Radioactive Sparrow – 3-Legging With The Birds (1987)
The weekend between the Thursday and Tuesday of their first ever Cardiff shows proper was spent at Preswylfa, a mid-terrace house in Cowbridge (a small market town between Bridgend and Cardiff) that Bargefoot had inherited and which he lived in for a year between Septembers (1987-88) before it got sold. The idea was that they (the core trio plus Chris Hartford) would hole up there and record the greatest Kak album ever. The empty room at the back of the house had been designated as an ideal album lab, but on this particular Hallowe’en weekend, it was far too cold to spend any time in, the weather being that classic British crisp and dry late-October that usually brings the first hard frosts. Feeling cosy and satisfied with their first gig’s work, anticipating a weekend between the pub and an orgy of horror videos, the three core members of Radioactive Sparrow decided they couldn’t be bothered with making an album. Hartford was livid. In a heated argument he pleaded, ‘Look! Kak is sitting there in the middle of the table between us like a GOD, and you’re prepared to just turn your backs on it!’ Disgusted with the group’s apathy and negligence to the greater imperatives of history, he got in his metallic brown Vauxhall Viva and drove home to Salisbury, thus excusing himself from the weekend and his part in the next show.
… But Kak musicians are incapable of convening for any length of time without, at some stage, picking up a guitar or two and pressing play & record. What the group couldn’t be bothered with was going into that freezing room, setting up gear and grinding out sessions just for the sake of some perceived formality. Instead, as they lounged around the open-plan space that was kitchen, living-room and dining area in one (warmed by a gas-powered range that heated the whole house), they gradually, out of sweetly-embraced boredom, started recording songs sporadically with the acoustic guitars, mandolin, and Casio keyboard with its own internal speaker. 3-Legging With The Birds, then, was the result of four days’ hanging out, watching videos, nipping out to the pubs (which were all no more than just a few hundred yards away) and almost unwittingly falling into songs that seemed to grow out of social residues. As such it constitutes an almost ideal Sparrow album, utterly social and almost completely devoid of formality, intention or ambition – it also predates the 90s trend spawned by MTV Unplugged, from the other side though, in front of the TV, unplugged and aimless.
Consequently, most the songs feature all three members of the group chirping in vocals like a campfire sing-song, ornate with gleeful peals of laughter from Bargefoot and Boyes as they egg each other on with the musical twists and turns of their (usually perverse) chord-choices and tunes. The almost-by-accident nature of these sessions is discernible from the start with Bargefoot’s chordal riff for ‘More Than Anything Else’ seemingly intent on being as lazy as possible, up-strumming the major 7th chord sitting back, probably, on the settee. Most tracks begin with lyrical non-ideas, something blurted and vague, each song’s narrative unfolding in a collective formation of the hook to settle on, ‘Celibut,’ ‘Map Of France’ and ‘Joy Of England’ (with Stews’s amazing piano) being prime examples.
Despite the premises, there’s very little telly that bleeds through. ‘Fuck Off Paul’ was directed at Paul Daniels during the faux-calamitous climax of his prime-time Saturday evening show, which used its chance of going out on Hallowe’en to stage the mock-up of a risky magic trick going wrong resulting in his death on live TV. ‘Seaboat Sundae’ and ‘Off The Brain’ were recorded while watching an awful edition of ITV’s South Bank Show which profiled Susanne Vega.
3-Legging With The Birds captures a unique moment in Radioactive Sparrow’s evolution with exceptional intimacy, depicting a journey into social creativity that is matched almost nowhere else; it was like Haydn string quartets, or strolling into the farthest reaches of open-face mineral extraction and coming back with some sacred elixir off which to feed for decades to come… Intimate, lounge-based, impromptu domestic sessioning would come to yield some of Sparrow’s finest moments over the years. One of the moments most redolent of this is the long, somnambulant intro to ‘South Of Here’: while Boyes treads out the repeating bass line, Bargefoot opens the door to Si Preston, a mate who’s dropped in on the way to the pub; as he comes in, Bargefoot says to him, ‘nice, innit?’ before he sets the inevitable G strum in motion, and Si himself delivers the instruction, ‘sing.’ The whole song oozes the early evening paradise of no pressure, no plans – which is, of course, what is was.
Needless to say, lots more songs were recorded over the four days, some of which appear on Bollocks Bollocks Bollocks Vol. 2.
- More Than Anything Else
- Him &Not Me That You Want
- Mary Lou
- Joy Of England
- South Of Here
- Map Of France
- You Won’t Let Me Watch You
- Seaboat Sundae
- Fuck Off Paul
- Off The Brain
plus Ceri Davies, pod shaker on track 3
& Si Preston, backing vocals on track 6