Archive for January 2011
Tony Gage’s Doctor Shit is a masterpiece of staggering proportions. It registers an account of turn-of-the-century Britain that seizes the DNA of social music and reconstructs it around an aperture of incisively abstract critique. It is sheer.
Genius, here, is seen to emerge from the consistency of a practical engagement that successfully blocks out the paranoia of interpellation and idiot supplication. Using what was already a starkly out-dated sound palette by the mid-90s, Gage seems to court irony and the faux naïf, but his unwavering focus on the music’s subject matter etches the imaginary onto the waxy fibre of ordinary madeness, exposing surreal relief, frigging the absolute.
How does he achieve this? Beats me. Except to say that Gage’s use of the familiar is key, threw out for the r/cats. There are four cover versions (well, that’s if you include ‘Angel of Death’ which is named for the Slayer song as a would-be cover, but completely rewrites the tune – look out for the sung version of this on Bollocks to the Lot of Them for a full explanation), but several songs have ‘covered’ referential passages buried deep inside their narratives: look out for Stereo MCs’ ‘Connected,’ Prince’s ‘Sign O’ The Times,’ and a brilliantly inept dribbling of Dave Brubeck’s rubbish ‘Take Five.’ ‘Into The Stadium’ is an exemplar for a Gage approach that inhabits a mindset (in this case, presumably, enthusiasm for sports) convincingly enough to draw the listener in, before spiking their drink with extravagant hallucinogens that expose the very neurons of spectacular foil.
Doctor Shit is an historic masterclass in MIDI orchestration and counterpoint: the well-programmed sequencer. After the two ‘Sierra Era’ albums, Gage went back to composing with MIDI sequencing in a big way. What he had to work with was the Atari 1040ST/C-Lab Notator® that he and Gwilly Edmondez had used to make Sparrow’s Dirty Willy’s Deep Party (1990) and Europe Yoy (1991), but with only one expander, the Roland U110, to source sounds from. The U110 was good, but it was limited, and besides it would only allow six voices at once, which meant most people (including Gage and Edmondez previously) would generally use it as one of several sound modules. Technically, then, Doctor Shit represents a triumph in timbral resourcefulness and savvy programming, squeezing every last sonic giblet from the entrails of technology that was already hopelessly dated by the mid-90s. So it’s like Bach, but also Mozart, and then also Bartók, then Stockhausen, back to Poulenc, before humiliating all the Fitkin/Bloke tangi-vibrat.
For Gage is the true artist, the artist’s artist as well as the world’s artist and the best’s artistes. Consequently you got this thing going on where a mind and its hands will appropriate whatever materials that are to hand and make something from them that is beyond meaningful, pungently sublime, poignantly irredeembable. Broken hearts are full of art’s holes – taste is a sorry capitulation. This album will change your life.
1. From Russia With Love
2. Angel of Death
3. Mission Impossible
4. Into The Stadium
7. The Prat
12. Dr. Voodoo
14. Mad March
15. Dr. Voodoo
17. Funk It
20. Russ Mix
Tony Gage – everything
Recorded in Roath, Cardiff, 1995
When Gwilly Edmondez bought his first 4-track recorder in 1984, he was already four years old as a player in the Radioactive Sparrow odyssey wherein total improvisation was the sole prescription. Inevitably, perhaps, he deployed the same method for solo studio projects, improvising four tracks (or more bouncing down) separately, building a song’s internal logic through each overdub’s increasing familiarity with the material. That every recorded performance comprised first and only takes of each part was not observed on principle, then; rather it was the absence of any notion that another approach might be worthwhile.
Like almost all Gwilly’s solo albums (with the exception of 1986’s Bigger Geddy Numbers) prior to 1990’s unaccompanied rock singing epiphany, Song Birds is mostly made up of songs whose content and intent is socio-emotional – expressions pitched at specific people and personal experience, even including love songs. ‘Baby, Please Don’t Leave Me’ plays on the narcissistic self-pity the spurned indulges bordering on real insanity. The title track is probably the only song Gwilly ever made about his dad. ‘Blow Job’ ham-fistedly tries to tell the tale of a fraught relationship’s unraveling from the point of view of a girlfriend herself. ‘Who Is They?’ uses a favourite technique of assembling voice overdubs as an auto-choral rabbling, drunk on the euphoria of total self-identification, astonishingly re-observed by Gwilly on encountering a group of ecstatic winos in York one day during an early 21st C heatwave, snapping it briefly to dictaphone for inclusion on the eventually finalled On On On On Any Edmondez (2003-?).
