Sounding like the best night out on the wrong side of town, Dalston’s finest and dandiest vagabonds The Urban Voodoo Machine return with their long awaited and much delayed fifth long player ‘$nake Oi£ Engin€’.

Led by the vivacious Mr. Paul-Ronney Angel, the black n’ red wearing collective have been wowing audiences for well over 15 years with their self-proclaimed “bourbon-soaked gypsy blues bob ‘n’ stroll”. Some say they are the best live band in the country, others say they are just a bunch of drunken ne’er-do-wells. Both could be right, but one thing’s for sure, you cannot ignore them.

Recorded back in early 2020 at Space Eko Studios by The Future Shape Of Sound main man Alex McGowan (who also produced alongside PR and drummer J-Roni-Mo), ‘$nake Oi£ Engin€’ captures the relentless live energy of a band who have been described as The Pogues meets Gogol Bordello playing the last damn party at the end of the universe.

Paul-Ronney Angel writes songs about living in London as an outsider. Relatable issues such as the struggles of addiction, depression, mental health problems and being fuckin’ skint! With a love of The Clash, Tom Waits and AC/DC, these swampy blues jams, New Orleans jazz inspired ditties and mournful murder ballads have been lovingly crafted by the ringleader and his crew over a bevvy or three, and a few smokes along the way.

Four of the eleven songs have been previously released as singles and soundtrack the Covid/Brexit years better than the frontman could ever have imagined. The prophetic ‘Living In Fear’ was written as a dig at the Windrush scandal and the Grenfell disaster, and took on new meaning post-Covid when we actually were living in fear. The Caribbean feel created with the addition of steel drums and brass is upbeat and fresh, and a memorable hook is always going to win me over.

‘Empty Plastic Cup’ is an ode to the rich getting richer and the poor getting fucked! It has ‘Goodbye To Another Year’ vibes, with typical bombastic, UVM backing vocals, a killer sloppy guitar riff and enough brass to kick your ass! It builds and builds to a climactic finish; you just know it’s gonna be a live favourite.

The big band vibes of ‘Johnny Foreigner’ fit the bill and the lyrics hit home even with the raw, tongue-in-cheek vocal delivery. A larger-than-life tune delivered by a larger-than-life band. The reflective ‘January Blues’ is the morning after the night before comedown. Again, with hindsight it could be a prophetic reaction to Covid as the singer drawls “last year you can fuck right off, and this year, I’ve had enough of you” over mournful violin and acoustic guitar.

Of the new songs on offer, opener ‘Little Jimmy & The Wrong Crowd’ is an early favourite. The unmistakable PR vocal drawl is omnipresent, the blasts of brass and primal beats glorious as ever. But the surprise vocal rap is sung by James Brown II and the overall Cuban feel of the track give a new dimension to The Urban Voodoo Machine killer sound.

‘Pill Popping Cross Dressing Copper’ is 2 minutes of musical insanity, another high-energy party song to add to the arsenal. ‘Hell’s Caravan’ is a sombre, death march with regimental drums and killer voodoo backing vocals, ‘Dropping Like Flies’ an ode to lost friends, while the ringleader takes us to church with the gospel-tinged sermon ‘Carry Your Weight’.

There’s enough diversity and familiarity to please fans old and new and something to whet the appetite for those who are yet to capture the band live.

Live, The Urban Voodoo Machine channel gypsy punkabilly rave-ups, mariachi marches, outlaw country and bluesy jams, with a heady dose of burlesque and circus sideshow craziness when available. These are the sights and sounds of The Urban Voodoo Machine, and ‘$nake Oi£ Engin€’ is the perfect soundtrack to the crazy world of the band who just refuse to die.

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Author: Ben Hughes

Captain Future is the alter ego of Alex McGowan, record producer, singer and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire. When not holed up in his London studio Space Eko East recording roots and rock n’ roll bands such as The Urban Voodoo Machine, Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind and Son Of Dave, Alex devotes his time to his gospel-driven rock n’ soul band The Future Shape Of Sound, a 9-piece collective of musicians, soul divas and performance artists who are renowned for their explosive, colourful and energetic live shows at festivals and seedy dives country-wide.

When Covid put pay to live music 12 months ago, Alex retreated to his studio to finish his long worked on and overdue solo album. And you could say this album is a departure from the raucous, party gospel that The Future Shape of Sound deliver. Let’s get one thing straight, ‘Ghostman’ is not a party album, this is an after-party album. A chilled out, dub heavy collection of hypnotic beats and surreal, lazy vocalisin’, just what the witchdoctor ordered!


First single and album opener ‘Holy Waters’ sets the scene. Bluesy, downtempo dub fills the speakers. The captain’s deep, husky vocals are juxtaposed with haunting female vocals over minimal instrumentation, as the band just let the rhythm flow naturally. I say band, but in reality Alex handles most of the instruments on this album with a little help from a few of his friends in the vocal department.

Tribal beats and lazy percussion hypnotize the listener before descending into well trippy territory. Wait…did someone slip me and edible or two? Things sure feel weird in here! No, we’ve just segued into track 2 ‘Zombie Lover’. This is ‘Guns Of Brixton’ in dub, with deep, throbbing bass, ska guitar and an almost Spanish guitar infused acoustic interlude that takes things to another plane. A hyper, voodoo video is currently in the works as I type, and I’m sure it can only enhance the experience.

And so it goes on. Blurring the lines between Primal Scream, Alabama 3 and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy with lush female gospel vocals, tribal percussion and minimal instrumentation creating space for the music to breathe and creep deep into your subconscious.

‘As Soon As I CU’ is the house band playing the blues at 4am. A 7 plus minute smokey jam, played out when the party people have left the building, all the rum has gone and reality is desperately trying to kick back in. Talking of rum, ‘Rowing To The Pub’ is an anthem for street pirates the world over. If you were yearning for a pint before, you will be gasping by the time the trip hop beats have ceased to…beat. “Let’s row to the pub” croons the Captain, as subtle instrumentation and understated backing vocals create a hypnotic state. Row? Hell, I’ll crawl on my hands and knees brother!


Fans of The Future Shape Of Sound will hear a few familiarities as the deep, dub infused cuts are interspersed with gospel-tinged blues, it’s just all a lot more chilled out, man! In fact, ‘Oh People’ is a re-working of a Future Shape Of Sound tune complete with killer bongos and a cool organ refrain. Elsewhere, Son Of Dave lends flourishes of dirty harmonica to the likes of ‘Move On’ and ‘Ghost Woman’, with ‘Wrong As You Like’ coming on like a ‘live in the studio’ blues workout.

The eerie, cinematic vibes of instrumental ‘Sad These Rest’, augmented with bursts of brass, brings to mind The Urban Voodoo Machine at their most sombre, which sure ain’t a bad place to be. And In complete contrast, album closer ‘I Liked You When You Were Gone’ has an uplifting Alabama 3 meets Primal Scream vibe.


While the ceasing of all live entertainment has been a major disaster for most musicians, for many it has also been the chance to find new ways to be creative, and to take the time to write and record at their leisure. For Alex McGowan, it has given the man a chance to complete an album that has been on the backburner for a while.

‘Ghostman’ shows a different side to Alex McGowan’s work. Dub heavy and full of trip hop beats, it broadens the horizons past The Future Shape Of Sound and shows the influences of his past clients such as Jah Wobble and Tricky. As with his day job it’s a very ‘London’ sounding album, steeped in 90’s indie and dance nostalgia, while still retaining elements of what makes his music so fresh and exciting.

Gypsy Hotel 

Author: Ben Hughes