KAKUTOPIA

Radioactive Sparrow – Double-Top: Sheer Talent (1988)

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Another unique moment in the Radioactive Sparrow story, there was never another occasion quite like the late-November weekend for which the band gathered to make their fortieth album. Sparrow membership has always been a nebulous attribution, but had you pressed the band to proffer a definitive line-up in the autumn of 1988, this quintet here would probably be it, even though Brooce Boyes was supposed to have taken part – at that time he drove a 70s Ford Capri that was more trouble than it was worth, and on this occasion it had failed to start, leaving him stranded in Plymouth. The album was recorded on the Saturday, working till late, then going to Southerndown beach on a moonless, pitch-black night, and walking towards the water’s edge on a very low tide, unable to see a thing, after which they probably made sure they got to the Three Golden Cups for last orders. On the Sunday they wrapped up proceedings by playing a set at Chapter’s Meltdown, a sort of open mic night that always featured a couple of headlining acts from around 10pm, but if you turned up before 7 you could usually get at least a 10-minute slot. This was the first of many occasions when Sparrow would record during the weekend then play a Meltdown set as if delivering a public report straight from the furthest frontiers of Kak, albeit to ignorant, indifferent ears. On this occasion, whoever was asked to look after the tape machine forgot to press record until half way through the last number, a stage conjuring of ‘Bile Vial,’ which they’d recorded the previous day. That 3-minute extract forms the last part of the complete 13- minute track on the album itself, closing out what used to be side one of the cassette. Even the glimpse offered here suggests that it was a amazing show, and the crowd’s wild enthusiasm is followed by the compère’s expressions of disbelief: ‘Radioactive Sparrow, c’mon! Who said we never have anything different? Good God!’ The lucidity, fluidity and sheer energy of the performance provides as good an account as any of the exceptionally sweet spirit of collectivity the group enjoyed at this moment in time. The party atmosphere had infused the whole weekend;afterwards, Emma 100-Fingers said it felt like Christmas. The final track on the album, ‘Back In The Van’ (released for the first time here), was recorded on the drive from Pontcanna to Roath where they ate at a Chinese restaurant after the Chapter gig. It features a lead vocal from Miss 100-Fingers who also contributes increasing amounts of backing vocal as the album progresses – clearly she was overcoming an initial shyness with the voice, and we’re left here with yet another tantalising might-have-been had she continued to play a part in Radioactive Sparrow over the ensuing years.

A lot of Radioactive Sparrow albums are made up of tracks from different sessions and organised into a continuity retrospectively, even though the initial intention has usually been to record the whole thing in one go, in its intended listening sequence – in other words, to the ideal means of production would be to experience the actual album as such while it was being made, not just improvising pieces one at a time then seeing what they had (like, say, Can) – Kak has always been very much about enjoying hearing music you want to hear for the first time while actually making it. In the end, relatively few albums came out like that, but this was one of them (as were soon-to-be-posted Old Fruit and Deathcunt). It should be born in mind, then, that the pacing of the album, its narrative peaks and climaxes, are something the band were conscious of while they were playing. ‘A Hate Of Great Twats,’ an excellent Stews opener, limbers up and scopes out the territory before Bargefoot kicks off ‘Spinning Bowl,’ a song about that old-school cylindrical fair ride which spins at increasingly high speed until they take the floor away so people are left pinned to the fucking wall by its centrifugal force. Bargefoot announces the riff for ‘Spinning Bowl’ before playing it: it had resided in his head since the age of about 7, when he originally made it up, in those days calling it ‘James Bond.’ One of its lasting charms is that it constantly spirals out of control, as if the wild force of the spinning bowl itself has interfered with the band’s earnest endeavours. This is in fact due to Bargefoot’s tendency to screw the meter and fall out of time at certain points due to heightened intensity, something that, along with Stews’s ante-musicality, would come to define Kak’s essence.

