Archive for September 2010
(Bed, Beach & Bollocks Trilogy Part Two)
Thing is, the summer of 1985 was the most social period of Radioactive Sparrow’s history. They hung out together constantly anyway, but somehow the dynamics of the community’s late adolescence absorbed the band into the worlds of all their friends as well. The significance of this being twofold: they played their first gigs; and some of their tunes actually became ‘hits,’ in that tapes would be brought to parties, whoever was in charge of the music would play them willingly, and people would actually dance (or leap around the room) to them. How did this happen? Was it just a hormonal thing, kids that age (17-19) being naturally open to whatever the fuck; or was it 1985 itself? Was that the bridge we all crossed out of modernism towards the grim plains wherein regurgitation became prioritized out of a collectively paranoid need for cultural sterility? UHT.
The first such hit was ‘Horse Race’ which opens this, the second part in the Bed, Beach & Bollocks trilogy. There was even a special dance for ‘Horse Race’ – goofishly, gently bouncing up and down to the beat, kind of like pogo-ing after cannabis (although not necessarily actually having smoked it – Sparrow were never straight-edge, to be sure, but they did take pride in not needing help to reach another dimension), with arms held straight down, close to the body, but with the fingers of both hands pointing backwards, a bit like Obelix in the Asterix books when he’s carrying a menhir. Once again, Ceri Davies’s lent Synsonics drums dominate the sound, the opening 4-to-the-floor kick was to become an ad nauseate in years to come.
The reason the group decided to make a trilogy in the first place was because of their dissatisfaction with On The Bed – this sense that they hadn’t yet ‘done it’ would often affect sessions in years to come, most memorably in recording Angwitch (album 42; 1989), when they spent 18 hours going in and out of the shed to record until they felt they’d achieved something. The irony being that the ‘unsatisfactory’ material turned out to be even better than what had been ‘accepted’ – a tendency that meant ‘disappointing’ sessions often yielded true classics – Spacelord (album 60; 1994), being a case in point. The single session that makes up On Th Beach was made specifically as an antidote to the previous effort (before it had been edited packaged), hence the anxious insistence on driving riffs and ‘live’ drumming. Consequently, the feel of the album’s first three songs is characterized by a certain panicked impatience. Heaving Stews’s presence is also key: so often he retained his role as band agitator from his time prior to joining, always vigilant to the dangers that sessions might easily descend into dreary bloke-rock jams; his bass playing on ‘The Day of Jack Hall’ raises the bar considerably in terms of militantly active non-musicianship in pop.
‘The Day of Jack Hall’ (which has nothing to do with any of the celebrated footballers, nor the English traditional song – it was a lazily conceived would-be mondegreen for Day of the Jackal) quickly became a mainstay for blasting out of car windows into a busy Welsh summer, the car’s occupants gigglingly reveling in the implausibility of Dai Cox’s jagged guitarring catching in the ears of fatuous boozers, oiled sunbathers and starched shoppers. This track used to open side two of the TDK D-46 that the album was copied to – it’s 3½ minutes unfold an epic surrender to any form of musical coherence: this is music that spectacularly disintegrates as you listen, totally flooring the Project. Similarly, ‘Black Elephant,’ ‘Surprised By Joy’ and ‘Barnaby’ deliver a potently viscous pudding of rarely tight stalwart 80s-rock riffing laddered with shards of codified incompetence posing as magical askance. This, the pimply bitumen from which much Kak would be yet to seep.
1. Horse Race
2. Poor Jon
3. Black Elephant
4. Surprised By Joy
5. The Day of Jack Hall
Recorded April 1985 in Bill’s bedroom, Ewenny, Bridgend, Wales.
Improvising vocalist and sampler-spitter Gwilly Edmondez joined People Like Us to talk about paperweights, bog-standard footwear and 50 Pence, while dashing off a handful of 21st century pop songs that are already ahead of their time. In a revealing discussion, Gwilly helped unravel some of the mysteries of modern awareness while promoting the complete decomposition of all music.
