Black Scarr is an East London duo, Black is Johnny Black, a Nuneaton-raised Geordie who, christened Alan Hammonds, was once frontman of now cult 80s Midlands pop outfit The Kidda Band and whose CV also includes work as an album sleeves model, newspaper columnist and 90s TV personality. He also has a website featuring his frequently satirical songs about a variety of media celebrities and wannabes.
The other half of the name is Leytonstone’s Emma Scarr who, raised on a diet of Steve Earle, Emmylou, Kristofferson, Fairport and The Dubliners shares Black’s musical affections and sounds a lot like a fiddle-playing (not to mention banjo, accordion and mandolin) Kirsty MacColl.
Sharing lead vocals and duetting, Middle Aged Love is their second album, their debut, North and South, having been released almost exactly two years ago and sporting vapour trails of The Pogues, Kitty Wells, Hank Williams and Elvis Costello. Musically, not a lot has changed though, as per the title, several songs tend to congregate around a theme of getting on a bit with all the wistful nostalgia that entails.
The lyrics are smart and witty, the catchy chorus title track bemoaning the problems of trying to have a relationship when your ex can’t afford to move out and he’s in therapy, the Levellers-ish folk Come Back 1969 a lament about the aches and pains that come when you’re past your prime, while the steel-keening country waltzing Stranger In the Bathroom will strike a chord with anyone who has a teenage son and The Seduction Song tells of a woman with a drunk for a husband and her accommodation of her gentleman caller.
Although numbers like The Internet Dating Song may be playful, there’s also a wealth of sharply poignant observations on the disappointments of life in the crushing loneliness of The Void, the trials of the everyday housewife in the swayalong Howling At The Moon, the jogging shanty Lester Piggott 10-1 recollections of having an inveterate gambler for a father and the woman finally calling to an end to her crash and burn life on the bluegrass and Celtic folk infuse Knock It On The Head.
There’s also pointed social comment to be found on the jaunty The Streets Are Paved With Gold (a sort of Cockney Woody Guthrie ballad), about how the new Depression has caused a family-fragmenting migration from the desperation and unemployment of the North to look for work in London, and, on a similar jobless theme, the self-explanatory titled Big Man Steps On The Little Man with a fine pedal steel solo courtesy of Henry Senior.
Lyrically, it must be said, it is a relentlessly downbeat affair, culminating in Trust Me To Fall In Love With You about a chalk and cheese, abusive relationship in which the woman, in love with her other half despite herself, chooses to remain rather than endure the pain of being alone. And yet, such is the exuberance of the music and the delivery that it’s impossible not to tap your feet and join in and sing along with the misery. If you ever wished there had been a whole album to go with Fairytale of New York, this is your perfect unhappy ever after.
Review by: Mike Davies