The shortcomings of Sparrow’s one-shot Panasonic capture of the full rock line-up in the Hut have already been mentioned (see You Keep A Rockin). The technique they used was to put the vocals through the old Zenta 10 watt amp and place it next to the tape machine if the vocalist wasn’t using the usual method of singing close to the condenser mics themselves. By the third song, however, it seems as though either the amp or the recorder got moved, because from then on the mic’d vocals are too low in the mix. So, just as they’d done for You Keep A Rockin, they got the 4-track out to overdub an additional voice part. Except this time, they sorted it out straight after the main session, with everyone present, so for Gage’s ‘St Patrick’s Caravan’ the whole group were joining in on the choruses like carol singing – on ‘Bike Vial’ this descends into a swirling chaos of vocals and random interjections. ‘Bile Vial’ had initially been made up on the spot during the Sheffield Take Two gig. Its premise – Bargefoot’s mildly tritone-tickling riff supported by Gage’s playfully scalic bass line – was one that was easy to strike up again. Here we get a long rendition in two parts from the Hut, with the exuberant live segment faded in at the end. During the many-gigging 1989, such germs would become a fall-back, the band often finishing up sets with ‘Spinning Bowl,’ ‘Flayed Alive By Lesbians’ and ‘Bile Vial’ as would-be standards, although this would never be planned or discussed, and certainly never rehearsed – it just seemed to feel right at the time to take a step back from what would otherwise usually be a wholly improvised show.

Both halves of the album’s title came from the annual coverage of the darts world championships on TV, a really special 70s/80s phenomenon in the UK when the sport briefly became a universally popular, for-all-the-family, prime-time spectator sport. Its superstars, the likes of Leighton Rees, Jocky Wilson, Eric Bristow and Cliff Lazarenko would be fantastically unfit, draping sizeable beer guts with comfort-fitting nylon short-sleeved shirts, stepping back from the oche to glug from what was an immoderate standing of pints and several ardent puffs on chain-smoked fags. To Radioactive Sparrow, the sport’s utterly anti-athletic ethos was brilliantly cacotopian and seemed to speak directly to their cultural sensibilities. For those who aren’t familiar with the game, ‘double-top’ is double-twenty (i.e. 40), the highest check-out double on the board; ‘sheer talent!’ was a hyperbolic exclamation by the sport’s iconic Geordie commentator Sid Waddell following some admirable feat such as consecutive maximums (one-hundred-and-EIGHTY) or a 161 checkout finishing with… double top; the cover star, raising his pint in a toast to Radioactive Sparrow’s great achievement, is Jim Bowen, a veteran UK stand-up comedian who used to host the sport’s highly popular and fantastically unslick spin-off gameshow, Bullseye, on channel 4.

Over the years, there was a tendency to have all kinds of texts lying around the Hut for a vocalist to grab whenever they felt in need of a spur – tabloid press, Reich’s Function Of The Orgasm, old letters, and Bargefoot’s old diaries, the latter frequently proving the most entertaining option. Stews was traditionally the one to select an entry, and this had something to do its their shared past, school rivalries and long-dormant gossips. On this occasion he simply picked the same date, November 29, from 1982, for a tack they’d already recorded for the purpose once they realised they would be needing overdubs anyway. ’27/11/82′ features the whole diary entry [pictured below] read out by each member of the band (except Miss 100-Fingers) in turn, Bargefoot’s voice sped up and Stews’s slowed down.

Ultimately, for all that it’s an uncharacteristically straight ahead set of songs, closer perhaps to what they sounded like in gigs at the time. Certainly there’d be nothing as rocky as this for a good while.

