Published on Wednesday 31 August 2011 in the Harrogate Advertiser:
Now I liked a bit of Nirvana and a lot of Blur and Pulp and The White Stripes and Arctic Monkeys but there’s a strong case for arguing that nothing very musically ambitious has happened in the world of chart singles since that once most maligned of decades, the 1980s.
Well, nothing if you ignore dance music or parts of rap or the multi-talents of Mr Kanye West.
It’s that decade which this new EP by highly-respected Harrogate musician Pete Oliver and his tight little band hark back to.
It was the last time British bands appeared to believed in things like good, old-fashioned musicanship for its own sake, applied to the fusion of different genres such as soul and jazz and blues and rock and pop.
This five-piece Harrogate band featuring the vocals of Sharon Colgan serve up a bubbly version of all of the above, producing a smooth, melodic confection with a little bite on the edges.
Though the impressively understated, bass-driven instrumental sound on most of Travelling With Friends is more Steve Winwood meets Style Council than Prince meets Prefab Sprout, the songwriting quality from band leader and bassist Pete Oliver is high throughout.
At least three of the more upbeat, soul-jazz style tracks are too damn catchy to ignore – opener Catch Me Sweet Lord, Shooting Gallery and, most of all, Coming Around Again with its infectious “oo-eh-oos” from lead singer Sharon Colgan.
There’s a hint of Guns n Roses in dramatic rock ballad I Can Tell By Your Eyes and a chunk of uptempo Glenn Frey or Eric Clapton on blues-rocker Chasing Dreams, which was co-written with lead guitarist Nathan Tooke.
Oliver has assembled a strong cast of experienced local musicians around him, including Tooke and Andrew Whitaker (drums), not forgetting Owen James with some nice brass sounds and backing vocals.
But it’s lead singer Colgan who subtly steals the show on these recordings crisply produced by Dan Mizen at his Harrogate-based Active Audio Studios.
Clear, clean, honest vocals which aren’t strident enough to rufffle any feathers but provide just enough sharpness to suggest she might have actually lived Oliver’s down to earth lyrics about the trials and tribulations of love and life.
You might have guessed by now that this EP isn’t totally my cup of tea, being the sort of bloke who prefers Prince meets Prefab Sprout to Steve Winwood meets Style Council (though I do like Style Council – and Wings while I’m in confessional mood)
But I’ll save the best bit for last. Closing number Someone Else is the shortest, leasty showy track on the whole EP.
As spartan in instrumentation as the opening of The Police’s creepy Every Breath You Take, as flat and devoid of emotion, apparently, as The Jam b-side The Butterfly Collector, the key line to the song is “sleep on your dreams tonight”, which also happens to be the main line on another song by The Jam, Dreams of Children.
Going nowhere, Sharon repeats this sombre refrain several times before the song comes to an abrupt but natural halt.
The most downbeat moment on this terrific EP by a mile – but also my favourite.