In an attempt to curry favour with my diminutive swedish audience, I now present to you bob hund, entertaining swedish alt-rock hipsters since 1991.
Occupying the centre of a Venn diagram made up of Talking Heads, Captain Beefheart and The Rezillos they fulfil a function similar to that of The Fall in the UK, inspiring as they do equal parts blind devotion and speechless bewilderment. And in the same way that I would expect to see The Fall struggling to find a receptive audience in Norrköping, the appeal of bob hund persisted for many years in passing me by.
Until, that is, they appeared on the excellent series They Call Us Artists.
The 21st century has seen the band reaching middle age, becoming parents and moving to different cities. Not having a common base presents, naturally enough, a not insignificant logistical problem when it comes to playing gigs. Six cars filled with gear and endless arguements over who takes care of the PA.
The band resolved these problems by resorting to the rock’n’roll equivalent of inter-railing. Stepping into the unknown they mounted, in 2013, their own bob hund festival at which they appeared, not on stage, but to auction off all the band equipment. Gigs now consist of the six members arriving in the designated town and then hitting the rehearsal rooms to introduce themselves to the local bemused teenagers with a cheery “hello, we’re bob hund. Can we borrow your gear?”.
Apart, obviously, from the cost-saving advantages of such an approach it has also the effect of boosting audience numbers as said bemused teenagers turn up to make sure these hairball oddballs don’t wreck their prides and joy. “Who are we meeting first” enquires singer Thomas Öberg, a man who for many years has been inexplicably performing in a half mask. A little like a Venetian fop. “My Mothers Climax” comes the straight faced reply. After a bout of musicianly haggling we are then treated to the sight of veteran guitarist Johnny Essing staring incredulously at a borrowed Gibson Flying V slung round his hirsuit neck.
Next up, having acquainted himself with the nearest synthpop hopefuls, is keyboard player Jonas Jonasson. Leaning amiably towards the camera he confides “there are no bad synthesizers” as his rheumy eyes crinkle and his handlebar moustache twitches with joy at the discovery of the button that allows him to make gunshot sounds.
You could be forgiven for mistaking the band for camp clowns. Titles such as “The Stone Age Can Begin” and “Cheap Solutions At Any Price” may confirm your suspicion. But bob hund (yes, the lower case IS essential) continue a literary tradition of philosophy via whimsy (Kenneth Grahame, Boris Vian), a rock’n’roll tradition of climbing up PA stacks and display an admirably self-destructive talent for doing precisely the right thing at exactly the wrong moment. This, if you recall, was the band that declined to support Blur at the height of their britpoppery in order to continue their own tour of swedish sixth form colleges.
Like rock’s most notorious iconoclasts, they mean it. Maaaann!
Shortly after setting up home with the future Mrs Slender, she expressed a wish to grace our bedroom wall with a rather attractive photograph of your author entertaining possibly dozens of ecstatic punters on stage at that Mecca of rock’n’roll debauchery, The Pied Bull in Islington. Not wishing to appear too immediately vain I sought sibling advice before agreeing. “Is it OK to have a picture on the wall where you’re playing guitar?” “Err, depends” wavered the Oracle, “what make of guitar is it?”
Joking aside, this was clearly the correct answer. Or question. As anybody who has ever been in a band will testify, as much as we pay lip service to the idea of our, ahem, “axe” as a mere tool, secretly we’re all thinking – does this make me look enough like Brian Jones? The choice of guitar is motivated more often by the choice of our heroes than it is by the sound it makes. Ironic then that so many of us have at some point resorted to playing a cheap Les Paul copy.
As an aside I have to say that the chances of me putting together a generation defining band are now more remote than ever. In view of this fact I would be happy for any of you to use my idea of Les Paul Copy for a band name. Failing that, feel free to choose from Bongo Leatherland, The Earl Shiltons or Fab! Gear. Or should that be The Fab Gears? You decide.
