Michael Halpin Journalism


Louder Than War: English Tapas by Sleaford Mods – Album Review



Sleaford Mods – English Tapas

(Rough Trade Records)


Available Now

Louder Than War’s Michael Halpin review the latest release by arguably the most important act in Britain.

It is unfair to say that Sleaford Mods first album for Rough Trade Records, and their ninth in total, is more of the same but while Jason Williamson is still angry at 21st Century Britain, ‘English Tapas’ picks up where 2015’s ‘Key Markets’ left off.  Please understand however that this is no bad thing.  This time round Williamson either mocks or is irritated by the following: Gym going fitness fanatics, hipsters, Boris Johnson, Ringo Starr, coke-heads, the Superdry clothing label, televisions in pubs, the NME and Philip Green.

Williamson’s outrageously prolific tirades do not necessarily become diluted but from a musical point of view, Sleaford Mods may be in danger of becoming predictable, mainly due to their stripped back approach.  One suspects however that Williamson and his musical counterpart Andrew Fearn are not concerned with the dangers of becoming predictable or diluted, they are simply needing to release this material and needing to rail at all that agitates them in post-Brexit Britain.  For starters, someone’s got to do it and for some inexplicable reason, it seems to be left to the 46-year-old Williamson; such is the lack of concern coming from the majority of musicians the right side of 30.

The fact Sleaford Mods create at such a prolific rate means that suddenly we have a band who hark back to the days when the likes of The Specials, The Jam and The Clash would write and release material relating to what was happening within Britain at that very moment – a part of British music that seems to have been lost as record labels consider marketing strategies ahead of creative relevance and art.

The Opening track on ‘English Tapas’, ‘Army Nights’, is a touch unsettling in a 1970s-Carry-On-film-kind-of-way as Williamson tells a Ray Davies/Damon Albarn-esque tale of what seems to be an army fitness instructor with a penchant for getting his muscles squeezed in his caravan at night.

‘Just Like We Do’ begins with Williamson mocking the pretentiousness of a certain type of musician, “I’m currently listening to rustic noise recorded in 1982 in the Black Forest in Germany” and appears to be a rant at an ex-punk who Williamson at least, deems to be a has-been.  “Punks not dead, well, it is now, or does no-one care about you?”

‘Moptop’ opens with the amusing line, “Do you mind? You biffed my nose” and does not sound a million miles away from Basil Brush before morphing into a Boris Johnson baiting outburst.  ‘Messy Anywhere’ takes a swipe at the stupidity of the weekend-coke-habit, “Lets spend another hundred quid on getting out of our trees” and “we get all messy anywhere, we go late.”  Williamson sneering at those coke-confident individuals he openly admits to being one of in the late 90s.

‘Snout’, the best song on the album, bemoans what sounds like a cocaine induced pyjama purchase before appearing enraged about the Superdry clothing label becoming “the armour of the working class!”

‘Drayton Manored’ is a tale of a stoned trip to the shops, “a trip to spar is like a trip to Mars!” while ‘Carlton Touts’ addresses the paranoia of British pubs being open all day and brainwashing its regulars with 24 hour BBC News.

‘Dull’ is disenchanted with Ringo Starr publicly stating that he voted for Brexit (granted he was never the brightest Beatle, but still…) before Williamson seethingly asks the listener to, “try scrolling down a website, the NME, without laughing“ and this line, mocking what was once arguably the centre piece of British alternative music, sums up the crux of ‘English Tapas’.  It seems that Williamson, like many, is exasperated, not only by life in Britain in 2017 but also by the demise of what were once vital elements of British culture.

‘English Tapas’ may not be the best album Sleaford Mods have produced but while they seem to be the only artists in Britain willing to speak out with passion about what is happening in the UK in 2017, it seems trivial to criticise them.

Sleaford Mods are on both Facebook and Twitter  They can also be found at their website


Words by Michael Halpin.  You can find more of Michael’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive.



Louder Than War: Little Fictions by Elbow – Album Review





Elbow – Little Fictions (Polydor Records)
Available now

Louder Than War’s Michael Halpin reviews Elbow’s first album in three years and its one of their best.

