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.

I Love New York – Ciccone Visits Midlands. Revives Career

Mash-ups. I rather like’em. There’s something simple and primitive about just welding one song on to another that seems in keeping with the original DIY spirit of rock’n’roll. No pretensions to artistry. No marathon sessions in the studio. Just two songs and one outcome.

I first became aware of them when swedish radio began, some years ago, to give serious airtime to a mash-up of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and the point at which it all began to go wrong for Michael Jackson, “Bad”. The joy was not simply the seamless way in which the two songs would morph into each other but also the way in which Cash appeared to prick Jackson’s ego. As the latter’s yelping, hiccoughing and vast aray of other vocal affectations reaches a climax, the effect is magnificently deflated by the sudden introduction of Luther Perkins’ wonderful self-effacing honky-tonk guitar.

Equally, Kid Slender favourites the Dandy Warhols had, in one fell swoop, all the sneering sarcasm wiped away from global mega-hit “Bohemian Like You” when someone thought to add their iconic Keef-esque guitar riff to the vocal track from cheeky chavettes Mousse T’s hormonal school disco anthem “I’m Horny”.

Madonna achieved something of the same effect when opening 2005 album “Confessions On A Dancefloor” with “Hung Up”, borrowing wholesale from Abba’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme” in the process. A canny move as it left her free to knock together a riotously hedonistic disco pop album, free from the slight whiff of earnestness which lurked over “Ray Of Light”, excellent as it was.

A more articulate writer could probably essay a great thesis here about the effect of copywrite considerations on music in general and hip-hop in particular as it’s only the likes of Madonna and Kanye who can afford to sample these days. But there you go, Björn and Benny got the royalties and nobody is the poorer for it.

The quality control doesn’t let up, but the further you delve into the album the more you begin reaching for the liner notes to check the credits. “Sorry” still feels naggingly familiar. “Future Lovers” could easily be a Giorgio Moroder outtake and once we get to album highlight “I Love New York” it all clicks into place.

The album credits offered a huge clue, although you could forgive me for dismissing as mere cooncidence the fact that co-writer and producer Stuart Price shares his name with my eldest brother. Nevertheless, the Midlands have, as I suspected they always would, had a key role in moulding one of pop music’s greatest innovators. It might take a few listens but I have not a doubt that you, like me, will eventually find yourselves exclaiming, bugger me Madge, it’s Bela Lugosi’s dead!

Now B-movie horror imagery was nothing new to rock’n’roll from Bobby “Boris” Pickett to the Cramps, but nobody before had adopted the look with such single-minded unsmiling zeal as Bauhaus. This combination of Ed Wood style and Weimar pretension caught on quickly. Its names were legion and many. We came to know and love it as GOTH. And for some reason I have difficulty imagining its creation in the hands of anyone but four sons of the boot belt. Northampton.

I have a little first hand experience here. My hometown (apparently) 32.3 miles away was laid waste by the shockwaves from the GOTH explosion with many shops rationing hair gel and escalating stock prices for the manufacturers of hair crimpers. At least those stocked by the local Co-op. Something about GOTH’s melodrama and a lack of self awareness appealed to those in small towns and the provinces seeking an, albeit illusory, escape route. Oh no, this was in no way a metropolitan youth cult as GOTH could not survive sophistication or humour. No hint of reality could be allowed to intrude on GOTH or the whole shebang collapsed like a house of cards. A friend of mine once found himself, by the classic friend of a friend route, backstage at the first gig of former Sister of Mercy Patricia Morrison’s new band. Gliding majestically into the room this patent leathered amazon Goddess smashed GOTH’s fragile facade by announcing “OK girls, we’re on in five minutes. Now, has everyone been to the toilet?”.

Another son of the Midlands to arrive at the same three chords as Ms Ciccone was Julian Cope. The 32 years which have passed since he recorded second album “Fried” have in no way dented my conviction that it is the perfect soundtrack to the Midlands. Or rather the East Midlands. Or maybe just the Watling Street corridor. No matter. It’s an album brittle as the frozen farmland surrounding the Ashby canal. Heavy with bucolic memories of family days out to local ruins. An album that captures the longing to escape to a place more urbane and the comfortable resignation that you’ll keep coming back. It somehow manages to embrace the contradictions of the Midlands, combining the ballsy moronic thwump of Slade, the introspection of Nick Drake, the folksy artisanship of Family and a willingness to party seemingly at times to have been borrowed from, yes, Showaddywaddy.

But on the final track, “Torpedo” the joking abrubtly ceases and Copey delivers something approaching a manifesto, assuring us that, yes, I’m kneeling on Alvecote Mound with a tortoiseshell on my back but I’m actually serious about this. Sure, sometimes I just shamelessly rip off my heroes. With a smirk. But I’m no less sincere or respectful for all that.

