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Harry Stafford – Photo Credit: Richard David
Manchester certainly seems to be a hotbed of musical activity these past few years. Harry Stafford, perhaps best known as frontman of 1980s underground music stalwarts Inca Babies, is one of the first artists from this region to announce a new album. Dubbed Gothic Urban Blues, we can expect it to drop in late March. Mixed and engineered by Ding Archer (The Fall, PJ Harvey) at his 6Db Studio in Salford, this album was co-produced by Archer and Stafford.
While this new offering was recorded in a studio environment, already some privileged audiences have had the pleasure of hearing him perform these songs live with Guitar Shaped Hammers, a collective named after his first solo album.
Today we are the first to present you two separate versions of “She Just Blew Me Away”, the lead single from this long-play – one live and one from the album. “She Just Blew Me Away” winds with assured ease, stepping with a staccato pace and cut with sharply angular guitars. The horns add a warm blast to a cool track that features Stafford’s (dis)passionate vocal exclamations.
The latest few albums from David J of Bauhaus fame certainly come to mind in relation to this album, delivered with a passion similar to Paul Weller in his Jam and Style Council days. But Harry Stafford is also an altogether different creature – not totally wild, but something that cannot be caged either. His bluesy confessional sound also sees elements we’ve come to associate with Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Gavin Friday. This is actual, this is relatable, this is great music.
This album about the Metropolis, the naked city, the urban sprawl and the need to get back to the ripped back streets when you’re far away. If there are a million stories in the naked city, here are a few to keep you warm.
“She Just Blew Me Away’ is dedicated to Jim the singer, who would tell me stories of his love affairs. He would begin with. “I mean, she just blew me away”. And and how did it end? I would ask. “Ah well, she just blew me away,” says Harry Stafford.
Stafford’s core band includes drummer Rob Haynes (The Membranes, Inca Babies), trumpeter Kevin Davy (Lamb, Cymande), guitarist Andy Mills, and Vincent O’Brien on Weisseborn slide guitar.
Formed in the early 1980s, the Stafford-led Inca Babies released four albums and multiple singles and Peel sessions. Much of his musical career has been spent with Inca Babies, playing across Europe and the world but in 2015, after 35 years with Inca Babies, Stafford decided to release untamed solo material that echoes his love of blues piano and barroom ballads.
The new album Gothic Urban Blues and debut solo album Guitar Shaped Hammers, released in December 2017, are the inevitable result, reflecting a multitude of ideas around a driving yet lilting punk-piano blues. The idea was for Stafford to leave his noisy electric guitar behind – abandoning everything he held and cherished – to make some new music with a piano and a head full of ideas.
The new album, out in March 2020, features a more defined sound of a band finding its stride. The band is hereforth called Guitar Shaped Hammers to reflect this cohesion of musical unity – with more guitars from Vincent O’Brien, and an additional layered sonic blast from Nick Brown (The Membranes). With intense percussion from Rob Haynes and a truly masterful trumpet contribution from jazz supremo Kevin Davy, the result is very much the soundtrack of a basement radio station stumbling across a new genre they’ve tagged Gothic Urban Blues.
“It was important to reassemble these musicians again as there was a lot of ground we hadn’t covered. I had about fourteen songs and selected ten to be on the record. They were songs I had been playing around the bars of Manchester in order to hone into a neat arrangement,” says Harry Stafford.
“I rehearsed with Rob and Vincent and we laid down a foundation, allowing Nick and Kevin to add their unique elements. Their parts were there to compete and yet complement each other. Kevin is a hugely in-demand jazz musician, who graces the funk of Cymande and the smooth grooves of Lamb, not to mention his jazz workshops in London. I wanted Kevin to radiate his love of Miles Davis and send a wave of goosebumps and steely soul through the spine of this sound. Nick, with a guitar born of jagged punk and sinister drones, was to create a brittle edge to balance the beauty.”
As of February 7, ‘She Just Blew Me Away’ will be available as a digital single. The full Gothic Urban Blues album will be released on March 27 via Black Lagoon Records on both vinyl and CD. It will also be available digitally everywhere, including iTunes and Spotify. It can be pre-ordered via Bandcamp
Harry Stafford: Piano, keys, guitar and vocals
Rob Haynes: Drums, percussion
Vincent O’Brien: Slide guitar, lap blues slide and guitar
Nick Brown: bass and guitar
Kevin Davy: Horns
Written by Harry Stafford
Mixed and engineered by Ding Archer at 6Db Studio
Produced by Ding Archer and Harry Stafford
Mastered by Stephan at Oxygene Music
Released by Black Lagoon Records through Cargo UK BLRCD/LP0054
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