Radioactive Sparrow – Pants (Of An Old Man) (1983)
Kakutopia’s 21st Century serialization of the Sparrow story corrects the chronology here. The 7th album gets posted before the 6th. Both albums were assembled in the autumn of 1983 from tapes made between late ’82 and spring/summer ’83, but Pants features more material from earlier than Lovely Noise for Lovely Boyes, and, more importantly, the very first sessions to feature Heaving Stews whose role on RS6 is more substantial than here. Stews had long been interested in musicians like Syd Barrett, Scott Walker and Captain Beefheart (unusual tastes among Welsh comprehensive youth in the 80s). When he encountered Radioactive Sparrow, he naturally spotted things that spiked his interest, so he came to the Hut to interview the band for Bridgend hospital radio, also recording a ‘session’ alla John Peel – neither was ever broadcast and sadly the tapes are now lost. But from then on, Stews became a critical voice that frequently upbraided the lazy fellas for slipping towards rock industry habits and clichés (something that consumed much of 1983). He was in the habit of sitting in on sessions and keeping an eye on the band’s historical commitment to crafting a music that took his own heroes’ aesthetic as a starting point and blowing it wide open (sooner than submitting to the drab conformisms of the ordinary, allowing the creative spirit to merely dissolve like used bog roll at the Ogwr sewage plant).
Indeed, Kak became a secondary pursuit for Bargefoot, Boyes and Cox for most of 1983 as they wasted much time and energy on their rehearsing pop band the Sculpture Drinks – on more than one occasion Stews heckled ‘Sell-outs!’ from the audience during gigs. A major turning point came when he sat in on a session at Boyes’s house during a school lunch hour in September ’83. The guys weren’t in the habit of ducking out to Boyes’s house at lunch time to record – in fact they did it twice only. Quite why they did it remains a mystery, but they did. They did do it. Boyes had been experimenting with using found material as backing for songs (see ‘Faecal Obsession II’) and invited Stews and Bargefoot to a quick sesh using live Radio 3 as the source. The result was ‘Johnny the Sheepshagger’, which features Stews for the first time, here merely tapping the bean bag he was sitting on. But his critical response was emphatic – this was what Sparrow could and should be like. The session sparked a flurry of activity that produced the final tracks for both albums (6 & 7), as well as a newly invigorated belief in the band’s identity and status in each of the members’ lives.
As an album, it feels like one. The opening track is superbly misleading, a solo effort by Boyes dubbing his own, conventional guitar soloing over a play-along backing disc, (it’s essentially dull), brilliantly ruptured by the intrusion of ‘Sheepshagger’’s mushed Tchaikovsky tanglings with Bargefoot’s drop-D turge-trudge nd Boyes’s Basil Fawlty tritone bass motif. Subsequent patches of arbitrary fiddle are punctuated by stand-out tracks all from the same ‘Sheepshagger’ session: the remarkable U2 cover, ‘I Will Follow’ set against Welsh-language radio; ‘Air’; and ‘Bum Hard’, a reprise of their as-yet un-re-released confused-’81, hard-rock staple.
Looking back, it reads like a manifesto, initiating new habits, unearthing new avenues for the extraction of laughs from rock & roll’s absurd paradigms. Its partner, Lovely Noise… is more significant in terms of full-blooded content.
Tracklisting & Credits
1) Faecal Obsession II
2) Johnny The Sheepshagger
3) Blue & Purple Pubes In E Major
4) My French Coffee & Chicory Mixture
5) I Will Follow
7) Father Xmas Wets His Bed
8) Kum By Yer Milord
9) Bazoomaz Not Dead
11) Bum Hard
12) Mirror Laundry (Bonus Track)
13) Sheepshagger II (Bonus Track)
Plus Emma Scott on ‘Kum By Yer Milord’
Recorded at Merthyr Mawr Road & The Hut 1982-83