Julian Cope recognises that playing rock music is a preposterously silly pursuit unworthy of anyone with intelligence but that it is in the spirit of rock’n’roll that we don’t care. Like a dog that licks his balls in polite company, we love it anyway.

Bauhaus recognised the same fact and were equally unapologetic over bellowing nonsense about bell towers and bleeding victims. When an eyebrow pencil is all that’s standing between you and a shift down the Doc Martens factory the only reasonable course of action is to suck in your cheeks and really go for it.

Madonna was clearly channelling the same Midlands spirit when she thought to punctuate one of her finest songs with one of the most stomach-churningly dreadful lines in her or anyone else’s back catalogue. “If you don’t like my attitude you can f-off”. ‘Scuse me, did you really just sing “f-off”? Madonna, the iconoclast who cavorted at the feet off a black Christ in a basque and who published a coffee table book of her breasts being fondled by Vanilla Ice. Now reduced to the self-censorship of “f-off”? You betcha!  And you know what?  She’s Madonna, she can do whatever she likes. Frankly, if she’d really said fuck, would anyone bother writing a blog about it?

That’s the Midlands for you. We’ll give you Shakespeare, George Eliot and Joe Orton but you’ll remember us for Tiswas, Crossroads and Hobbits.

Now then Madge me owd duck. Lend us a plaggy bag and I’ll get down the jitty for a crusty cob and some dobbers.


 

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?


 

JukeFox Journey! No.7 – Andy King chooses Orange Juice

One would expect that 12 years of the zen suffering that goes with life at Leicester City would have taken a Dorian Grey like toll on Andy King. Not a bit of it. His unmarked boyish features suggest he would have no problem getting served in the students’ union.

No surprise then to discover his scholarly attitude towards classic indie. “Their brand of fey innocence has become such a cliché within indie that it’s easy to forget how revolutionary Orange Juice were” he asserts. “No one had taken such a defiantly non-macho stance before. A lot of people were genuinely affronted by it. It’s okay to wander down Gallowtree Gate with a floppy fringe these days, but to stand up in front of an aggressive Glasgow crowd in the late 70s with that attitude took genuine commitment. We can laugh at taunts like ‘you’re all homosexual, apart from Steven’ but back then they were taking big risk. Apart, obviously, from Steven”.

So come the Champions League victory parade can we expect to see you in sandals and safari suit Andy? “Ye Gads!” he exclaims, not inappropriately.

Simply thrilled as ever, our kid.

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JukeFox Journey! No.6 – Claudio Ranieri chooses The Velvelettes

We’re all going on a European tour! Kid Slender resumes his factually doubtful series of interviews with the Leicester City squad and discovers what they’re playing on the tour bus. Can I kick it? Of course you can!

Dilly-ding, dilly-dong. During a season of shocks and surprises, few came close to raising as many eyebrows  and launching as many t-shirts as Claudio Ranieri’s astonishing pronouncement dilly-ding, dilly-dong. But after being written off and misunderestimated so often, it should come as no surprise to learn he has once again been misquoted. Clearly what Claudio was trying to say was doodle lang doodle lang in a direct reference to talcum powder floor filler “Needle In A Haystack” by the Velvelettes.

“I say to my chaps, listen to these girls, always they are striving for the impossible. A good man? He is like a needle in a haystack. But still they believe he can be found” he says in the Stoke-on-Trent accent with which he likes to surprise new aquaintances. “My boys, they may be sly, slick and shy but never do I allow them to become starry eyed. To dream is good, yes? But it is hard work and fearlessness which makes these dreams come true. I learn this at the Twisted Wheel in ’69”. Hold up a second, you went to the Twisted Wheel? “But of course. Keep the faith. Always you must be keeping the faith”.

We will Claudio, we will.

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 http://www.ncbradio.co.uk 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?

The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum – sometimes good things do come from Coventry

I have a pet theory. Every generation of music lovers is doomed in its conviction that their youth was a golden era for rock’n’roll. That music will never again reach the heights it climbed when they were 16 years old. That youth is wasted on the young. Especially the current bunch.

Each fresh generation on the other hand should rightly judge their predecessors to be nostalgic sentimental dinosaurs who can’t get over the fact that John Lennon’s… married Cynthia!

It’s a necessary attitude for innovation for how else can we create a climate for rebellion? If young John Mellor was content withWoody Guthrie impressions. Or the infant Van Vliet wanted no more than to continue covering Bo Diddley. Or if Bronx resident Joseph Saddler went along with his mother’s ambition for him to study electronics, music would be the poorer. No Joe Strummer. No Captain Beefheart. No Grandmaster Flash.

Do you follow? We learn the ropes and then a chosen few tear up the rulebook and create a new golden era for the next generation.

