“If music be the food of love, play on” is the famous quote from Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night, where the lovesick Orsino asks for more music to cure his obsession with Olivia.
Transplant that to the stages of Europe and change the characters to Suzy Starlite and Simon Campbell and the cure was found as they fell in love and then got married…music is that powerful and I count myself very fortunate to be able to immerse myself in it, to listen not hear, and to be a part of such an emotive medium.
That lovely story isn’t the only remarkable thing about this British pair: they’ve lived in various parts of Europe with their ”semi-mobile recording studio” in tow and currently reside in Portugal. On the way to meeting and travelling, Suzy has achieved many things including winning the 650cc TT on the Isle of Man! Simon has also many achievements, the one I want to know more about is the work he did with famed producer Derek Lawrence (Deep Purple, Wishbone Ash amongst many) and the great Big Jim Sullivan, the guitarists’ guitarist who helped teach Ritchie Blackmore to play. He’s also a qualified national diving (that’s underwater) instructor.
But, this is about their current venture, Starlite Campbell Band, (to be known as SCB to save my fingers) and their upcoming album The Language Of Curiosity. This is the follow up to the duo’s debut, Blueberry Pie, which was well-received by Bluesdoodles, critics and fans alike. It, like its successor, blends British rock (70s vintage) and the seminal 60s British blues in a fresh, vital and original way, while showing influences like Peter Green via the Faces to Purple. Throw in some vintage amplifiers (valves!), some standard and not so standard guitars (the impossibly difficult to play Moog EM1) along with the Bill Bailey signature Theremin. (in my imagination) They also continue telling stories with bite or humour wrapped in velvet or steel: expect tales of institutionalisation, lust, passion, war and the global refugee crisis, to name a few subjects covered on this fine release. The cover is a curiosity too (well it is to me) as the photograph is of Broad Street in Oxford and the shop fronts suggest it is very recent, but I cannot work out what the flower-like chalking on the road is, or their relevance and I assume the young lady is caught mid-dance to account for her ‘position’ and the couple to her right may be dancing too although a better graphic on the t-shirt on the more active of pair would have been nice! The band also get top marks for the most informative, exhaustive press release ever…full of genuinely fascinating stuff.
To the music: opener Distant Land leaves us in no doubt about the abilities and enthusiasm of the whole band and, despite paraphrasing a Who song in the second verse, it is pure SCB: a sort of Cream does Mountain feel as the guitars and Maria’s castanets combine with the rhythm section to bring a reveal the depth of skills on offer. A very neat (short) solo too…a strong start.
I keep hearing this phrase ‘gaslighting’ and, now I know is “a type of emotional abuse where the bully or abuser makes the victim question their judgment”. Gaslight and Ingrid Bergman is for many the instant connection. This insidious trend is addressed neatly in the clever lyrics of Gaslight (that’s my interpretation anyway) against a simply genius Faces/Thunder series of chord progressions and it works a treat. Add some slinky slide and it is irresistible.
The title track, Language of Curiosity, has Simon playing an electric twelve-string…a very difficult guitar to master in any form, but when it’s a full-on electric, there’s nowhere to hide; needless to say, he does a great job as the 60s influenced melody mixes with an almost glam rock base. Bad Sign sounds like Ken Hensley during his early solo time (Eager To Please, for example) railing against the music industry with a piano-led slice of soft rock but with the added benefit of a neat, too short, Spanish flavoured acoustic solo from Simon after the clever bridge where lap steel, I think, sings behind Suzy’s vocals.
Take Time to Grow Old references tyre rubber and, with my history, I had to find out more…turns out Kaufmann is a US retailer of car tyres (or tires as they say over there) and it those that are burning…that’s how sad I am and own up to the first four letters of analysis! Anyway, this song has a message I can relate to: “Don’t fall back on yesterday, no regrets they always say.” It has a sort of Beatles feel. The slow pace and piano backing the harmonies and the twelve-string sparkles too..a ballad for us ageing rockers with a nice na, na, nana, nana, na section heralding a crafted and beautifully toned guitar solo.
Said So features Suzy’s sadly departed mother; it’s her laughing that you hear. The siren is from the fire station in the village of Thören in northern Germany…the sound that is, I’m sure it is still physically attached. This is an out and out rock song with a 70s colour and a Stones like chord structure although not like the Stones at all…if that makes sense. Then, after a quiet bridge, including Ash-like guitars, the solo is a fuzzed masterpiece that also has some neat slide backing it, as well as the sound effects.
It Ain’t Right, with acoustic lead and bass guitars bringing a folk-rock feel as Suzy harmonises with herself and calmly uses a velvet encased fist to criticise certain areas of…life.
Stone Cold Crazy is fun first; after all, anyone who rhymes ‘sleazy’ with ‘appease me’ and talks of the ‘smell of leather in the back of a car’ is more than alright by me. This has a definite Sweet (the rocky Sweet as on Sweet Fanny Adams, not ChinniChap) feel and the bounce of the riff matches the light-hearted look at love. The guitar solos play with the melodies and have neat bends and runs before ‘self harmonising’.
Next up is a serving of the blues; Lay It Out On Me has, I think, its roots in Fleetwood Mac (with the great Peter Green, not the fluffy version). Sparse instrumentation to highlight the lyrical pain and builds inexorably to an understated solo that is all the more effective as Simon uses few notes, but with bend and sustain to transfer the heartache to and through the strings.
The final track, Ride On Cowboy, is a “commentary on sex in 2021”…the message is veiled but biting, set against a funky blues structure. Then, when the solo hits, it lifts it to new heights as Suzy sings and whispers alongside.
A thoroughly enjoyable album from a skilful band with ten tracks that mine the eras that defined modern rock but with an up to date feel and lyrical approach and, I bet, they will be an absolute treat live, so catch ‘em if you can.
Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a great listen for an album full of excellent musicianship delivering a new nostalgia.
1. Distant Land
3. Language of Curiosity
4. Bad Sign
5. Take Time to Grow Old
6. Said So
7. It Ain’t Right
8. Stone Cold Crazy
9. Lay It Out On Me
10. Ride On Cowboy
Suzy Starlite: bass guitars, Philips Philicorder, Yamaha grand piano, mellotron, percussion & vocals
Simon Campbell: guitars, Sequential Tempest, MOOG Minitaur, theremin & E1-M guitar, percussion & vocals
Steve Gibson: drums & percussion
Jonny Henderson: Hammond B3 organ, Vox Continental, Hohner Clavinet, Bechstein grand piano and Wurlitzer electric piano
Gabriele Del Vecchio: Yamaha grand piano, Wurlitzer electric piano and Hammond M100 organ Maria Saalfeld Reis: Castanets
(iTunes landed on the Ronnie James Dio inspired rock alternative to Band Aid: called ‘Hear ’n’ Aid the specially written song, Stars, was crammed to the rafters with rock’s royalty at the time (1986). Only very slightly corny in construct, it is a rousing Dio style anthem that did quite well across the world and, once you get used to the Dio, Halford, Dickinson etc vocals trading places, it’s a great song.)