Album review: Starkings’ songs burn brightly

Mike Starkings and Lisa Mallaghan.
Mike Starkings and Lisa Mallaghan.

By Graham Chalmers

Mike Starkings: Another Flame

Mike Starkings has been a respected musician and successful businessman for decades – a rare blend of talents.

Yet every time I play this Harrogate man’s latest album I always think the same thing – this middle-of-the-road, big-hearted music isn’t really my cup of tea.

Then I play the album again and my opinion changes.

Such is the way with Another Flame.

Written by Mike, co-sung with collaborator Lisa Mallaghan, this warm and rich collection of blues-soul-rock, country-pop and poignant balladry is produced by Simon McGrath (at Eiger Studios in Leeds) also, incidentally, the main instrumentalist along with Mark Walker.

As always, what protracted listening produces is a keener appreciation not only of the general playing but also Mike’s craft and care in songwriting.

Put simply, these are high quality songs played in a high quality fashion - from the toe-tapping Thought That I was Missing Something with its great, honking sax break by Mark Ellis to the poignant Dancers on the Screen with its delicate piano work by Mark Walker.

What I like most about this album is the under-stated and slinky way Mike arranges the verse of each song – that and his consistent flair for melody.

The latter comes out most strongly on two absolutely lovely country-esque tracks – Isn’t This Where I Came In with its gorgeous pedal steel guitar by Ed Hicken and I Can’t Say No with quietly beautiful vocals by the versatile Lisa.

He may not thank me for saying so but I’d love to see Mike do an altogether gentler album for once - for beneath the blues-rock swagger lies real subtlety.

This classic popsmith, who’s succeeded in the corporate world, once won a Melody Maker songwriting competition. If that long-defunkt music paper was ever resurrected, I reckon he would win it all over again.

www.mikestarkings.com