29 June 2009

Second Hand Record Dip Part 36 - The Food Christmas EP

Food Christmas EP

Who: Jesus Jones, Crazyhead and Diesel Park West
What: The Food Christmas EP
Label: Food
When: 1989
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: 50p

Say what you like about David Balfe, but nobody has anything much good to say about him.  The ex-Teardrop Explodes keyboard player has had plenty of mud slung at him in Julian Cope's fantastic biography "Head On", which painted the apparently "bug eyed" man as a cowardly, tantrum throwing, lisping sleazeball.  Even the Yorkshire Ripper gets better reviews than that.  

Once The Teardrop ceased to be, Balfe went on to music management, taking on Strawberry Switchblade (who also have absolutely nothing good to say about him here - enjoy those revelations about him persuading Jill Bryson to become Mike Read's boyfriend so their records got played on Radio One.  I suppose you've got to try).  Then he formed Food Records, with the somewhat Thatcherite slogan "Let us pray!", and eventually made millions signing Blur.  Who despised him, incidentally. 

It would be something of an overstatement to claim that Balfe hit the ground running with his label, however.  Many of his earliest signings such as Crazyhead, Diesel Park West and Brilliant seemed like peculiar choices for what was clearly supposed to be some sort of world-beating project, and unlike many of its competitors, the label did lack any sort of particular identity.  Crazyhead were dirty, filthy grebos who played basic rock and roll, Diesel Park West a slick, eighties modernised take on west coast psychedelia, and Brilliant an early Stock Aitken and Waterman project who made a few OK-ish singles before Jimmy Cauty went off to form the Jams and the KLF with Bill Drummond.  Only when Jesus Jones arrived did the label seem to have something going on, and even they had to wait some time for their first hit.

In short, I doubt there were many people out there who were fans of Food Record acts in the same manner that people collected Creation Records or Sarah Records issues, which makes this EP a little unusual.  It's a project where Food Records bands cover other Food Records bands, so we have Jesus Jones covering Crazyhead, Crazyhead covering Diesel Park West, and Diesel Park West covering Jesus Jones.  One can only assume that there was a cynical hope that fans of all the bands would go out and buy the record and it would chart highly - but this failed to occur, with the EP only managing one week at number 63.

This is definitely an interesting curio, though, but perhaps not as adventurous as it could be, and I suspect that's for a very simple reason.  Bands love messing up or recreating other bands songs, but they'd be extremely cautious about shitting on their own doorstep and offending their labelmates - so what you get here is some very cautious sounding cover versions.  The most interesting of the bunch is Diesel Park West doing a Byrdsian take on the messy "Info Freako" and removing the buzz, noise, samples and clutter from the original, and still making it sound like a good song.

Naturally, Balfe these days lives in a house, a very big house, in the country, and probably couldn't care less that the Blur number one in question is about him.  Whenever he appears on the television to be interviewed I expect to see a reptilian man with flashing red eyes on the screen, and instead observe an amiable bearded chap shuffling around jovially, which always seems like a surprise given his press.  I personally doubt that Balfe is worse than most music industry pundits, and it sometimes seems as if his biggest mistake was to allow himself to get too close to the musicians he was doing business with.  Unless, of course, you know differently...

Tracklisting:
1. Jesus Jones - I Don't Want That Kind of Love
2. Crazyhead - Like Princes Do
3. Diesel Park West - Info Freako


26 June 2009

The Higsons - I Don't Want To Live With Monkeys




Label: Romans in Britain
Year of Release: 1981

There have to be precious few examples of comedians who had careers - however minor - as singers prior to finding fame as "funnymen" (as the tabloid press still seem keen to quaintly describe them).  Billy Connolly is obviously one exceedingly rare example, but the hair, the beard, and the periodically airy mannerisms are actually easy pointers to a folky past.  If you didn't already know that Billy plucked mandolins merrily and previously graced the folk circuit, you probably wouldn't be amazed if you were told.  Charlie Higson off "The Fast Show" (above, you daft idiots) strikes me as being a less likely candidate in his previous job as a post-punk singer, purely because his comedy performances seem relatively understated, his characters slightly introverted and awkward.

