Radioactive Sparrow – Schoolie Memries (School, Sex & Soap Trilogy Part One) (1987)
A handful of sessions in early September 1987 produced Radioactive Sparrow’s second trilogy, School, Sex & Soap. The first of these, Schoolie Memries, was a self-indulgently nostalgic trawling of shared recollections by twenty-one-year-olds for whom the five or six years since haut adolescence clearly felt like a generation – the raked-over souvenirs are tinged with a hint of lament poorly dressed up as social critique (for example Bargefoot in ‘I Said Hello Mr. Brown’ when he sings, ‘Suburbia is crawling up my backside, and it’s gonna go much further’), whereas the reality is a cocooned laziness that was as crudely siaristic as anything Sparrow ever did. The three sing-along favourites of the time (‘… Mr. Brown,’ ‘Kak Face’ and ‘Dowdall’) have faded with the passing of time, and inevitably it’s Heaving Stews that holds the group’s end up with his ‘Eating Habits I’ and ‘Game Show Couple,’ which does manage to convince as acerbically witty critique; alongside that, his guitar on the title track and ‘Cow Cow’ introduce a new core component to the band’s sound, one which would become a crucial secret weapon in later years – Stews’s utter indifference towards conventional musicianship and technique while at the same time playing the role of energized catalyst for performers who knew how to play.
After Gordon Bennett, the School, Sex & Soap trilogy finds the band living in a bubble of self-reference and delusion that was to be burst forever in the wake of their first public shows in Cardiff just a couple of months later. Since the rugged openness of Skottland Escapement, the core trio of Bargefoot/Boyes/Stews had closed in on a colourful, self-contained style that was almost exclusively made up of beats from the Casiotone MT-403, organesque keyboards, guitar and bass. More than at any other time in their history, the music was about themselves and addressed to each other with very little thought to what outsiders might think. The one album they have been (reasonably) lastingly satisfied with from the set is Pantsful of Cherries Vol. V.
Pretty much everyone mentioned on Schoolie Memries were (and most probably still are) real people, with the one exception of the ‘Mr. Brown’ of that number, whose name was plucked from the air by Boyes as he improvised the drawn-out chant that opens the song. The opening verse of the title track (with its timeless lyric, ‘Why you gonna marry Rachel Hopkins?’) is addressed to Bob ‘Earstick’ Bailey, who was briefly a member of the band in 1981 under the sobriquet ‘Isosceles Beetroot’ and had been involved in the ill-fated, now lost Ficon sessions. His association with the band had come to an end when he penned the lyrics to a song called ‘So Strange’ which the band were very entertained by (in a funny ha-ha sense), resulting in a hugely influential song, of which the band made several versions (the definitive one of which is on Will & Dr. Edwards), which deliberately blew their approach to humorous improvisation wide open.
‘Kak Face’ was about a class mate called Peter Cross whose Dad ran a jewelry shop in Bridgend. When the band were in the sixth form, he was the kid with money and a car. He was, though, exceptionally obnoxious in a way that those kids so often are, frequently scuppering social adventures with some party-killing faux pas, and driving dangerously fast as his terrifying way of easing whatever tension he might sense amongst peers.
Apart from the title track which has its own quirky charm, the stand-out track, especially in terms of showing some developmental promise, is ‘Cow Cow,’ which also, in some ways, does a better job of revisiting imagined glory days, given that the lyrics are auto-collaged from unrealized song sketches by Boyes from Bargefoot’s diary – the result is a set of cryptic snapshots thankfully devoid of sickly nostalgia.
- Schoolie Memries
- Kak Face
- Eating Habits I
- I Said Hello Mr. Brown
- Game Show Couple
- Cow Cow
- Schoolie Memries II
Recorded in the Hut, Ewenny, Wales, in September 1987