Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK
I knew very little about Dalston’s The Urban Voodoo Machine before attending last night’s gig. A quick look at their website revealed a shot of 11 musicians, dressed like a rockabilly travelling carnival above the tagline ‘Bourbon Soaked Gypsy Blues Bop ‘n’ Stroll Since 2003’.
They counted The Pogues, Tom Waits, Nick Cave and The Clash amongst their influences and had recently released a single with rock ‘n’ roll survivor, Wilko Johnson. What more could you ask for on a Friday night?
What’s immediately clear from entering an Urban Voodoo Machine gig is the sense of community, the sense that the band are part of a scene, way of dressing and a way of life that brings a lot of people together. The band themselves seem like one big, eccentric family and their able sticksman, Jary, managed to play drums for both of the night’s support acts.
Welcoming us to the fold and hailing from Yorkshire’s very own Wild West were Dewsbury’s, Tombstone Riders. Dressed in a Stetson and cowboy shirt, the singer led us through a set of tightly played, old-school punk. While the music sometimes boarded on pub-rock punk, there were enough thrills to be had from their sharply executed tunes and a joyous cover of Ramones classic ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’.
Things really got going with the arrival of second act, Hannah Rickard & the Relatives. Vintage guitars were complimented by double-bass, keyboards and saxophone while Rickards stage presence and vocal prowess tied the whole thing together. Dressed like they’ve just stepped out of a 50s-themed diner, the band played a flawless set of immaculately cool rock ‘n’ roll. Like Urban Voodoo, the band are based in London but they create a sound as American as cherry pie and Jerry Lee Lewis.
It’s the kind of music that works especially well live and it’s difficult not to get caught up in the set when the band is in full swing. Bluesy guitars, furiously played double-bass and ecstatic, soaring sax solos; it’s definitely music for a Friday night out. Songs like ‘Pay Attention to Me’ paid perfect homage to the band’s decade of choice while breathing new life into a distinctly retro style.
It’s immediately clear from their distinctive appearance that The Urban Voodoo Machine are not the shy and retiring types. One of their two drummers, The Late J-Roni-Moe, donned his trademark zombie makeup while saxophonist and all round provocateur Lucifire wore a burlesque take on the band’s red and black uniform.
Their upright-bass player was dressed like a particularly eccentric reverend (hence the name The Reverend Gavin Smith) while Slim brought some distinctly Godfather-esque vibes to the mix with his accordion skills. Joe ‘Mongo’ Whitney played a mean washboard while ringleader and songwriter, Paul Ronney Angel played harmonica as well as guitar.
The set incorporated gypsy-punk, rockabilly, Balkan brass and a heavy-dose of Tom Waits boogie. The band encouraged the crowd to sing along and it suddenly felt as if you had been indoctrinated into some kind of brilliantly life-affirming cult of evangelical circus performers. An Urban Voodoo Machine gig is an undeniably celebratory event, by a collective who wouldn’t know how to give a half-arsed performance if they tried.
Songs like ‘Pipe and Slippers Man’ and fan-favorite ‘Love Song 666’ brought all the fun of the fair while a slower number was dedicated to their late fiddler Rob ‘The Kid’ Skipper who died of a heroin overdose. There’s a lot of heart under all the bright clothes, tattoos and showmanship, and ultimately, that’s what kept the performance so engaging.
The Urban Voodoo Machine are the best night out in town. Make sure you catch this traveling punk circus if it comes your way.
By Andy Brown