Radioactive Sparrow – Jupiter (& Sheba) (1988)

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Until the onset of the portoman era (albums 44 through 52), Radioactive Sparrow were in a period of transition during which the genius that is Tony Gage became acclimatised. His impact, though, was pretty much immediate and it’s with this album that the group really shifts up a gear. The sharpness and invention on Jupiter are already several degrees higher than Double-Top, especially once ‘Severed Head’ kicks in, Gage’s live drumming on the Synsonics more energised and committed than anything on previous outings. In fact, this level of energy and commitment is more subtly evident on the previous track, ‘I Love That,’ in which Gage plays the whammy guitar slightly to the left in the stereo image: look out for his wobbly lead interjections and rock-enthusiasm glissandi.

Jupiter is a classic. The title was randomly plucked from the air in a manner even more casual than the artwork and packaging from this period. The fact that Radioactive Sparrow’s forty-first album was called the same as Mozart’s forty-first symphony was pure coincidence, although it’s hard not to concede that there must’ve been some connection made deep in Bargefoot’s or Miss 100-Fingers’s subconscious (it was one of them that thought of it while putting together the final package in Howard Gardens library where they also printed the covers).

This was Brooce Boyes’s final appearance (apart from a minuscule contribution to 1990’s Bush Of Ages). He was to supposed to have been at the Double-Top: Sheer Talent weekend (which would have seen the convention of the ultimate all-star cast of Bargefoot/Stews/Gage/100-Fingers & Boyes – but this was tragically never to be) – his ancient Ford Capri broke down and he never made it out of Plymouth. The glimpse we get of Brooce in this final frame is of an instrumentalist utterly fluent and assured in the Kak discipline, especially on his fretless bass, often fed through a phaser; as a vocalist, however, he betrays the sensible detachment of one who has succumbed to the adult ordinary, a grown-up patronising a liberal conformism that has left the field of adventurous play, but looks fondly back with ironic detachment on ‘those crazy times… weren’t we mad!’ … As if it’s just another fun pursuit in a world of democratic equivalences, forgetting for good that the historical inscription of cacophonic pop music was, and remains for the band, ‘as serious as your life.’ in his uncharacteristically scant vocal contributions (on both Jupiter and Sheba), he sounds distinctly outside. No one can recall a falling out at this stage, yet clearly there was some antagonism following the sessions because the opening and closing tracks were originally titled ‘BB RIP’ 1 & 2 , which seems a little mean now, so they appear here re-titled after the song’s chorus, ‘Hot Chocolate Jon.’

Most of the album comes from a single Hut session on a December Saturday by the full assembled quartet, with three tracks recorded the night before by Bargefoot and Boyes (plus four more on Sheba). After the distinctly rockist approach of the previous album, Jupiter refreshingly revives the Casiotone MT403 keyboard and Synsonics drum machine rhythm section that had characterised much of the material made in 1987. ‘Nottingham Sunny Day’ is the album’s glorious centrepiece, an 8 1/2 minute song led off by Emma 100-Fingers’ brass-toned parpy trumpet sound, Gage and Boyes on duelling basses and Bargefoot delivering vocals through a phaser. The quartet generates an extraordinarily hypnotic vibe that at times seems to melt and blur into a single multilayered engine, basses resembling swarming bees, ticking industriously away with the Casio’s fantastically austere single-snare preset beat.

Typically, two whole albums’ worth was recorded, and the originally unused material is available here for the first time as the b-side, flip-lementary album, Sheba. Some of its tracks match the edge and intensity of Jupiter, while others were simply left off the main release because they’re either accidentally cut short or they because they prematurely run aground. ‘You Let Me’ features what was probably the last appearance of the Kak guitar, whose 2-inch action and partially dismantled sound-box defined the inimitable sound of the early anthem ‘Long Live The Kak With H2O.’ The cover selected for Sheba is a 1981 110 print that shows the steps in the back garden of Albert Cole, whom ‘Nottingham Sunny Day’ is about, his dog Peppy (who also gets a mention in the song) trotting merrily down them.

Tracklisting for Jupiter:   

  1. Hot Chocolate Jon 1
  2. I Love That
  3. Severed Head
  4. Lemon Chill Fallin’
  5. Drain Dreams
  6. Laugh With Me
  7. Nottingham Sunny Day
  8. W.N.O.
  9. Husbandry
  10. Cook This Tonite
  11. Under Th’ Mowntinn
  12. Hot Chocolate Jon 2


Tracklisting for Sheba

  1. Eradicating Vega
  2. Chronic Misfire
  3. You Let Me
  4. Wish Upon The Moon
  5. W.N.O. Castrated
  6. Unejaculate
  7. I Don’t Wanna Dance
  8. Side Slip
  9. Sheba, Sheba, Fat Now
  10. Hierarchy In The UK
  11. November Trees (For Yolande)
  12. Desperate For A Reason


Personnel for both:

Bill Bargefoot
Heaving Stews
Tony Gage
Emma 100-Fingers

Recorded in the Hut, December 1988

Written by Gustav Thomas

May 13, 2012 at 1:32 pm

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