Ronnie Mayor - Love, Life & the Urban MythWritten by Nick Churchill
One of the by-products of popular culture’s ’nads being held in the vice-like grip of TV ‘talent’ shows and phone polls is that the language of Art has been hijacked by those that respect or understand it the least. Thus, we hear a lot about the ‘Artist’ and their ‘Journey’ when neither term applies.
The ‘Artist’ in question is unlikely to be singing a song because that’s absolutely what they have to do in order to make their life work and the only ‘Journey’ they’ve been on almost certainly involves a mode of transport from A to B.
That’s not to decry the dream, but we should question the motive. The cultural hegemony exerted by The X Factor, The Voice and their charmless ilk routinely misrepresents celebrity as success in artistic terms and makes no contingency for addressing the confusion. Pity the fools that take the trip and scorn those that should know better who propel them.
All of which is a long-winded way of introducing an Artist whose name may not be as familiar as it undeniably should be. Born the same year that Elvis made his first recording, Ronnie Mayor’s life parallels the timeline of rock ’n’ roll which may go some way to explaining his apparently innate understanding of what makes it tick. Having spent his youth soaking up the good stuff, by the time punk came around he was ready with arguably the era’s last great DIY 45 – ‘Language School’ by Tours – signed by Virgin, who then flinched and lost the moment. After a couple more lost classic power pop singles he jumped ship, went to Australia and cleaned windows for 25 years.
Five years ago and back in Blighty he released his first album. ‘A Singersong A Rotator’ stands tall as a collection of mature thoughts in song about family, friendships and finding the way from one day to the next. Barely promoted because that wasn’t the point, it’s the sound of an Artist honouring his instinct… and making a damned fine job of it to boot. There was no financial reward; if fame had come a-knocking it would have found Ronnie out the back doing something else. Making it pay was never a consideration.
And so it is with this new collection of songs. Old friends like Paul McCartney/Pretenders guitarist Robbie McIntosh, Eric Clapton bassist Dave Bronze and drummer Paul Beavis feature alongside noted fusionist Chas Dickie and rootsy jazz-folk polymath Devon Sproule. Recorded by Steve Smith at Room With a View and mixed by Mick Glossop (yes, really), there’s nothing cheap about this record, except perhaps the sleeve photos that were found inside a junk shop briefcase.
Musically the record draws on a broad sweep of American influences, but Mayor is far too savvy to pastiche his sources. Like generations of British masters from Lonnie Donegan and Vince Taylor through Ray Davies and Lennon-McCartney to Strummer-Jones and Morrissey-Marr his music speaks of the USA but could only have come from these shores.
And there’s a rich vein of Anglicised country R&B (Anglicana, perhaps?) running through the whole record, heard to best effect in the supremely well-crafted commercial proposition, ‘You’ve Got Me Crying Again’. Proceedings open with a father’s gentle lament in ‘On a Folding Bed’ before giving way to the proud parental surge of ‘Oh Jenna’. The soulfully poetic sax ’n’ strings shuffle of ‘A Change Will Come’ is the first indication that beneath the sonic sheen burns a fierce social conscience that is eventually articulated as pure if melodic rage in the stunning 20-minute album closer ‘Lovers in a Storm’ in which Mayor somehow channels Neil Young, Pete Townshend, Terry Callier, Nye Bevan and Richard O’Brien. It is quite brilliant.
For me though, the heart-rending ‘A Brighton Beach Memoir’ is the album’s pivotal moment. It hangs on a wonderfully elegant arrangement of strings and woodwind that underpins the record’s most assured vocal performance and paves the way for the teary folk-tinged travel story ‘Hold Me Tonight’ and the beery sucker punch western swing of ‘They Tell Me It’s Wrong To Love You’, complete with yodel played dead straight. Oh yes!
None of which serves as any kind of preparation for what happens next – the urgent adrenalin Beatlebeat rush of ‘Something On Your Mind’ with its ‘Nowhere Man’ la-la-las, spikey crescendos and lush Duesenberg guitar motif. It sounds like an instant hit and in a parallel universe has been blasting out of transistor radios on beaches every summer since 1967 when The Monkees foolishly passed on it.
Musically literate and lyrical eloquent, ‘Love, Life and the Urban Myth’ has more to say about the human condition than most contemporary music as very few Artists bother to make records like this any more. Tellingly, those that do are as unbothered about sales as Ronnie Mayor apparently is, they just need to make the record so they can get on with the next one. Unlike Ronnie, most of those beknighted souls have at some time in the past shifted a lot of units and can afford the luxury of answering their calling for its own sake, which only serves to make this album all the more unusual.
‘Life, Love and the Urban Myth’ is a record for men of the world and the women that make them. It commands your attention.