Tracklisting:
1. A Hate Of Great Twats
2. Spinning Bowl
3. Happy Herring
4. St. Patrick’s Caravan
5. Bile Vial
6. Snow
7. 27/11/82
8. Flayed Alive By Lesbians
9. After Flayed
10. Mean Machine
11. Sound Of The Oppressed [previously unreleased]
12. Back In The Van [previously unreleased]

Personnel:
Heaving Stews
Bill Bargefoot
Emma 100-Fingers
Tony Gage
Guy Williams

Recorded at the Hut, November 27 1988 & at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, November 28 1988

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Written by Gustav Thomas

May 12, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Radioactive Sparrow – 39/Trans/Flied Piecatcher (1988)

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This is a messy gluing together of various things recorded at Preswylfa, and from two gigs in June and September, between making 1730s (recorded in April) and Double-Top: Sheer Talent (October), a period which saw the beginning of Brooce’s withdrawal. It’s the first album to feature Tony Gage, but it’s not really his first Radioactive Sparrow album, partly because he’s not on all of it and where he is he’s not really him yet, quite. His joining the group came about because Bargefoot had booked the band to play at El Sico’s (later more famously known as TJ’s), Newport, and about two weeks before the show Brooce pulled out because of a dispute partly relating to the band not being paid (Stews was already otherwise engaged, so he couldn’t make it either). Bargefoot, Stews and Miss 100-Fingers looked around for a replacement, giving tapes to potential suitors – Radioactive Sparrow must be one of the few bands in history who needed to audition for potential recruits’ approval rather than the other way around. After a few knock-backs, they dared to ask Gage if might be up for it, though they imagined it was very unlikely. To their thrilled amazement he said yes, whereupon a warm-up session in the Hut was hastily arranged which would introduce him to the basic approach of Kak’s instantaneous song-craft (tracks 2, 3 & 12 on the album came from this session).

To the band’s horror, when they turned up for the gig, they were told by Trilby (Mr. Siccolo’s wife, the ‘TJ’ for whom the venue would later be renamed) that it was ‘Rock Nite’ to which most of Gwent’s biker fraternity generally turned up. In their panic, the band came up with a plan to try and sound as normal and rocky as possible, while urgently summoning Chris Hartford from London to come down and open for them, basically as canon fodder. Both plans were lamentable in their outright cowardice, for which Kakutopia now apologises to the history of human endeavour. It is a testament to Hartford’s sense of history and his commitment to it that, despite the fact that he was in the middle of his finals – and had just come out of one of an exam – he got on the next train, turning up literally just in time to go on. His set is included here, partly to give an indication of how the crowd responded, but also because it’s a vintage document of Ded Pan Chris (as he was known during that period) featuring all his classics like ‘Freaking Out On The Half-Past One Ferry To The Channel Islands’ and ‘Times Are Hard If You’re Just A Torso’ as well as more experimental pieces like ‘Summer ’17.’

Tracks 5, 9 & 13 come from the TJ’s performance. They’re pretty dull, by and large. They opened with ‘Memories Of Roman Times,’ the title track of the very first official, now lost, album, played and sung from memory by Bargefoot, improvising the verse lyrics (the refrain, ‘I tell you you’re a cow, but you won’t be in a couple of weeks in/Memories of Roman Times/Flashing through your brain…’ is preserved from the original). ‘Neighbours In Transit’ is revisited from the recent Skorpion Sundy Rising, while ‘Who Left The Gas On’ was totally improvised, the chorus referring to Emma 100-Fingers’s mondigreen of that year’s continental fave, ‘À Cause Des Garçons.’ The whole experience was terrifying, but the crowd of some 80-plus bikers were apparently in a lenient mood, preferring to heckle rather than throttle, their light touch more than likely suggesting that they thought the band really was just hopelessly shit in a pathetically tragic, but unthreatening way. The worst the band got was stuff like ‘that’s enough, now fuck off!’ and ‘they need a new guitarist.’ Although, bizarrely, Miss 100-Fingers did suffer heroically. She was playing keyboards at the side of the stage, where a group of biker chicks kept whacking her on the shoulders with their handbags, and that did leave several bruises. For which, eternal respect.