Yet in the grand scheme of things, The Higsons were actually a bit of a cult sensation in the early eighties, racking up Channel Four appearances, playing major gigs in London, and even signing to Two Tone briefly.  That they are talked about so infrequently now probably has a lot to do with the fact that it's hard to take a band seriously who are not only fronted by a comedian, but actually named after him as well.  That's a pity, because they were actually far, far better than they had any right to be.  Frequently described as the English Talking Heads (although XTC were also hit with that particular comparison, and The Higsons and XTC don't sound much alike) they combined stinging horn riffs, happily slapped bass guitars, funky rhythms and hollering New Wave vocals with scattershot, self-consciously ridiculous lyrics.  Like post-punk and funk meeting the more dada elements of American psychedelia, they were simultaneously odd but somehow groovy as well, in a manner you get the sense a lot of the current rash of post-punk inspired bands would love to be, but neither have the wherewithal nor courage to achieve.  

Their debut single "I Don't Want To Live With Monkeys" rushed to number five in the indie charts, and the band found themselves becoming much talked about as part of an advancing "Norwich Scene", which aside from a few very minor Top 75 hits from The Farmers Boys amounted to nought in the end.  In short, The Higsons were never going to be big, and one gets the impression from this clip on Youtube outlining the scene that the bands were more bewildered by the media attention than inspired by it.  Still, a quick sniff of "I Don't Want To Live With Monkeys" proves that there was a pop sensibility going on somewhere in there - the track has a short, sharp insistence I actually find thrilling.

The Higsons split in 1986, and we all know what happened next - Charlie Higson went on to fame and fortune working with Harry Enfield, Vic Reeves, and Paul Whitehouse.  It's not a particularly unhappy ending for him at least, even if he only seems to mention The Higsons these days with a slightly embarrassed expression on his face, perhaps only too aware of how at odds the manic, barking figure on stage in the clip above is with his adult self.  Really, he should have a wee bit more pride in his work.   


And "The Curse of the Higsons" appears to be on Spotify too.

24 June 2009

Animals That Swim - Roy

Animals That Swim - Roy

Label: Beach Heads in Space
Year of Release: 1992

Of course, I've already written long blog entries on Animals That Swim, not least the one speculating that "I Was The King, I Really Was The King" might be one of the great lost albums of the nineties.  I've since had written communications from a few people which have convinced me that, for once, I may not be as wildly incorrect about that as I'm often seen to be.  You can mock blog entries which feature Rolf Harris, sixties session musos larking around or light orchestras all you want, but it would take a hard and cruel heart to not find something brilliantly moving about "Faded Glamour" at least.  "Left and to the Back" is not just there for the oddments in life, no, it's here for the great things too.

Way before they signed to a subsidiary of One Little Indian records, Animals That Swim were apparently a slightly chaotic act who gigged around London (occasionally amongst spoken word and poetry acts) and released occasional bits of vinyl on their own Beach Heads in Space record label.  "Roy" was one such issue, and focussed on the lead singer Hank Starrs encountering the bitter and disillusioned Roy Orbison in a pub.  "I thought that f__ker was dead!" he exclaims, before the Roy who is the focus of this song dedicates most of the rest of it to giving Elvis Presley a mighty dollop of disrespect.  "That Elvis was the dumbest shit I ever met", he sneers, citing examples of his lack of songwriting ability, idiocy, and general over-ratedness, almost all of which are viewed through the prism of extreme washed-up jealousy. "It should have been ME with the songs that I wrote", he spits in conclusion.

"Roy" relies on its lyrics and concept to drive the piece, the melody being stripped back and basic, lending the entire thing a dour air which almost recalls the work of the Liverpool Scene (the vehicle of poets Roger McGough and Adrian Henri) at the height of their sixties infamy.  

