Radioactive Sparrow – Oh Yeah, Oh Wow (1985)
The Summer of 1985 was one of those adolescent peaks, the colour and intensity of shared experience making life seem almost too vividly brilliant and magical. With none of the band needing to earn (much) money during the holidays (this was in the days of government grants and signing on the dole for the summer) – except of course for Dai Cox, who had left school at 16 – the weeks unfolded in a joyous haze of recording sessions, festivals, impromptu after-pub dancing by the beach or on the common with a car (yellow Renault 4 with a ricketily fixed 10-band EQ fitted above the glove compartment) providing both the sound system and the light show, parties, gigs, awkwardly hazardous sex in bracken infiltrated by brambles and sleeping under leaky rooves with pigeons and bats. … The spirit of the time comes through so clearly on this album, the songs are characterized by a psychedelically impressionistic blurring set alight by an unbridled and irresistible energy.
Kak’s first masterpiece? Just about everything on the album makes (its own) sense. Unhinged polyrhythm and polyphony lurch to and fro with gay abandon while never crashing into each other except to affirm discord as the sweetest harmony – check the multiple soloing after the first full chorus of ‘C’Mon Baby Light My Fart’ or the gothic shambles wielded by ‘Last Piece of Cake’ and ‘Bad Breath.’ Or the extraordinary shadings of ‘King’s Crown,’ whose relatively ordinary pentatonic vamp is deliciously bruised and lacerated by Stews’s interventionist use of feedback for the backing vocals. Stews made a beautiful video on Super 8 for ‘King’s Crown’ which surely needs digitizing as a retroactive supplement to this post. Indeed, it’s him that’s the catalyst again here, having watched the band derail itself repeatedly since Not On My Balaclava, You Bastard (especially the botch-up at Bryn Menin, which, for all the cool endowed by 21st century hindsight, made them look unfit), once again called upon to urge the rest of the group forward when they would sooner gaze as their socks.
Stews’s star turn on ‘Chase Me Down the Corridor’ brings welcome poise, acting a deft framing balanced by ‘Jelly,’ the album’s all-out party anthem whose numerous re-mixes and re-edits frequently filled the dance-floors of middle class South Glamorgan student bashes over the summer. One such remix, along with a remix of ‘Striking Bird Lady,’ ‘Horse Race’ and ‘Teenage Scene,’ was included on a four-track demo passed around during the following autumn, one copy finding its way into the hands (ears and heart) of Chris Hartford during Bargefoot’s first (and only) term as a philosophy student at the Polytechnic of North London.
A close listen to the album will reveal that the title comes from the brief tendency Boyes and Bargefoot had at the time to react to the end of each ‘great’ song with Brooce saying, ‘Oh yeah!’ and Bill chiming in with, ‘Oh wow!’ Featuring Federico Fellini as the album’s cover star was completely random: the band didn’t even know it was him until it was mentioned by Bruco Lava some years later. The many bizarre continuities that this album either contains or contributes to includes the inexplicable use thrice of the crummy ‘swing’ beat on the Casio – ‘Whoopie Cans’ and ‘C’Mon Baby Light My Fart,’ and, in a pre-emption of Slowcore, impossibly ritardando for ‘Bad Breath.’
This post features as a [BONUS] bolus the Who Is Me EP made a few weeks after Oh Yeah, Oh Wow. It is squared off by two 8-minute tracks: the title track’s eponymous dramatic chorus actually comes from Bargefoot’s early misreading of the ‘Woe is me!’ gypsy chants in Asterix in Spain; ‘Skating On Thin Ice’ is Cox at his lyrically most jagged, scansion jettisoned for easy rhymes (‘What a lovely song we’re all playing here/I think I think I’ll write about my old dear’). Cox’s embrace of the Kak aesthetic is emphatic: singing much too close to the condenser mics, he is asked by Brooce to sing further back ‘Not quite so near!’), whereupon, apparently mishearing, he gets in even closer (‘Jon told me to get a little bit nearer/I think the price of coffee’s getting very dearer/Madeira cake/Like a snake…’) – classic Kak dynamics, ‘spoiling’ what might otherwise have been an almost respectable track.
Tracklisting for Oh Yeah, Oh Wow
2. Whoopie Cans
5. C’Mon Baby Light My Fart
6. King’s Crown
7. Last Piece Of Cake
8. Chase Me Down The Corridor
9. Bad Breath
plus David Hughes: Moog on ‘Forever’
Recorded at the Old Mill, Ewenny, August 1985
Tracklisting for Who Is Me EP
1. Who Is Me
2. Church Head
3. Demonstration Called Democracy
4. Skating On Thin Ice