The City Needs A Hero
(Bandcamp |LP |CD |everywhere)
The City Needs A Hero has the feel of a conceptual album. This is because it sums up a mood, a moment. It’s downbeat and Dave’s sad, nursery rhyme, three note signature ‘tune’, as elemental as Johnny Rotten’s, Morrissey’s, Randy Newman’s, knits the whole thing together, whatever the sampled and electronic (and occasionally, played) backing is up to. But I find myself tuning out the instruments, concentrating just on voice and beat, and words. No-one sounds like Murkage Dave. London accent, high tenor, even when he gets excited, like on the gospelly ‘World I Want To Live In’; always calming. Steady. Reminds me of Curtis Mayfield in that respect.
Born David Lewis, from east London, originally, but got his chops in Manchester as a DJ and main man in the ‘Murkage’ collective. He is ‘connected’ to Mike Skinner (AKA The Streets) another British one-off who came from the clubs and not the strummy rock venues. For all the millennials who were moved by Coldplay singalongs or jumped up and down somewhere muddy to Arctic Mondays there is a slimmer slice, generally speaking, more urban, more working class and quite often with darker skin who have a different musical history. Of course, there’s overlap, but then there’s also the need for me to place things correctly.
Generations tend to stick with the music they grew up with and Dave’s generation have already moved on from regular clubbing. They’re setting up small businesses, settling down. Perhaps Murkage Dave represents the hard core, keeping it going, in a little more grown up way. Less pills, but a glass of nice champagne at the weekend. But, really, this music transcends that. In a very British, understated way, ‘Stay Ready’ (for instance) seems to be a message that the brimming dissatisfaction of the UK’s citified young adults will tip over, once again, on to the streets as they did in 2011, or, at least, mean that they vote differently. Or just vote, full stop.
‘Bad Advice’, a story of the age: young man with talent is destroyed in the sausage machine of fame production. It’s not an hysterical, overly dramatic description of events, more like the kind of cautionary tale you might get from an insider you bump into by accident.
You get the feeling that Dave haunts street corners, standing mournfully, hood up, observing the shit that happens in fast motion, gently shaking his head at the futility of it all, but, somehow, still loving the whole, busy scene, soaked in bus exhaust and burning kebab smoke. Nodding at those who he has seen all his life. They walk past him, thinking, there’s Murkage Dave, glad he’s there, this place wouldn’t be the same without him.
The subject matter manages to be both personal and universal. I’d love for Americans to hear it. Would they get the downbeat detective quality? Sometimes, you can hear a Brooklyn or Baltimore accent that veers into almost-Cockney, the glottal stop becoming an international city verbal tick. So it’s possible. Yanks love a downbeat detective. But then, there’s the way that the British-West Indian approach to life infects the energy. Makes possible a good natured revolution, yawning, ironic, ‘do we have to’ becoming, ‘well I s’pose we better’. Which is probably harder to get from an American perspective. Who knows.
On the final, eponymous track, the arrangement nods to an American cop show theme, even as Dave’s impassioned vocals tear you away from corny assumptions. It’s an indication about how ‘clever’ this construction is, whilst feeling perfectly natural. The ultra modern idea of the end of cultural history, everything that ever happened cramming together, equally, in Internet Towers.
Other artists I would compare with Murkage Dave might not be the most obvious to some. The dogged insistence on originality and a kind of purity of expression reminds me more of post-punk acts Vic Godard and The Fall than singing competition winners like Alicia Keys. There’s even a touch of Billy Bragg about the sitting room performance vibes. But in the end it comes back to one of the strongest of compliments I can give: he’s unique.
Main Image by Jordan Curtis Hughes
Murkage Dave - The City Needs A Hero available here