The B-side, however, is a deliberately Roy Orbison-styled song entitled "Weary Mind" which almost outshines the main event, being two and a half minutes of heightened melodrama, and proof that even at this early stage the band had a songwriting ability easily the equal of their more successful Camden peers.  When "Weary Mind" sways and soars its way towards the end like a low-budget indie torch ballad, it's almost impossible not to be impressed - there aren't many bands out there who would dare to attempt a parody of a songwriting style so sympathetically, never mind have the ability to actually pull if off.  

Unsurprisingly, the band got signed not long after this single was released, but you know the rest...  and it's dogged by indifference and misfortune.  Perhaps somewhere out there Hank Starrs is propping up the bar in a London pub ranting about how Pete Doherty isn't as good an urban poet as he was*.  He could be forgiven, and he wouldn't be far wrong.


(*although as a footnote, I would like to make the slightly contentious point that some of Pete Doherty's actual poetry isn't all that bad).

17 June 2009

Kes Wyndham - Honey Call Me Home (b/w "Broken Bicycle")


Kes Wyndham - Broken Bicycle

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1971

"The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles...when a man lets things go so far that he is more than half a bicycle, you will not see him so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones."
Flann O'Brien "The Third Policeman"

I freely admit that I have absolutely no idea whether or not Kes Wyndham's wistful "Broken Bicycle" tune is inspired by Flann O'Brien's bike-obsessed police officers in the "Third Policeman" novel.   However, lyrically it certainly seems to have several key pointers - "We were one body of flesh and of steel" he sings mournfully, whisking the listener away into a hellish, surreal world where men may become methods of two wheeled transportation at any time.

It has to be said, "Broken Bicycle" is a rum little piece of work, being a subtly orchestrated ballad about the end of one woman's love affair with her jilted Raleigh.  It comes drenched in the slightly twee, pie-eyed melodies of the sixties despite its 1971 release date, and was considered good enough to work its way on to the Ripples series of compilation albums (volume three - "Autumn Almanac").  Sadly, there is no information about who Kes Wyndham was or what else he did in the booklet, which is usually the compiler's polite way of sidestepping the issue that nobody has the slightest clue.  I certainly don't either, but if the possibility of some royalties cheques can't smoke Mr Wyndham out of his hole, I sorely doubt I mention on this blog will.  Still, Kes - if you happen to chance on this entry, please let us know what else you got up to.

The A-side "Honey Call Me Home" is less pleasing, being a rather middle-of-the-road ballad lacking a sufficient hook.  I've included it in the download so people can satisfy their curiosities.  I doubt anybody would have had more luck with this single if they'd flipped the sides around, since "Broken Bicycle" is far too subtle to crash the charts, but it might possibly have established Kes Wyndham as an interesting artist to watch.  




 

15 June 2009

Second Hand Record Dip Part 35 - String Driven Thing - Mrs O'Reilly

String Driven Thing - Mrs O'Reilly

Who: String Driven Thing
What: Mrs O'Reilly (b/w "Keep On Moving")
Label: Charisma
When: 1974
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: One pound

I freely and fully admit that (just for once) I'm going to come across like an ignorant pig-boy here, since before picking up this single in Camden I hadn't really ever given String Driven Thing much thought - never heard one of their albums, songs, or pondered greatly upon their rather peculiar name.  Nobody I knew had ever mocked them or recommended them to me.  They were just there. 

I've investigated a little further since, and it would seem that the band was a complete confusion, starting life as a folk ensemble in 1967, then shifting to a folk-rock medium in the seventies so they could scrape their jolly fiddles passionately in a proto-Waterboys type way, then losing so many musicians that they only had one original member left by the tail end of their careers. Key member Grahame Smith buggered off to join Van Der Graaf Generator, for example, and on iTunes some of the String Driven Thing tunes are labelled "Grahame Smith of Van Der Graaf Generator with String Driven Thing" which seems rather harsh.