Elbow’s first album since 2014’s The Take Off And Landing Of Everything is an eyebrow raising affair. Yes, all of the elements of what makes Elbow so endearing are there; Guy Garvey’s soaring vocals, a slightly off the wall musical blend and those bittersweet lyrics that can draw both a smile and a tear in the same breath.

Little Fictions is the bands first album since the departure of drummer and founding member Richard Jupp, and the emphasis placed on drums on Little Fictions is testament to the importance of Jupp’s role within the band.

In a recent interview with Radio X, Guy Garvey described Jupp as ‘someone who can never be replaced’ and this is very much true. Keyboard player and producer Craig Potter sampled a selection of drummers and created his own drum-loops for Little Fictions rather than drafting in a super-sub to replace Jupp. It is surprising therefore how drum-heavy Little Fictions is. It would have been easy for Craig Potter to simply bury the drums in the mix or use a replacement without too much of a song-and-dance but instead Potter has stripped back the bands sound, made the drums a focal point and given the rhythm section at least, something of a hip-hop feel in parts.

The touching opener, Magnificent (She Says), written while Garvey was on honeymoon in Sardinia, is followed by the bands next single Gentle Storm and almost like the songs title suggests, it holds both a groove and a tranquillity at its core.

Trust The Sun is intriguing and mysterious in a similar vein to The Fix from 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid and Garvey’s lyric, “An eye for an eye for an eye for an eye” is sinister and unsettling and touches on the paranoia of 21st century living.

Mark Potters guitar rarely comes to fore on Little Fictions but when it does on All Disco, his shimmering, pedal-tone riff is a welcoming noise which gives All Disco an uplifting, smile inducing feel and leaves you wondering, ‘Is this Elbow’s most uplifting album to date?’

The mix of drums, piano and very little else appears again on Firebrand and Angel and as Garvey delivers the unusual line, “Fella interstellar” one wonders if he’s had a quick peek in Alex Turner’s notebook; so Turner-esque is the delivery. That aside, one aspect of Firebrand And Angel that is all Garvey’s is his vocal delivery and as he grippingly reaches his upper register on Firebrand, it becomes clear that the UK has not produced many voices as distinctive and pure as Garvey’s in the last 20 years.

Described by Garvey as ‘being inspired by violence and negativity’, the strangely hypnotic K2 delivers the best lyrics on the album and if Alex Turner may have been channelled on Firebrand and Angel, then it’s just as likely that John Cooper Clarke has been channelled on K2.  “I’m from a land with an island status, makes us think that everyone hates us, maybe darling they do, but they haven’t met you” and as K2 carries on, “It’s full of blood, snot and teeth and the glory of no one” it becomes clear that this is by far the moodiest song on the album until, in true Elbow style, an element of hope is thrown in, “Yes I’m given to believing in love” Garvey croons and this, more than anything else, seems to be the crux of Little Fictions.  Yes, everything is a bit shit in the UK in 2017 but there should always be that element of hope to hold onto.

Elbow’s seventh studio album is not without its faults however and although the criticism is minor, Head for Supplies, as tranquil and soothing as it may be, does works less well in comparison to the rest of the album while Montparnasse suffers from being all too brief.  That aside, Little Fictions is the most beautiful album Elbow have made in years.

The albums title track segues into Kindling with a brief White Album style three-note-noodle to form a twelve-minute-and-forty-one-seconds ending. Do not fear though, the segue doesn’t grate, it isn’t free jazz and it isn’t repetitive.  The drums could belong to both The Velvet Underground and Massive Attack at the same time but the feeling is essentially that of a British kitchen sink drama.  This is without doubt the albums centre piece.  The strings are scratchy, the guitar off-kilter, it’s all intriguingly messy but with Garvey’s voice soaring at the centre it somehow works beautifully.

“The papers upside down, the radio’s in Chinese” Garvey laments during the title track as though he’s in some sort of bizarre cross between ‘Saturday Night And Sunday Morning’ and Jonathan Miller’s version of Alice In Wonderland but then, as the beautiful Kindling kicks in we hear what must be the most heart-warming set of lyrics ever written about a cramped train and a mobile phone.  “Fifty souls to a carriage, I’m trying hard to be ignored, then my telephone shakes into life and I see your name, and the wheat fields explode into gold either side of the train.”

