We know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Why should I care about The Urban Voodoo Machine? They’ve been around for ages, haven’t they? Aren’t they a novelty band who wears funny make-up? Don’t they sometimes play jazz? Aren’t half of them dead or something?”
So bear with us, sunshine, cos you clearly need educating.
The story starts with Paul-Ronney Angel, a man with a double-barrelled first name. I could be a wanker about this and say the story starts with Bon Scott-era AC/DC – with Tom Waits, or the Clash, Louis Armstrong, the Pogues, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Johnny Cash, Lionel Bart or Bertolt Brecht – but let’s stick with Paul-Ronney, it’s quicker.
Paul-Ronney Angel ate his parents and fled the fjords of Norway with just a bottle of moonshine and several slices of decomposing fish in his back pocket. (Before he left they tried him in the Norwegian Army – he lasted a total of five hours.)
After that, Angel washed up in London during the dying breaths of Thatcherism and took advantage of all that swinging London had to offer: he sold The Big Issue, busked Johnny Thunders & Robert Johnson numbers in Soho bus stops and played guitar for anyone who’d have him.
The Urban Voodoo Machine came to him in 2002 as a fully-formed idea. He’d lead a band who’d play ‘Bourbon Soaked Gypsy Blues Bop’n’Stroll’. They’d dress in black and red. There would be a LOT of them. And their music would sound like a great night out in a dangerous part of town. From the get-go, The UVM fused junkyard blues and stinging rockabilly with mariachi horns, fiddles, sinister cabaret and punk rock tangos. “I wanted to play rock’n’roll music with a different instrumentation,” says Angel, “taking inspiration from everything from delta blues, latin and gypsy music without losing the spirit and attitude of punk.” His lyrics – part Lemmy, part Bob Dylan – made other (more acclaimed) songwriters sound totally. Fucking. Boring.
“We’re not Americana and were definitely not ‘retro’,” says Angel. “I write songs about living in London right now. Although having a shit time, no money, heartbreak, mental illness, addiction and suppression from the big guy is kinda universal and timeless, I guess…”
“Drawing deep from a dirty well where Tom Waits, Nick Cave & Dick Dale are enjoying a burlesque all – nighter with Ennio Morricone”
“Yeah-yeah-yeah,” you’re thinking, “but can they cut it live?” Well, there’s a reason why they’ve played Glastonbury, Download, Latitude, Bestival, Hard Rock Calling and toured with The Pogues and New York Dolls. With an act honed alongside the burlesque dancers, snake-charmers and fire-eaters they call friends, The UVM have become one of the greatest live acts in the country – terrifyingly bizarre, hysterically funny; a riot for the eyes and sensation for the ears: a sing-a-long, drink-a-long, clap-a-long affair.
In 2006 they launched the Gypsy Hotel Club in the then-unfashionable part of London’s East End, Dalston, a monthly Bourbon Soaked Snake Charmin’ Rock’n’Roll Cabaret night for likeminded misfits, movers and shakers. Time Out Magazine wrote, “If you have 12 hours to live, spend it at Gypsy Hotel!”
Magazines and newspapers have lauded them for their “mariachi-influenced blues, whiskey-soaked country rags and punkabilly-style rave-ups” (The Washington Post) and noted that they’re “drawing deep from a dirty well where Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Dick Dale are enjoying a burlesque all-nighter with Ennio Morricone” (Classic Rock). They became one of the few bands that could appear on Clive Anderson’s Loose Ends on BBC Radio 4 and Britain’s biggest heavy metal festival Download in the same year and win at both.
In 2014, when Paul-Ronney named their third album Love, Drink & Death! he had no idea what the year had in store. In October, fiddle-player Rob Skipper died of an accidental heroin overdose, aged just 28. Guitarist Nick Marsh (formerly frontman of Flesh For Lulu) fought throat cancer throughout that year. He died in June 2015, aged 53. The Voodoo Machine transformed themselves into a New Orleans-style marching band for his funeral. The Urban Voodoo Machine Marching Band also played the Classic Rock Awards that year – the only band to do so without electricity.
And that brings us to new album Hellbound Hymns. Marsh plays on eight of its 13 songs. (Angel: “He was really putting the hours in when he knew the cancer had come back. He was like, ‘Right, these might be my last recordings with this band, so let’s roll the tape and make it a good one!”) To borrow one of the song titles, it’s all mixed-up. It’s part wake, part protest, part valediction – a party at the gates of hell – because the greatest tribute you can pay the dead is to live life to the full: “We will sing and we will dance/We will drink and we will laugh/We will not forget the past and our fallen brothers…”
- Paul-Ronney Angel – Lead Vocals, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Mandolin, Banjo, Harmonica
- Slim – Accordion & Piano
- Lucifire – Baritone Saxophone
- Harrison ‘The Slayer’ Cole – Trumpet
- Mlle Chat Noir – Violin
- The Reverend Gavin Smith – Upright Bass
- Jary – Drums, Cajon
- The Late J-Roni-Moe – Drums
Need more facts? Check out the timeline for high-points of the bands career to date.