The session included four new tracks made directly in response to the interview, their titles rising to the crest of interlocution in the most natural manner. Vicki also suggested that Gwilly make all four tracks on the newly acquired Korg MicroSAMPLER, which he then did, preparing the samples in 49, Longlands Court (Denbigh Rd.), London, then performing the actual songs on a crowded train to Wales. Funny looks etc.
Full tracklisting can be found on the show’s playlist:
Gwilly Edmondez began making voice recordings to dictaphone in 1990 when he was in France, discovering that spending a lot of time alone brought on automatic singing, exuding unaccompanied songs that would draw improvised elaborations around fixed, remembered choruses. Borrowing a headset microphone from American art student Eric Miller, he recorded a handful of songs that would form part of a string of tapes during the early 90s that for some reason Gwilly never saw fit to compile as albums. Early Unaccompanied Rock Singing (U-ARS) classics like “I’m A Crazy Rebel,” “You’re Ahead Of Your Time, You Are,” “Yo, What’s Happenin’ Bro?” and “Baranoid Fiesta” have yet to be issued on any format.
Abstract Exhibitionism Vol. 1 (2001) was therefore the first dictaphone album proper, and was born out of a kind of phase 2 wherein the dictaphone became the recording media of necessity for Gwilly as he spent long days going back and forth between schools and private homes as a freelance music teacher. Another collection of recordings actually made while teaching, rather than between, will be issued at some stage as the album The Complete Harrow Of My Teaching Hour. Meanwhile here’s the first of five albums made exclusively in “hand position.”
Original sleeve note
Gwilly Edmondez ~ Gwilly the Very Good Musician (sec) ~ Abstract Exhibitionism ~ Vol.1 ~ With All Writing On the Cover ~ Version 1 Version ~ And Shit ~
Actual Title: ABSTRACT EXHIBITIONISM VOL.1
Was recorded by hand/hand position in 2001, April in Kakutopia-France (hence all that French shit) over an extended period of several days, including a grouping together of more than a week. The whole thinking in front of this albo was to prove that, in order to be a recording artist, you didn’t need to splash out hundreds of pounds on it. All you needed was to be a bloke or a woman, and be in hand-position with your shit. OK, so I flush a lot of bogues along the way – I piss a lot, like you – but that was to prove above and beyond that I never stopped, not even for a moment, the process by which a proper artist carves his gapor. No Fancy Tricks were employed here – just one man and his shit. Do you know what I’m saying?
Gwilly Edmondez (Improvizuh) – Lead Guitar and Vocals
Occasional companions: Tony Gage, Luno EdLandez, Serge Neri, Cécile Lindfors, Gabelli & Esther Sobin, Bruce (!) Lee & Skip Undo. Aces high:~ All the above, Stu & Marie, for real, (at the time of writing I still owe Marie 25 quid for helping me shit through that nonsense at the City Screen), Ian Watson and Richard Bowers for what is to come. Bruco because of all that Kaspar/Sarah shit he’s got going on. Word is Bone, 20001 Kid, checkit, negga.
1) Sweet Nuthin’s Is It
2) 4-Head Farrad
3) Wank Your World Off
5) Bloody Guvamant
6) Good Music is Where You Find It (1)
7) Friday Was Amazing
11) A Object That Seems Very Far Away
12) Evans/Edmondes Family Penis
13) Good Music Is Where You Find It (2)
14) A Bollocks
16) Floydian Schlepp
17) Angels Of The Pipe
18) Jesus Built My Rod
19) Dandy Lorat
20) What You’re Doing Around It
21) Wang Your Hangar
22) Le Catalogg
24) Good Music Is Where You Find It (3)
25) Conclusion: Music Can Be Exciting
Recorded by Gwilly Edmondez April 2001
How do you forgive a band? For many albums, bands have been prone to aesthetically knobbing around, delivering a gauche porridge of nodes. The way the industry evolved in rock, contracts would often squeeze from a group ill-founded chodes, drab rides scraped from the rectal weird. Far from not being an exception to this gruesome litany, Radioactive Sparrow have made a necessity of such misadventure over their years. Quite simply because otherwise there is no other way to arrive at the next great plateau of achievement.
