Having only recently released the sophomore album by Black Scarr, singer-songwriter Johnny Black returns with the debut by his band project The Per$ecuted, a four piece playing what they’ve termed Britainicarna. Also featuring Brad Way on bass, Steve Bottcher on guitar and mandolin and Mark Skeggs on drums, with added contributions from Emma Scarr on violin, it’s not too far removed from the duo’s output in that it’s packed with infectious folk-rock melodies and hooks, singalong choruses and Black’s insightful and generally caustically humorous observations on life in modern Britain.
The album opens with the harmonica wailing Slash My Wrists (E11 3DA), the postcode specifically referencing High Road, Leytonstone with Black the Dylan to Frank Turner’s Springsteen on a number that knowingly nods to Desolation Row in both its melody and references to ambulances and the circus now leaving town as well as painting a depressing picture of an area characterised by drunks, junk food litter, vagrants, broken needles, teenage pickpockets and charity shops. Suffice to say, you won’t be hearing this playing in many local estate agents.
Its depressing vision of a nation in decline extends to several numbers. The acoustic slow waltzing City of Fallen Angels (CV10 9HR) switches post code to Spring Hill Road in Nuneaton, the town where Black grew up, as he sings about Friday nights with Asbos shining bright, kids carrying carving knives and getting “a drunken shag for a bag of chips and a shish kebab” while the country boogie Little Britain features characters like the bloke with “stab wounds in his stomach and a swastika tattoo” and the girl with “two unwanted babies and venereal disease”, prompting a chorus of “makes you proud and victorious glorious, happy and glorious, thank God they don’t live next door to me.”
Elsewhere the Byrdsian jangle of Popping Pills addresses a generation numbed by prescription drugs and The Outcast offers a snapshot of an alienated computer game addict teenager “switched to overload getting ready to explode” as he watches violent movies and reads porno mags, while in the equally twangy Hammersmith Broadway its murder suspect declares “they’ll never find me guilty because they haven’t got the proof”, adding in the catchy chorus that “I never go out looking for trouble, I’ve got better ways to get my thrills, I’ve never been to Hammersmith Broadway and I haven’t got the guts to kill.”
It’s not all social comment country, though. Plangent ballad One More Chance, a tremolo ringing I Want You, the rockabilly White Cliffs of Dover, the Johnny Cash-styled I’m Sorry For Everything I’ve Done all centre around screwed up relationships while the shanty swaying Red White & Blues is a post-boom downer and, showing hints of The Monkees in its reverb guitar lines, I Wish I Was Still Eighteen echoes the growing old themes of the Black Scarr album, albeit adding that “it’s never too late to rock n roll.”
At present, the band, like the duo, aren’t much known outside of their North East London stomping grounds, but, with the help of a tour van and some taste-shaping media exposure, they both have the potential to attract far wider and bigger audiences already tuned in to the likes of Turner, Chris T-T and Beans On Toast.
Review by: Mike Davies