Like Billy Childish and The Mekons' Jon Langford, MIKE BADGER'S profile as a successful artist precedes, but his equally impressive musical prowess is often unfairly relegated as a result.
Yes, he's respected for founding The La's with the more celebrated Lee Mavers, but too few people are aware of his ensuing work as both leader of THE ONSET (and short-lived KACHINAS) or his solo releases, the second of which (2000's 'Double Zero') wasn't just a great rock'n'roll record, but – as it features Oasis/ Icicle Works drummer Chris Sharrock, Shack bassist Martyn Campbell and fellow ex-La Paul Hemmings – was also the product of an all-star Merseyside cast.
Never one to be beholden to rock'n'roll straitjackets either, Badger has been planting flags for individualism for the past two decades now and – as his new collection 'Mike Badger's Country Side' proves - he's always been keen to top up his maverick rock'n'roll spirit with liberal infusions of roots and folk flavours.
With The Onset's 1988 debut 'The Pool Of Life', Badger and his talented cohorts fashioned an early UK roots-rock classic years before trailblazers like The Rockingbirds and their ilk began to appear in the NME and 'Country Side' reminds us why it remains such a potent recording to this day. The rollicking, fiddle-led hoedown 'The Mystery Of Life' kicks us off, brimming with positivity and caught midway between Memphis and the broad, majestic Mersey, while other key tracks such as the deceptively jaunty, ecologically-sound 'Trees & Plants' (“this environment is all you have/ you can't just buy one new/ you better take care of it before it takes care of you”) and the gospel-tinged protest song 'Another Man's Crime' are sounding like solid gold classics these days.
Wonderfully, large chunks of 'Country Side' are either new or previously unreleased too. From 1993, 'Two Times Forgotten Man' is a fantastic slice of hard-bitten, knock-taking country folk showcasing a great, plaintive Badger vocal and Roger Llewellyn's descriptive fiddle, while 'Waking Up In The City' is a likeably fuzzy acoustic cut with The Christians' Henry Priestman adding a great, morning-after accordion. Arguably even better, there are several tracks recorded with contemporary Scouse roots-rock heroes Tramp Attack during 2007, and of these the bluegrass-y 'Some Things' makes like the Dillards and Gene Clark relocated to Wavertree, the skiffly Woody Guthrie-style 'Dig It!' instils a great sense of fun and 'Ashtrays And Tables And Barstools' is not only a classic country drinking song but – if I may be so bold – may just be Mike Badger's very own 'Close Up The Honky Tonks'.
Nonetheless, while Mike Badger's all about looking forward, it's somehow fitting that 'Country Side' closes with an energised Onset bash through Hank Williams' 'Mansion On The Hill'. Recorded live and cauterised by Paul Hemmings' wild'n'whiskey-fuelled lap steel, it captures the blazing Onset spirit in all its' glory and demonstrates that while Hank himself may not have done it this way, I'm sure he'd be delighted to know his spirit lives on in such capable hands.
It still eludes this reviewer why Mike Badger's music isn't lauded from the rooftops. He's got grit, honesty, passion, fantastic tunes and moments of real beauty. Sure, these qualities may not be viewed as buzzwords these days, but they still should be, because the view from 'Mike Badger's Country Side' is frequently breathtaking. You really should catch it while you can.