What I’m getting at is this: we are all lucky that Radioactive Sparrow have produced many moments worthy of the most distinguished 21st century playlists, no doubt. But there is a handful of albums that really have little to spike the tread with any waxy nuance.
Sometimes it was due to overstepping a qualm; others it was sheer greed for the accumulation of a covetable back-catalogue; sometimes laziness (especially here); but above all, potentially duff chaff was bestowed album status because of the heroic, collective recognition that the course must be ran.
And 1985 was a crucial year for allowing the Kak shrub to truly become engorged with dynamos that would subsequently yield much, much great product. The first of two trilogies, the Bed, Beach & Bollocks trilogy, was kicked off with On Th Bed, whose titling was every bit as lazy as the improvising that took place within its ends (it was recorded on the bed in Bargefoot’s room). Two months after the remarkably pertinent, concise and articulate bedroom sessions that made up most of Not On My Balaclava, You Bastard, the same groupèd people moped out a lazy set of jams in which virtually no lyric/vocal content was entertained – the main reason that much of it returns in the third part of the trilogy, Pros & Cons of a Popular Vicar as backing tracks for another Adamsdown session.
No-one in the band at the time seems to have been very enthusiastic about the results. Bargefoot’s bizarre closing remarks (listed here as ‘Album Appraisal’) indicate that he was the only one remotely pleased with what was deemed an ‘unsuccessful’ album. However, it seems obvious with canonically enhanced hindsight that there were manoeuvres the band needed to pass through in order to get to the next stage: many of the music’s timbral components – the wiry guitar and distinctly anorak-polemical bass set against the legendary Mattel Synsonics drum machine (the first of many contributions by drummer Ceri Davies, which would be a Sparrow centre piece throughout the second half of the decade) get a far better treatment in Dai & Will Sessions ’85.
There are some OK moments, but at its thinnest, the album asks the listener to endure some 19 minutes of ‘Red Thursday,’ an endlessly half-arsed visit to ‘Blue Monday,’ instigated purely because the kick on the Synsonics was such a good mimic of that Manchester hit’s opening bench-lint. And if one were to be generous, the whole trilogy is characterized by a sense of slightly aimless goons colourfully plopping out an apology for artness – which has to be worth something, right? At least anthropologically…
Having said all that, the album does, of course, turn out to be a masterpiece: a masterpiece of utter aimlessness taken to a level not only unprecedented but as yet (to this writer’s knowledge) unsurpassed. The opening four tracks have an unbelievable, unfathomable even, lack of direction – to make matters worse they all instrumentals except for some random vocal interjections during ‘Freddie Jeans’ which are so irreverent that the pointlessness simply gets deeper. For a point of interest, look out for Dai Cox’s formidably ahead-of-its-time avant garde guitarring on ‘Freddie Jeans’ and ‘Th Gunfight At No Thanks Coral’ – avant garde because that’s the only style he knew: the playing is like the mind of a baby, finding meaning in the most crinkly crevices of dog-eared endeavour, building to an incredible blacking of the contours at the close of ‘… No Thanks Coral.’ Also, look out for the reprisal of ‘Chariot Races’, Sparrow’s first ever song, during the second half of the haplessly titled ‘Green Colours.
1) Stroke Th Bowl
2) Freddie Jeans
3) The Gunfight At No Thanks Coral
4) Green Colours
5) Red Thursday
6) Freddie Jeans (Live)
7) O, Makin Love To Th Cat
8) Arabian Bikes
9) Album Appraisal
Recorded at The Old Mill, April 1985
Then, suddenly, 1985. In 1985 Radioactive Sparrow became a different thing. Being away at college (each in a different city) and dishing out tapes to wavelength comrades enhanced the group’s sense of identity. Also, Bill and Jason (Davies the visual artist, who appears on Sparrow albums here and there later on, but was always an important influence on the band’s development) had been going to every Ha Ha The Electorate gig in either Cardiff or Newport – their coarsely satin-stretching ur-grasp made a new sense to the band in terms of how to breach the slob between formalized entertainment and unbridling dance.