Rather than mining the original masters in the hope of yielding fresh inversions benefiting from 21st C hindsight, this upload is a direct digitization of the edition that did narrow rounds upon the album’s original completion. A glance at the cortex revealed by a visit to the separable archive, in the now, shows that the voices on ‘Ysette Monroe’ are actually quite loud – their subsumption deep into the mix here, therefore, would suggest an intention to weave them like neighbouring colours into the manically overbearing keyboard lines.
Anyone familiar with the Sparrow oeuvre would notice the title ‘Mong’ with a bemused recognition. However, the song is named for the woman whose voice is heard throughout the track: Edmondez was given the cassette and was given to understand that the person singing on it was a Thai prostitute called Mong – on the tape’s label was scribbled ‘Mong singing.’ So there you go. Gwilly seems to have lazily Eno-Byrne’d the objet trouvé into what winds up working in a gay star-shone derive through gently soporific dog hair, setting the precedent for the following year’s more earnest ventures into collage/improvisation on Group Portrait Laughing and Nonchalance In Vain.
1. Baby, Please Don’t Leave Me
2. Song Birds
3. Blow Job
4. Ysette Monroe
6. Who Is They?
Gwilly Edmondez – all sounds, except for…
Jason Davies – mandolin on ‘Mong’
Mong – vocals on ‘Mong’
Casio keyboard borrowed with thanks off Owen Powell of Ogmore
Yamaha synth borrowed with thanks off of Jane Powell of Llandaff (no relation)
Recorded in the Shed, Ewenny, Bridgend, Summer 1987.
Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band – ‘Hey, Garland, I Dig Your Tweed Coat’
Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band – ‘Doctor Dark’
Marion – ‘Untitled’ (live at Blue Rinse, Barkollo, 16th December 2010)
Bradfield – ‘Untitled’ (Excerpt from 30-min set at Blue Rinse, Barkollo, 16th December 2010
Boundy-Mannequin-Ludo-Edmondez – ‘Untitled’ (Excerpt from set at Blue Rinse, Barkollo, 16th December 2010)
Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band – ‘Sheriff of Hong Kong’
JFK (Ludo Bunel – v/John Pope – b/Jon Clark – d) – ‘Untitled’ (Excerpt from set at Blue Rinse, Barkollo, 16th December 2010)
Wellington Boot & Mr. Blazey – ‘Untitled’ (I forgot the name and
Pawn Flex – ‘Untitled’ (that is, I have lost the name, and now the Hub’s gone I can’t go and check)(Excerpt from set at Blue Rinse, Barkollo, 16th December 2010)
Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band – ‘Flash Gordon’s Ape’
Brown Torpedo – ‘You Can Stick That Job’ (live at Blue Rinse, Barkollo, 17th December 2010)
In 1989 (which, as you’ll see later in the Radioactive Sparrow story being brought to you online by KAKUTOPIA, was their biggest year) on a hungover Sunday late afternoon, the core trio of the band went to Barry Island fun fair, a traditional jaunt to try and deal with the chemical after-effects of aimless self-abuse in Kildare’s, Radliffe’s, the Stage Door, Four Bars Inn, Sam’s Bar etc. See, on a weekday, the standard procedure would be a couple of bottles of Lucozade followed by Full English at Servini’s. But Servini’s never opened on a Sunday, so Barry Island became a regular last resort for some sea air, donuts (a 6-pack each) and chips.
There was another reason to go there, though. To play video games in the arcades. It was amazing, because they kept everything there, even old ones like Space Invaders I, Defender and Galaxion/Galaga. And Sparrow favourites Marble Madness and Paperboy. And that one with trucks racing round a dirt track. Obviously, being composers and improvisors, their favourite part of all these treats was the music and sounds. So, on this particular Sunday, they took the trusty Panasonic Radioacassette (on which everything was recorded until it shot out the back of the van in the notorious Alton lanes head-on collision returning from France in 1990) in order to record their favourite games. The idea was that each member would go off and record 10-15 minutes of games and whatever other sounds. Except Heaving Stews didn’t share this passion, so his track is a recording of him walking along the beach (eventually arriving in a different arcade), something he didn’t tell the other two, his non-cooperation only revealing itself on playback. The cover image features Tony Gage standing before Barry Island’s much-loved Log Flume ride, which was also to give the Eurydge singer/guitarist his name… Of which more in a later episode.
Also tacked on here are two acoustic tracks that Stews and Bargefoot recorded at Bill’s Cathays flat onto the same cassette; they don’t belong anywhere else, so they might as well get bundled into this post.
How many games can you name?
1. Robocop “Drop-It” Intro
2. Bill Bargefoot
3. Heaving Stews
4. Tony Gage
5. All Three Random Finale
6. Gate Open/Gate Shut Slut
7. Untitled Heaving Stews Track
Recorded Barry Island Fun Fair, one dusky Sunday late afternoon in Autumn 1989.
Yes. I understood with this show the exact meaning of ‘stealing the show.’ They stole it! And it was very funny. Enjoyed doing this while feeling my brain tron apart by the combination of tech failures and lightning fast repartee. Repartee beard. I can’t apologize for the sound quality. Can’t and/or won’t.
No tracklisting, really, I gave up on rekkids for this.
1987 was the biggest year yet. Skottland Escapement (whose title was as lazily, arbitrarily and randomly assigned as the album’s ridiculously incomplete art work) ushered in a dramatic shift for Radioactive Sparrow who graduated from messing about in the garden shed, to consciously developing the skills to make up fully formed pop songs on the spot without any prior discussion. Their collective identity as ‘a band’ is even stressed by Bargefoot right at the start of this album before they launch into an abortive first attempt to get going (intro to ‘Grunge’).
So, this was the first great reunion following the acrimonious split upon completing The Final Conflict, whose brilliance apparently still hadn’t persuaded the band that they didn’t necessarily need a drummer, inviting Rory Redking for the second time to fill part of the gap left by Cox’s departure. Redking’s contribution here is more in tune with the Kak aesthetic than his previous appearance (1986’s Mystery Turd). The whole album is charged with an energetic joy in returning to (K)action after the lay-off and the temporary concession that the game was up. The group issue forth a report from the crux, gazing back at their already considerable self-attributed legend, whether making reference to early material (Boyes’s resuscitation of ‘Memories of Roman Times’ at the start of ‘Hally Hally Hally Ha-Haan,’ for example) or would-be tributes to Cox (‘Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fondle,’ ‘So Happy’). Cox had originally entered the fray by volunteering as a lyricist, much in the way that Bob Bailey’s mum had answered a call made by Elton John in the early 1980s to send him lyrics in the wake of his split from Bernie Taupin. He used to write out complete songs on the torn out centre-sheets of school exercise books. At one stage, having joined the band proper as a drummer, he had accumulated a whole exercise book’s worth of songs which he would pass on to members of the band as and when a new song was required. Around 1982 he penned an ecological-awareness lyric which featured the lines, ‘The trees and the grass is green/No other colour is allowed,’ which triggered an unfortunate bout of derisory piss-taking, not least from class mate Paul Burston (see below). The ensuing humiliation on Cox’s part not only led to his permanent retirement as resident Sparrow lyricist, but also the destruction of his collected songs – an obvious tragedy (some, the ones written for the never completed, fully composed Criminal Records, were partially remembered by Bargefoot and then reconstructed brilliantly by Tony Gage in 1990, ready for whenever the band feels like finally recording that album). The only surviving originals in Cox’s hand can be viewed HERE and HERE – these are the very first two songs, neither of them ever used. Nonetheless, this sorry turn of events and then Cox’s departure in 1986, meant that for some time (really until The Final Conflict) the band struggled to find a solid collective approach to generating vocals appropriate to the rest of what they were doing.
Each member of Radioactive Sparrow has had a different approach to making improvised lyrical content. The band’s original vocalist, Ozzy Oskins, tended to not improvise the words as such, but his penchant for improvising source material was little short of genius. At the legendary First (now-lost) session, he grabbed the pile of school exercise books from the table in Bargefoot’s bedroom, where they had installed themselves to conjure the mother of all Evental Sites. During the session he segued effortlessly between (badly done) translation exercises of Latin, French and German (‘Chariot Races,’ ‘Siggie’ etc.) and indifferently cobbled composition exercises on asinine themes such as the idea of robots and automatons taking over day-to-day production (‘Machines’). Bargefoot himself would develop perhaps the most recklessly unmeditated approach to vocal parts, almost always committed to blurting out whatever suggested itself in the full flow of performed committing, although often having a pre-determined chorus or theme usually the result of informal (usually pub) conversation, in-jokes, shared experiences etc. Gage would later operate in a similar fashion, although he started by bringing part-written lyrics to his first few sessions. Heaving Stews’s method, however, was much more hybrid and complex. While apparently preparing very little in concrete (i.e. written down) terms, he seemed to develop and carry around in his head fairly complete song templates that not only comprised the chorus lyric, but often verses to support it. Crucially, not being a musician in any conventionally recognized sense, the manner of these songs’ articulation, their phrasing, rhythm, tune, dynamic etc. would be conceived in the improvised moment along with everything else. Strangely, though, such cells seemed to remain in his head for years, ready to be seized on and re-deployed at any given point. This tendency first becomes apparent on Skottland Escapement, an album rich in morsels for the ardent Stews fan to savour. While most the songs comprise completely new content (whether purely improvised or via Bargefoot’s diaries – a new trick introduced on this album), in ‘Wishing Well’ he suddenly quotes lyrics from Oh Yeah, Oh Wow!’s ‘Chase Me Down the Corridor’: ‘I was sitting on an egg-cup timer/Waiting for the days to pass by/I was sitting in the mouth of a whale/Watching the waves go by,’ setting a trend for self-reference that saw him revisiting several disparate pin-points in Sparrow’s past (which will become apparent as and when they appear on this site).
