The Urban Voodoo Machine

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Interview & Live Review:
Louder Than War

Fibbers York, 19th Sept 2014

As I feel it’s my duty to keep a close eye on what’s occurring in the York live music scene, a couple of months ago I found myself browsing the website of premier local music venue Fibbers.

Something caught my eye, a feeling of recognition occurred and I clicked the embedded video on the page. The results were without doubt, life changing.

“So I fucked your sister, tried it on with your mother, kicked the shit out of your brother, but darling I always loved you” – Love Song #666.

I honestly can’t think of any song with such a magnificent opening verse and the band responsible was The Urban Voodoo Machine.

The recognition part was in the form of frontman Paul-Ronney Angel and it was last year at Ginger Wildheart‘s Birthday Bash that I first saw this man, tearing through his guest appearance with Ginger in a righteous fury.

Further research revealed the band was currently in the middle of a fan-funded Pledge campaign to finance their latest album Love, Drink And Death. Without any hesitation, I pledged and when the cd fell through my letterbox, I was instantly hooked. “Bourbon soaked gypsy blues bop ‘n’ stroll” couldn’t be a bigger departure from my usual, almost constant diet of black metal!

Fast forward to the end of last week and I’m walking down to the newly relocated and refurbished Fibbers to meet up with Mr Angel for a quick beer and interview.

Whilst briefly waiting outside the venue, I ended up talking to two confused lads who had made the journey from Norwich for the show and after reassuring them they were indeed in the right place, the immaculately dressed and possibly the most charismatic motherfucker on the entire planet, Paul-Ronney emerged from the side of Fibbers.

After the introductions were made, we adjourned to a nearby bar and armed with a couple of beers, went outside to drink, smoke and chat.

Louder Than War: So, tell me about the new album Love, Drink And Death, there’s been a fair gap between albums.

Paul-Ronney: Yeah, we could have possibly released it a year ago but it’s down to boring shit like business. We didn’t have the right booking agent, we wanted a proper tour to support it, we didn’t have the right publisher, we didn’t have the right distribution so all these things were a part. If we had released it a year ago, it would probably have been a 14 track album. We probably recorded it over 2 years but we’re not a typical band that goes in the studio for 3 weeks, works round the clock and takes it elsewhere to mix it for week but the next album won’t take so long, we’ve already started work on it

What made you go down the route of Pledge for the album?

It was something that Ginger talked about and Steve Conte, whose album I played on said “Guys, you got to do this!” We realised we actually have quite a good following and strong fan base you know? It definitely helped.

The Urban Voodoo Machine aren’t exactly shy when it comes to playing live and you seem to tour and play festivals almost constantly. Do you have a preference? Headline gig or festival slot?

We like them all really, the good thing with festivals is you can meet a totally new audience where at your club shows, it’s your hardcore fan base. I suppose we’re still on the up, even after 11 years! At club shows, you have a bit more time and you can be looser, jam a little bit, but at festivals you have to hit them with hardest ones.

A lot of the lyrical content on Love, Drink And Death is strong story telling. How much of that is based on real life events?

100% I’d say!

So Crazy Maria actually existed!!?

Well, you know, sometimes you have to change the names, murder conspiracies and all that, but yeah, actually based on factual events.

There’s a strong aesthetic with Urban Voodoo, the image, the red and black. Was that always part of the plan when you put the band together?

When we started out I headhunted some of the best musicians amongst the hard-drinking crowd I knew, I was like “Right!” and I kinda knew the style of music I wanted to play, the instrumentation and all that. I guess the blues and 50s gangster stuff, y’ know? I always wanted it to be a sharp dressed band, no jeans and t shirts so we just went for black and red for unity. And now a lot of our fans are turning up at our shows in the black and red!

The Urban Voodoo sound is impossible to categorise, blues, mariachi, rock ‘n’ roll and so on. Was that always the plan or does that come from individual band members bringing their influences to the table?

It’s always been how I write the songs I guess, it’s the music that I like and I’m not afraid of mixing it up. Some people might have problems with it but yeah, we’re hard to categorise. I think people in radio and the press might go “But, but, I can’t call them a rockabilly band, I can’t call them a world music band, I can’t call them a jazz band, I can’t call them a hard rock band , they’re everything! Fuck, what are they?” That kind of freaks people out sometimes. Think about it, when Elvis started he was mixing blues, country and gospel and that became rock ‘n’ roll. That’s kinda what we do but dig a little bit deeper into mariachi and gypsy music.

Does the Gogol Bordello comparison annoy you? I’ve heard that band mentioned in the same sentence before…?

Yes. Maybe a little bit. I can sort of see it though, the Gypsy side of things… But we’re a lot more than that!

You seem to have a fair number of guest musicians on the album, Wilko Johnson and Jim Jones to name but two.

Well, Jim Jones is a founder member of the band, he was in the band from the start in 2003 until about 2006. Me and Jim are like brothers and he was always there. He was also involved in the mastering of the album. As for Wilko, Slim, our acorrdian player has guested on and off for Wilko for about 30 years and we just asked him. He came down to an East London recording studio, the night before he was at an awards ceremony with Elton John and the day after he was drinking lager from a can with us!