Apart from the two Adamsdown tracks that tail off each (original cassette) ‘side’ (‘Cream Crackers in My Pants’ and ‘The Rat’ vainly attempt to reprise the obscene experimental anarchy of Festive Sex’s acoustic tracks, without relinquishing their grimy puerility), this album represents a huge leap forward in two crucial respects: here, for the first time, the group are improvising as collective, instantaneous composition, placing sounds deliberately rather than just jamming; and Bargefoot, particularly, gets going as a spontaneous lyricist, allowing free flights of fancy to litter the songs with bizarre free association and often oblique references. ‘Orange Bastard,’ for instance, starts a tradition of Sparrow (then, later, Gwilly Edmondez) songs whose bricolage of narratives throw together unlikely correspondences (here, deliberately, New York’s fabled Broadway is married to Splott’s less so via Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down… and Mel Brooks’s The Producers), inadvertently yielding a socio-political subtext that then re-shades the lyric content as a whole – I’m thinking of THF Drenching’s brilliant re-illumination of the track as a reference to the ‘troubles’ in Ireland by dint of the casually attributed title: ‘Orange Bastard’ was, in fact, so called because of Brooce’s frustration with the tangled orange guitar cable just prior to the song starting. Like ‘Orange Bastard,’ ‘Slow Joe’s Friday Night,’ ‘Arosfan,’ and ‘Teenage Scene,’ are all early Kak classics – the first two of these are featured in Jason Davies’s short biopic of William Edmondes, Weeks Will End (1985; as-yet-unreleased) in the Sunday morning sequence where Edmondes is shown painting, shaving, and occasionally dancing and miming to the songs.
Once in the bedroom as the favoured recording space (using drum a machine for the first time), the band stayed there for most of the rest of 1985 (venturing out only for the odd gig and the famous re-recording of On Th’ Bed as Pros & Cons of a Popular Vicar in Adamsdown). The triumph of Balalclava… wasn’t to be matched, really, until December’s His Y-Fronts Are On the Music, which took it to a whole new level again, although perhaps Oh Yeah, Oh Wow comes close, part of which ventured downstairs into the dining-room and lounge…
‘The Rat’ is especially notable as the first venturing by Heaving Stews into the realm of lead singer, a role he would come to idiosyncratically make his own over the ensuing years. It should also be pointed out that none of the band, even to this day, have ever listened to The Pros & Cons of Hitch-Hiking by Roger Waters, but twice on this album, Bargefoot spouts a reference to some lyric concerning Yoko Ono saying ‘Jump,’ or something – this is because some character called Dick James (who later features on The Procs & Cons of a Popular Vicar) kept coming up to Bargefoot and singing such stuff in his ear. 14-year-old-stylee.
1) They Don’t Grow Bananas
2) Orange Bastard On Broadway
3) Quentin (Something Vague)
4) Cream Crackers In My Pants
5) Slow Joe’s Friday Night
6) Silly Dog Head Desert
8) Teenage Scene
9) The Rat
Recorded at Mill Farmhouse (bedroom of William Edmondes) & 6, Adamsdown Place (tracks 4 & 9) February 1985.
Another important transition that follows on from the grounding provided by Death Of Prefoetus’s rockish prattle, further setting down precedential markers for later elaboration, chiseling hooks into the gaudy rock face of rock’s face. The opening track, “Faulty Towers,” has some adventure to it, Bargefoot’s willful detuning of the guitar, Boyes’s looping of grooved quirks, Cox’s desire to drum just a fraction beyond the bored at. And here, the band’s first go at acknowledging Xmas in the manner of seasonal froth pap, Cox burbling out a brilliantly off-centre, not-even-surreal smudging of the UK’s favourite C-service opener. Then the first of two long indulgences, Brooce’s pointless farewell note to Bridgend on the occasion of his mother’s relocation to the Cardiff suburb of Rhiwbina, pathetically renaming it “Vagina” in the album’s first volley of fatuous obscenity.