Their career was apparently sidelined when one of their main members Chris Adams was hospitalised with a collapsed lung shortly before they were due to support Genesis on tour.  With no proper tour to bouy up support of their records, they remained rather underground, a situation they never quite recovered from despite numerous attempts.  

From what I can gather, "Mrs O'Reilly" stems from the poppier end of their career, and has a certain degree of Steve Harley-esque quirk and bounce going on in its grooves, but never really quite catches fire.  It's a jolly listen, but for my ears is marred by the presence of a saxophonist who insists on playing the same melody as the vocalist is singing.  I've always found saxophones to be rather trying in almost all pop songs, but when they're shoved so prominently to the front it's always going to subtract a certain something.

There's little doubt that some of the noises in "Mrs O'Reilly" are endearing, though, and the band probably deserved better than to support Lou Reed the next year and get booed off stage by his unforgiving fans.  

They're still going today and gigging around the country under the name "String Driven", and seem to have a cult following who hold them in some regard.   So there you go.   Apologies for the vagueness, but the second hand record dip section of this blog is prone to it from time to time.


13 June 2009

The Plague - Looking for the Sun (b/w Here Today Gone Tomorrow)

Plague - Looking for the Sun

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1968

If there's one thing about a lot of psychedelic and hippy singles of the sixties I find hard to take, it's the lyrical references to all the sad old losers in the world who work nine to five.  "Wear a suit and tie/ when I'd rather sit and die", as The Leaves ranted in "Too Many People" - because, like, wearing a suit is a sign of sure evil and signals the fact that you are regularly tickling The Man's cock.  Complete drivel, obviously.  

That said, you can appreciate their sentiments of anarchy and freedom however clumsily they may be expressed, even if it does involve forcing yourself back into the mentality of a time when new pathways and possibilities did seem to be opening up that didn't necessarily mean living a conservative nine to five life.  The Plague here, for example, released a sinister 45 which seems to be examining the dilemma from a rather bleak perspective.  The B-side "Here Today Gone Tomorrow" is a taunting, nagging, finger-wagging piece of work with some very sneering vocals - "Save for your holiday/ twelve months you work, two weeks you play/ next time summer comes around/ you may be six feet underground" they warn like psychedelic Grim Reapers.  Fair point, chaps, although putting out one single with Decca then disappearing without trace so that bloggers and writers in the future can't identify who the hell you are doesn't seem like much more of a long-term strategy.  Still, they tried.  They at least did that, didn't they?

It's a solid two sides on offer here, though, with the A-side "Looking for the Sun" being more chiming and subtle, but still having a similarly eerie and doomed feel.  Despite this, luck was not on their side.  By the time Decca launched this on to the public the summer of love had come and gone, and psychedelic pop was beginning to seem a bit like yesterday's news.  Had this been issued earlier I'm tempted to argue that it might have been a hit, but sadly it's hard to imagine it being a jolly daytime radio staple - it was always going to achieve cult status at best, and that's exactly what happened.  Original copies of this are so sought-after now that they frequently sell for three-figure sums.  My copy (pictured above) is a facsimile issue, hence the printed-on "spider" in the middle (it would seem that pressing plants don't seem to have the facility to create ye olde "spiders" in the middle of seven inch records anymore).

Rumours abound that The Plague were actually a studio-bound record label project rather than proper hippies, which (if true) just goes to show that The Man can disguise himself very well when he wants to.  I'd appreciate some confirmation on who The Plague really were and where they ended up, but I'd be joining a long, long list of people wanting to know the answer to that, so I won't hold my breath.



11 June 2009

The Fatima Mansions - Against Nature

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Label: Kitchenware
Year of Release: 1990

Following the collapse of Microdisney (whose "Clock Comes Down The Stairs", "39 Minutes" and "Peel Sessions" albums are already available on this blog) Cathal Coughlan appeared to waste precious little time in moving on.  No sooner had the last single from "39 Minutes" been thrown carelessly out by Virgin like an unwanted gift than the Fatima Mansions project appeared at the end of 1989.

