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Thu, 01 Feb


The Brunswick

Joel Stoker

Singer-songwriter from The Rifles 7.30pm (Main Venue) £20adv

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Joel Stoker
Joel Stoker

When & Where

01 Feb 2024, 19:30

The Brunswick, 1 Holland Rd, Brighton and Hove, Hove BN3 1JF, UK

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“The turbulence surrounds me from the day until the night” - Down At The Undertow

Forget everything you think you know about Joel Stoker. Set aside the five consecutive Top 50 albums with The Rifles and the riotous sell-out tours where every tune is transformed into a rousing communal singalong. Erase from your mind support slots with The Who, The Stones, Madness and The Specials and celebrity admirers including Ian Broudie (who produced debut album No Love Lost) and Paul Weller -who memorably joined them on stage to perform ‘Eton Rifles’ at The Forum. 

Because his solo debut, The Undertow, sees Joel raising the artistic bar to a whole new level.

Both effortlessly melodic and unflinchingly honest — more of which shortly — its 11 tracks see him entering completely new sonic territory, the ’70s funk-flecked grooves, festival bangers and fiddle- assisted stomps reflecting touchstones ranging from Bob Marley to Arcade Fire to fellow Londoner Michael Kiwanuka.

“I’ve always just written songs, and a lot of them aren’t Rifles songs,” explains Joel of his creative process. “They’re usually written on an acoustic guitar, and they’re usually quite slow. We tend to kick them up the arse for the band. So it was nice to do it all myself. Sometimes a song doesn’t need a clever bass line. It was a really lovely experience, and I’m going to keep doing it.”

As with all great records, the journey to get here wasn’t without a few long, dark nights of the soul.  As lockdown began in March 2020, Joel — father of three young children — found himself at home in Woodford with a hectic household and — for the first time in a decade — an empty diary.

“I loved lockdown,” he says with a grin. “It was red hot. We’re close to our neighbours, so being at home wasn’t a problem. There was no touring. For the first time in years, I didn’t have to be anywhere.”

Writing songs in the home studio at the end of his garden, this new headspace took on a musical form.

“Every song I write has to be heartfelt, even if it’s about having an argument with your girlfriend,” he explains. “However, I realised that all the songs I was writing were about one thing- anxiety and mental depression. I knew they couldn’t be Rifles songs, but I thought I’d carry on and see where it led me.”

For Joel, it must be stressed this was anything but a case of the ‘lockdown blues’. Diagnosed with ‘Pure O’ — an acute form of obsessive-compulsive disorder — he has been battling mental-health issues since childhood.

“I remember being at Monday-morning assembly during my first year at senior school,” he recalls. “I couldn’t sit there. To the point that I would scratch my hand until it was bleeding, I was freaking out so much. It’s been the same throughout my life. You get these crazy thoughts in your head and you can’t switch them off. It’s not for ten minutes. It might go on for two months — with this bastard in your earhole.”

For a musician from a generation where his male peers would rather hide their anxieties behind a wall of geezer-ish bravado, it also provided an opportunity to speak out on the matter. As he is at pains to point, this isn’t a ‘poor old me’ story- rather an opportunity to get the point across that it’s important to talk about things rather than bottle them up. Because the consequences of that can be unthinkable.

“A lot of my friends don’t feel great about showing [what they perceive to be] a weakness,” he continues. “But if you just phone someone, that weight can be lifted. The other day, a friend of my wife’s older brother killed himself. A complete shock. What could have been that bad? You never know what is going on in somebody’s head. So if you talk about it, it helps.”

Having written the songs at home, Joel added some studio polish at his own Right Hook Recordings studio in Walthamstow. With drummer Brendan O’Neill and Rifles pianist Dean ‘Deano’ Mumford having laid down their parts, he added lead guitar, bass, harmonies and percussion himself, with the addition of brass and strings enhancing the widescreen feel.

The result? A hazy, sun-drenched sound reflecting long-held passions for — among others — The Wailers; Catch A Fire and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. “I wanted that bone-dry sound you get on those ’70s records,” enthuses Joel. “It’s hard to explain, but you know when you’ve got it.”

Keep calm and carry on, people. Because in an age of say-nothing pop and corporate rock, The Undertow does what all great music should — lift the spirits and stir the soul. There won’t be a better album released this year.

Come on in — the water’s lovely.

7.30pm (Main Venue)


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