Review by: BEASTIE

This new album, ‘What’s On The Inside’, was released at the end of 2022, but I only received my vinyl copy a few weeks ago – and it was well worth the wait. Dropping the needle for the first time on something like this, something you’ve waited a long time for, is an exciting moment for an old man like me. I needn’t have worried; it’s all I wanted from an album, from Pete and the Dinner Ladies – and much, much more.

When the opening notes of the title and first track start, it sends a little shiver down my spine, and once Pete starts to belt out his always wonderful and on-point lyrics, you know you’re back in safe arms with someone who knows what’s what with life and has a genuine angle on social awareness. But as with punk bands from the old school, all of the songs on this album, besides being concise and to the point, are down to earth.

They cover subjects relatable to someone, to everyone, and they use words that everyone can easily get to grips with. There’s no highbrow ‘University Challenge’ bullshit going on here, and that isn’t to say the lyrics or music are dumbed down; far from it, there is an artistry involved here. This is street poetry; there’s no wizards and demons, there’s no motorcycle riding into the sunset. Don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff too, but this is day-to-day reality, this is life for the majority, life for the masses, and Pete has empathy for every subject covered on this wonderful album.

Pete has that wonderful raw edge to his voice too. If you want Robert Plant, Paul Rodgers, or any silky-smooth vocal from rock, then this isn’t the right place for you. But when you sing about this sort of subject matter, it needs raw, it needs earthy, it needs someone with a real connection. Yet his guttural scream on ‘I’m Shy’ when he shouts ‘Get Me Out Of Heeeere’ is perfect. The rock gods cannot make that same connection, hold that same empathy; there’s nothing fanciful here, nothing pretentious.

This is music of experience, of life. I’ve always called Pete a modern-day troubadour, and that’s what he is, that’s what the best punk bands are/were. They hold a mirror up to society, to their own community, and they tap into the feelings, not just of teens or the cool set but all of us, elderly, infirm, insecure, those of us experiencing change and confusion both mental and physical, the day-to-day life of Joe average. I love that, and in true punk style, he’s prepared to call out anyone that he believes is a sham, and shouting it from the rooftops.

The track ‘Badges’ underlines all of that. It’s boiling with anger and frustration and incomprehension as he screams ‘Why Do You Love The People Who Hate You?’ I have absolutely no doubts or fears about putting him into the same punk poet bracket as John Cooper Clarke, Pete Shelley, Joe Strummer, or Jake Burns. All of them have tapped into their own life and times, on a national scale and a local community scale, and Pete does the same.

Peter can stir the soul; he can prod the thinking matter, and he can make you smile the broadest of smiles, and often in the same song… ‘No, ya can’t have ya ball back, because ya neighbor’s a ball bag’ something every kid must think as the something every kid must think as the football soars over the fence for the hundredth time…a line from the out chuffing standing ‘Life Is Beautiful’  
I could pick out any number of favourite songs from the dozen on this album, but I’d be basically just listing the tracks because every time I listen I have a new favourite and I find a new line that I missed and has become my new love. How about this one from the Egyptian Reggae-esque ‘Money and Art’ – “Now they set up a school, fees and rules, teach the kids how to conform so there’s never a Cobai, or a Marley or a Dali” beautiful, just beautiful. 

There are songs that are full of attitude, in-your-face, take-no-prisoner songs, like aforementioned ‘Badges.’ There are thinking songs, there are acoustic, light-as-you-like songs, and even an incredible, lilting, soft and gentle almost-a-lullaby in ‘Elvis in My Dreams.’ And just in case you do nod off, ‘Life is Beautiful’ straight after gives you the best wakeup call you could have. Twelve songs laid out in a great order that take you on a joyous journey. Forget about the punk moniker, that might put some off listening to this album, and it deserves your attention.

There must be at least one song on here that resonates with everyone, there must be. And if the ‘Punk’ label stops anyone from listening to it or giving it a chance, then it underlines the futility of labels. On the music front, you have a tight-as-chuff rhythm section with some lovely bass lines throughout, another staple of punk songs back in the day.

Punk was always just old school rock n roll with attitude, and some of my favourites from back then always had a strong drum sound and a heavy bass, but the cream always had something extra, like X-Ray Spex with the saxophone, and Pete Bentham and The Dinner Ladies bring that to the party too. This is no one-man show.

As talented as Pete is, it’s not all about him. The Saxophone is played by none other than Sonny Rollingpin, more kickback to 70s punk, when band members took on personalities – another reason to love this album and love this band. For the record, the rest of the band are gloriously named: Peteandtwoveg – Bass, Tony Calzone – Percussion, Guitar, and Ukulele, Paella Fitzgerald – Vocals, Marigoldy – Double Bass and Vocals, and Sushi Platter – Glockenspiel. Silly but utterly splendid!

If you’ve never heard this band before, you need them in your life. If you’ve never seen this band live, then you’ve missed a treat – not just the incredible music but the delivery from Pete. His unassuming, almost introverted interaction with the audience is a joy. But this is where the Dinner Ladies shine, providing a visual treat and bringing smiles to everyone that sees them. Punk angst and smiles? Is that a thing? It is now!