We know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Why should I care about The Urban Voodoo Machine? They’ve been around for ages, haven’t they? Aren’t they a novelty band who wears funny make-up? Don’t they sometimes play jazz? Aren’t half of them dead or something?” So here’s the score:
The story starts with Paul-Ronney Angel, a man with a double-barrelled first name. The Urban Voodoo Machine came to him in 2002 as a fully-formed idea. He’d lead a band who’d play ‘Bourbon Soaked Gypsy Blues Bop’n’Stroll’. They’d dress in black and red. There would be a lot of them and their music would sound like a great night out in a dangerous part of town.
From the get-go, The UVM fused junkyard blues and stinging rockabilly with mariachi horns, fiddles, sinister cabaret and punk rock tangos. “I wanted to play rock’n’roll music with a different instrumentation,” says Angel, “taking inspiration from everything from delta blues, Latin and gypsy music without losing the spirit and attitude of punk.” His lyrics are said to be part Lemmy, part Bob Dylan. “We’re not Americana and we’re definitely not ‘retro’,” says Angel. “I write songs about living in London right now. Although having a rubbish time, no money, heartbreak, mental illness, addiction and suppression from the big guy is kinda universal and timeless, I guess…”
“Yeah-yeah-yeah,” you’re thinking, “but can they cut it live?” Well, there’s a reason why they’ve played Glastonbury, Download, Latitude, Bestival, Hard Rock Calling and toured with The Pogues and New York Dolls. With an act honed alongside the burlesque dancers, snake-charmers and fire-eaters they call friends, The UVM have become one of the greatest live acts in the country – terrifyingly bizarre, hysterically funny; a riot for the eyes and sensation for the ears: a sing-a-long, drink-a-long, clapa-long affair.
In 2006 they launched the Gypsy Hotel Club in the then-unfashionable part of London’s East End, Dalston, a monthly Bourbon Soaked Snake Charmin’ Rock’n’Roll Cabaret night for like minded misfits, movers and shakers. Time Out Magazine wrote, “If you have 12 hours to live, spend it at Gypsy Hotel!”
Magazines and newspapers have lauded them for their “mariachi-influenced blues, whiskey-soaked country rags and punkabilly-style rave-ups” (The Washington Post) and noted that they’re “drawing deep from a dirty well where Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Dick Dale are enjoying a burlesque all-nighter with Ennio Morricone” (Classic Rock). They became one of the few bands that could appear on Clive Anderson’s Loose Ends on BBC Radio 4 and Britain’s biggest heavy metal festival Download in the same year and win at both.
In 2014, when Paul-Ronney named their third album ‘Love, Drink & Death!’ he had no idea what the year had in store. In October, fiddle-player Rob Skipper died of an accidental heroin overdose, aged just 28. Guitarist Nick Marsh (formerly frontman of Flesh For Lulu) fought throat cancer throughout that year. He died in June 2015, aged 53. The Voodoo Machine transformed themselves into a New Orleans-style marching band for his funeral. The Urban Voodoo Machine Marching Band also played the Classic Rock Awards that year – the only band to do so without electricity.
And that brings us to their ‘Hellhound Hymns’ album. Marsh plays on eight of its 13 songs. (Angel: “He was really putting the hours in when he knew the cancer had come back. He was like, ‘Right, these might be my last recordings with this band, so let’s roll the tape and make it a good one!”) To borrow one of the song titles, it’s all mixed-up. It’s part wake, part protest, part valediction – a party at the gates of hell – because the greatest tribute you can pay the dead is to live life to the full: “We will sing and we will dance/We will drink and we will laugh/We will not forget the past and our fallen brothers…”
So the scene was set with 2020 marking the start of a new decade. Theory had closed on the previous one with mixed feelings, but with a 10-date UK tour set up in May to promote their single ‘Living In Fear’ things were looking good! Then came CoronaVirus and their busy tour schedule evaporated into thin-air.
The song originally came to life long before there was anything called Covid-19 and is more an observation of the world gone wrong with its references to recent Great British scandals like Windrush (“They’re shipping them back to where they came from”) and Grenfell (“It’s hard to sleep in a plastic tower”). To quote Paul-Ronney Angel “Living in fear . . . wow, never in my wildest imagination did I expect to live through something like this – talking about literally the whole world ‘Living In Fear’”
The Urban Voodoo Machine will be playing TWO shows in Brighton at The Prince Albert in October. The venue is only 100 capacity and they will play different sets each night!!
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