July 13, 2023

In 2021, on the eve of a Fourth Round FA Cup tie against Wycombe Wanderers, Jose Mourinho, then manager of Spurs, commented about his opposing manager in his press conference as follows: ‘I feel sorry I cannot sing with him but, I will destroy his music’. Mourinho was referring to Gareth Ainsworth, who as well as being a manager of Wycombe Wanderers, was also known for his dabbling in rock music as a singer. Ainsworth has moved on since then, both in his primary career since he is presently manager of the Championship team Queens Park Rangers, and in his ‘second job’ because his band, The Cold Blooded Hearts, have now finally released their debut album, The Cold Light Of Day.

The group was formed back in 2015 so the album has taken some time to come together, not surprisingly since for Ainsworth time must be at a premium. Long time friend, guitarist and song-writer Lee-Van Sergeant is Ainsworth’s key creative partner, and the rhythm section of drummer Luke ‘Chalky’ Sergeant and bass guitarist Ron Campbell make up the four-piece. Despite being a relatively unknown band, they had rock ’n’ roll royalty behind the production desk in the form of Geoff Downes. Musically, The Cold Blooded Hearts hark back to the classic rock sound of ‘70s and ‘80s. This is straight forward rock, sometimes leaning towards blues-rock, and sometimes with more of an MTV sheen (the sort that Downes maybe recalls from his Asia days). You’re probably dying to know how our ex-footballer does as a singer? Well, very well actually. His voice is strong and nicely toned, reminding me most of Ken Hensley. Ainsworth has certainly got the singing role on merit; this is no celebrity prank of an album.

The vinyl edition of The Cold Light Of Day consists of nine tracks, while the CD has eleven. The two extra tracks do not add that much, to be honest, especially the rather weak acoustic piece, Conspiracy Of Silence. The second bonus track, called Tell Me!, has a punkish feel to it with Ainsworth varying his voice and managing to sound convincingly like Joe Jackson. It’s not a bad song at all but it doesn’t fit in that well with the classic rock sound of the rest of the material. Add to this the fact that the standout track, Broken Sky, closes Side Two of the vinyl perfectly, but is followed by Conspiracy Of Silence on the CD edition, I suspect that the vinyl version might work better for most listeners.

Side One of the vinyl consists of five songs, of which the opener High is the most polished. It’s got a bluesy swagger to it, along with a memorable guitar hook and chorus line. It’s a surprisingly mature composition for a debut album. If it reeks of the ‘80s then in contrast the piano-led ballad, Hollow, is pure 1970s. Here, Ainsworth’s emotional delivery is impressively reminiscent of Ken Hensley.  The song builds up in typical ‘70s style with some nice touches on guitar from Sergeant but like much of this album the climaxes are nicely restrained – the band just let the music do the talking without need for dramatic effects. The opening of Eastern Sunrise also brings Uriah Heep to mind with a very Mick Box sounding riff, although the song proper is more American in style, almost Southern Rock. Love’s Lost could have been a brilliantly catchy single but to these ears the production is a bit amiss, especially the drums which are irritatingly high in the mix. Unfortunately, the trick is repeated on Worth Waiting. Again, the song is a decent one, reflecting Sergeant’s punk roots, but the drums drown out just about everything else.     

Despite those concerns about the production, that first side of the vinyl remains enjoyable listening, but it’s the second side that really makes this album worth buying. It opens strangely with Cold Road which is upbeat and acoustic and has a vocal section which musically and vocally reminds me of Neil Diamond of all people! Normal rock business is resumed with the brilliant She Ain’t In Love With Me, which as you might guess from the title, is a slow blues number, driven by some excellent guitar work and a gutsy vocal performance from Ainsworth.

The mood changes with Grey, which opens quietly with Ainsworth singing over tom-toms and bass (a little in sound like Sabbath’s Planet Caravan). Synths take a stronger role as the song moves forward in a slow-paced melancholic way. Lyrically, this is one of the stronger songs too with its reflection on depression and suicide. The vinyl album closes with the wonderful eight-minute, Broken Sky. It’s an anthemic piece, built around the repeated line ‘If heaven doesn’t want me, the devil’s put aside a space for me’ as it tells the tale of a woman who has shot an abusing male partner. There are some impressive female vocals here, and the intensity grows as the song progresses, ending in almost gospel style. It’s the one track where the band throws in the proverbial kitchen sink and it’s a great way to close the album.

I confess I approached this album with an irrational fear of having to listen to a rockier version of Football’s Coming Home. Instead, it’s a wonderfully enjoyable slab of mature classic rock that hardly puts a foot wrong. Mourinho might have beaten Ainsworth in that FA Cup tie but when it comes to being able to coach a football team and lead a rock band, then there’s no doubt that it’s Ainsworth that’s the Special One.