Radioactive Sparrow – Twixt Brackla & Chicago (1988)

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Radioactive Sparrow was always something beyond a band. That is to say, the words ‘band’ and ‘group’ denote delineation and definition; band comes from bind, group is related to crop. Sparrow were porous and resistant to the regulation of band membership. Perhaps because it started by accident and its perpetrators never really saw the need to tidy up the more wayward tendrils splaying its inception, Radioactive Sparrow was always much more a force to be accessed by those who’d found out how to … a hum of man residing in discarded utilities. The fact that there has been only one constant member from the very beginning, Bill Bargefoot, whose place of residence almost always also dictated the locale for sessions, doesn’t mean that he was in any way the driving force. Kak simply started where he lived, in 1980, and that has remained the first port of call each time a collective mythology required further elaboration. Indeed, other members would often have to be the catalyst to making an album come about, Bargefoot himself being more inclined to read books, go for walks and watch telly, alongside devoting time to becoming Gwilly Edmondez. But it never seemed too important if one member or other couldn’t be present – what seemed paramount was that the thing had to be pursued, and its historic conquest recorded.

All of which seeks to address why Brooce was not present for the recording of this album, even though the unfolding of subsequent history might imply that the end of his involvement, and his Long Goodbye, had already been set in motion. Whatever the reason, his absence here is pivotal, the balance of invention necessarily tipped towards Bargefoot and Stews who found themselves in the irresistible company of Miss 100-Fingers and Simon Jacobs whose contribution to Hägar Brünes (as well as theBollocks Bollocks Bollocks volumes) had already been significant.

Simon Jacobs was a gem. Of all the characters that stopped by Radioactive Sparrow’s festering propagation of cacophonic pop over the years to lend a hand, he was one of the most subsequently hankered after. But like most such characters, he evaporated into the world of things without leaving a trace… Even today, with all that internet, searches reveal all the wrong Simon Jacobses (or Simon Chadwicks – he apparently went by both in the Spring of 1988). Like the best contributors to Sparrow’s plot, he was a completely untutored player who didn’t own an instrument himself, and who – like Stews and Cox – approached instrumental playing with a blending of visual imitation (from watching musicians on TV or live) and an inventive ear for what he was after, the journey into music being an adventure in expressive sound that gaily shrugged any reverence for established protocols. As such, he was one of the most relaxed and fluid performers ever to grace Kak’s inscription. This quality was already evident in his drumming, which he spent most of his Sparrow sessions doing; but it’s his guitar on Stews’s ‘Shit, Tit, Bum & Willies, Too’ which is almost the centerpiece to Twixt Brackla & Chicago, grooving and weaving languidly as it does in a lexicon of guessed Jazz-ness.

Jacobs was a gem, but Emma 100-Fingers is a legend, and her dozen albums (including the b-side ones) with Radioactive Sparrow remain lamentably few. She never officially left, and her reappearance (alongside partner Dave Blerroll) onBrownstar (album 80) emphatically showed that she’d lost none of her power… We await yet more from 100-Fingers. For most of Twixt Brackla & Chicago she contributes to a balanced quartet texture, but it’s on ‘Acne Of The Soul’ where her genius and invention are most discernible, dialoguing with Bargefoot’s slide guitar riff with achingly translucent glinting shards of high-pitched DX9 pads. Stews’s vocal completes a sense of naked interference that makes an exquisite frottage of goosebumps, rude fingers probing deep into the psyche of guilts.

Twixt Brackla & Chicago was the first day of the rest of Radioactive Sparrow’s life, essentially the first without Brooce, wandering in his absence into thrillingly fresh sound worlds and collective, dialogic space. It remains a key milestone for the band.


  1. A Simple Choice
  2. Williamstory
  3. Keep It Clean
  4. A Head Start For Necrophelia
  5. Shit, Tit, Bum & Willies, Too
  6. Acne Of The Soul
  7. Another 50s Store
  8. Moth Balls


Heaving Stews
Bill Bargefoot
Emma 100-Fingers
Simon Jacobs

Recorded at Preswylfa, March 1988


Written by Gustav Thomas

May 8, 2012 at 6:22 am

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