“Try something, try something different.” So sings Tom McFaull lead singer of the Bar Stool Preachers during the intro to ‘Going Forward’ the final track on the band’s all-new album, ‘Above The Static’, and its almost like he’s breaking the musical fourth wall in doing so, because this the band’s third studio record (and first for new record label Pure Noise Records) is exactly that, different, in fact, it’s very different indeed.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. It’s been five (yup FIVE) years since the band released their sophomore record ‘Grazie Governo’ and began leaping rungs on the ladder of musical infamy as they started to climb their way to headliner status, building on the bedrock of their excellent 2016 debut ‘Blatant Propaganda’ they were seemingly willing to play anywhere and everywhere and in the process where developing a global fanbase/community quite like no other I’d witnessed for such a still (relatively) young band. It was in late 2019 that the band took me into their confidence and let me hear the demos for their soon-to-be-recorded third album, the intention for me (having been a follower of the band ever since the frontman told me all about the concept of his soon to be formed band outside a boozer one rainy night in Amsterdam back in 2014!!!!) to give some hopefully constructive feedback on the 22 songs they had written up to that point.
All I have left from that online listening party is my fast scribbled note on each track and some distant memories of what might have been, because just around the corner was of course a global pandemic the likes of which we hope will never see again, and something that along the way whilst potentially changing the shape of the music industry forever also cost The Bar Stool Preachers their (at the time) yet to be signed major record deal that was to be home for that all-new record.
A couple of those tracks did get released during the pandemic via the ‘Soundtrack To Your Apocalypse’ charity 12” picture disc (with all profits going to the NHS here in the UK), but the rest were seemingly lost forever.
That is until the band decided in April 2021 to get together with producer Ben Hannah, the guys setting up camp at The Waterloo (which was still closed at the time due to Covid restrictions) a three-story pub/venue in Blackpool, to begin the process of reshaping some of those songs for what would be the making of their third album, one they might even have to self-release. However, when they listened to ‘Flatlined’ (which was originally called ‘Heart Attack’ Preacher trivia fans), the first song they committed to tape there, it dawned on them that it sounded like the finished product, so why not just go for bloody broke.
Here, finally getting my chance to sit down and absorb the dozen tracks that the band decided to include on what would become known as ‘Above The Static’ what strikes me from the off is just how much of a leap sonically the now seven piece (frontman McFaull along with mainstays bassist Bungle, keyboardist Alex Hay and guitarist Gibbs, plus drummer Alex ‘Whibbs’ Whibley-Conway are now joined by Jaya The Cat guitarist Karl Smith and most recently Ray Waters on third guitar) have made since I initially heard those original demos. This record contains all the excitement of a Wembley cup final and thanks to the stellar tunes none of the disappointment of seeing your team lose, although in saying that one set of fans might still be in for a bit of a penalty shoot-out kind of a shock to the system when they get to hear it. That’s because the ska-punk foundation over which the band have traditionally written their tunes, this time around is very much in the background. That’s not to say it’s not there, in fact, it’s very much to the fore on already live favourite ‘Don’t Die Today’ and underpins the skanking verses of ‘All Turned Blue’ before that tune sends its heavenly chorus off into the night sky. It’s just that this time around the Preacher’s influence gene pool has extended much wider than on their previous two records, like the name drop of The Streets during the mid-song spoken word/rapped segment of ‘Flatlined’ or the doo-wop introduction to the awesome ‘Love To Love’. Things I certainly didn’t recall hearing on the demos for these songs.
Recent single ‘Doorstep’ (complete with its surreal video) is perhaps the yardstick by which I will always measure ‘Above The Static’. I’ll admit that on first hearing this song I wasn’t that overly impressed, and I longed for another “knees up” tune from my old mates from down Brighton-way, but in the context of the whole record it’s a glorious 2 minute 36-second singalong, albeit one for the next generation of music lovers, and if I can get excited about Kid Kapichi then the Bar Stool Preachers adding a touch of big production to their sound is all good in my book. Something that can also be said about the more overly rapped main vocal behind the state of the nation address that is ‘Never Gonna Happen’. We need bands as angry as this in our lives right now we really do.
Elsewhere, there’s the almost Cock Sparrer-esque ‘Laptop’ (I mean c’mon that’s always going to be possible isn’t it given who Tom’s father is) which builds on the likes of ‘Raced Through Berlin’ and ‘8.6 Days (All The Broken Hearts)’ from its predecessor, whilst ‘Prince Of Nothing’ and ‘Two Dog Night’ sit much more in the ‘Doorstep’ camp, both songs thundering along on huge singalong choruses with a brutal metallic edge to the guitars. Something that is certainly a world away from the band’s early material, just like the tender piano ballad that is ‘Lighthouse Keeper’ (this track certainly never sounded like this at demo stage) and the track that started this review, the epic album closer ‘Going Forward’. This track, from its gentle acoustic introduction through to its sublime chorus, complete with an almost Bacharach like key change that will melt even the hardest of heart is absolute genius, and indeed the sound of a band going somewhere very important indeed.
The Preachers have hit paydirt with ‘Above The Static’, it’s a magnificent celebration of British songwriting at its absolute best, now it’s over to you to go buy your copy when the album is released on 31st March 2023 (presale links are below folks) and make this record the HUGE hit it deserves to be. Plus get your musical family together and go see the band on their extensive UK tour when it kicks off in Bristol on April 19th. You’ll probably know most of the album off by heart by then too, because it’s simply one of the most exceptional records you’ll hear in 2023.
Author: Johnny Hayward
The band will be doing a headline tour around the UK to celebrate the release of the album. Full dates below and tickets on sale now – HERE
See The Bar Stool Preachers at the following dates:
9th April – The Waterloo Music Bar, Blackpool
19th April – Lost Horizon Arts Centre & Bar, Bristol
20th April – The Castle & Falcon, Birmingham
21st April – Corporation, Sheffield
26th April – The Craufurd Arms, Milton Keynes
27th April – Waterfront Studio, Norwich
28th April – The Engine Shed, Lincoln
29th April – Green Door Store, Brighton
30th April – Underworld, London
3rd May – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham
5th May – Bannerman’s, Edinburgh
6th May – Riverside Newcastle, Newcastle