March 25, 2024

This debut album from UK band 3 Mile Shout should be an inspiration for all of us hoary old greybeards, who have been playing all our lives but never made it into a recording band. The three guys all have musical history of course, in fact drummer Richard Manwaring has been a studio engineer and/or producer since the early 1970s, and has worked with some big names. Richard Hewlett (bass and vocals) on the other hand, was an aircraft engineer for British Airways, but has also been a gigging musician since the ‘70s, playing in jazz and funk bands around London. Guitarist Richard Woodfin is a relatively new boy, playing and singing in bands since the ‘80s, although his salaried career has been in education.

But now the stars have aligned to the extent that the three Richards have pulled together into a cohesive unit, playing and recording laid-back, bluesy, jazzy rock, and the album Low Battery is the result. And I have to tell you, it is glorious. OK, I admit, it doesn’t sound like it at first. See, it’s not the kind of set that springs out of the blocks in a burst of adrenalin – most of the numbers start with some flavour of warm, clear-toned guitar chords, with low-slung, groovy beats wafting in underneath. The lead vocals are shared by no less than four guys, and by some great cosmic coincidence, they all have almost exactly the same voice – a low,  drawling growl that makes Mark Knopfler or JJ Cale sound like your hysterical auntie. But still, the album was recorded at Grange Studios in Norfolk and mastered by Jerry Stevenson at Utility Mastering, and it’s a perfect job – every note of every instrument is crystal clear and perfectly mixed. It takes a few numbers before it starts to sink in that I’m really enjoying floating on those ambient grooves.

They know enough extra musicians between them to add some great textures to the trio, and the songs benefit from percussion and sound effects from Lui König, keyboards from Roger Askew, extra guitar from Frank Dunsmuir and Paulie Raymond, plus backing vocals from four more people, both male and female. The smoky, jazz club blues number City Night also benefits from a muted trumpet solo from George Auckland, with Askew both singing and supplying piano backing. When The Tide Comes In even boasts a great, moody solo from Polish multi-genre violinist Basia Bartz over an imaginative and beautifully-realised stereo-panned tomtom rhythm pattern. But arguably the biggest contribution outside of the core trio is from the brace of sax players, James Knight, whose subtle backgrounds and tasteful solos adorn three of the ten numbers, and Roger Phillips, who plays up a storm on the closing number Fast Train.

The numbers, all original, are generally based on a bluesy vibe, with some wickedly tight jazz-fusion phrasings laid over the top. The title track, Low Battery, is the only instrumental, apparently heavily influenced by the Average White Band’s Pick Up the Pieces. For me though, the best number of an excellent set is the slightly more up-tempo Don’t Tell me. One notable feature of this number is that instruments appear and disappear throughout the song as needed. James Knight’s saxophone, for instance, fades in underneath the other instruments, then disappears when he’s done. It’s a five-minute song, but Pete Dugdale’s backing vocals don’t appear until 3:30. A distorted guitar boosts the backing almost to rock intensity, and encompasses a tasteful solo from Paulie Raymond, before the whole melange signs off on a lovely, tight ending.

The band’s website betrays a species of tongue-in-cheek humour, and lyrically, the album includes some nice touches too. The Ballad Of Wild Billy Drew is a purely fictional tale about a badass cowboy arguing with the angel who comes to take him to heaven, a concept which they should expand into a book in my opinion. Ooh, sweet vibes, I love this, and I hope they do some more.