Radioactive Sparrow – His Y-Fronts Are On The Music (1985)
Radioactive Sparrow reached an all-time high with this album, which remained their highest seller (30+ copies on cassette!) until 1989’s Rockin’ On The Portoman. Although its status as a ‘hit’ album had almost nothing to do with ‘sales,’ since most of the copies were given away, delighted as the band were that anyone might even ask to own one. Many of those copies were distributed among students at the Polytechnic of North London (PNL) in Kentish Town, where Bargefoot spent a term (before dropping out) as a German & Philosophy student, in the academic year following all the protests about NF infiltrator Patrick Harrington. The SWP were a major presence at PNL, but nothing here would seem to reflect that. Instead, Bargefoot was busy with Chris Hartford, Mark Hill and others founding the Permissive Society, a student organization funded by the Students’ Union to put on music events devoted to, essentially, the Kak aesthetic. One of the guitarists out of Senseless Things was a member.
A major factor in the band’s shift for Y-Fronts… was the introduction of the Casiotone 403, once again courtesy of drummer Ceri Davies. The keyboard was conceived as a backward-looking instrument aimed at the integrated Hammond organist fraternity, a lightweight alternative that could be easily carried around. Consequently it had these lovely, warm and rounded drum sounds and earnestly configured Latin beats, the likes of which the band hadn’t heard before (real or replicated), filled out with friendly organ sounds. And, of course, the ‘Frog’ sound which features in countless Sparrow songs forever after, not least the album’s opener, ‘I’m Not Sebastian Coe.’
Another addition was the first of many ‘Kak’ guitars, originally available in Woolworths and Boots in the 1970s, which by the mid-80s could be bought for 20 quid in seedy second-hand stores in Roath, Cardiff. This one, a sort of Telecaster shape with the standard issue excessive whammy bar, ended up as the legendary ‘Cat-Puke’ guitar during the Hut years, when gear was habitually left for months in the shed among the hundreds of soggy fag-ends and pissed-filled beer cans, and which cats would often retreat to when needing to chunder, apparently. By 1990, Radioactive Sparrow had 11 Kak guitars, all of them different, all bizarre, sounding way better than any brand approved by professionalists.
Rounding off their biggest year to date, Radioactive Sparrow were starting to show signs of the collective telepathy that would come to characterize the great albums of 1987. The whole set was spun out pretty much as quickly as it’s heard – no discussion, no hesitation – each song seeming to drop fully formed out of nowhere, the enjoyment of which wasn’t lost on the band at the time. It would come off as even more impressive today were it not (mercifully) for the base puerility that would continue to vein the calf beneath the garters for many more years yet.
The album contains many memorable tracks: ‘I’m Not Sebastian Coe,’ a perennial favourite, is one of those songs which momentarily seemed to connect with the ‘real’ underground – Heaving Stews used to have a video of a band called Stump, performing on The Tube, whose sound was very close to it. ‘Outspan Grapefruit’ was the ‘single,’ Cox’s self-assured vocal combined with a kind of 60s-pop, Latin cabaret ambiance in the bass and keys. The intensive duo sessions between Bargefoot and Cox pay off on this album, too: especially Cox’s endlessly infectious bass lines on ‘… Sebastian Coe,’ ‘… Long Faces’ and ‘Sugargreen Lady.’ Cox also provides a thumbnail manifesto for the Kak aesthetic on ‘In The Summer Lime’ – ‘We just pick up the gear/And play anything/Anything that comes into our head.’
1. I’m Not Sebastian Coe
2. Why Do We Have Long Faces?
3. Outspan Grapefruit
4. Are You Elephant, Boy-Boy?
5. Sugargreen Lady
6. In The Summer Lime
7. Pussy-Pussy Doggy-Loo
9. Rocki’ Xmas
(& Jason Davies on ‘Are You Elephant, Boy-Boy?’)
Recorded at the Old Mill (Tracks 1-4 & 9) and The Retreat (5-8), 19th & 30th December 1985.