The remaining live cuts (6 & 10) come from a gig at Sheffield’s Take Two, some three months later, Heaving Stews restored to the front of the show, and introducing Guy Williams as Ceri Davies’s drumming replacement until Richard Bowers joined the band in the latter part of 1989, which represents the real beginning of Tony Gage in Radioactive Sparrow, in that it was a proper Sparrow gig, no messing. ‘Telephant’ revisits the acerbically confrontational one-note stamp of April’s Clwb Ifor Bach performance (see 1730s, album 38), Stews this time aiming his invective at the recent trend for British indie labels and promoters to favour Welsh language groups (following John Peel’s own enthusiasm for them), and its fancy for any ethnic otherness, something that was born out of a post-colonial arbitrary pluralism that (still now) tastefully drapes difference with unthreatening veils of equivalence (‘tolerance’ above engagement). ‘Telephant’ had been a 1970s children’s TV show that BBC Wales used to make kids watch instead of Swap Shop or whatever Hanna Barbera fare was on before it. No matter how laudable and worthy the Welsh language cause might have been, for kids growing up in parts of Wales heavily anglicised by heavy industry (e.g. Bridgend) switching on the telly Saturday mornings met by low-budget and apparently patronising kids’ entertainment routines in a foreign language was a bit of a bummer. The same cultural priorities would get the band’s goat in the 80s and early 90s when they’d find it so hard to get really decent opportunities to put stuff on because they were neither Welsh language nor overtly Gallo-centric. A good example of how absurd this could be was an instance where a friend (and fan) of the band was unavailable for a certain engagement one autumn because the Arts Council in Wales were sending his Welsh-language glam rock band on an all-expenses tour to the Southern states of America. Later on, Gage and Bargefoot took to provocatively wearing union jack t-shirts when playing at Chapter after being sickened by a cultural-exchange exhibition that paired South Wales and Soweto on the basis that the oppression suffered by both communities was indistinguishable. Just to underline how Deeply rooted this tendency was, especially for readers outside the UK, Dylan Thomas was someone that was almost never mentioned through any official cultural channels in 1980s Wales, being a poet of the English language and a US émigré, generally an inconvenience.

The rest of the album comprises a handful of mildly interesting duo tracks, the last ever recordings to come out of Preswylfa (dubbed ‘Preswylfa Sounds’ by Hartford, who recorded his multi-tracked album Dr. Fekkesh’s Case Book there in the Summer of 1988), recorded by Bargefoot and Stews. They already sound a lot more like 1989 Sparrow, with a certain incompleteness to them that would soon be rectified by Gage.

Tracklisting:

  1. I Couldn’t Get It Up Tonite
  2. Dandruff
  3. Lyrict Apology
  4. Over
  5. Memories Of Roman Times
  6. Telephant
  7. Shell
  8. Big Black Hearse
  9. Neighbours In Transit
  10. Keep The Faith Brother
  11. My 3 Abortions 2
  12. Shirley
  13. Who Left The Gas On?
  14. Already Dead

Personnel:

Bill Bargefoot
Heaving Stews
Emma 100-Fingers
Tony Gage
plus Ceri Davies (drums) on 2, 3, 5, 9, 11 & 13
and Guy Williams (drums) on 6, 10 & 11

Recorded in the Hut, Preswylfa, and in concert at El Sico’s, Newport and Take Two, Sheffield

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Written by Gustav Thomas

May 12, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Radioactive Sparrow – 1730s (1988)

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No one can remember now why it seemed appropriate to open this album with a song from the previous one. But there it is, that’s how the story goes. Tiffany had been a duo outing by Bargefoot and Stews, and somehow the logic seems to have been that ‘At Dinner,’ along with three other selections were honoured with a promotion to the next full-band release proper. Whatever the thinking, there’s no excuse for gratuitously filling album time with recycled material, and yet, on the other hand, the four songs’ place in the narrative continuity of 1730s feels appropriate.