Of course all this was hopelessly lost on my mother, who, despite seeing her children reach the rock’n’roll bar mitzvah age of 16 in three different decades, maintained down the years an infuriating and tactless habit of approving of her childrens’ taste. Every fresh attempt to reinforce the generation gap was met by beslippered toe-tapping and a pause in her tricky cable-knitting to offer an encouraging smile. The zenith of this activity was reached when she interrupted my autodidactic attempt to channel the late 60’s psychedelic revolution by bursting into my room to announce “I like this one our David. It’s got a very jolly beat”. I’m not sure that jolly beats were what The Seeds were aiming for when they recorded 1967’s unhinged masterpiece “A Web Of Sound” but I like to think singer Sky Saxon would have approved of the generational crossover appeal of his 15 minute two chord album closer “Up In Her Room”

There was however one exception to all this parental good will and an outlet for my teenage need to rebel. Terry Hall. She just couldn’t stand the man.

There are dozens of reasons to like Terry Hall. The sinister, sneering performer of “Gangsters” who introduced us to a better dressed version of punk. The bonkers pop star version of Terry who with the Fun Boy Three epitomised Tom Waits rhetorical question “tell me, how long have you been combing your hair with a wrench?”. The duffel coated artisan songwriter with The Colourfield who chronicled the Thatcher kitchen sink years with a wry smile.

What seemed to lead people to apoplexy though was the overwhelmimg impression that Terry simply couldn’t give a toss if it all ended tomorrow.

Asked what he was rebelling against in “The Wild One” Marlon Brando famously replied “what have you got?”. Nevertheless, we knew that the object of this rebellion would be faced whilst wearing a really nice set of leathers. Take Johnny Boy’s Harley away from him and he’d kick up a proper tantrum. A right old mardy and no mistake. Terry Hall made people nervous because there was nothing you could take away from him. In fact he’d get in the first blow. Having recorded, in “Ghost Town”, what many people regard as the greatest number 1 single ever, perfectly soundtracking the inner city riots of the early 80’s, Terry did what any well brought up iconoclast would do. He legged it.

It’s a bit tricky after all these years to describe the effect of “Ghost Town”. On the face of it simply bemoaning the lack of live venues in Coventry, but anticipating perfectly the havoc, industrial, political and social, that Thatcher was about to wreak on the country. Nobody could’ve guessed just how medieval she was about to get on our collective ass but The Specials with their “yaarrrrrrghh ya-ya-ya yaarrrrrrghh” bedlam chorus showed us it wasn’t going to be pretty. And that we could do nothing. Not a thing, to stop it.

So how to you top that? Easy. Ditch the guitars. Buy loads of drums and a cheap synth. And most importantly, crank the paranoia knob up to 11.

Where “Ghost Town” was all wild eyed careening, the inmates of “The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum” had long ago resorted to banging their heads against the wall. Slowly. Insistently. Endlessly.

And here’s my case. Why the music of my youth is better than the music of yours. OK, “Lunatics” isn’t ground breaking in its originality. The song is a paper thin two chords, the rhythm merely a slightly lysergic “Sympathy For The Devil” and the technology, by 1981 standards, familiar. But lets sum up: a funereal rant about the arms race with a “doomed, we’re all doomed” conclusion performed by a bi-polar miserabilist. And it reached #20 in the charts. It was mainstream pop. The Fun Boy Three graced Top Of The Pops. Pan’s People may even have interpreted it. In 1981 this was par for the course as the graduates of punks ram-a-lama high school started looking for something more interesting. As kids from New York’s less fashionable boroughs started to explore what more could be done with two turntables and a microphone. As nerds the world over began exploiting the availability of cheap synthesizers. And as, seemingly, everyone and his mate claimed “yeah, I’ve always been into African beats. Actually”.

The Fun Boy Three cavorted wildly from 1981-83, spawned two albums and contributed to a period of pop almost unprecedented in its tolerance. Pil, Pigbag, The Associates, Soft Cell, Grandmaster Flash, Bow Wow Wow, Devo, The Teardrop Explodes, Motorhead. All would, in other, less broadminded times have been regarded as leftfield acts. Even The Birthday Party managed to nudge the bottom reaches of the charts and by 1983 no one questioned the appearance of one Jim Thirlwell on Top Of The Pops, contributing the saxophone solo to Orange Juice’s “Rip It Up”. A man previously known for such chart friendly acts as You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath, Foetus Over Frisco and Scraping Foetus Off The Wheels.

It couldn’t last of course and soon the money men moved in to force feed us a diet of Howard Jones. Even my mum had trouble keeping count of stitches whenever Then Jericho appeared. I realise that all this makes me sound a bit like a rock’n’roll Colonel Blimp forever complaining that it was better in my day, but I just don’t see the same degree of careless rebellion in Father John Misty or Sia. We live in more brand-savvy times and any statues to be kicked over need to approved by a focus group first.

Then again, I’m 52 years old – I would say that wouldn’t I?