The Urban Voodoo Machine play Dingwalls (Camden Rock 2018) – courtesy of SpartStudio Photoghraphy
The Urban Voodoo Machine Marching Band
The Urban Voodoo Machine first played under this name at Nick Marsh’s Big Send-Off, at Green Acres in Epping Forest, Essex, England in July 2015. Nick was, of course, a founder member of the band and their lead guitarist since 2003. Although the group had always loved New Orleans Jazz Funerals and Mardi Gras street party music, they had not yet performed in this capacity. Not until the funeral of their dear brother, who died battling cancer at 53 rock ‘n’ roll years young, that is!
As lead singer/band leader Paul-Ronney Angel explains: “We had to do something BIG and amazing for Nick’s last party and this was the obvious thing to do. We knew about the Second Lines and stuff having been to NOLA a few times, but to actually do it is a different gumbo of fish all together – we’re used to playing on stages cranking our amps up and yelling to the monitor engineer to turn it up! Marching forward without any amplification is a whole other beast!”
It was a beast they managed to tame just fine tough. In the three weeks after Nick’s death they practiced by parading around various parks in East London, picking up new fans of small children and stray dogs as they marched along. When the big day came they had assembled a twenty people strong Marching Funeral Band that led the coffin to the grave side playing ‘St James Infirmary’ and ‘House Of The Rising Sun.’ After the coffin had been laid to rest, the band had the 500 or so people, who had come to pay their last respects to Brother Nick, singing along to ‘When The Saint Go Marching In’.
And that’s where this story was supposed to end Brothers and Sisters.
P-R again: “We did this as a one-off for Nick of course, but we all really enjoyed playing this way and a while after the funeral were keen to do it again. The drummers, J-Roni-Moe and Jary had both gone out and got themselves proper marching drums, Slim had swapped his accordion for a tenor horn, I was bashing the banjo and hollering through a megaphone and in addition to Lucifire, Ane and Le Boner we had hooked up with some other great horn players. Thing is, all that practice had actually made us quite good and it was like the band had a ‘new skill’. We thought it would be a shame to waste this nice-nice present that Nick had left us and not do it again! “
Fast forward to August 2015 and Clerkenwell Festival in London. After a triumphant headline show in the park, they paraded hundreds of people to the after-show, a mile down the road, in a church. They’ve not stopped parading since really and have been seen doing their thing at the Classic Rock Awards (both Alice Cooper and Wilko Johnson loved it), Brooklyn Bowl, Red Rooster Festival, Gypsy Hotel, Gaz Rockin’ Blues, as well as the streets of London in general.
Oh, and not forgetting that they are a Marching FUNERAL band, they played the anniversary memorial for their departed fiddle player Robb Skipper, as well as funeral services for their friends, Cyka, English Craig and Vicki DeVice.
P-R: “We’ve done a couple of funerals of people we don’t know too, adds Angel. It’s a big responsibility doing that and we won’t let them down as they ‘Fly Away’, to quote the gospel classic that we sometimes play. We’ve actually expanded our repertoire and learned some of our own songs too – by request of fans who want to hear their favourite song by The Urban Voodoo Machine at their funeral. Yes, it’s true – we are taking advance bookings, let’s face it we’re all gonna check out some time!”
Music is a big part of life and to have a celebration with both sad and happy music when a person dies, is a good thing, if you ask me.
By the way, you’re all invited to MY funeral! Guess who the band will be, putting the Fun into Funeral?
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- Your Hour of Darkness
- Pipe And Slippers Man
- Crazy Maria
- Captain of a Sinking Ship
- Not With You
- Train Wreck Blues
- Don’t Mess With The Hat
- Loretta’s Revenge
- Drinking My Life Away
- Nothing To Me
- Hid The Bottle
- Help Me Jesus (ft. Wilko Johnson)
- Goodnight My Dear
- Always Out
- Orphan’s Lament
- Love Song 666
- Goodbye To Another Year
- Cheers For The Tears
- High Jeopardy Thing (ft. Jim Jones)
- Rather You Shot Me Down
- While We Were All Asleep
- Fallen Brothers
- Rusty Water & Coffin Nails
- January Blues
- Living In Fear