Unpopular Advent 2019 – Day 24

The Claim – ‘Hercules’ from ‘The New Industrial Ballads’ LP

Back in March of this year we told you about the welcome reissue of The Claim’s ‘Boomy Tella’ LP. It was so good we told you twice. Thirty years, we mused. Blinks of eyes and all that. We hinted too that there was a new LP by The Claim due for imminent release and that first glimpses suggested it would be a peach. We were not wrong.

Thirty years is a long time between albums. Not even the Stone Roses or My Bloody Valentine took that long. It’s apt then that The Claim wholeheartedly embrace this span of time on ‘The New Industrial Ballads’, both suggestively through sound and explicitly through, well, through a song called ‘Thirty Years’ in which Vic Templar revisits his ‘Mike The Bike’ tale, riffing both on nostalgia and retro-futurist sci-fi. And Elvis. Of course Elvis.

‘Thirty Years’ is a telling element of ‘The New Industrial Ballads’ because it would make little sense to anyone not already entirely familiar with the flip side to The Claim’s ‘Birth Of A Teenager’ 7” for Bob Stanley’s CAFF label. Its inclusion here shows that The Claim are comfortable acknowledging their place in time. They could have been contenders and then they weren’t. Yet like Forster’s figure in ‘Remain’ the Claim are no Terry Malloy characters filled with bitterness and recrimination. Certainly fires still burn fiercely in their collective belly, but we cannot live on anger alone. We find balm where we can. Seek succour in our communities, however small they may be. The Claim, in the end, are comfortable with their audience. Forever Unpopular. Just look at the recent UK Election results.

The songs of The Claim have always felt firmly rooted in a deep sense of social justice and empathy with the disenfranchised, the forgotten, the ignored. In this they have always pulled inspiration from Folk traditions both lyrically and musically. These musical threads are most clearly visible in the two bookends of the set. Album opener ‘Johnny Kidd’s Right Hand Man’ is an instrumental that strums its way into our hearts whilst closing track ‘Under Canvas’ is two minutes of gorgeously delicate guitar picking atop which David Read sings a deceptively simple tale of love, betrayal and, erm, camping. When we tell you it could be a great lost track by Mick Head then you surely know how much we treasure it.

Between these two bookends of restraint however The Claim certainly stretch themselves and coalesce into a group confident in their capabilities. Quite simply, they sound tremendous. On the fabulous ’Just Too Far’ they reference Dave Edmunds’ ‘Queen Of Hearts’ and throw in a line about how “Doves put Pounding on the jukebox just for us”. Both great points of connectivity. On ‘The Haunted Pub’ they recollect The Kinks looking for redemption in the early ‘70s. Cliffe Hillbilly Boys, if you will. ‘Mrs Jones’ meanwhile is a gorgeous slow-motion waltz around a haunted dancehall, a copy of a Shena Mackay collection of short-stories stuffed in its back pocket.

Then there are cheeky suggestions to the summer of ‘Boomy Tella’’. That summer thirty years ago when we left the UK for two months and came back to find everyone wearing flares and the ‘baggy beat’ behind every damned song in the world. ‘Music/Pictures’ could be a Stone Roses b-side from when they wanted to be Velocity Girls (think ‘Mersey Paradise’) whilst ‘Hercules’ certainly cranks into gear on a funky drummer groove as if to say ‘we could have done this thirty years ago and joined the party but instead we chose to leave the love-in’.

‘Hercules’ is certainly the number we come back to most often on ‘The New Industrial Ballads’ for it is perhaps the songs that encapsulates what makes The Claim so special. We are firmly in Ken Loach social commentary territory here, with references to tower blocks, boarded-up shops, ‘Big Society’ and DWP ‘fit for work’ assessments. No surprise then to see the spectre of Loach’s ‘Cathy Come Home’ amongst the “run-down housing”, glaring at us with barely concealed contempt, despairing at how every generation never seems to learn from the errors of those who go before. Damned to repeat the same mistakes. For better or (more likely) for worse.

When Read concludes his depiction of contemporary England (and it is, increasingly, a depressingly isolated England) with the lines “Gather up all sympathies and mould them into Hercules” we are left to contemplate the meaning. Is the suggestion here that our collective empathy for others in our communities has somehow been transmuted into steel to make military aircraft (an inditement of increasingly militarised societies) or that they have been hijacked and coalesced into some mythical figure of Populist Power? Either way, it is not an especially optimistic conclusion.

It is fitting then that The Claim choose to marry this rather gloomy outlook with music that is affirmative and robust. The song grooves around its inner despair, spiralling in and out over the second half of its length in largely instrumental exuberance and collective hope in spite of it all.

Thirty years. Bent to it again but with heads held high.

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