‘It’s not the vision/It’s the opportunities we’re lacking’.
New Street Adventure ‘Why Should We Do Anything?’
All the best artists hold up a mirror to the times they live in. Just as Curtis Mayfield chronicled the social upheavals of mid-‘70’s America and The Jam cast a perspicacious eye over Thatcher’s Britain, New Street Adventure reflect the turbulent world we live in today.
However, it’s only with stunning new album Stubborn Sons that their unique vision has come into sharp focus.
“It’s taken us a while to get here,” says singer-guitarist Nick Corbin of a journey that started back in 2007 while still a student at Birmingham University (hence the name).
“But this is the next movement for New Street Adventure. There’s a new breed of fans beginning to infiltrate our shows but the originals are still there too. With this album we’ve made sure our voice remains prominent but we’ve moved with the times- it’s very exciting.”
Like all the best bands, New Street Adventure have adapted to survive. While the polished sound of 2014’s Acid Jazz debut No Hard Feelings earned rave reviews and radio support from –amongst others- 6 Music’s Craig Charles and BBC London’s Robert Elms, for Corbin it signalled a fork in the road.
“A lot of the songs on the first album were quite old,” he explains.
“I’d written them when I still wanted to be in a big soul sound using big arrangements. I realised that to get the best out of myself -and the band- we had to do something a bit different.”
Out went the female backing singers and the strings. In their place, a grittier, ‘70’s inspired sound, and personnel with a broader range of influences.
“Between us, we’re inspired by everyone from Neil Young and Bobby Womack to neo-soul stuff like Jill Scott and Angie Stone,” explains Nick, who cites Northern icon Otis Leavill and ‘70’s funakateers Black Ivory as current favourites.
“It all goes into the mix. In terms of the sound, it’s that old cliché, ‘less is more’. The band works much better as five piece- we’re all pulling in the same direction.”
For the last twelve months this stripped-down NSA (Corbin- vocals/rhythm guitar, Ashley Hayden- bass/backing vocals, Ben Wolfe (drums), Max De Lucia (keyboards, backing vocals) and Billy Farr (guitar, backing vocals) have been road-testing material in time honoured fashion.
As they chalked up the miles – touring with The Rifles across the UK as well as playing their own headline European tour, festival dates and sell-out London dates at 229 and The Jazz Café, ideas were formulated for the band’s second album.
Whereas their debut took aim at specific targets- higher education, class snobbery, the desensitized nature of life in the city- Stubborn Sons is broader in scope.
“I wrote a lot of the songs on the first album when I’d just come out of university,’ says Nick, acknowledging his changed perspective.
“There was a lot of personal anger and frustration at how few opportunities there were. I’m in a different place now.”
Recorded in a seven-day blitz at Woods Lodge Studios in Essex with Mitch Ayling (The Milk), Stubborn Sons doesn’t pull any punches.
Opener ‘What’s So Good About Happiness?’ is an infectious commentary on the perils of social media.
“Everyone has a ‘voice’ now but few know how to use it -most people take other’s ideas and “share” them as their own, explains Nick. “It’s a light-hearted way of saying that nobody will ever achieve ‘happiness’ because there’s always something to moan about.”
A stunning ‘Why Should We Do Anything?’, meanwhile, was inspired by savage government cuts to arts funding. “There’s still a big problem with elitism in this country,” he explains. “I don’t feel a lot of people have the provision or the opportunities to do the things they want to do.”
Heart-rending ballad ‘One And The Same’ meanwhile (a co-write with guitarist Billy Farr) was inspired by public reaction to the Tunisian terror attacks of 2015.
“The day that happened I was walking home from work with a Muslim girl who’s a friend of mine,” explains Nick. “She was wearing a hijab, and this guy stopped in his car and started hurling abuse at her. It made me so angry. All this hatred doesn’t make things any better- just the opposite.”
Stubborn Sons is anything but a hard-faced polemic, however. Musically, it’s a joy from start to finish, the pulsating grooves, mellifluous Moogs and fuzz guitars nodding to Curtis Mayfield and Gil Scott-Heron while retaining a contemporary edge. Listen to euphoric floor-filler ‘Something More Than This’ –the sound of John Newman jamming with Tame Impala- and you begin to understand that this is a band destined to fill stadiums.
They’ve got a sense of humour, too. ‘Smooth Talker’ is a tongue-in-cheek nod to anyone who’s ever had lecherous thoughts on a night out, while ‘Rascal’ is a sensual slowie Marvin Gaye wouldn’t say no to.
Throw in some storming grooves (Hard Living (No Easy Way Out)’ and a triptych about an emotional fall-out which veers from anger (‘If That’s All You Got?’) to regret (‘If I Had You Back In My Life’) to hope on tear-jerking acoustic finale ‘Can’t We Just Be Friends?’ and you’ve got an album which touches the head, heart and feet. Soul music, in other words. And that title?
“It’s got a few meanings,” says Nick.
“Obviously it relates to the lyrical mood of the album, but it’s also about the fact that the five of us have decided on a musical direction and we’re sticking to it. It’s got a toughness to it I like.”
It’s been a long road to get here, but Stubborn Sons is proof that persistence makes perfect.