Album review: The Senior Service – ‘King Cobra’

The Senior Service - King Cobra

There’s a certain section of the Medway musical community – perhaps the most well known part of the Medway musical community – that forever reinvents itself while managing to sound, roughly speaking, exactly the same.

These are the guitarists, drummers and organists from the schools of ’79 to ’86.

Laid out in a diagram, the various interweavings and interchangings of personnel from one line up to another would resemble something only slightly more complicated than a Gordian knot. But the resulting sounds have always maintained a consistent quality that regularly brings a small army of devotees coming back for more. And more. And more.

And so here we are with King Cobra, the second long player outing for the instrumental act The Senior Service, an album – glorious as it is – which could easily have emerged from the Medway Towns at any point during the last 30 years.

It applies an “if it ain’t broke” approach to 2016’s debut, The Girl in the Glass Case, taking inspiration from film scores to everything from the likes of Blow Up through to a string of Spaghetti Westerns and any number of spy movies of a certain vintage.

The titles alone evoke much of the music awaiting the listener: ‘The Man from Beyond’, ‘Night of the Knives’ and ‘Moon Over San Marco’.  You can practically smell the intrigue already.

There are nods to The Shadows’ ‘Apache’ in both the album opener, ‘The Contender’, and later in ‘Four Coffins’, while ‘Good Morning, Mr Phelps’ doffs the hat to The Zombies’ ‘She’s Not There’ and ‘Matterhorn’ recalls the James Bond theme’s iconic chord sequence.

But such references are simply starting points for an impressive array of tunes, varying from zippy mod numbers, nipping around on two-stroke engines, through to more laid back affairs.

There are blasts of trumpets (‘Sophia’ and ‘Triggered’) and exotic sitar flourishes (‘King Cobra’). There are seductive Latin rhythms in ‘Cuban Eels’ and scorching Dick Dale surf motifs in ‘Slingshot’.

Meanwhile, the album closer, ‘Moon Over San Marco’ maintains the tranquility of a langorous melody over a busy compound-time rhythm that simply should not be allowed to work. It does, of course. Beautifully.

It all stacks up as triumph of musical dexterity. Who needs vocalists anyway?

In King Cobra Jon Barker (organ), Graham Day (guitar), Darryl Hartley (bass) and Wolf Howard (drums and percussion) have produced a rich, evocative record that will send you fifty years through time and half way round the world in the space of forty minutes.

Not bad going at all. You might almost think these chaps had done this kind of thing before.


You can buy King Cobra from Damaged Goods Records.

Find out more about the previous exploits of the band’s members in Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway (published by Cultured Llama).

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