It would seem that the early line-up of the band was tentative, and Coughlan was scrabbling his way around in the dark for some kind of identity of his own.   In the liner notes for the compilation "Come Back My Children" he even mentions that this period of the band's history saw a lack of "any recognisable style or identity".  It was under such meandering circumstances that the mini-album "Against Nature" drifted out in 1990.  Whilst it carries the Fatima Mansions badge, it actually sounds more like a solo project than anything else, lacking the abrasive, harsher edges that many FM records boasted.

However offputting it may be to hear about albums that lack cohesion, however, "Against Nature" is still a marvellous little record to behold, being a ragbag of gothic baroque ballads, stomping riffs, and even Hi-NRG disco.  It sounds more like a compilation than a studio piece, but - provided you can tolerate swallowing so many conflicting tastes in one mouthful - is frequently a revelation for anybody with an open mind.  This is effectively the sound of a brilliant and criminally under-rated songwriter letting go and dabbling with a wide sonic palette, discovering noises and devices which would later be put to more strident use on later LPs.

Coughlan's love of Scott Walker is no secret, but "Wilderness on Time" and "Big Madness" are the closest he's come to that man's more melodramatic moments.  Both have spartan backings, with the former only having a harpsichord keyboard setting to keep Cathal's voice company, but are rich with drama and intrigue.  "Wilderness" is almost ridiculously surreal lyrically, pushing matters to a point even Jimmy Webb dare not take them, yet sounds so woebegone as to make the most bizarre lines sound significant, and demand to be taken seriously.  It's probably one of his finer moments, and that it should be buried as the third track on a mini-album is a tad unfair.   "Big Madness", too, is filled with end-of-the-affair obsessive attention to detail, containing the simultaneously disturbing and heart-wrenching lines "I phone you just to hear your voice/ so please don't judge me so/ it's just that I don't think I'll rise again/ 'til I've seen how low I can go".  The whole track explores the fine line between obsession/ depravity and common-or-garden romance, backed again minimally but effectively. 

Beyond the ballads, "Only Losers Take The Bus" is probably the best-known track here, and trailing it is "The Day I Lost Everything" which almost explores MOR rock territories whilst simultaneously mentioning Jimmy Tarbuck.  Precious few people could get away with this sort of thing, you know.  

Opening Side Two is also the Stock Atiken and Waterman apeing disco belter "13th Century Boy" which seemed spectacularly contrary at the time, but seems charming now, as well as smelling like a possible hit single in another parallel universe somewhere perhaps, where Jason Donovan styled singles referring to the dark ages regularly visit number one.  

The Fatima Mansions are an unjustly sidelined band, and of all their catalogue, "Against Nature" is probably the most unjustly sidelined album.  It's not their best piece of work, but it's certainly a long drop away from being their worst, and is a fascinating glimpse of a great songwriter with his guard down, free of the constraints of a contact with a major label and doing a smash-and-grab session through various genres and sections of pop's great music store.  Coughlan still frequently performs "You Won't Get Me Home" live, which seethes with fantastic one-liners which haven't dated one iota, and most of this album has aged in a similarly graceful way.   Like most of their back catalogue, it deserves a reissue.


Tracklisting:
1. Only Losers Take The Bus
2. The Day I Lost Everything
3. Wilderness on Time
4. You Won't Get Me Home
5. 13th Century Boy
6. Bishop of Babel
7. Valley of the Dead Cars
8. Big Madness/ Monday Club Carol

10 June 2009

Left and to the Back Sampler

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(Sorry folks - for various reasons too boring to go into here, I've decided to take the sampler offline as of 8 February 2012.  It seems irrelevant anyway now that we have a Spotify playlist here, and in any case I put this online when the blog was only just over a year old... we've covered a lot more ground since then, and also heard a lot of better music.  Still, if you badly want to hear these tracks, follow the links to them at the bottom of the page and they should still be available).  