You have a club night in London called Gypsy Hotel, tell us about that.

It’s been pretty much monthly for 8 years, it’s a mixture of roots, rock ‘n’ roll, the kind of music that we are about and as well as circus sideshow, freakshow and burlesque. We got DJ Scratchy who was The Clash‘s tour DJ and it’s just a crazy night. The venue changes around too. It tends to happen on the 3rd weekend of the month.

What’s the future plans for the band then?

We’re going to tour the latest album, we always get plenty gigs and then concentrate on the 4th album.

Time is now marching on and it’s getting dangerously close to stage time for Paul-Ronney and he needs to be getting back to the venue so I ask my final question,

So, what’s the most badly behaved, debauched incident you’ve ever being involved with in The Urban Voodoo Machine?

We used to be pretty fucking wild back in the day but nowadays it’s 10-15 quid for a ticket so you come, you will get a good show, not a band throwing bottles at the audience!

(Paul-Ronney lets rip with an evil cackle at this point that says more than any words could!)

We’ve calmed down slightly, we’re not getting any younger. There’s always some mischief going on when we’re on the road anyway”

As we drain our beers and Paul-Ronney gets ready to head back to the venue, I find out that his word-perfect English (he’s originally from Norway) is partially down to listening to a lot of AC/DC as a child and his wife is Norwegian Black Metal band Satyricon’s official hairdresser!

A quick shot of bourbon later and we head back down to Fibbers.

Many thanks to Mr Angel for taking the time to talk, a fascinating, friendly, intelligent and terrifyingly charismatic guy.

Now, it was down to business and the slight matter of the gig.

On entering this new incarnation of Fibbers it was straight to the merch desk to fill in the numerous gaps in my Urban Voodoo Machine collection and grab a shirt. These were saved until the end of the night by the very lovely PVC clad lady who was running the stand. Most bands have some hairy arsed member of their crew selling the goods, not Urban Voodoo!

A beer and down to the front in the respectably full venue and it wasn’t long to wait for my first (and without any doubt, first of many) Urban Voodoo Machine gig.

The band took to the stage looking quite magnificent in their various guises, how many bands can you think of that feature a Priest on upright bass and a top hat wearing zombie as one of the drummers? This was clearly not going to be a standard sort of gig where a band just play the songs. This was an event, a carnival, a circus, and a fucking amazing Rock ‘n’ Roll show with a phenomenal eye for detail, even down to the voodoo candy skulls scattered around the drum kit.

After the almost ceremonial donning of his jaunty trilby hat, Paul-Ronney led the band into the opening song of the set, the rousing Cheers For The Tears. The York crowd into it from the very first note, boppin’ and strollin’ like nutters.

The savage harmonica-led Train Wreck Blues is next and leads into the stomp of Not With You and it’s irresistible gypsy punk mid-section.

Staying with material from the Love Drink And Death album we get Pipe And Slippers Man and a cracking rendition of Crazy Maria in all it’s Latin soaked glory.

I take a look around the room and everyone there is transfixed by the mayhem on stage, no one is pissing about with mobile phones, the band have the undivided attention of all in attendance.

Drinking My Life Away and a rowdy take on In Your Hour of Darkness are played and then a beautiful change of tempo in the shape of Goodnight My Dear, a song that really wouldn’t be a million miles away from prime time Stones and one Mick and Keef would sell their souls to have in their repertoire.

Time is flying and the show is coming to an end and the band tear through the hellfire and damnation of Help Me Jesus, the crowd joining in with Paul-Ronneys cries for redemption.

As the band leave the stage, it’s clear that the crowd will not take no for an answer as regards an encore and Paul-Ronney returns to the stage alone and starts to pick out the opening chords of the epic 7 minute murder ballad, Lorettas’s Revenge. As the song builds to it’s climax, the remaining members drift back onto the stage and finish the song. A real highlight of the gig.

Throughout the course of the show Paul-Ronney has engaged with the crowd constantly and being a twisted hybrid of every great frontman you can imagine. He leads the crowd like a demented ringmaster and for the final song of the night, has a couple or three hundred people screaming the immortal verse that begins with So I Fucked Your Sister. Not once but 3 times until he’s finally satisfied and then a feral rendition of Love Song #666 is played.

The band takes a group bow at the front of the stage and bids us all goodnight to roof raising applause and the previously mentioned zombie drummer, The Late J-Roni-Moe, tears a set list from a monitor and presses it on to his face leaving a perfect imprint of his undead but sweaty face. He hands this green and black, fairly damp souvenir to my wife who is bemused to say the least.

This was possibly one of the best gigs I’ve been to in my hometown for many, many a year. The Urban Voodoo Machine are without doubt one of the best bands in the country and if you ever have the opportunity to step into their demented world of utter genius for a night, take that opportunity and change your life. You can thank me later.

by Andy Santiago

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