Sometimes, you’re born to do something.
I remember the first time I saw Pete Spiby. In the late 90s, he was fronting a band called Groop Dogdrill and they were opening for The Wildhearts. Now, I’ve seen Ginger and the boys about a million times and – unless I am in Maiden type mood – they are my favourite band. That night, though, a bunch of young Yorkshiremen were determined to steal the limelight. They did too – and they should have been huge.
I remember the last time I saw Pete Spiby just as fondly. The Black Spiders were playing their farewell shows (and crikey, if we’re talking about bands that should have been huge, here’s your poster boys….) and they were so good you wondered why they were finishing.
It turns out there were myriad reasons not least of which was health, as Pete said himself: “When we did the farewell shows, it gave me such a confidence boost that I was even able to play guitar without the pain and medication that I’d had for the last three years”. Then he rather crucially adds “I decided that it was time to do the only thing I’ve been doing since I was at school.”
And when you’re born to do something……
On the thanks list for “Failed Magician” there is a line which is pretty instructive. Thanking the families of the band – and there’s a lot of them, because goodness me, there’s a lot of music on these two discs – it says: “sorry for taking your dads away at weekends….”
From that, then, can we infer that born to do it or not, it was a labour of love? And if that’s a yes then how about this? On “Why Not Let Them Come” one of the songs halfway through “….Magician” Spiby perhaps sums his mood up: “I used to have one fuck to give,” he offers. “But now that fuck is gone….”
It all opens with if we may call it this, the most Black Spiders thing here. “Lightning Bolt” (he’s always had a thing for lightning, he wanted to “shit” it with The Spiders) has that monolithic feel, with the undercurrent of violence that always went along with that – and it sounds massive. Thunderous (and that isn’t another storm reference) but it’s fair to say that Spiby has never been like this before in the main.
“Bible Studies” – kicking off with a whispered “for the dudes” is melodic, almost bluesy, but builds to a chorus that works its way in. Even better, I hesitate to call it the best thing he’s ever done, given that he wrote both “Get Down” and “Jackie O” is the wonderful “Friday Night (Just Died In Saturday Morning’s Arms)” a ballad in the way that “House Of The Rising Sun” is a ballad, it is both epic and brilliantly played.
“We Used To Be Friends” throbs, the aforementioned “…Come” is kinda made for a fists in the air festival showing, while after a somewhat eerie opening, “Wrap Me Round Your Little Finger” is something of a slammer – perhaps the heaviest thing on this record – and “Guiding Light” is a perfect example of the superb stories that this record tells. If, in the first verse “I’m falling like a stone” then in the second, there is a content air. “What a lovely, lovely morning…” he sings and that simplicity explains a lot.
If, basically, “Magician” is a blues record then “Mary Lou’s Dawg” is the that dialled up to 10. “Working For Mary Jane” is full of blue-collar angst, and as if to bookend the collection, it ends with one of its most riff hungry rockers. “Thrown To The Wolves” has the same thick riffery that Orange Goblin might do too.
But the thing about “…. Magician” is that it isn’t finished yet. Not by a long shot. Because it merrily showcases a different side to each song.
Lets be totally honest, here, it’s not essential, but neither is it some Bon Jovi “This Left Feels Right” dogs dinner either. There’s a lovely harmony vocal on “Guiding Lite Blues”, something approaching folk on “Mary Lou’s Dawg (Came Back”) and so it goes all the way the way along.
Some work better than others, “Why Not Let Them Come Again” finds something trip hop like some lost Morcheeba record, “Thrown To The Blues” and “Lightning Bolt Blues” being particular highlights, but in saying that they are amongst many, and the swampy “Bible Study Blues” is probably the best thing disc two offers.
It is all indicative, though, of a man being given the freedom to do something he loves – a second chance that he didn’t think his hands would give him, if you will. Taking that into account, is it any wonder that “Failed Magician” sounds absolutely unlike anything Pete Spiby has ever done before? And yet it could only have come from him
In every sense of the phrase, in every single way, “Failed Magician” is absolutely stunning.