Radioactive Sparrow – On Th Beach (1985)
(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.