Aside from the recycled cuts, the album comprises a quartet session from Preswylfa (the core trio being joined by Heaving Stews’s brother) and the band’s first ever, supremely controversial appearance at Clwb Ifor Bach (anglophonically known as ‘The Welsh Club’) on Cardiff’s Womanby Street, a locale that would become increasingly important in the band’s mythology during the early 90s, eventually having a later (1994) album named after it (for which stayed tuned… obviously). The band was invited to play by the legendary Mark ‘Sweaty T’ Taylor whose cultural sway over alt-fashion and nightlife in 1980s Cardiff was preeminent. Among other things he had started the Square Club (above the now-long-gone Radcliffe’s) and the Mars Bar on Churchill Way (or was it Charles Street?). In the spring of 1988, the city’s most self-consciously alt-trendy cognoscenti were patronising his Saturday night club Terra at Clwb Ifor Bach. He was, it seems, a distant admirer of Radioactive Sparrow (his long-term/lifelong girlfriend/partner, Jane Powell, had performed with Gwilly Edmondez in his one-off 1986 Bigger Geddy Numbers show at Chapter); the band regarded his invitation to play Terra as an unquestionable honour.

Heaving Stews’s mood on 1730s was acerbically belligerent, something that is evident on several levels. Among the Cardiff alt-scene’s contrived attire at this time were various kinds of faux-‘ethnic’ hats along with other garment accessories, which clearly raised his ire: the opening number from the gig, the album’s title-track-by-lyric (if you can say that), was a scornful tirade against any kind of tokenistic trend following: ‘What Decade Are You Into Now?’ proposes the ‘powdered wigs and stockinged feet’ of the 1730s as de rigueur for the ultimate fashion counter-statement. His vitriol throughout the show was unrelenting: ‘The Testicle Head’ weaves attacks on contemporary trends in TV (‘right to reply/video-vote’) into a series of lyrics aimed directly at a specific member of the audience (for whom the song’s title was conjured) who was making a particular nuisance of himself, berating the group for not meeting some assumed aesthetic imperative – Tim ‘Creepy’ Coulson (so the band were reliably informed) [pictured below] and his absent identical twin had reputedly completed a recent stint as studio assistants to Andy Warhol in New York (he can be heard telling Heaving to ‘give us something new,’ as he announces ‘The Testicle Head).
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Throughout the show Stews was sporting a new dance that involved hopping on one leg (‘a new dance craze!’ being the main refrain in ‘The Testicle Head’). The final concert selection here, ‘ Hoppers,’ is his rallying call urging the crowd to join in – a genius move in an already very tense atmosphere, with several of Sweaty T’s most devoted super-hip taking their leave, resulting in one of the surprisingly rare instances of Sparrow being unplugged: Taylor was disgusted by the lumpen philistinism of his regulars, but felt nonetheless compelled to limit the damage to the night’s rep by fading in Kraftwerk’s ‘Musique Non-Stop’ (at the wrong speed) while fading out the band, thus drawing the concert to a premature end.

1730s is almost Brooce Boyes’s last album and almost Tony Gage’s first. The Preswylfa session was the last to feature the trio of Bargefoot/Boyes/Stews that had been the band’s core since 1985. Interestingly, Stews displays an impatience with the other two and their tendency to slip back into the extreme adolescent self-indulgence of the pretend-band of 1980-81; this is perfectly illustrated by the failed ‘(Minit) Ballad’ in which Bargefoot mischievously tries to persuade Jon (Brooce) to sing a ballad about his ‘first love,’ seeking to mine a favourite trope of rock music for laughs; Stews can be heard attempting to sabotage this indulgence, eventually banging the floor tom aggressively enough to make them stop, with Bargefoot sighing despairingly, ‘Ugh… Steve…’ as if he’s spoiling their fun. The result, however, of Stews’s vigilance to the group’s avant-pop potential is the timeless classic ‘Now Now Now,’ which ensues.