A lovely guitar figure, a hint of band chat and it’s over.

Little Fictions on the whole, is enthralling and uplifting, spacious and bare, moving and life affirming. Sixteen years since their debut album and Elbow still haven’t made a bad one.  Losing a member after twenty-five-years could have signalled a stumble along their journey but instead they have managed to face Jupp’s departure head on. Somehow Elbow just never seem to fail.



Words by Michael Halpin.  You can find more of Michael’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive


Album Review for Louder Than War: Hamburg Demonstrations by Peter Doherty



Peter Doherty – Hamburg Demonstrations



Out Now

Peter Doherty, as he is known these days, releases his first solo album in seven years. Is the talent still there? Louder Than War’s Michael Halpin finds out.


Recorded in his Hamburg studio, one would have thought (or hoped) that the prospect of a more level headed Peter Doherty recording an album in one of Europe's most exciting cities could not possibly fail, and although Peter Doherty has not failed exactly, ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ has not really triumphed either.

The days when the indie community gushed over a half-arsed acoustic Doherty number are over. It was once endearing; now it’s just a bit boring. Although any kind hearted person will be glad that we no longer listen with the concern that the man may not actually make it all the way through the song, at least when he sounded like he meant it, we were willing the guy to keep it together. On ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ the main problem is that Peter Doherty sounds like his heart isn’t really in it.

Opening number ‘Kolly Kiber’ suffers from having backing vocals that do not appear to fully fit, while ‘Birdcage’ makes you wonder, if Peter Doherty sounds that lethargic that he cannot seem to muster the energy to sing or play properly, why should anybody want to listen properly. The slurred vocal delivery is nowhere near as engaging as when one of British music’s once brightest hopes is on form and willing to sing his heart out.

Lyrically he is still capable of hitting the spot. Lines like “you’re too pretty and I’m too clever” show that the light hasn’t completely gone out but again that glimmer of hope makes ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ all the more frustrating.

Much of the problem is ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ incoherent and erratic nature. Some numbers sound half-baked while others, namely ‘Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven’ and ‘I Don’t Love Anyone’ sound beautifully complete, and when you are reminded just how good Peter Doherty can be, it leaves you feeling short changed when he does not quite hit the mark he is known to be capable of.

The call to arms that is ‘Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven’ with the wonderful lyric “Come on boys you gotta choose your weapon, J-45 or AK47”, pleads for the young to form bands rather than join the army and is classic Doherty. ‘I Don’t Love Anyone’ (first version) is also Doherty at his best but quite why we need to hear two versions of the number on such a short album is something of a puzzle.

‘Oily Boker’, ‘A Spy In The House of Love’ and ‘She is Far’ also fair well but the Amy Winehouse tribute in the shape of ‘Flags Of The Old Regime’, however personal it may be to Peter Doherty himself, is simply not an endearing number and it’s not even that the subject matter is painful, it’s more the delivery of the song.

‘Down For The Outing’, aside from a pretty messy guitar solo, passes without much incident, as does ‘The Whole World Is Our Playground’. Did a Libertines song ever pass without incident? Not that I recall.

It goes without saying that Peter Doherty can do better than this. It sounds like he just needs to care enough to do so.

Words by Michael Halpin. You can find more of Michael’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive


Album Review: Louder Than War – Blue & Lonesome by The Rolling Stones



Blue and Lonesome: The Rolling Stones

(Polydor Records)


Released 2nd December 2016

Fifty-two years after the release of their debut, the Rolling Stones career appears have come full circle. Michael Halpin gives his opinion.


Just as their eponymous debut was in 1964, ‘Blue and Lonesome’ in 2016 is an album of blues covers. Recorded in just under two weeks, the only genuine difference between their eponymous debut and ‘Blue and Lonesome’ is that 52 years ago they sounded like young pretenders whereas today they sound like the mythical blues men that they always set out to emulate.