I realise that doing a "Best Of" sampler for this blog may seem like either egotism gone to wild and irrational extremes or a sign that the supplies of interesting material are drying up (or even both).  However, let me justify myself a bit here first.

It all started when I flicked back through some of the download stats for the blog and realised that a lot of brilliant mp3s from the first few months had barely been touched, purely because nobody was really reading at the time of the blog's launch.  It's hardly Piccadilly Circus at the moment, I'll grant you, but back in those peaceful Spring days of 2008 the traffic resembled that of a small dirt track leading to a tractor shed round the back end of a village in Wiltshire.  All the likes of Animals That Swim and Jack could content themselves with was an occasional visit from a stray mp3 farmer revving in from Google (usually looking for something other than what I had actually uploaded).

Then there were other mp3s which had suffered from public disinterest, primarily because I probably hadn't sold them very well in the original entries (a rush-written entry usually leads to public apathy - if it's something nobody's heard of, you have to really work to pique the reader's interest).  Hence Mike Conway's "I'm Gonna Get Me A Woman" seems to have been rejected by even the keenest readers of this blog, despite being the kind of marginally offensive, fruity piece of easy listening about perfect housewives (who can "cook real good") that Mike Flowers parodied in the last decade.  And whilst Eddy Phillips' slightly dodgy "Limbo Jimbo" may not necessarily be worth a sniff, its B side "Change My Ways" should have got more attention - Christ, this is the man out of The Creation, the band the record label were named after, aren't you lot even curious about an obscure solo outing?

Then... there was material I provided YouTube links to, but no mp3s, so "Yon Yonson", "Crawl Babies" and "My Star" all appear for the first time on here in mp3 form below.

What finally cemented my decision to put this 2 CD compilation together was TJ from the Out on Blue Six blog getting in touch to suggest it might be a good idea, apropos of nothing.  If he was having the same idea independently of me, perhaps it wasn't so daft to do a sweep through the blog and pick up what I feel are some of the best or most interesting bits after all, and present it as a sampler.  So, if you're here for the first time, you'll now have a playlist which to me underlines what L&TB is all about - the content is, in my opinion, usually either sublime or ridiculous, although perhaps some of it falls awkwardly between those two stools as well (and I'd be happy to confess that some of the more rubbishy obscurities I uploaded here for the sake of curiosity value probably stank like stools, too).

There was also quality stuff which seemed really popular, some of it unexpected. I never honestly believed that so many people out there were desperate for copies of Bob Morgan's "Marguerite", but the fact that it was the gallery music for "Hart Beat" must have triggered nostalgic memories.  Also, it's a brilliant piece of work, which always helps.  Placing it on this compilation is probably unnecessary, but I've decided to include popular downloads as well, just to provide an honest and accurate overview - "Best ofs" wouldn't be "best ofs" without hit singles, after all.

That's enough in the way of justifications, and I'll say no more.  There won't be any commentary for this tracklisting either, since the original entries on the blog (which I've linked to) should more than suffice - and perhaps, for once, this is your chance to listen to the music without my intrusive interpretation of it infecting your mind.

CD One

1. Animals That Swim - Faded Glamour (Elemental - 1996)
3. The Pastels - Crawl Babies (Glass - 1987)
4. Boys Wonder - Goodbye Jimmy Dean (Rough Trade - 1988)
5. The Clique - Security (Detour - 1995)
6. Thor's Hammer - My Life (Parlophone - 1966)
7. The Hush - Grey (Fontana - 1968)
8. Medium - Edward Never Lies (CBS - 1968)
9. Ice - Ice Man (Decca - 1968)
10. Moonshake - Coming (Creation - 1991)
11. Bob Morgan - Marguerite (Gem - 1979)
13. Idi Amin - Amazin' Man (Transatlantic - 1975)
14. TISM - Greg! The Stop Sign (Mushroom - 1995)
15. Earl Brutus - Navyhead (Deceptive - 1996)
16. Dave Howard Singers - Yon Yonson (Hallelujah! - 1987)
19. InAura - This Months Epic (EMI - 1996)


