Geordie musician Paul Handyside first made waves back in the 80s as a vocalist for post punk indie popsters Hurrah! who carved out a respectable career in a decade which wasn’t exactly short of leather jacket clad lads in guitar bands. Now, some three decades or so since Hurrah! went the way of all flesh and said Goodbye!, he’s a music biz veteran, playing his own brand of Tyne-tinged Americana against the backdrop of a cultural landscape which seems determined to hark back to the political desertification of his heyday.

Loveless Town, the latest release from Handyside, whose voice doesn’t so much betray his indie origins as highlight them, brings together musical stylings familiar to country connoisseurs and lyrical themes that situate him squarely in post Brexit Britain. For those who loved his 80s snarl, there’s plenty to enjoy about the way he fits his mouth around the lyrics here, but in maturing Handyside seems to have developed a strength and depth of tone which gives him, in places, an almost Gospel sound on songs like ‘Only You’ and ‘Don’t Let Your Heart Be A Hotel’.

Occasional hints of throwback jangly guitar interweave with lap steel and melodeon, piano and organ to deliver a sublime alt rock Americana sound that veers too far towards the stadium in places (‘Lord, Show Yourself’; ‘New Frontier’) to be conventionally country. The mournful tone, however, which seems to fit so well with the zeitgeist, feels as though it really is all the way from Memphis – but perhaps it’s much closer to home: the haunting folk tune of ‘Hartley Pit Catastrophe’ couldn’t come from anywhere but the deep seated cultural memories of the North East.

Newcastle and surrounding areas has managed to maintain a flourishing music scene over the years, but the Covid months have brought about tough times for Singer Songwriters, even those with the sort of pedigree and skill that Handyside has. With over a year’s worth of gigs cancelled it can’t be easy for musicians like him to keep going, but as with so many things, we’re in danger of not knowing what we’ve got until it’s gone. On Loveless Town we get a great reminder of what riches exist, even in these dark times. Album release date 21/5/21, get it, and previous releases via Bandcamp.

File under: Alt Rock; Americana; Country; Singer Songwriter