Such fun and games were staple, of course, but none of the band had any inkling that a year thence Boyes would be long gone, and so would this incarnation of Radioactive Sparrow. 1730s is the last Radioactive Sparrow album not to feature Tony Gage, although his voice can be heard on this album by virtue of his being in the audience at the Clwb Ifor show. Since his attendance at the November gig at Chapter, and expressing his admiration for the group’s approach, Bargefoot had furnished him with a bespoke compilation of Sparrow favourites. Whenever Stews or Bargefoot had bumped into him in town he had reminded them to tell him when Sparrow were playing again – which wasn’t that often at the time since Boyes and Stews lived in Plymouth. On the night of the Terra gig, with an hour to go before they took the stage, they suddenly realised they hadn’t told him, whereupon they jumped in the van and headed out to Roath, where they knew Gage lived, but didn’t have his address. By an absurd coincidence worthy of the most implausible film script, they happened upon him coming round a corner riding his (presciently cool drop-handle – except actually this was still the 80s, so I guess they were still actually current issue?) bicycle back from work. They hurriedly informed him of the imminent performance, and he said he’d be there. Which he was. He did. He was there, he did come to the gig. And was pleasantly shocked by a spirited antagonism with the crowd that had been wholly absent (since the evening had been utterly congenial) from the Chapter show.

Tracklisting:

  1. At Dinner
  2. What Decade Are You Into Now?
  3. Spoken English
  4. Your Bum Again
  5. The Testicle Head
  6. (Minit) Ballad
  7. Now Now Now
  8. The Re-Emergence Of The Tupperware Party
  9. Lemon Drop Danglin’
  10. Hoppers
  11. Promiser
  12. Second Coming

Personnel:

Heaving Stews
Bill Bargefoot
Brooce Boyes
plus Owen Powell (keybs) and Ceri Davies (drums) on tracks 2, 5 & 10
and David Hughes on 3, 6, 7 & 11
NB – tracks 1, 4, 8 & 12 also appear on Tiffany (album 37)

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Written by Gustav Thomas

May 8, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Radioactive Sparrow – Skorpion Sundy Rising (1988)

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Skorpion Sundy Rising
was recorded before Twixt Brackla & Chicago, in February 1988. Initially not intended to be counted as a Radioactive Sparrow album, it ended up being issued as the C-90 b-side of the Stews and Bargefoot duo outing, Tiffany.

It’s a very self-contained and consistent album, the trio of Bargefoot, 100-Fingers and Jacobs largely keeping to the same instruments. Jacobs is primarily the drummer here, joisting a superbly naïf rhythm section, effectively, with 100-Fingers’s continued exploration of the Yamaha DX9. Above all it precipitates a retrospective craving for Preswylfa’s impossible freedoms, artists living together, essentially, under one roof, with the luxury of a back room that is devoted solely to making improvised pop music. … And, of course, sharing the living space with a corpulent-sociopath Celtic-languages scholar from Germany who would spend long evenings in defiantly flimsy underwear in front of the telly eating jumbo tubs of greek yoghurt and taramasalata – Anna was the inspiration, thus, for various songs (‘Hägar Brünes’ from album 34) and, here, ‘Anna (I Wish) Hagelstein’ (which features a rare vocal contribution from 100-Fingers).
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It’s worth mentioning here (in case the opportunity doesn’t arise later) that the final song, ‘Godfrey (I Know You Are An Artist)’ is (vaguely, briefly, for that lyric and the title) about the former painter Godfrey Meggitt who was an associate of the band for a few years. His place in the band’s mythology is quite important; he saw it as his mission from quite early on to correct what he saw as very talented musicians (Radioactive Sparrow) squandering their gift on obtusely sarcastic efforts when they could otherwise be persuaded to help change the world by making accessible pop with a positive message – like, say, Sean ‘Bono’ Hewson did/does, or REM. Their association came to a bitter end in 1991, following a visit to his studio by Bargefoot and Bernard Harrison (who was then in the band). Meggitt had gotten into one of his heated debates about ‘positive’ music with Bargefoot, and turned desperately to Harrison to support his position, asking, ‘what is the most important music to you?’ To which Harrison replied, slightly hesitant, as if considering the question for the first time, ‘… whatever happens to be in the top 10 at any given point in time.’ It was the last straw for Meggitt, who turned up at Bargefoot’s house early the next day, storming in and grabbing a guitar, shouting, while shaping as if to smash it against the wall, ‘you’re threatened by U2, aren’t you! You feel threatened by them!’ Bargefoot inevitably laughed at the absurdity of the scene, and after a wordless, puffing stand-off, Meggitt put down the guitar and walked out, thus ending his association with the group and any commitment to correct them. He is reputed to have since written a 1000+-page book that includes accounts of his tussles with Radioactive Sparrow, and now runs a sex farm (sex clinic?) in rural West Wales.

