March of the Stickmen

Here’s a double-take of one of my favourite discoveries of the last few years – Philadelphia band The Stickmen, who emerged in the post-punk chaos of the late 70s, made a few albums, had white vans that broke down, got given pretentious labels by critics, drank milkshakes, broke up, got mortgages, died tragically, reformed, had children, gained PhDs, got cynical, moved to the tropics, put out compilation albums, all the usual things.

Actually, some of that was me rather than the Stickmen. Sorry.

Anyway, what can you expect to hear? Imagine what the B52s would have sounded like if only their mothers had stopped drinking when they got pregnant, and then if their rhythm section got kidnappped and somehow replaced by some of the guys from the Birthday Party without anyone noticing, and then the resulting ensemble tried to play two different songs at the same time.

Or just listen to the tracks. Whichever you prefer….

I got these tracks a while back over on one of the usual post-punk haunts, PPJ I think, but they aren’t there now so I’m putting them back up for you. They are both from the Instiable compilation CD, and they both rawk. Frenetic dum-drums, bonky bass, twisty geetar, krazee v-v-v-vocals, squonky saxophone and gosh-darn weird clavinet! Go!

GSS

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GSS vs George Thorogood

monopolyGeorge Thorogood? You mean the toad-like guy with the bad hair who made a fortune out of cheese?

Yes, I do. Now, I wonder how much of the sentence “some of his early stuff is actually quite good” I can get out before you hit the back button on your browser. You seem to be still reading, so…

George and his band the Poppets (later the Destroyers) went into the studio to record what would have been their debut album, Better than the Rest, in 1974. It’s an album of blues covers from the likes of John Lee Hooker and Willie Dixon, and while it certainly isn’t better than the rest, or even some of the rest, it’s alright.

I guess that’s why MCA decided not to release it until 1979 after he had two solid albums of cheese under his belt from the previous two years. “We don’t want to confuse people with this quality music, George,” said his R and A man, Les Befriends. “You want to win over the musical heartland of America, you gotta play real crap.” So, the album was shelved for five years.

Tucked away on side 2 are two tracks featuring George solo, playing slide guitar and singing. These are, I must say, really quite fine. I’ve posted them both here as well as my own version of Huckle Up Baby, which I make sound kind of folksy because I just can’t play blues very well. Miss Me When I’m Gone also features me on the bass. I don’t know whether it adds anything but it was fun to do.

Whose version of Huckle Up do you like more?

And more importantly, who do you think would win in a fight?

My money is on me. He’s quite old now…

(Satire impairment warning: “Les Befriends” does not exist, nor did he ever say either of those things. And lots of people probably really like George’s first two albums. I’m just not one of them.)

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The Sound – From the Lion’s Mouth

mp3 link: The Sound: ‘The Fire’ and ‘Silent Air’

Adrian Borland (front) was one of those tortured musical genius types that the UK produced so readily in the 70s and 80s, in the same sort of mold as Ian Curtis, Stuart Adamson, and Andy Partridge. He took his own life in 1999, leaving behind a whole bunch of people just finally waking up to how good he’d been nearly twenty years earlier, when his band The Sound were putting out albums that still stand firm alongside the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen and The Cure.

Borland had previously been in punk band The Outsiders, and when The Sound first appeared in the late 70s they looked and sounded kinda post-punky as this promo poster shows, but a lot had changed by 1981 and their second album From the Lion’s Mouth is straightforward New Wave, with Borland’s brooding melodic songwriting anchored by angular basslines and fleshed out with sweeping synths and some nice layered guitar work.

I’m not a huge fan of the production here – I’d like a little more throb and gristle and a little less studio coldness – but what I will say is that the songs are very fine, and some of the guitar and bass playing is exceptional. I’m guessing this act were very good live, and I’m keeping my eyes out for any live bootlegs to confirm my theory.

From the Lion’s Mouth was re-released in 2002 by Renascent Records and if you google it you will find links to various places you can buy it, review pages where lots of indy music- heads rave about it as the best album ever made by anyone ever anywhere ever, and also, usually, a download site where some cheeky wag has stuck the whole thing up as an .rar archive. Not that I condone that sort of thing. Just the two tracks here…

mp3 link: The Sound: ‘The Fire’ and ‘Silent Air’

coverThese two tracks (in one file) are from the end of side two. ‘Judgement’, ‘Fatal Flaw’ and ‘Possession’ are also really worth a listen….

Anyway, the band made more albums and Borland also had a lengthy solo career but despite critical acclaim never achieved the…you know the rest. It’s a cruel business, really. But recording is a wonderful thing, and when all the bullshit has finally gone cold, the music is still as fresh as the day it was made…

Be seeing you in the New Year…

GSS.

Local Heroes Sw9 – Drip Dry Zone

Buy it from Amazon...

Buy it from Amazon...

In the heady year of 1980, when I was ten, Kevin Armstrong (guitar, vox), Kim Barti (drums), and Matthew Seligman (bass) recorded and released a hidden classic of British post-punk, the album Drip Dry Zone. The trio were later joined by Thomas Dolby on synths for a subsequent release called New Opium, before Dolby went solo, Armstrong decided to become a session musician rather than a front man, and Seligman continued with the Soft Boys and then also turned to session work.

I know it is a cliché to say that bands “should have gained more recognition” when all you really mean is that you like them. So, to cut to the chase, I really like this band. They have hints of XTC, the Clash, the Soft Boys, the Jam, and the Police, but with a great deal of their own charm. The bass playing is wonderful and the guitar is layered and intricate, the songs well written, the singing grainy and emotive and very English. All in all, the sound is a winner.

Local Heroes SW9 were a British post-punk band not afraid of being clever, and this may have cost them the exposure that many lesser and more derivative acts attracted.  But it’s not too late. Check out these two tracks, and if you want to buy the album (really, it’s all good), click the cover to go to Amazon, or start by reading this thread at Charlie Gillett’s website. It tells the story of how the digital re-release of the two albums was inspired, and contains posts from Armstrong himself on its creation.

Cheers,

GSS.