buy. We used to decide this for ourselves, see. The staccato minor stab of the vintage sounding piano gives the verse a slightly sinister feel, giving way to a singalong positive chorus. The psychedelic finale has a gloriously barren sonic.
Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You shudders from the speakers, its garage psych groove topped off with a Hammond organ wash. The ominous warnings of elders around us when we were younger and wilder become more and more relevant as we get older, the song suggests. Prophetic words for many people. The production on the guitar solo is tremendous, giving way to more Hammond prior towards the end.
The sixties feel continues with Black Spider Memo Man. Poignant words are sung wonderfully well by the Captain – with a vulnerability which suits such a mournful tune. It has a Canterbury ‘prog’ influence – slightly whimsical, with a charm reminiscent of Kevin Ayers.
Stupid Dictators is a superb number. Dictators can exist in society at many levels. There are obvious political and governmental ones, as well as entertainment ones. ‘Another clown must be found, start a new battleground’ is a line that can apply to many a potential megalomaniac.
The My Generation-esque riff that introduces the rousing new 45 So Long should get many a psyche fan skipping across a dance floor. If night clubs were open, that is. Lyrics drawn from English political and cultural history, with a reminder of the power of the masses. A belter.
A grand intro sets off A Little Prick. Its sound contains the key psych ingredients – organ, mildly distorted jangly guitar, drums patterns spinning with cymbal crashes, driving the melodic bass. The Captain’s vocals are strong and deliver the subject matter accordingly: The ‘virus fear’ that has dictated our behaviour in 2020 has brought with it a kind of ‘medical marshal law’, enforcing various lockdowns designed to control society. The pandemic controls our freedom. So, could a ‘billionaire’ manipulate it all, acting as a ‘social engineer’? The song’s words may articulate what many a cynic may already be thinking. A robotic voice delivers the mid-section, telling us ‘this will end when I say it ends.’ Chilling, right? All over a rousing backing, hinting Won’t Get Fooled Again at times.
The rock n’ rolling D.J. With Half A Brain skids by like a roadster spraying dirt. Excellent guitar work by the Captain, with spacey keys in the backing. Indeed, these spacey keys lead into the next track, the largely instrumental Jam Tomorrow. Its riffy bass and deep keyboard set the groove, a heavy psychedelic blues strut with a good helping of Grateful Dead influence too. Powerful rhythm work by Messrs Gray and Parrott.
The Paul Gray-penned ode to the English royal Family’s most pointless member, Prince Andrew, is sheer delight. Member has its double meaning, natch. What’s The Point Of Andrew? is short, succinct and precise in its subject. The regal interlude, a brass melodic section, raises the satirical charm nicely before its final words deriding the royal amnesiac. Sung by Paul, it really is a fantastic piece.
Fine Fairweather Friend has an edgy, indie drift alongside its garage rock feel. The solo guitar works well in unison with the chorus vocal, with Sensible’s lead guitar grabbing plenty of opportunity to shine, working well in a ‘question and answer’ format during the staccato verse. A song easy to relate to as well. As is I Married A Monster! Its urgent opening gives way to a guitar riff and up-tempo beat, with the ironic addition of wedding bells particularly effective.
The penultimate track, You And Me, is reflective and provocative. The relationship between the governed and those who govern is alluded to, but the main feature for me is the psychedelic drop out section. It produces a barren soundscape, with special effects and echoey chamber-style guitar over keyboard drones.
The album closes with Another World. More keyboard drones ease the number in and are soon joined by Indian scales and sounds on the Captain’s guitar. A gentle rhythm then drops in. The low-key, deep and hushed vocals work especially well, particularly with the female voice backing. The eastern quality of the track continues throughout and in all, it is a number that could have found a home in any number of counter-culture albums, such as those produced by Jefferson Aeroplane or the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Indeed, had a set of tablas and a sitar appeared it would have come as no surprise. Paul’s bass delivers yet more melodic runs, and Marty’s percussion is skilful and subtle. The feel is loose, and it draws the record to a very satisfactory conclusion.
Get Back Into The World is a commentary on the world in 2020. It is both micro and macro, and in a lot of ways is like 2013’s A Postcard Form Britain. A good thing – I enjoy the ‘postcard’ type approach to an album. But what makes the album poignant is the way the world has changed since 2013 – more dehumanisation, more globalisation, a pandemic and social isolation. Therefore, such ‘postcards’ are fascinating comparisons over a period.
However, the record is much more than that. The vibrant psych and garage rock n’roll style of the songs are a world away from The Damned and Johnny Moped’s output. It opens new doors to the unexpected, especially in the spaced-out psychedelic moments. The musicianship throughout is fabulous, from all concerned – something often over-looked on records made by punk rock artists.
A great trip. Jump on board.
❉ ‘Get Back Into The World’ by The Sensible Gray Cells was released on Damaged Goods Records on 27 November 2020. Click here to BUY from Damaged Goods’ Sensible Gray Cells online store.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His debut novel ‘Toy Guitars’ is due to be published in 2019, and a further novella, ‘Donny Jackal’ is currently being edited. He previously promoted live shows as 101 Productions and owned The Attik night club from 2001-2007. He was also a songwriter and guitarist in The Incurables. Paul runs a music blog and has recently started a series entitled 101 Significant Figures. This focuses on under-appreciated individuals in the punk and new wave movement. See www.paulmatts.com for more details.
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