JD Meatyard’s latest album, ‘Live The Life’, sees John Donaldson resume his explorations of politics and the deeply personal with the characteristic urgency that made him a Peel favourite from Levellers 5 days onwards. The title track updates one of his previous band’s, Calvin Party, most thrilling moments, ‘Caspers Ballroom’, combining a gigantic riff, melody and chorus to celebrate his gigging life including reference to shows with Half Man Half Biscuit with whom they have regularly shared a bill over 30 years. It’s an unlikely combination, Nigel Blackwell’s wry observations on popular culture against JD’s taste for autobiography, politics and oppositional culture but what does link them is possession of a singular vision.  

The most urgent songs on ‘Live The Life’ are those which tackle politics: ‘Open The Third Eye’ is an excellent pop song about hegemony (“They won the culture wars and now they run your mind”) and ‘Lorca Says’ combines an electrifying riff with startling imagery (“a poultice of broken glass”.) ‘Only Lovers (Left Alive)’ borrows its title from Jim Jarmusch’s film and has the air of a glam stomp, albeit one with the aim of seeing hate becoming hated while ‘Just A Ride’ has an appropriately frenetic delivery in its Bill Hicks quoting (“just love everybody or shut the fuck up”).

‘Rise’ is his closest brush with psychedelia in his harmonising with Tamsin Middleton’s backing vocals. In its righteous anger, the song veers dangerously close to conspiracy territory (“it’s the people they despise, they welcome the pandemic as they sit and watch us die”) but nuance is difficult to achieve in an incendiary revolution-inciting rant. Middleton gets a welcome moment in the spotlight with lead vocals on ‘Walking With Tina’, a recognition of Tina Modotti, a radical activist who assisted in the evacuation of Malaga when it was under siege by Franco’s forces. The song shifts from a blues strut to a serenade reflecting how ‘Live The Life’ is musically the most complete JD Meatyard album.

The quietest songs are often the most autobiographical: ‘Say You Will’ feels especially so as it pairs its tale of love, loss and gains to the accompaniment of Dave Thom’s exquisite cello before wandering off into a spoken word meander commending the good things in JD’s life; ‘Eldorado Lanliq Chains’ is an understandably subdued tale of his father’s drink madness; and ‘Breaking The Heart and the Soul’ aches with regret and survival.

‘The Story of my Life’ continues JD’s run of tribute songs to his musical heroes, this time Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, whose influence is apparent throughout the album, by stringing together song titles to construct a narrative, although the effectiveness of that device is diminishing.

Closing track, ‘You’, matches excellent guitar noise with Gary Ward’s percussive pounding and JD’s condemnation of business wars before a quiet conclusion in which JD dreams of peace, his reference to being a dreamer being the first time I have ever thought of Supertramp while listening to JD Meatyard. At this point, his voice has cracked. While he would not be considered a soul singer in the traditional sense, JD’s vocals do have a completely heart and soul delivery. It would be hard to come away from ‘Live the Life’ without feeling that you know John Donaldson and his preoccupations as well as those of any confessional singer-songwriter.  

JD Meatyard: Live The Life – Out now via Bandcamp

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.