Radioactive Sparrow – Dai & Will Sessions ’85 (1985)
Kakutopia apologizes unreservedly for a shortcoming at this juncture. Unfortunately your continued understanding of how the music of Radioactive Sparrow is subject to a requirement on your part to make a small concession concerning the temporary absence of three songs. Since 1999, the entire recorded archive of Radioactive Sparrow and associated acts has lived in a cupboard built into the eaves of a Victorian terrace loft in York. The Kakutopia management oversaw the installation of this facility and personally built custom shelving on the inside of the partition that encloses this storage space. During this time, ancient cassettes have been removed and replaced as and when a particular moment in the saga was to be revisited, and by and large, perhaps even surprisingly, tapes have neither been lost nor broken. Except for the master edit of Dai & Will Sessions ’85, apparently. Even then, almost all the master tapes for the album have been located and (here, obviously) digitized. But there is one session missing! It’s not desperate, most of the album is here, not least the most significant and memorable tracks. But among the three missing is ‘Mimi,’ a particularly good song where Dai’s guitar sets new Kak standards, and boasts an uncommon rock & roll mention for taramasalata. [NB – this paragraph will be deleted as and when the fully restored version becomes uploadable – what follows is the sleeve note proper.]
During the Spring of 1985, Bill (here recast for the title as ‘Will,’ the more bandied diminutive of his British subjecthood) spent more and more time at home, having become increasingly disillusioned with the art college experience, instead setting up a makeshift painting studio in the loft of a barn across the road from his house. Since Dai Cox was still living in Bridgend (having left school at 16) the two were hanging out together a lot and filling the lengthening May evenings with bedroom sessions round Bill’s/Will’s. The late spring and summer of 1985 was very wet, otherwise they might’ve been playing tennis instead, I reckon.
This collection brings together a handful of sessions recorded in May, and, perhaps properly speaking, oughtn’t be deemed a Radioactive Sparrow album at all. But the band have always been greedy for catalogue extension, and at the time the duo felt that they were carrying on important work in the absence of Boyes and Stews. Which, of course, they were: what these sessions achieved was a significant step forward in terms of the band’s instrumental vocabulary, but also provided some serious teeth-sharpening for Cox who never had a music lesson in his life and, apart from the drum kit, had never owned or even been in possession of a musical instrument. For the first time there is a real intent to make sophisticated, post-punk structures from out of nowhere, rather than either joining in an invisible sing-song or blasting out chaos as its own reward. Cox’s exuberantly untutored bass lines form the back-bone for an exploration of pop song that would define the group’s aesthetic until his retirement in the autumn of 1986.
This new attitude is evident from the very start, Bargefoot’s terse count-in responded to by Cox’s impossibly pert bass ejections, the conventional rhythm section again being riveted down by the increasingly definitive combination of Synsonics and Casio (still Owen Powell’s lent posh keyb whose model number is not recalled – not the 403, which would arrive by the end of the year).
Dai & Will Sessions 85 also set the crooked precedent of receiving heavy rotation in cars wherein some passengers found its constant playing unbearable: fans were always to find themselves at loggerheads with the more trenchant victims of the plain.
Above all this album reveals that Dai Cox was probably a genius: what you have throughout is an instrumentalist who moves intuitively through musical narrative with real insight and guile, devoid of any conventional (tutored) logic, while his partner (Bargefoot) reciprocates with clumsy repartee caught half-way up Richard Scarry’s fire service ladder. That is to say, it’s not so much in evidence here, but it’s not hard to imagine that a few more years of this kind of behaviour and a true artist would’ve emerged. Looking back from 25 years on, one wonders if things might’ve been different – if one might’ve kept Cox from quitting (or being quit?) just over a year later. At the time, though, he became increasingly fixated on his real-world job, ‘standing on my own two feet’ a lyric that occurs several times, which was inevitable for obvious reasons like earning a living. Without the blessing of a quarter-century’s worth of hindsight, the parting was probably unavoidable at the time, given the variance of outlooks.
[It is, of course, not remotely obvious which one is Dai Cox on these tracks – there is a full, track-by-track personnel breakdown in the ‘info’ text file that comes in the download zip.]
2. Play It Now
3. Striking Bird Lady
4. Paris Resistance 1943
5. A Nasty Fall
6. Mervyn Headstrong
7. Newbridge Edges
8. Hard-On Woman (Seventeen)
9. Nobody Needs Your Help
12. Eddih (Remix)
Dai Cox – all insts & almost no vocal
Bill Bargefoot – all insts & most vocals
Plus Jason Davies and Kate Taylor – Synsonics on ‘Play It Now’