Cher UK never really broke up. The hooky grunge-punk group, much loved in Kansas City and beyond during its 1990s heyday, lost a great deal of momentum when frontman Mike McCoy moved from KC to Austin in 1998. But even down in Texas, McCoy continued to play shows under the Cher UK name. "We've never been completely kaput," McCoy says. "I've done Cher shows down here on request, and we've done a couple of reunion-type shows in Kansas City. I own the rights to the name, so I've been able to kind of do whatever I want with it."
The cast of characters surrounding McCoy in Cher UK has changed over the years, but McCoy considers himself and bassist Mark Reynolds to be the core of the group. "Mark is a seriously old punk — an old-school punk, and he plays that style of bass — and we started Cher together, back in 1990, before we added the 'UK' to the end in later versions of the band," McCoy says. "He's been in and out of the band for its entire 22 years."
In town for a reunion show at the Middle of the Map Fest this past spring, McCoy enlisted Reynolds and a handful of other musicians — drummer Bernie Dugan, guitarist Mike "Clem" Stover and horn player Kyle Dahlquist among them — to cut some new Cher UK songs at Westend Recording Studio. They did it all in one day, and the result is Little Blue Soldier, a twangier-than-you-might-expect four-song EP that is available at the band's show this Saturday at Davey's Uptown Ramblers Club.
"I think it's probably got a little Duane Eddy thing going on," McCoy says. "Clem brings that with his guitar playing, I think. My history in Kansas City was always playing very sparse, straightforward punk rock, and I still approach songs that way. But as far as the way the songs turn out, I think they've gotten away from that. I've been trying to get more of a handle on melody. And being in Austin has changed the way I look at production. There's horns on there, and we've got Betse Ellis' amazing fiddle playing. I don't really see us going back to that old Cher sound. I just don't really write that way anymore."
McCoy's lyrics on Soldier retain the sharp, funny, metaphorical qualities that he has traditionally embraced. "Peace, Love and Fun in the Sun" — How you like that eight ball/How you like them neighborhood kids/How you like never really knowing nothing at all? — a merry, two-minute bit of honky-tonk pop, is a highlight. Slow-strumming closer "Denny's After Closing" walks the finest of lines between goofy (it contains a reference to the Denny's menu item Moons Over My Hammy) and heartfelt. But it emerges as a winner, a bittersweet ode to McCoy's good old days in Kansas City, with shout-outs to forgotten dives like Joe's Standard Bar and the Metropolitan bar next to Municipal Auditorium. And some joints that are still hanging in there: Don't forget the Stagecoach/And Davey's Uptown Ramblers Club/I can still see you smiling over there.
"That one's kind of a farewell to my hard-partying days," McCoy says. "It was a way for me to try to relive some of those old memories of the days of just not giving a shit about anything. It was just so wonderful being young in Kansas City. I just have so many fond memories about it. You wish you could push a button and go back. With music, you can get close. You can make a song that makes the memory more visceral. It's as close as you can get to going back, I think."