Review: The Utopia Strong ‘The BBC Sessions’

Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis (as he was lampooned in ‘80s satire Spitting Image) may not have had the hell-raiser reputation of Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins or Bill Werbeniuk but he literally was (and is) Mr Rock ‘n’ Roll. A lifelong fan of music, with a particular penchant for both the Canterbury scene and French sci-fi prog eccentrics Magma, Davis indulged his musical impulses properly when he began DJ’ing at festivals such as Glastonbury, eventually producing music of his own with The Utopia Strong which he formed with Kavus Torabi and Michael J. York in 2018.

The Utopia Strong 'The BBC Sessions' Artwork
The Utopia Strong ‘The BBC Sessions’ Artwork

The trio are pretty prolific with two full-length albums to their name as well as a string of singles, live releases etc. The BBC Sessions were recorded for a Marc Riley session (formerly of The Fall and The Creepers) in September 2022, the cover evoking the legendary Strange Fruit Peel Sessions to offer us, what is, a nostalgic charm and the promise of something truly special.

Miniature Citadels is the type of futuristic fare you’d associate with classic ‘80s sci-fi movies such as Tron and Blade Runner. There are also traces of krautrock present in the shape of Kraftwerk and Cluster, although the use of chanted vocals and spacey psychedelia offer an altogether warmer, more organic sound than that of the aforementioned outfits. Absolute sonic bliss and a strong way to kick off the album.

Lamp Of Glory features the shimmering synths and Balearic energy that one may associate with the hedonism of Ibiza and other such destinations. However, it’s less Pete Tong (thank God) and more classy experimental Warp Records IDM, with pleasant Middle-Eastern Arabic refrains present at various moments. Positively stunning.

The only track lifted from the band’s catalogue Disaster 2 originates from the band’s sophomore album International Treasure and is the shortest number here at over five minutes long. You get carried along on a journey of beautiful drone led magnificence with a church style organ in tow giving off an altogether spiritual sensibility and I’m reminded of Tangerine Dream’s performance at Coventry Cathedral in 1975.

Absolute sonic bliss…

The album concludes with two mammoth numbers, both of which exceed the ten-minute mark, commencing with The Tower Is Locked. There is a distinctly darker ambience present with the use of drums giving the track a live feel; which having witnessed the band myself in Huddersfield last year, I can confirm this to be the case. Weather All, to quote the promo notes, is a track that was ‘honed across several live performances’ and can be seen as something of a tribute to the late Andrew Weatherall (best known to some for his work with Primal Scream, New Order, My Bloody Valentine and as a member of the fantastic groups The Sabres of Paradise and Two Lone Swordsmen).

The Utopia Strong were actually meant to play Weatherall’s Convenanza Festival pre-lockdown, but finally got around to it a couple of years after his death. It’s possibly the most diverse piece on the album with the use of distortion and feedback providing the track with a heavier fuller sound compared to the sparser minimalistic tones of their usual output. Suitably sombre and respectful, one feels Andrew would be looking down with pride (RIP). An excellent and fitting conclusion to the album.

The BBC Sessions provide fans the ideal opportunity to hear new material from the band as well as serving as an ideal introduction to the uninitiated. It also demonstrates that appearances can be deceptive, Steve Davis now, in unironically fashion, embodies his ‘interesting’ moniker, who’d have thought that was possible decades ago?

Label: Rocket Recordings
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Reza Mills