There’s something really stoner about Skorpion Sundy Rising that feels very contemporary in the post-millennial age. There was, though, no weed: instead, the vibe must probably be attributed to Miss 100-Fingers’s superb ritual of nipping out to make hot crumpets with honey as fuel for further creative stamina. By the by, in the photo of the back room at Preswylfa featured above, sitting on the smaller tom-tom on the left, is the legendary 1970s National Panasonic radio-cassette that Radioactive Sparrow used to record everything until the spring of 1989.

Tracklisting:

  1. Neighbours In Transit
  2. Lowly Dancer Regress
  3. Loadscape (I Feel Bont Faen)
  4. Dance Like She Bit Yer On The Balls
  5. Anna (I Wish) Hagelstein
  6. Godfrey (I Know You Are An Artist)

Personnel:
Bill Bargefoot
Emma 100-Fingers
Simon Jacobs

Recorded at Preswylfa, February 1988

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Written by Gustav Thomas

May 8, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Radioactive Sparrow – Tiffany (1988)

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Stews and Bargefoot were really excited about Twixt Brackla & Chicago because it heralded a whole new Kak sound, vibe and attitude, much more open and adventurous. Especially given that they’d pulled off a convincing statement without Boyes, they were now equipped with a new belief in their powers, and this was very much responsible for the lucidity and  focus of this offering. The fact that it’s a duo was due to Miss 100-Fingers having finished college and gone back to mid-Wales. One can only, thus, dream of the wonders that that trio might have blessed Preswylfa with in the summer of ’88.

The album starts really confidently with Bargefoot’s forthright acoustic chordal riff and Stews’s spluttering electric on ‘Collapse,’ which, like much of Tiffany was subject to Stews proposing a specific vibe and arrangement before pressing ‘record’; in this respect, the album reads partly as his manifesto for where the band ought to head henceforth (not yet knowing that Boyes would actually not be involved for much longer). It also has an intriguingly dialogical intimacy that serves, now, as a great insight into how they felt Kak ought to behave.
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Even though four of the tracks on Tiffany got reused as part of the next album, it’s actually the rest of the songs that turn out to be the strongest material. The duo were so pleased with the lyrical content that they made a songbook out of it in photocopied A4 format. How many copies of this were made is not now recalled, but there’s at least one still extant in Bargefoot’s personal archive.

It’s good stuff, a good album, a worthwhile listen. This is the embryo of the real, mature/later Sparrow, or better still the ovum ripe for impregnating by the seed of Tony Gage. While that might seem like a weird way of looking at it, it was actually exactly nine months between Gage’s first involvement with the band (see album 39) and Rockin’ On The Portoman, the album with which proper Sparrow truly emerges fully formed – that album even features the classic ‘Music For Baby’… Say no more. No, please… Say no more.