CD Two:


1. Murry The Hump - Cracking Up (Too Pure - 2001)
3. The Tickle - Good Evening (Regal Zonophone - 1967)
4. Whiteout - Detroit (Silvertone - 1994)
5. Tiger - On The Rose (Trade 2 - 1996)
6. Yossarian - Gilbert and George (Satellite - 1998)
7. Psychic TV - Good Vibrations (Temple - 1986)
9. Kenny - Hot Lips (Polydor - 1976)
14. Brainstorm - My Star (Microphone/ EMI - 2000)
15. Eddy Phillips - Change My Ways (Charisma - 1976)
16. Camel Drivers - Give it a Try (Buddah - 1967)
18. Rolf Harris - Animals Pop Party (Columbia - 1966)
19. David McWilliams - Mister Satisfied (Major Minor - 1968)
20. Microdisney - Are You Happy? (Rough Trade - 1985)
21. Jack - Dress You In Mourning (Too Pure - 1996)





4 June 2009

Break


That's it, enough is enough... I'm off on holiday for a week or so.  It would seem that the rest of the world is doing it at the moment, so why shouldn't I (to paraphrase the title of an awful Cranberries album)?

This blog should be active again around 11 June, but no promises.  In the meantime, let Giorgio Moroder entertain you with a brief snippet of his least-appreciated moment, the aptly titled "Underdog".  As they used to say on Top of the Pops, we'll play out with him, but we'll be back next Thursday.




3 June 2009

Ten Benson - 6 Fingers of Benson

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Label: Deceptive
Year of Release: 1998

I'm not going to bore you all by beginning yet another blog entry stating that the late nineties were a peculiar time for alternative music, because the fact that Ten Benson were hotly tipped for the top by the NME really should prove that in spades.  Of all the skee-wif predictions in a continually surprising world, this had to be one of the biggest ones - at the time of their praise, Ten Benson were a lo-fi recording act who released scuffed-up hillbilly art rock songs about unshakeable supernatural claws (in "The Claw", naturally), the devil ("Evil Heat"), and a lot of other more lyrically impenetrable offerings.  As likable as it was, it was surely never going to excite the breakfast show team on Radio One, and so it proved.

Coming across like the more absurd and interesting inbred cousins of Rednex with a cheap home studio, and producing sleeve art that barely merits the use of the word "art" to describe it (why did I bother uploading that picture above?  I'm sure I deserve to get those five minutes of my life back) they were deliberately childish, primal, and ridiculous, but produced some of the catchier and more infectious songs of the underground at that time.  Indeed, both "Evil Heat" and "The Claw" impressed the late night radio listeners enough to get high up in John Peel's 1998 Festive Fifty, the latter sneering down at the opposition from the number 4 slot.  It's a marvel, and deserved the attention, sounding so much like the early 1950s shock singles that plagued the American market that it could be slapped on a playlist next to them and not lose any impact.  This and "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus come from the same ludicrous mindset.

"6 Fingers of Benson" is merely a compilation of their first three singles A and B sides.  After this point, they began spoofing Heavy Metal with songs such as "Teenage Tits", and became ironically rockist and matey with The Darkness, but (in my opinion) lost a lot of their oddness and charm in the process.  That said, later track "Rock Cottage" (from their first LP proper, "Hiss") with its harmonies of "uhmmmm.... hot sausage" probably does deserve to be heard.

The band split last year with a final gig in London, remaining very much a cult wonder, which may have surprised the odd NME journalist out there, but didn't particularly surprise me, however much I might have wanted "The Claw" to be issued on a major label and become a surprise smash in the process.  


Tracklisting:

1. Evil Heat
2. Bardot Style
3. The Claw
4. Transport Overseas
5. Uncle Benson
6. City Hoppers

And click here if you're curious and urgently need to see the video to "Teenage Tits" (that's my webstats through the roof for the next month at least, I'll warrant).