Radioactive Sparrow – Hägar Brünes (1988)
If Radioactive Sparrow are to be considered a truly great band in the eventual biblical account of rock & roll in the year 4,000 or something (when the great truths purged of marketing will finally be cast in the implausible bronze of unsound testament – alongside Slayer, Beefheart, the Fall and Dog Faced Hermans), then it will be for the band that it became in 1989, when its core trio of Bill Bargefoot, Heaving Stews and Tony Gage became permanent. 1988, then, was the year of delicate shifts and looming transitions, Brooce Boyes’s Long Goodbye, and glimpses of a promised, cacophonic, cacotopian land.
It’s funny how, when you’re young, the tricked played by turning over the page with a different year number coupled with January’s harsh, frosty austerity can still give you a sense of new beginnings and clean slates. Following the ugly tangle that was You Keep A Rockin, Hägar Brünes breathed a renewed, though restrained, vigour that restored the joy of Kak to the recording process. Essentially it’s the Preswylfa sessions that define the album; in compiling it, Bargefoot and Boyes saw fit to fill it out with two songs from the late-’87 trio Hut session (with Owen Powell) that had yielded the previous album’s ‘Black Eye Blue.’ Although it is easy to see why: ‘Fishmonger’s Daughter’ and ‘Simon Says’ provide a satisfying (albeit bloated) reverb-drenched change in texture and scale from the baroque tussles of the Preswylfa material, sequenced as they were at the mid-point of each side of the original C-60 cassette.
The opening two tracks, ‘Don’t Shave Me Bald’ and ‘Eddie Asked Me To Stay,’ introduce a whole new working dialogue between Bargefoot and Boyes. At some point during the previous weeks, they had managed to once again procure the loan of the Mattel Synsonics drum machine from Ceri Davies. When last used in 1985, they had made very little use of its considerably open sequencing/programming facility, preferring instead to simply bash the rubbery grey pads as a surrogate kit. What they now discovered, to their unbridled delight, was that you could programme mistakes and awkward rhythmic stutters into a beat. ‘Don’t Shave Me Bald’ doesn’t overdo this, however, and its gawkishly stilted jut induces in the guitar vs. bass of Bargefoot/Boyes a fascinatingly gnarly contrapuntal duel, each egging the other on to increasingly disjointed dyads that recall nothing so much as coarse shapes and cruxes drawn in competingly antagonistic graphite and charcoal pursuing the same lines. Suddenly we have a cerebral Kak that goads the distinction between ludic wrongnesses and avant poeticism. The contrapuntal fantasy continues in ‘Eddie Asked Me To Stay,’ this time in pursuit of a hoppity pegasus in modal blues.
The most significant thing about Hägar Brünes, however, is the introduction of Emma 100-Fingers [above], a figure so important to Sparrow’s legend that it’s easy to forget that she was a full-time member for barely a year. From the very first sessions her joyful subversion of a technical facility on the keyboard acquired through years of childhood piano lessons breathed into the band a renewed spirit of playful invention that has remained with them ever since. It’s absurd how rarely one comes across the kind of unbridled, joyous musicality that is necessary for plunging into the instantaneous history-craft of Kak performance, but Emma 100-Fingers possessed this in spades, able to tap into a mellifluous fantasia cantabile that would leave the rest of the group looking positively wooden. This facility announces itself, bursting into the continuity on ‘Breakaway’ with an exuberant attack on the Yamaha DX-9 (which the band had borrowed from Owen Powell) where her left hand pounds out a stomping bass, while the right twists a standard blues lick into fluorescent warble.
Preswylfa sessions in early 1988 also feature Simon Jacobs on drums and guitar (he had no training or experience in either), one of those bizarre characters in Radioactive Sparrow’s story who appear and then disappear without the rest of the band knowing who the hell they were or where to ever find them again. His highly distinctive contribution will be discussed later when we come to Twixt Brackla & Chicago and Skorpion Sundy Rising.
- Don’t Shave Me Bald
- But Eddie Asked Me To Stay
- Face In Pocket
- Fishmonger’s Daughter
- New Know How
- Hägar Brünes
- Simon Says
- Catch Up Boyes
- Get Valentine
- Recipe For Disaster
plus Owen Powell on 4 & 8