Review: Star Circus – ‘Separate Sides’

Back in the pre-internet days (shit, back in the days when there were only three TV channels) most spotty adolescents with a penchant for a bit of Rock music could be found glued to their radio from 10pm to midnight on Friday nights. Those two hours provided the only real opportunity to hear a bit of Quo, some ‘DC, Whitesnake, Rainbow, or even some of the new upstarts such as Iron Maiden. Tuning in to The Friday Rock Show on BBC1 was mandatory, and the man behind the mic was of course the much-missed Tommy Vance. And the man behind him was legendary producer Tony Wilson. So if Tony Wilson attaches his name to a new band, then you really should sit up and take notice; and that new band is London-based Star Circus who have just released their rather-nifty debut album ‘Separate Sides’.

Birthed, and fronted by experienced guitar slinger/vocalist Dave Winkler – Bordello Rose, Renegade Playboys, Trophies of Man, and hired-hand with acts such as Bow Wow Wow, Johnny Lima, and Ryan Hamilton – (during band intros everyone’s favourite Texan Ryan Hamilton used to introduce him as Fonzie’s nephew – Ayyyyyy!) Star Circus is the sound created by a musician – aided by special guest appearances from Dan Stevens (Inglorious), Tom Draper (Carcass, Angel Witch), and backing vocals from Ben Christo (Sisters of Mercy, Diamond Black, Ricky Warwick Band) – ready to take their place front and centre, and play their own music.

‘Separate Sides’ is an old-school, classic, 70’s-inspired rock album with heaps of power-pop sensibilities, but one with a modern feel rather than a bastardised analog vibe that so many aim for, and ultimately miss. Beginning with ‘Save Your Life’, which tips its hat to the hooky-as-hell guitar licks of the Eagles classic ‘Life In The Fast Lane’, Winkler – and ultimately Star Circus – has his influences on his sleeve there for all to see: Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy (‘Just Like in a Movie’ should have Lizzy fans drooling in delight), Cheap Trick (‘Wall Around Your Heart’), Queen…the backing vocal harmonies are strong with this one. As are the guitars. Layers upon layers of gorgeous guitar tones (especially on the lighter-than-light ‘Something’) and riffs up the wazoo. But it’s the glorious vocal harmonies that really stand out, and you could be forgiven if at times while listening to the album your mind wanders back to the glory days of The Sweet. ‘Love is the Enemy’ is the perfect marriage of American guitar-driven rock with British vocal harmonies and the end result is a real toe-tapper, as is the power pop-filled ‘On Your Side’ which packs some perfect guitar tones. ‘Circles’? If you can listen to the opening stages of it without picking up a whiff or two of The Beatles’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ then maybe I am totally barking up the wrong tree. Admittedly it is played at a faster pace, but those early stages in particular bear all the hallmarks of the often-covered bonafide classic.

Brimming with the chutzpah that usually comes with a debut album, ‘Separate Sides’ is an extremely accomplished effort. In places, it’s a breath of fresh air. Unpolished, with vocals from Winkler that at times are very raw, it’s loose – and in the days of overproduction and more-is-more the end result is quite charming. And fun. Lots of fun.

Available now, more information here.

Review – Dave

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