One man for whom financial necessity lead to the mother of all inventions was pathologically unsympathetic serial bowl-cut wearer, Johnny Ramone. When The Ramones formed in 1974 the once popular Mosrite guitar company had first found itself out of favour and then, since 1968, bankrupt. Consequently second hand stores were awash with the unfashionable albatrosses providing a cheap source of mojo 4-star for a generation of less educated guitar players seeking to tank up the rock’n’roll Cadillac. Fred “Sonic” Smith of The MC5, Pat Smear of The Germs, Ricky Wilson of The B-52’s, Todd Rundgren and later Kurt Cobain all cashed in, but it was the former John Cummings that made the model his own.
Like the aforementioned pudding basin do, the leather jackets and the cheap sneakers, Johnny’s Mosrite is an indispensible part of Ramones mythology, arguably because it was so wrong. Anyone cynically putting together a punk band which traded in classic jukebox rock’n’roll riffing and iconic rebel clothing would undoubtably have had Mrs Cummings’ cantankerous boy playing a Gibson 335 or Gretsch country gentleman. This of course would have been like putting a moustache on the Mona Lisa – no rebellion in copying Chuck Berry. When it comes to tearing up rock’s rule book, you need help from The Ventures.
One man who needed no help from no one when it came to placing facial hair on priceless artworks was (regular readers will have guessed by now) Bo Diddley. Here’s two pictures of Bo. First with a production line guitar from his sponsors Gretsch.
Nice. But surely we can do better? Course we can! Just send our boy into the woodshed with a cigar box and THIS is what comes out.
I remember once reading an interview with Queen’s Brian May (I’m so sorry, I have no idea why. Maybe I was running a temperature) in which he was praised for making his own guitar. Iron joinery screws used for the pickups were, it transpires, responsible for giving the Farrokh Bulsara Combo its distinctive operatic wail… But it was (and I hope I’m not blinding you with technical audio terms here) a shite guitar. It has curves and stuff, like a real guitar. Loser.
I think it was Antoni Gaudi that said something to the effect that whilst the straight line is human, the curve is divine. Well how’s that going to help you soundcheck? Bo on the other hand, armed with a guitar that looks like it was designed by Homer Simpson, is most definitely flesh and blood, a man, made 21 with something in his pocket that could keep a lotta folks alive. Eventually even the good people at Gretsch were forced to agree and throwing up their hands said “Sod it. Have it your own way Bo, we’ll make ’em square.”
Having excelled himself in the service of the man born Ellas Otha Bates, Homer Simpson then went on to design the perfect Kid Slender fantasy guitar – the Vox Phantom. We may not, you and I, agree on the respective merits of The Ramones, The Ventures, Bo Diddley or Queen but on one thing we are, I believe, unanimous. The Vox Phantom: it’s absolutely off its head.
Released in 1962, Homer (or to give him his correct name, Thomas Jennings) had clearly taken to heart President Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon, believing, it would seem, that said man would be needing to play a suitably space-age guitar when he got there. The Phantom had a dazzling array of nobs, knockers and effects and was built to operate in stereo via connections to twin amplifiers.
Unfortunately this combination of cutting edge technology and iconic design is rather at odds with the six strings and a fretboard setup that most people learn to play. And, it must be said, with the standard issue two hands and ten fingers that they learn to play with. Bear in mind also that rock’n’roll goes hand in hand with himalayan egos and that most guitarists object to being upstaged by their plug-in baby. The Vox Phantom was just… too much. It had the unfortunate effect of completely upstaging its… operator?
And operators there were. Jimmy Page had a bash before modestly hiding his bushel under a twin-neck. Ian Curtis it seems owned several but made the grave error of influencing the nascent Spandau Ballet by playing them at armpit level. Even Sterling Morrison – coolest musician ever: OFFICIAL – of Kid Slender lodestars The Velvet Underground, was unable to make sense of the damn thing and promptly flew the mothership back to planet Gretsch. The sad fact is that the Vox Phantom was a charming orphan unable to find loving parents to make it their own. Or was it?
