Radioactive Sparrow – Not On My Balaclava, You Bastard (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.