Bitesize! S-Club 7

Insidious things, oldies radio stations. You tune in with the harmless intention of soundtracking your working day, hoping for a little Carl Perkins here, a dash of The Animals there, a sprinkling of The Walker Brothers all over, only to find yourself the victim of heretical thoughts such as, “actually, Bachman Turner Overdrive really weren’t that bad”. Once in a while though they drag up a lump of coal from the stygian gloom of the past, give it a swift polish, et voila: a priceless diamond. Good people, suspend your cynicism for two minutes while I present to you the rather immense, S-Club 7.

There was a time I was ironically proud of being able to name all of S-Club 7. Their cheeky winning drama school smiles illuminated seemingly every Saturday morning kids programme and rekindled my fondness for manufactured bands. A love affair begun in the early 70’s with the weekly appearance of The Partridge Family and nurtured during school holiday reruns of The Monkees and The Doubledeckers. OK, I know The Doubledeckers weren’t actually a band, but containing, as they did, a future member of Aswad, they count. Even without recourse to Allmusic I find I can still remember six Sclubbers, including two surnames!

However, unlike The Monkees, S-Club 7 product was always unlikely to grace my record collection. I appreciated what the Italia Conti Academy of acting had done for these young tykes but the likes of It’s An S-Club Thing and Two In A Million were never going to shift Bikini Girls With Machine Guns by The Cramps from the turntable.

And then in 2001 Lux and Ivy were forced to step aside. Armed with a vocoder and one of those rhythms that seems designed to practice CPR to, The 7 momentarily conquered the nation. As autumn crept over the country,  grizzled veterans of a thousand London pubs, clubs and live venues were to be found glaring at each other with the astonishment of trench artillerymen hearing the armistice klaxon. “By crikey, they’ve done it, they’ve really done it!”

The anthrax infectious Don’t Stop Moving proved to be one of those landmark records by which, like it or not, you map out your past, and which gradually transcends the world of criticism and just… is. I have, for example, no idea whether Bill Withers Lovely Day is a good song or not, but when the sunlight hits my eyes I’ll be singing along regardless. Yes, occasionally I DO feel like a room without a roof, but I now know that Pharrell Williams will always be there to clap along with me. Yes, I was the black sheep of my family and although my Dad tried to teach me right from wrong you may well ask how, with too much wine and too much song, I got along. Easy – I had Terry Jacks to show me the way.

So good people, forget about your fears tonight and listen to your heart. See that uncoordinated guy on the dancefloor? The one dancing behind Hannah, Jon, Paul, Jo, Tina, Bradley and the other one? Well that’s me and I’m NEVER going to stop moving to that funky, funky beat.


Bitesize! bob hund

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!

Bitesize! The Family Cat

“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.”

Repetition. Repetition.

“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.

Bitesize! Cat’s Eyes

It was whilst driving to IKEA last Sunday in the obligatory Volvo estate that I stumbled upon a truism regarding the debut album by go-go goths Cat’s Eyes. Side 1, track 4, “Face In The Crowd” is quite possibly the snottiest song in rock’n’roll history.

Snot is to rock’n’roll as corruption is to American presidential elections and mediocrity is to all but one memorable season at Leicester City.  The intrinsically distasteful element by which we define our experience. From the moment that Bo Diddley (yes, it’s always Bo Diddley) spat “you’re that thing I throw peanuts at” in “Say Man”, rock’s landscape has been littered with hormonal outpourings of resentment, disaffection and bile.

Iconoclasts within music are often credited with breaking away from pop’s moon-in-June norm; yes Zimmerman, I’m talking to you.  But it is the level of sarcasm that Bob himself achieved in “It Ain’t Me Babe” that grants entry to the lyrical VIP lounge. Jagger, Ray Davies, Lydon may well be top of the guest list but even they would whither and cringe as Rachel Zeffira and the splendiidly named Faris Badwan trade insults like a couple of carousing toms. On a hot tin roof! “You’re not anyone at all” snarls Rachel,  like a leary 14 year old suffering her first alcho-pop high. Only to have the smirk wiped off her face by the worst put down in pop, “I’ve never had trouble getting girls I don’t need”. Ouch. I’ll say that again. Ouch. There’s a sentence that smothers all concerned in shame, to the point where I actually wince every time I hear it. But in a good way. Because like a biblical scapegoat Faris says it so that we don’t have to, leaving us free to bask in this wonderful slice of water retention Shangri-Las whilst dancing the mashed potato that the song demands.

Snot, bile, phlegm and a stomping beat. Do we need anything else from music?


Bitesize! Japan

“Quick draft” it suggests on WordPress. But I don’t do “quick”. Every word has to be wrenched from the depths of my dark, troubled soul, poured over and endlessly revised. Hence the minimum one month gap between posts.
Well sod that.
From now on we at the Slender house of publishing offer you Bitesize! A swift Dextrosol tablet of inspiration to contrast with the stodgy Sunday meat & two veg that I usually serve up.
Suck slowly and see!

This coming Tuesday the invariably excellent Sprigg’s radio show at invites suggestions for a covers themed evening. Being somewhat evangelical on the subject I’ve felt obliged to give it some thought whilst driving the tractor round the gravestones today. And in view of the wealth of material on offer I’ve been surprised to find that the song that springs to mind so persistently is Japan’s silky seductive version of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties” from the album “Quiet Life”.

Without this it’s unlikely I would have found my way to the Velvet Underground original at such an impressionable age and the subsequent exploration of 60’s psychedelia that followed. But where the Velvets’ “poor girl” is a sad, disolute character, the subject of Japan’s version oozes glamourous sleaze like Helmut Newton’s Club 18-30 holiday photos.  Even today it’s hard to dance to it without resorting to the early 80’s habit of passing one hand in front of your face, suggesting either a love of german expressionist cinema or an embarrassing outbreak of adult acne.

When the band announced a concert at the Hammersmith Odeon, myself and a like minded friend sent our cheques in the post together with the charming instruction to “give us the best seats in the house”. Needless to say that the finest upholstery in the Odeon was to be found two rows from the back in the upper circle. A vantage point which rendered the spectacle soon to be known as new romanticism as breathtaking as watching surfing from a space shuttle. The evening did however leave the lasting impression, common to all my favourite gigs, that those attending belonged in a completely different world.  I’ve no idea what kind of world it was that awaited this horde of unintentional Lady Di lookalikes when the last trains returned them to Purley and High Wycombe, but I’m fairly certain it was one free of paper rounds and ‘O’ level revision. Quite right too, for who, at the age of 16, wants the world of rock’n’roll to be like real life?