Appropiately enough we need to travel to the future. 41 years into the future. Mr Jennings baby has become middle aged, synthesizers have become commonplace, the common cold has not been cured. And a band called Ladytron have released a single called “Blue Jeans”. I like it. A lot. It has an endearingly clumpy primitive electro feel like DAF or early Human League, but the melody is pure 60’s beat girl. The lyrics? Well, I’m deaf remember. It might be about a claustrophobic affair whilst trying to get by on a student grant but don’t quote me on that.
It was some few years further into the future though that I thought to search youtube and there they were. Four angular, intense scousers, staring at the floor, thinking about Philip K Dick and sporting the mighty Phantom. I felt like punching the air. Not since Steve Claridge scored the last second winner against Crystal Palace in the 1996 Division 1 play-off final have I felt such a vesuvian surge of adrenalin. And it takes mere seconds before you realise that there is unequivocally no other guitar that a guitarist from this band could reasonably play. I say guitarist you see, as I have never bothered to learn the names of the band members. They’re just… Ladytron. A unit. I refuse to concede the possibility of solo careers or even a life outside of the band. The mundanities of paying the rent and feeding oneself are so clearly alien to these people that the only logical conclusion is that they spend most of their lives in a Sigourney Weaver-like suspended animation, emerging only to make videos and perform. Like my favourite TV programme, the Avengers, Ladytron have only a passing acquaintance with real life, with its litter, uniformed police and urchin children on BMXs. And like Steed and Mrs Peel they boast both impeccable style and perfect content.
Since bidding a fond farewell to the hallowed turf of Fortuna Biesdorf, Robert “Big Bob” Huth has been
biting ankles and scaring children at the farthest flung corners of the known world. From Berlin to Chelsea, stopping off at Middlesborough and Stoke before finding his spiritual home at fortress Freeman’s Wharf, Bob’s resolute jaw and Jurassic brow have left a trail of shock, awe and yellow cards in their wake.
So after all that clench-jawed aggression it may come as some surprise that behind closed doors bon viveur Bob enjoys sophisticated evenings at home soundtracked by classic lounge jazz whilst suppressing his chuckles over a spot of Dorothy Parker.
“It never ceases to amaze me that Dakota Staton doesn’t enjoy the same reputation as her contemporaries. She knew instinctively how to pitch songs, emotionally speaking, and wasn’t afraid to do less in order to achieve greater effect. NOT LIKE THAT YOU IMBECILE! You’ll bruise the vermouth” he admonishes as I try to follow his special martini recipe.
When the dust and the olives have settled Bob and I find we’re in agreement that Dakota’s “The Late, Late Show” from 1957 is the album to own, although on this occasion he has chosen a 1973 cut from sessions with The Manny Albam Big Band. “It shows off her full range and I think you’ll agree it’s the greatest Bond theme never to grace a film”.
Choose your next witticism carefully Mr Huth, it may be your last I say in a foolish attempt at levity. Fixing me with his basilisk stare Bob eventually enters in to the spirit of the game. “Names is for tombstones, baby” and turning to the croupier adds “now take this honky outside. And waste him”.
Harsh words sir. Harsh words indeed.
These days there’s no shortage of naysayers basking in the schadenfreude of Jamie Vardy’s lack of form. They don’t know the whole story.
Since last year’s notorious Japgate incident, Leicester’s unstoppable goalscoring tsunami has got wise, got educated and got radical. “Look, Trump and Bannon aren’t stupid… well OK, yes they are, but surely they would have known the immigration ban contravenes UN law and the Geneva convention? You have to wonder if there isn’t a smokescreen at work here to deflect attention from a wider agenda concerning the changes on the National Security Council and the covert activity that the Trump inner circle could control.”
WOOOAAAHH! No surprise then that Jamie finds moral support in Parliament’s state of the nation rant “Come In Out Of The Rain”. “Yeah – ‘the president’s talking ’bout change’ – it was all there, nearly 50 years ago. Plus ca change, y’know warramean?”. But Jamie, the flower power generation failed. We got Nixon, an escalation of the Vietnam war and deteriorating relations with the islamic world under Carter. Don’t you see any hope? “Dunno, but I know this. They should have put Clinton in the White House”. Hillary? “Naahhh, George”.
