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Radioactive Sparrow – The Nicaragua Tapes (1981-82)

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RS3 Front

Next bit is hard to relate… Early in 1981 Bargefoot and Boyes sacked Ozzy Oskins with the misguided intention of becoming a ‘serious’ band, learning and rehearsing covers and original compositions that owed debts to avowed, said covers. It was hopeless. Because, even though in later years Bargefoot did learn to apply rigour and discipline to the practice of instrumental performance, during these early years his guitar playing was marked by an unruly and uncurbed energy that generated some incredibly loose articulation (check his solo accompaniment to Sky’s ‘Danza’ which cuts into the middle of ‘Genesis’ on this album). Very quickly, of course, the band managed to turn this characteristic of Bargefoot’s musicianship into its prime virtue. But this album (and the next) outline the transition in sometimes unbearable detail.

Albums 3, 4 & 5 were put together from material that was recorded sporadically over the period late 1981 to the end of 1982. Apart from albon 5, Will & Dr. Edwards, they don’t feature much in the way of classic Kak. They are, however, crucial documents that depict the transition from haplessly incompetent norm-rock to a total-improvisation method that overtly pursues a kind of puerile-Dada chaos-for-laughs characterized by a virulent anti-professionalism. While ‘In The Fire I’ was recorded in 1981, the rest of the album was made in the Spring of ’82, and, confusingly, features reprises of tracks first recorded on the later Will & Dr. Edwards. The modus operandi for accumulating the material was to have a handful of tapes on the go (say five or six) any of which might be grabbed and used for an ad hoc session as and when. Consequently, a lot of stuff was recorded over, or their chronology became increasingly unclear. Also, most of 1981 was given over to recording a small selection of songs over and over again (particularly ‘So Strange’, whose 11th version is featured here) – most of this material appears on the later-compiled Absolute Bollocks: Sparrow Archives 79-83.

Apart from the first track, The Nicaragua Tapes comprises material supposedly recorded live on Radio Nicaragua. Part of the band’s fantasized mythology included a huge fan base in both Nicaragua and Holland (the latter on the basis that they had heard about an avant garde radio station in Amsterdam which would reportedly ‘play anything’). The album also included fairly large chunks of other people’s music used without copyright clearance – track 2, ‘Genesis’, features nearly 8 whole minutes from Genesis’s Trick of the Tail, while ‘Next’ features Tommy Vance counting down the top ten to Shakin’ Stevens’ ‘Oh Julie’, followed by a Radio 1 news bulletin that includes stories of rioting against Poland’s declaration of martial law and the aftermath of St. Pauls riots in Bristol. Riots. Obviously, the anti-professionalist ethos is well entrenched already – neglecting to edit out material that was already on the tape, even proudly including the Genesis content in the packaged tracklisting. Tony Gage famously paid homage to this aesthetic by including a TV recording of post-Bon Scott AC/DC’s single ‘Highway to Hell (Live at Donnington)’ on his classic 1992 album This Is It (coming soon on Kakutopia, along with Gage’s other great paean to early Sparrow, Bollocks to the Lot of Them).

The Nicaragua Tapes is the first album to feature Bill Bargefoot as a lead singer, initiating his long career with the following, timeless lyrics:

Feel like you’re gone in the back of the day
Keepin’ your prick in the fire
You can’t go unless there’s a way
Finding your way through the hot wire

Immediately we cruise on the night
Findin’ all to be good
Makin’ the grade
Makin’ the grade
Makin’ the grade!

Tracklisting
1)     In The Fire I
2)     Genesis
3)     In The Fire II
4)     Next
5)     Pardon Me (While I Go For A Crap)
6)     So Strange #11
7)     Bremners and Destins
8)     Knock Knock… Oguh

Personnel
Bill Bargefoot – vocals, harmonium, guitar, drums, synth
Brooce Boyes – guitar, drums, vocals
Dai Cox [aka Daheek Ox] – drums, piano, guitar

RS1982pic
Brooce Boyes & Bill Bargefoot early 82

Recorded in the Shed late 1981/early 1982
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Written by Gustav Thomas

October 24, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Radioactive Sparrow: Live! In the Heart of Ewenny (1980)

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RS2 Front

Radioactive Sparrow’s early recordings are largely lost – what remains of the pre-Fresians tapes can be heard on the later-released Absolute Bollocks: The Sparrow Archives (which will be available for download in due course). The first two albums in Sparrow’s official catalogue, Farewell To Fresians and this one, were recorded during the first three days of the May half-term holiday in 1980. Bargefoot set up the small ‘study’ room in his house for recording using the space-ship-like stereo system as an amp for the guitars (inputting into the right and left microphone sockets) and positioning the lead singer, Ozzy Oskins, in front of the Panasonic cassette-radio, fitted with in-built stereo condenser mics, with an acoustic guitar lying face-down on his lap to use as the impromptu drum-kit.

On Monday afternoon they recorded Memories of Roman Times. On Tuesday afternoon they recorded Machines. Bargefoot spent the whole of Wednesday morning editing together the crowd noise from Kiss Alive! to make a tape that would serve as the band’s audience for their highly anticipated, first live album. Being a naturally haphazard operator, Bargefoot made a pretty unimpressive job of this, the resulting crowd tape featuring many abrupt breaks and Paul Stanley shouting ‘Rock an’ roll!’ occasionally. These flaws, of course, now enhance the albums proto-avant-naïf credentials.

As the trio gathered in the afternoon to record the show, they were genuinely nervous and properly hyped for the gig. Consequently, the album is blessed with many of the classic characteristics of live albums, such as faster renditions, looser and more improvised-sounding solos and pre-song warm-ups for no apparent reason. The original tape suffered the same kind of fate as other early tapes (e.g. family members taping radio over them etc.) and so what survives as Sparrow’s second official album (presented here) is about half of what was recorded – it is in fact a watered-down, ‘commercial’ release made for popular distribution at school (Brynteg Comprehensive in Bridgend – look for it, it’s still there) copied onto a couple of Allez France! linguaphone course tapes.

Even though Radioactive Sparrow started out totally improvising everything, most the material for these first two albums was written the night before each session by Bargefoot and taught to Boyes in the morning, although songs like ‘Cornelius’, ‘Machines’, ‘Not The 9 O’ Clock News’ and ‘Appley Dappley’ were memorized reprises of earlier recordings originally made up on the spot. The disinclination to rehearse anything was maintained without exception.

Tracklisting:
1) War Child (lyrics written by Ozzy)
2) France (lyrics written by the band the night before)
3) John Thomas (lyrics written by the band the night before)
4) Not The 9 o’ Clock News (Bargefoot 3rd Year [Year 9] English essay)
5) Machines! (Bargefoot 3rd Year [Year 9] English essay)
6) Hard Grind (lyrics written by Dai Cox)
7) Cornelius (Bargefoot 3rd Year [Year 9] Latin translation)
8 Magnetic Cow (lyrics written by Bargefoot)
9) My Favourite Things (lyrics mostly written by Oscar Hammerstein)

Personnel:
Ozzy Oskins: Lead Vocals & Percussion (i.e. beating back of acoustic guitar with hands)
Bill Bargefoot: Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals & Crowd Tape Assembly
Brooce Boyes: Rhythm Guitar (Lead guitar on ‘Cornelius’)

Recorded in the Study, Ewenny, Bridgend, Wales, UK during Spring (May) half-term 1980
Sessions produced & engineered (set-up and switched on) by Bill Bargefoot

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Written by Gustav Thomas

October 18, 2009 at 11:01 am