What strikes about ‘Blue and Lonesome’ initially is just how well Mick Jagger plays harmonica. Set aside the showbiz pomp and years of questionable stage attire and marvel at the fact that behind the facade stands a musician who really does know how to play, what is often forgotten to be, his chosen instrument. Each solo, of which there are several, is mesmerising and while it may be glaringly obvious to point out, what is also striking about ‘Blue and Lonesome’ is the fact that the Rolling Stones really know how to play the blues.

Produced by long time cohort Don Was, the album is worth its salt for the simple fact that it captures the essence of the Rolling Stones masterfully. Charlie’s snare cuts through wonderfully throughout, particularly on ‘Ride ‘Em On Down’, while Keith and Ronnie’s infinite love of playing the blues finds them on fine form as their celebrated art of weaving continues. Eric Clapton joins Keith and Ronnie on ‘Everybody Knows About My Good Thing’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ but it really is Jagger who elevates the album towards something occasionally touching magic. Almost 55-years after he first tried, he now sounds something like an original blues troubadour.

For an individual who notoriously avoids looking back over his career, Jagger appears to be the member of the band enjoying ‘Blue and Lonesome’ the most and one would suspect that this is the reason why the album works as well as it does.

As Jagger hollers “Alright!” before the solo of ‘Just Like I Treat You’ he echoes his “Alright Keith, come on man!” calls from 1964’s ‘Little By Little’, bringing a smile to the face and suggesting that, although no doubt briefly, Mick Jagger really is back at home and while he is, everyone else appears to be right onboard.

Electric Chicago Blues is the crux of ‘Blue and Lonesome’ and the albums title track along with opener ‘Just a fool’, the strutting and sinister ‘All Of Your Love’ and album highlight ‘Hate To See You Go’ all manage to encapsulate the essence of everything the Stones do best.

Their version of Willie Dixon’s ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’, although fairing less well, does see Jagger hitting the higher register of his vocals in a manner not heard in years, while their cover of Jimmy Reed’s ‘Little Rain’ is slightly workmanlike.

All criticism of ‘Blue and Lonesome’ is relatively minor however as the Stones have recorded an album that is invigorating, exciting, sinister, dark, morose and uplifting all in the same breath, and although it is wise to not lose sight of the fact that this is a covers album, within ‘Blue and Lonesome’ there is evidence of everything that is captivating about the Rolling Stones.

For over forty years, rumours of the Stones calling it a day have circulated but if indeed ‘Blue and Lonesome’ does turns out to be their final recording, it is almost the perfect bookend to where it all began.


Words by Michael Halpin. You can find more of Michael’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive



Album Review: Texas Soul ’64 – Compilation


The latest release in the History of Soul series, Texas Soul '64 focuses on 14 tracks that have not seen the light of day since their original release 51 years ago.

The compilation comprises of singles originally released on the Texas based Duke, Sure Shot and Peacock labels. All of which benefited from the assistance of the Texan music entrepreneur, Don Robey.

Although some tracks veer towards big band and calypso in places, worthwhile highlights include the C & C Boys (featured Clarence Carter) covering The Valentinos, It's All Over Now and Ernie K-Doe following up his 1961 hit My Mother-in-Law with My Mother-in-Law (Is In My Hair Again). Things obviously not getting any better for poor old Ernie!

The stand out track on this collection however is Oscar Perry's wonderful The Rest of My Life. It is worth parting with your hard-earned cash for this track alone.


Album Review: Jackie Lomax: Rare, Unreleased and Live 1965 – 2012


With a voice that gave both Joe Cocker and Chris Farlowe a run for their money, Jackie Lomax appears, throughout his career, to have been the nearly man who never quite got the breaks. If you are looking for a collection of hidden gems to justify this viewpoint, unfortunately, you won’t find it here.

Aside from ‘Genuine Imitation of Life’, ‘You Better Get Going Now’ and live BBC versions of ‘Sour Milk Sea’ and ‘The Eagle Laughs’, this collection of rarities is only essential to completists. A cover of the Black Keys ‘Dead and Gone’ is intriguing yet a little Tony Christie-esque, and aside from this, Rare, Unreleased and Live is a disappointing collection of lifeless production showcasing Lomax when he failed to play to his strengths.

Rather than purchase this collection, either get acquainted with, or revisit, Is This What You Want, Heavy Jelly or Home Is In My Head.