Right on brother, right on.
Postscript: In case anyone didn’t get the reference, George Clinton was the leader of and driving force behind both Parliament and Funkadelic, later to find solo success with the mildly alarming “Do Fries Go With That Shake?”. Embarrassingly for Jamie it seems that a George Clinton HAS been in the White House, serving as vice president to both the Jefferson and Madison administrations. Dr Funkenstein in the house, indeed.
“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. She loves you, yeah yeah yeah. She loves you. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”
Sometimes the best way to get your message accross is to just keep repeating it.
“I should be so lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky. I should be so lucky in love.”
“Here it comes. Here it comes. Here it comes rolling over the hill. Here it comes rolling over the hill. It’s rolling over the hill.”
I’m guessing the last one was less familiar.
The Family Cat whose seven year career was blighted by a lack of familiarity (with record buyers, with the charts, with success), crop up on very few 90s nostalgia compilations and are maybe best remembered for a briefly popular t-shirt which accompanied debut ep “Tell ’em We’re Surfing”. They were also cursed with the grave misfortune of plying their trade at the beginning of the 1990’s, a period guilty of oversized t-shirts, overgrown haircuts and the ill advised baggy shorts/high-top trainers combo. No surprise then that they drowned without trace in a sea of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Kingmaker, Pop Will Eat Itself, Carter The Unstopable Sex Machine and a plethora of other acronym inducing bands.
What distinguished The Family Cat from a majority of their contemporaries however, was possession of a singer who could genuinely sing. Paul Frederick had, and for all I know probably still has, a rich powerful croon at odds with the prevailing style of merely barking amiably. Unfortunately he and his band were inclined to dispel any gravitas by referring to him simply as “Fred”. Similarly, whilst such contractions as Hendrix or Coltrane conjure up images of epoch defining figureheads, referring to your guitarist, albeit quite correctly, as Jelbert, simply reinforces prejudices we may have of post baggy pre britpop mateyness.
I challenge any and all of you though to present to me a more moving song from the period than the thunderous behemoth that is “Steamroller”. A few years earlier The Stone Roses had been inspiring thousands to levels of euphoria that really did make them want to bang drums. Here was the first song in rock’n’roll history to make you feel like doing a bit of tarmacking.
I’ve long considered there to be a similarity between british indie and northern soul. Both are characterised by a reliance on songs; of single moments of inspiration rather than career building bodies of work. Both operated largely without the benefit of major company largesse and the Hendrixes and Coltranes of both genres seemed to be musicians who realized they were only going to get one chance at immortality.
On “Steamroller”, Fred knows his ship has come in as he roars his way through the song with a soulfulness that you don’t expect from a bunch of skinny west country longhairs.
“I know that I’ll love you for the rest of my life even though we never meet again.”
For every chain smoking food dodger who ever idolized Felt and The Marine Girls and thought, I can do that, Fred bellows his encouragement. For every alternative disco that was scuppered by the local rugby club annual night out, Fred pledges his support. Just as R. Dean Taylor, Marlena Shaw and Garnet Mimms did decades earlier, Fred mans the barricades, stiffens his sinews and imitates the eye of the tiger as he stakes out his little corner of rock’n’roll Valhalla.
Indie will always be succeptable to accusations of willful underachievement. The Family Cat prove that it can be noble, stirring and just a little bit heroic.
“Broad, fine, generous, solid and real. With the steamroller into gear you can feel like a star”.
Postscript: One obvious problem with trying to mythologize obscure songs is that they tend not to turn up on youtube. I recommend checking under “F” in your local second hand record shop for the album “Furthest From The Sun”. In addition to two contributions from a young Polly Harvey, this will also allow you access to the full seven minute version of “Steamroller” with its reprise of the coruscating middle eight in which the guitars squeal like short wave radios. Bliss.