Where this album really cuts a new-ass whole is in what was the old Side Two, given over to an unusually intoxicated late-night session in the living room of 6, Adamsdown Place, Cardiff (look for it – it’s still there). Heaving Stews apparently had a jones for stirring Bargefoot into ever-escalating bouts of puerile pornographics which very soon became quite painful listening. But Stews was right, and a lot of the actual music was good, and, most importantly, it dragged the band into genuinely abstract extended territories that they would rapidly feel quite comfortable in – something reflected much more convincingly on Festive Sex’s follow-up, Not On My Balaclava, You Bastard. The awful denouement of “Astrolabe” comes with the lurid “smells very fishy to me” chorus. Thing is, while this can only ever remain congealed in the gooey residues of adolescent puerility, it is also nonetheless true that the band’s peers/social circle listened to this album a lot; Bill even had a girlfriend who insisted on him crooning the “fishy” chorus in bed… There’s probably something important about that.
The next album is where it all really takes off, though…
1) Faulty Towers
2) One’s In Royal Dai’s City
3) Jon’ Moved House
4) The Indians Are Coming
5) Dog Biscuit
6) Kak Anthem
8) High Kak Caliber: Bill & Brooce’s Summing Up
Recorded in the Hut, Ewenny, and at 6, Adamsdown Place, Cardiff, December 1984
There are only really two tracks on here that warrant the faux grandeur of a retrospective ‘archives’ album compilation. The first, ‘River River’ is the earliest surviving Sparrow recording. The very first recordings were done at the beginning of 1980 on a light blue Boots C90 cassette. The band loved this tape and would play it constantly in Bargefoot’s room, driving the rest of his family up the wall. One day, his sister took the shattering step of taping over pretty much everything on that C90 with random audio from BBC Radio 4. A total disaster, despite which Bargefoot hung onto the tape purely for the historical significance of its physical history. Sometime in 1983, he discovered, quite by accident, that there was one remaining track surviving on the tape, which is the one that opens the album here. As a historical document, it illustrates fairly well the working practice for those early sessions: Ozzy Oskins would announce the upcoming song (kind of a cross between radio continuity and concert banter, a habit maintained throughout the band’s history); Bargefoot would pass him a randomly selected piece of homework before starting up some typical rock riffing from scratch; Ozzy would sing passionately, close-up into the only mic recording the whole thing. The result is this strangely intimate experience of hard-rockin’, good-times rhetoric issuing bland accounts of daily life (in this case, invented ones from a French text book).
The other important song is ‘Run Hard.’ It is the only surviving track from the unfinished, fully composed album Criminal Records, which the band spent many months working on during 1981, after jettisoning their inspiringly tone deaf lead singer. Having fired Ozzy, Boyes, Bargefoot and Cox spent some time misguidedly trying to be a proper band. The whole of the Criminal Records album was written, with 80% of the lyrics provided by Dai Cox, and about half the songs got recorded by DI-ing the electric guitars into a stereo system and overdubbing voice and percussion via playback and open mic. Such was the level of engagement that Bargefoot has never forgotten the music, and, with this in mind, Tony Gage volunteered in 1990 to reconstruct the lyrics from the fragments Bill could remember. Using the only two unused Cox songs (‘Brute Force’ and ‘Powerdrive’) as his guide, Gage brilliantly inhabited the mind-set of a 14-year-old school boy and finished the reconstruction. The idea was (and remains) to realize these songs in a studio space some time. For the moment, ‘Run Hard’ remains the touchstone.
The remainder of the album is made up of scraps from non-music sessions and alternative versions of early classics like ‘Appley Dappley’ and ‘So Strange’. Really, this album should be expanded to include the whole archive of prank calls session banter out-takes (here represented by ‘Ring M. Bennett’ and ‘Decebelle’).
1) River River
2) Dill Sings
3) Cornelius – Live
4) Absolute Bollocks
5) Hard Times (In The City)
6) Eddie Interlude
7) Run Hard
8) Ring M. Bennett
9) So Strange (No. 10)
10) Appley Dappley (End Bit)
12) Anal Entry (Live)
14) Bargefoot From Nicaragua
Bill Bargefoot, Ozzy Oskins, Brooce Boyes, Dai Cox