A solid debut from Geordie psych-rockers Scott Hepple and the Sun Band.
Release Date: 22nd September 2023
Label: Self release
Formats: Vinyl / Download
Scott Hepple and the Sun Band have been making some pretty spectacular waves lately, especially around their native north-east. Support slots with the likes of Teke Teke, Nice Biscuit, GIFT, Ghost Woman and the legendary Love are soon to be followed by the band’s first headlining tour of the UK and Europe (details here)and now, by way of further consolidation, comes their debut album, Ashes to Wildflowers, and it’s an effort that Scott and his band have good reason to be pleased with.
The band cite Neil Young, Black Sabbath, The Beatles and Ty Seagall as formative influences, and there’s no doubt that each of those influences shine through in the band’s music. Recorded analogue with Maximo Park’s Duncan Lloyd, Ashes to Wildflowers references that brief period in the late 1960s and early 1970s when rock music was at its most adventurous and had yet to become too bombastic or overblown. Sure, there are flashes of metal and prog amongst the tunes; there are even a few nods in the direction of folk and world music, but the overwhelming themes – at least to my ears – are the guitar rock purveyed by bands like Wishbone Ash and the West Coast psychedelia of Big Brother and the Holding Company.
And that’s a message that comes over loud and clear, right from the start. Opening track, Letting Go – the album’s lead single – is solid, chunky, joyful and upbeat. The guitars riff in a style that pre-dates heavy metal, the bass is busy and the drums are rock steady, with some nice fills thrown in for good measure. Likewise, Warm Night, a delicious rocker laced with harmonica fills captures the late sixties flavours of early Black Sabbath (The Wizard comes to mind), Wishbone Ash or even The Edgar Broughton Band.
It’s also Wishbone Ash that comes to mind with Nobody Else (Is Gonna Do It For You), the album’s most recent single. It’s a straight-ahead boogie, embellished with some excellent guitar soloing, and it’s a genuine pleasure to realise that there are still bands around willing to trade in such reliable and likeable fare. And I suspect that Scott and the band had been having a good listen to Led Zeppelin III as they came up with the pagan-flavoured Caligula. Based around strummed acoustic guitars, it’s fast and folky – in the same way that Bron-y-Aur Stomp is.
We were promised psychedelia, and we get our first real taste of that enduring genre with Leisure Cruise, a full-bodied stomp that gets seriously weird as it enters the “It doesn’t matter” refrain and the long instrumental sections. And, from there, it’s just a short flight over to the psych-folk of Spirit Animal, a short burst of bongo and slide guitar that will satisfy anyone who’s spent any of their quality time with The Incredible String Band.
And that psych-folk stream is navigated further and deeper with Hair of the Dog. The acoustic guitars, the harmonica and, particularly, the “A change is gonna come” passage are reminiscent of Blonde on Blonde-period Dylan, but the eastern feel that is heralded by the twangy electric guitar is pure String Band! They’re a versatile lot, are The Sun Band, and they tackle each of their favoured sub-genres with consummate ease, but I reckon that they’re at their best when they turn their attentions to solid rock, as they do for the simmering Wildfires. The switches between slow melodicism and in-your-face rock are seamless and the guitar solos are wonderful. And that just leaves the anthemic Chosen to bring this solid, praiseworthy album to a grand conclusion. Strummed guitars and a scattered drumbeat provide a crazed Bo Diddley rhythm, as the band work themselves into a wild frenzy. It really is impossible to dislike music that re-discovers the days before prog and metal went their separate ways and everything was fresh. And, as far as Scott Hepple and the Sun Band are concerned, it still is!
Watch the official video to Leisure Cruise, a track from the album, here: