KAKUTOPIA

Radioactive Sparrow – Gordon Bennett (1987)

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Radioactive Sparrow almost never ‘did drugs.’ That is to say, they were never habitual users of any ‘narcotic,’ none of them were drug addicts in the domestically fabled sense, and they almost never felt compelled to smoke joints, take acid or speed before sessions as supposed catalysts to more colourful, less inhibited content. Indeed, Stews always maintained Bargefoot didn’t need drugs to reach the next dimension anyway. And he was probably right. All of which is to say that there was never any moral, just-say-no, straight-edge agenda to their non-use of drugs as part of the creative process – it simply didn’t occur to them and they weren’t generally exposed to it.

Gordon Bennett, however, is an exception. A gig was arranged in Bargefoot’s house as a send-off for a party of French visitors who had been visiting him. It was to crown a week of joyful shenanigans involving hilarious pitch-dark misadventures in coastal settings, irresponsible cross-common sheep harassment (glowing green, luminous eyes) and nights out in Radcliffs, one of which was supplemented by Papa’s New Faith playing upstairs in the Square Club. A kindly dealer who was a friend and fan of the group was among the (largely) invited audience and, true to his secondary calling, he brought shitloads of cannabis resin to distribute at a fair price. Bargefoot, being the host, wasted little time during the prelims to toke generously off on the ladybird, rendering his mindset pleasantly shitted up by the time the remaining two thirds of the crew made their celebrity-style just-in-time arrival ten minutes before the show. The key thing about all this dreary ‘we-took-drugs’ preamble is that the dope persuaded the trio to take the stage without any prior discussion – as if it were a recording session instead – for the first time ever: previously, with the exception of the resultingly noise-abstract Bryn Menin sets (see RS18), they had lacked the confidence to do this, feeling that they wouldn’t be able to emulate the magic spontaneity the more intimate setting would tend to yield.

Yes. That’s all it took. A couple of carroty bifters and there you go – Bargefoot presses ‘play’ on the drum machine and litters out the riff for what becomes “Why Is My Life Like A Rhubarb?” (courtesy of Stews’ part-prepped meditation), while the telepathic, free-harmonizing bass lines trundle out of Boyes like happy times logged in clay. It was a major turning point which led the group on to book their first public shows in formally recognized venues. And they’ve barely ever played a show since that wasn’t completely improvised, save for the tendency to work in an ‘old-faves’ ethos for the latter part of a set, which itself was completely eradicated by the turn of the millennium.

All the live cuts on the original C-90 version of Gordon Bennett, then, were songs fuelled by homemade marijuana cigarettes, but the rest of the tape was made in the clear-headed conditions of a warm summer afternoon in the Shed they called the Hut in Bargefoot’s garden. The album, in this incarnation, was welcomed by the band as a classic, and several ‘fans’ felt that way, too. Cuts like “(Sh)Ah” and “Mince With the Anal Sphincter” became bona fide, sing-along summer hits among the group’s social circle, while “Trouble In Mind,” “Marty Feldman (Died Frisart)” and “Not In Spar” represented new benchmarks that would come to earn the band a new critical respect within the fraternity of largely non-existent Kak-commentators. … But this fraternity existed in at least one of the band’s heads, which goes along way to explaining the basic drive they collectively forged, see?

But people did complain that it went on a bit… Not only in terms of the actual-physical near-90-miunte outlay, but also side two of the cassette did contain a couple of tracks that felt a little overblown at that point in such and extended submission. And, in the ensuing weeks, the group contrived to reconvene to record some extra material – ‘And, hey, why don’t we smoke some more sess to liven up proceedings, make the studio material more like the gig?’ So, the ‘wrecked’ session provided some slightly more sprucey tracks for what became known as The Wrecker’s Return of Gordon Bennett – still ‘album 27,’ but a different take on it, half the length, issued on a C46 (the version of Wrecker’s Return posted here is 59 minutes because on the original, longer tracks were heavily butched, especially “Mince…” which got cut to less than four minutes). The Wrecker’s Return also features a couple of tracks (“Be My Toaster” and “Mellon”) featuring Niklus, originally intended as part of an EP, or something. All of which is just about as close as the band came to selling out in those days. Both versions are available to download here, along with the CDR version that was hodged together as a compromise between the two, made when CD-burning became commonplace and Kakutopia briefly issued an edition of this landmark achievement in rocular mentalism. Preparing the CDR additionally revealed the existence of forgotten tracks “Wash Yer Hands Jonathan” and “Bumble Bee” (which also features on Pantsful of Cherries Vol. 5 along with the rest of the wrecked session’s tracks initially deemed too far-out, it seems).

Ultimately it’s not really possible to forge viable, universal legends out of Radioactive Sparrow. Because their legacy is disconcertingly crude. Not obscene, though, nor provocative or shocking. Disconcerting in how they blotted the lyrical content with descriptions of sexual encounter that were hopelessly puerile. Perhaps, then, it was their last defence against acceptability, respectability, marketability. Their grandest disability. In what proved to be a signal year in respect of this dimension (the apotheosis coming with Autumn’s Wall To Wall Tits & Ass), “(Sh)Ah” and “Mince With the Anal Sphincter,” in particular, would test the patience of anyone inclined to try and take the band seriously as a genuine force for the avant Good. The fact that they are two of the album’s stand-out tracks problematizes this conundrum yet further. Then also, Stews was taking it upon himself to send demo tapes to John Peel, knowing in his heart that what the band was doing was proper special and deserved some peer recognition, even if it could (and should) never sell. One particular week during the autumn of 1987, having sent several packages, Peel made a specific comment about how the recent batch of wannabe submissions was of the worst quality he could remember. The Peel-exposure/promotion malarkey was something Boyes and Bargefoot remained sceptical of, and this spurred them on to lace songs with increasing amounts of obscenity, to Stews’ mounting exasperation. Strange, then, that Wall To Wall Tits & Ass was his idea – see that album’s post for more info.

Further trivia fun:

• Bargefoot’s future wife languished in the crowd, as did the emotionally complicated broad whom he was dating at the time and to whom much of “Sh(Ah)” was sort-of unintentionally (what can you do?) addressed, much to her vociferously expressed protests subsequently at social gatherings where its strains rang out for the collective fnaar-fnaar of assembled pals

• Can’s Irmin Schmidt’s daughter was in the audience, as was the legendary Jean-Louis Gauthier who would later form one half of Lakakoustique with Gwilly Edmondez

• Dai Cox was also in the audience, heard to be ludicrously berated (‘You twat!’) by Bargefoot for fiddling with the Casio before the gig. He guest-features on bass for “C’Mon Baby…” and “Swansea.”

• With its line, ‘Are you ready boys?/Are you ready Cornelia?’ “Not In Spar” is one of many Sparrow songs that references “Chariot Races” from the forever-lost first ever session

• By the middle of 1987, Neighbours was already a part of the group’s cultural daily diet – having already covered the theme song on Skottland Escapement, they now featured the soap’s anti-hero, Max Ramsay, on the cover, the visual exemplar of the popular UK expression of surprise, disbelief or exasperation, but also, according to Boyes (who chose the image) at the time ‘an heroic exemplar of the Kak aesthetic in the popular mainstream.’

Of course, the most honest account is most likely to be the best, and therefore history smiles most favourably on the C-90 original, which Kakutopia now recommends to the more casual downloader out of the three. And, oh yeah, apparently Radioactive Sparrow invented Gabber – check out “Creeepers.”

Tracklisting for Gordon Bennett
1. Why Is My Life Like A Rhubarb?
2. Whatever Happened To Changhai Chek?
3. Marty Feldman (Died Frisart)
4. Not In Spar
5. (Sh)Ah
6. Gazette Waltz (Music To Masturbate To)
7. Trouble In Mind
8. Insomnia
9. Horse’s Dick
10. Blocked
11. Mince With The Anal Sphincter
12. C’Mon Baby Light My Fart Etc.
13. Return Of Abraham
14. Swansea
15. Creepers

Personnel
Brooce Boyes
Bill Bargefoot
Heaving Stews

DOWNLOAD

Tracklisting for The Wrecker’s Return of Gordon Bennett
1. Why Is My Life Like A Rhubarb?
2. Marty Feldman (Died Frisart)
3. Not In Spar
4. Be My Toaster
5. Gazette Waltz
6. Mellon
7. Trouble In Mind
8. (Sh)Ah
9. Mince With The Anal Sphincter
10. The Wrecker’s Return

Personnel
Brooce Boyes
Bill Bargefoot
Heaving Stews
Niklus

DOWNLOAD

Tracklisting for Gordon Bennett (CDR Edition, 2000)
1. 1. Why Is My Life Like A Rhubarb?
2. Wash Yer Hands Jonathan (previously unreleased)
3. Marty Feldman (Died Frisart)
4. Not In Spar
5. Be My Toaster
6. (Sh)Ah
7. Gazette Waltz
8. Bumble Bee (previously released later)
9. Mellon
10. Trouble In Mind
11. Horse’s Dick
12. Mince With The Anal Sphincter

Personnel
Brooce Boyes
Bill Bargefoot
Heaving Stews
Niklus

DOWNLOAD

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Written by Gustav Thomas

May 3, 2011 at 5:39 am

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