Tracklisting:

  1. Collapse
  2. All Heart
  3. Hoping For Resentment
  4. The Re-Emergence Of The Tupperware Party
  5. Past Uncalled For
  6. Folk Scene
  7. At Dinner
  8. Spinners In March
  9. Your Bum Again
  10. Antique Dealor
  11. Slimy Toad Gotta Go
  12. Second Coming

Personnel:

Heaving Stews
Bill Bargefoot

 

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Written by Gustav Thomas

May 8, 2012 at 6:59 pm

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.

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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.

Tracklisting:

  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

Personnel:

Heaving Stews
Bill Bargefoot
Emma 100-Fingers
Simon Jacobs

Recorded at Preswylfa, March 1988

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Written by Gustav Thomas

May 8, 2012 at 6:22 am

Radioactive Sparrow – Bollocks Bollocks Bollocks Vols. 1-3 (1988)

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Once they had done Pantsful Of Cherries Vol. V, that series seemed complete. So when the time came again to consider out-take and off-cut material for subsidiary compilation, very little time or effort was expended in deciding to call the new series Bollocks Bollocks Bollocks (it was Brooce who suggested it). The full three-volume set wasn’t assembled, edited, sequenced and packaged until the summer of 1988, which is why, despite this being album 35, there’s material from sessions that made up albums 36 and 37.

The thirty-five tracks here come from sessions for You Keep A Rockin sessions, 3-Legging With The Birds, Hägar Brünes, Twixt Brackla & Chicago and Tiffany, as well as material from the Howard Gardens gig that provided two songs on Alright? Sparrow! Much of it is tiresome and makes for unrewarding listening. However, ‘Cabaret,’ on Volume 1, is better than many of the tracks on either … Rockin or Hägar…, there are one or two OK songs on Volume 2, while Volume 3 remains faithful to the retrospective truth that what was originally least wanted turns out to be the best – or at least most interesting – stuff. ‘Two Cups Of Coffee And A Blow Job Please’ is as close as early Sparrow ever get to non-idiomatic improv, with Stews superbly fraught vocal made desperate by sore delay, and the original version of ‘Antique Dealor’ is a festival of intersubjective ineptitude jousting with Miss 100-Finger’s ebullient synth grooves.

It’s a complete accident that the thirty-fifth album has thirty-five songs. Probably not for the hearted.

Tracklisting for Volume 1:

  1. The Lights Of The City
  2. Death In The Family (All Of It)
  3. Syllable
  4. Black Copter
  5. Elaine
  6. Oooh-Ah!
  7. Cabaret
  8. I Wish I Was
  9. Sell Us Your Mother

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Tracklisting for Volume 2:

  1. Farewell Chorus
  2. Wouldn’t You Like To See Me Dead
  3. Welsh Language Number
  4. Pain In The Head
  5. Concord
  6. The Man Who Had A Clit For A Nose
  7. Failed Attempt
  8. You Keep A Rockin (Dance With The Brown Pant Maid)
  9. S’Fuckin’ Sparrow Again
  10. TSW
  11. Moy Moy
  12. I Change My Tune
  13. Swarm Box
  14. Metronome
  15. Chapter Afterchat

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Tracklisting for Volume 3:

  1. Two Cups Of Coffee And A Blow Job Please
  2. Antique Dealor
  3. Domestic Shedding Colonial Dregs
  4. Parrots In Lieu
  5. Listermint
  6. Blue Sky Trickles Down Your Thigh
  7. Cornelius
  8. Barbed Wire Teens
  9. Eat The Keyboards With Your Cheeks
  10. Xmas Single 87
  11. 3-Legging After Thought

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Personnel for all three, one way or another:

Bill Bargefoot
Heaving Stews
Brooce Boyes
Emma 100-Fingers
Chris Hartford
Owen Powell
Simon Jacobs
Niklus

Written by Gustav Thomas

May 7, 2012 at 9:45 pm