Tim Hughes is blown away by a homegrown slab of dirty blues-rock from a bunch of East Oxford 'faces'

  • Osprey & the Ox4 Allstars
  • Virtually Live

If you have spent any amount of time following Oxford’s live music scene, then you’ll know Osprey.

The Teeside musician and club DJ is a local legend, a familiar face in the hostelries of East Oxford, and the founder of the Oxford Music Festival, which brought together scores of bands in 15 venues over the course of a week last November.

A former member of ‘90s band Tracksuit Karate (one of John Peel’s favourites), it is as a guitarist that Osprey - aka Mark O’Brien - is most respected, and that talent is given full flight on this five-track EP.

It finds him joined by mates Shanks (djemba and congas), sound engineer Tim Turan (‘darbuka’ hand drum), Jim Woods (bass), Marcus ‘Shakey’ Butler (harmonica) and Ian ‘Sticks’ Campbell (drums) - who go under the not unreasonable badge of the Ox4 Allstars.

It’s a slab of melodic, hard-riffing blues-rock which shows off Osprey’s virtuoso guitar style - with soaring extended solos set off against his gravelly vocals and broad ‘Smoggy’ accent - all of which comes across like an amphetamine-pumped early Dire Straits era Mark Knopfler - but one who has had a far harder paper round and an addiction to Theakstone’s Old Peculiar and filterless Turkish fags. Or maybe a cage fighting Middlesbrough version of Dylan.

Shakey’s harmonicas and the driving rhythms lend the whole thing a Chicago electric blues feel - but it’s far groovier than that, with choppy electric guitars and distortion reminiscent of the Stone Roses - or even vintage space-rockers Hawkwind - at their best.

They are attheir finest on track Northern Soul, which sounds like the solo from the Stone Roses' Fools Gold would have done had it been composed by hobos high on moonshine, onboard a freight train tearing through the American Mid West.

The album ends with a searing rocky cover of KC And The Sunshine Band’s Give it Up and a hard, speedy version of Jonny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. It’s all delicious stuff.

A real Oxford cottage industry product, the CD is produced by Osprey himself with engineering expertise from former Zodiac supremo Nick Moorbath (who recorded it at his Evolution Studios in Osney Mead) and mastering by Turan himself. Oh - and Osprey’s wife April took the cover shot.

What is there not to like?