In my formative years I was madly in love with what is termed as the second wave of ska – bands like The Specials, Madness and The Beat. There was a third wave which didn’t move me much, but if The Spitfires represent a fourth wave, then welcome back.
‘Life Worth Living’ is quite frankly an absolute delight – there is a strong genetic link to ska for sure but there is also something more complex and new that draws influences from musical elements as wide and varied as Paul Weller, The Jam, Ian Dury and the Blockheads and Blur. You get the gist – a sort of cheeky chappy London edge but filled with sharp incisive lyrics and a barrel full of indelible melodies and panache. And so eminently danceable to boot.
Opening track ‘Start All Over Again’ sets out the wares perfectly – an opening swirling string arrangement before blasting horns enter and a head-spinning pace on the off-beat. It is truly irrepressible fun with a serious beat and a chorus so rousing with its backing calls it could replace any drug.
And the beat goes on. Clocking in under forty minutes, there is no let up of pace or quality.
‘It Can’t Be Done’ is almost – almost – a ballad and certainly has a wistful, melancholic tone but has a very Wellerian earnestness and passion with chunky Hammond Organ thread. It is sweeping and cinematic. The Spitfires can do haunting – ‘How Could I Lie To You?’, is another more restrained track on the album that is really quite beautiful and atmospheric, augmented by celestial trumpets. ‘Make It Through Each Day’ is another example of a sweeping torch song infused with melancholy and tales of struggle.
Title track ‘Life Worth Living’ is as its title suggests life affirming – gorgeous jabs of horns that intersperse the vocals.
‘Tear This Place Down’ has all the blistering elements of northern soul: effervescent, relentless pace and again those stunning horns and rousing choruses. Dare I say funky? Yes, it’s all there in one very neatly arranged package. Not for the faint of heart.
‘(Just Won’t) Keep me Down’, the single off the album, is a classic ska track with a frenetic pace, blasts of horns and heartfelt vocals. Billy Sullivan, singer and songwriter, says it is a song about:
…walking home from the pub following last orders, an air tinged with danger, chaos and paranoia – be it the darkened streets, police sirens competing with those of the ambulance service to drunken disorder outside the takeaway. I just wanted to capture the environment, one that people can relate to wherever they live.
A pure joy:
And the subtlety and complexity of this extraordinary album is never more evident than in tracks like ‘Tower Above’ me which delve deeply into soul, bringing to mind the style and quality of bands like Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
‘Life Worth Living’ is a triumph of ska-infused post punk music – a veritable panoply of delight and pulse quickening songs that are ethereal but muscular at the same time. The band is not bound by its influences but rather emancipated by them to create something that is quite unique and special.
The Spitfires are a brilliant new find for me – a faint whiff of nostalgia maybe, but foremost is a sense of creativity and passion and most importantly an ability to write and produce fantastic songs.
The Spitfires are Billy Sullivan and Sam Long (Bass) and Matt Johnson (Drums).
Feature Photograph: Tony Briggs