The diaries thing: for a while, Bargefoot’s diaries from adolescence became a popular source of lyrics in a brilliant twist on Ozzy’s original homework-grabbing method. The idea had come from an earlier instance where Jason Davies read from diary entries during the studio sessions for 1985’s TC: The Collection – the absurd, ridiculous earnestness of Bargefoot’s intended privately personal observations had been duly noted for its joke potential. For the diaries’ inaugural outing proper, it’s the 1984 volume, the band’s final year at school, that is featured here, ‘Awful Day’ being the very first song to bring to life a particular day’s angst, in this instance the writer’s terror that his girlfriend might be pregnant. Later, during the excellently abstract ‘Hally Hally Hally Ha-Haan,’ Stews actually gets distracted by the page that the book happens to be open on and starts reading it silently to himself until he suddenly chimes, ‘The question remains: why did Will guess that Paul’s gay?’ ‘Paul’ was Paul Burston, author and oft-BBC gay issues pundit who had been a school mate of members of Radioactive Sparrow, sometimes acting as the band’s advisor and critic, and with whom Bargefoot shared an appreciation for the music of Kate Bush. He didn’t actually reveal his homosexuality till at least a couple of years after they had all left school, but apparently, according to a diary entry Stews had found, Bargefoot had already worked it out. Unfortunately all of the diaries (apart from 1982 diary, which gets plundered for lyrics later on) are now lost, so it’s not possible to trace this exact moment of lucidity on the part of the Kak diarist. Incidentally, it’s probably worth mentioning that ‘Hally Hally Hally Ha-Haan’ always seemed to be a reference to Clive (‘Mr.’) Hally who had been the band’s form tutor in the 3rd year (‘year 9’); more importantly, he had been Bargefoot’s O level art teacher, in which capacity he would deem it appropriate to physically hit pupils quite violently across the head or face if the work they presented showed an obvious lack of effort or inspiration – a brilliant ingredient to factor into the artistic development of anyone who ended up as a world leader in the field of Kak music.
Furthermore, ‘Hally Hally Hally Ha-Haan’ and ‘Wishing Well’ employ a brilliant technique that has yet to be revisited, but which is liable to produce hilarious musical gestures, wherein the bass player is also playing the kick drum, detached from the rest of the kit, as the only source of percussion or time-keeping.
One more piece of trivia: it’s funny how rarely any kind of wind instrument makes an appearance in Radioactive Sparrow, which is surely to be regretted. Everyone in the band would love a trombone, though. This album is the first to feature a saxophone (alto) and the only one where Bill Bargefoot is playing it. Having long wanted to learn the instrument, he got one cheap and second hand, but it reeked of urine; he felt well sorry for the girl whose Dad bought it for her for Christmas when it went up for sale in the local paper.
2. Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fondle
3. Smooch Nr. 1 (Sabotaged)
4. Awful Day
5. Maureen Lipman Imp
6. Stupid Fucking Society
8. Wishing Well
9. Hally Hally Hally Ha-Haan
10. So Happy
11. Smooch Nr. 2 (Flamingo)
12. Isn’t Strange?
Recorded in the Shed, Ewenny, May 1987
For the very third show it was superb to welcome Ludo Bunel and Caroline Pugh, two pre-eminent profound vomitors, onto the show. The print-out of the playlist forgot to make its way to the studio, so much of the time I didn’t know what was happening, or going to happen. And also, as I post this, I still have not recovered the full information: some track names elude me, so for the moment I will provide playlist with artist names only, then soon I’ll complete it when I return to Newcastle. Other than that there’s not much to say because the show says it for itself.
John Russell & Roger Turner
People Like Us
Producer: Ko-Le Chen