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Stick in the Wheel
Endurance Soundly Caged Jared Dix , December 5th, 2022 12:17

A new collection from the 'medieval Kraftwerk' captures the roisterous energy of the band's live shows, finds Jared Dix

Like many musicians, Stick In The Wheel were glad to be out playing to crowds again following the great pause. Endurance Soundly Caged, while not a live album as such, captures the vital energy of the touring band live in the studio. Core duo Nicola Kearey and Ian Carter are joined by George Hoyle on bass and Siân Monaghan on drums, bringing renewed urgency to a set of songs from across their career.

‘Bedlam’ roars out, fixing you in its sights. The guitar crackling with tension, Kearey sings up over a clapping, noisy, gang. It has that punk energy people attribute to them, a vague air of menace. That they should recently appear on TV (The Essex Serpent) playing this song in a Victorian tavern feels ironic, however good the fit, because one thing Stick In The Wheel are not is folk music as costume drama. They do not look to relive the past but connect it with the future. To acknowledge a cultural continuity. Their music’s startling lucidity is not a ‘back to basics’ tactic; its stark minimalism is a patiently sharpened razor. All the better to cut you with.

Kearey’s vocal on ‘Bedlam’ is extraordinary. Declarative and sincere yet where such a performance might tend to anger or mawkishness it remains resolute. Her dexterity shines as they tear through ‘White Copper Alley’ at tongue-twisting pace, a tale of a sex worker robbing a client to pay her child’s doctor backed by a thumping beat. While she uses her voice in a variety of ways it never stands in the way of the song, always inside it, carrying it through. She owns the bizarre thieves’ cant of ‘Villon Song’, running through its arcane linguistic tumble like she’s out shopping on Deptford market as the band gleefully thrum and wail around.

Earlier this year Perspectives On Tradition saw them stretching their collaborative, experimental side further than before with startling results. Endurance... contrasts it as a return to core principles but does not abandon their electronic side. ‘As I Roved Out’ is recast here from the mystic windswept hillside to synth and autotune mode gaining some thrilling percussion behind it.

In the past, the band have sometimes used ‘Medieval Kraftwerk’ as a pithy short hand and here, fittingly, they have a song about a robot. The one track not taken from their three core albums, ‘Robot’ is based on a story by Tom Cox. A blend of sci-fi and supernatural folk tale, it relates a mysterious encounter in which the present is swallowed by the future. Which at least inverts the current suffocating dread of the future being stolen by our own inertia, I suppose. Chin up, here’s a six pack of raw-edged future folk to stir your tired blood.