Sunday, 2 April 2017

Volume 14 Side 4 - Gallon Drunk, Daisy Chainsaw, Shonen Knife, Captain America, The Pastels

1. Gallon Drunk - Some Fool's Mess (Clawfist)

"Thundering out of London come Gallon Drunk, with this, their fourth single for Clawfist. This sexy little blistering baby ploughed the independent charts for two months and established the band as the slicked-back gentlemen of dynamic tunes. These righteous preachers released their debut LP in February. How can anyone go wrong with Gallon Drunk? After all, they do smoke their own!"

Gallon Drunk were yet another one of those indie bands you couldn't seem to escape in the media throughout 1992 and 1993, even being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 1993 for their album "From The Heart of The Town". A peculiar mix of influences from twangy fifties rock and roll, through to The Birthday Party, blues, garage rock and sixties film soundtracks, they produced a unique cocktail which shook up the occasionally quite unadventurous and dour early nineties gig circuit.

"Some Fool's Mess" is probably their best known single, and highlights their strengths well - filled with drama and menace, it rattles along urgently, fuelled by a nagging, twangy guitar riff and discordant car-crash organ breaks. It's the theme to every gothic fairground nightmare, and hardly anybody else was making a noise like this in 1991.

The group remain active, and continue to have a keen live following, to this day.

2. Daisy Chainsaw - Love Your Money (Deva)

"Daisy Chainsaw are a London foursome whose debut 45 'Lovesick Pleasure' set the world alight in January of this year. Achieving airplay on daytime radio and crashing into the Top 40, Daisy Chainsaw are definitely going to be the surprise success of '92".

Careful with the use of the word 'definitely', Tim. "Love Your Money" was one of those wonderful moments which happen in music once in a blue moon - a self-released indie record which somehow managed to vault from the evening playlists on Radio One on to daytime radio, causing the likes of Simon Bates to declare that he had "discovered the new Transvision Vamp". The problem was, of course, that he hadn't. For starters, singer Katie Jane Garside really wasn't much of a Wendy James type (apart from the blondeness of her hair) and instead tended to lean towards a caricatured, childlike image. On stage, she seemed half-gleeful, half damaged, like a semi-starved child in her nightie scrabbling through the rubble of a house fire for spoils.

Also, while "Love Your Money" was a determined, full-throttle beast of a song, with its distorted, treble-heavy guitars and insistent chorus chant, a lot of the rest of their output was less straightforward and less radio-friendly. We'll come on to those moments eventually, but perhaps I should mention a packed live performance I saw at the height of their fame at a local club. There were two support acts that evening - one was a performance arts group who seemed to be following the Garside theme of worrying childlike imagery, featuring a woman with her hair in bunches and a vacant smile rattling away on an old-fashioned typewriter while being yelled at by a disturbed looking man. The other support were Sheep on Drugs, who chased the performance artists offstage like unwanted rodents when their turn in the spotlight came, with a yelled "Get the fuck off my stage!" And all this was before Katie Jane Garside emerged onstage babbling away with a rictus grin. I would genuinely struggle to recall the events surrounding other gigs I saw in 1992 in such detail, but moments like this are rare.

The baffled expressions from some audience members were also memorable, and it was clear that this was a group who were never seriously going to make a leap from the fringes to platinum success. They were weird and occasionally alienating - sometimes in a way that worked, and on other occasions in ways that appeared forced and faintly pretentious (the fact that Garside could sometimes be seen sucking on a child's milk bottle was, to be honest, a bit contrived and silly).

Brett Anderson, a member of a group nobody cared about called Suede, caught them live at around this time, and was moved enough to write "Metal Mickey" about Katie, but by the time it got released as a single he was strangely reluctant to reveal who his muse was. By that point, Daisy Chainsaw had largely disappeared back into the dark depths of the underground on the back of a slightly rough critical ride, and talking about being moved by their performances might have destroyed any credibility Suede had.

3. Shonen Knife - Space Christmas (Seminal Twang)

"Shonen Knife are three talented Japanese women whose debut 45 in the UK, 'Space Christmas', reached number one in the independent chart. After touring with Nirvana and Captain America, they are now attracting interest from Japanese, American and European record companies. Shonen Knife's 'Zany World of Animals, Sea Shells, Marshmallows and ice-cream' will be entering the lives of a lot more people over the coming months."

If Daisy Chainsaw were possibly, underneath the grime and the noise, trying to say something serious with their childlike approach - and I've never been able to quite make up my mind whether they were or not - Shonen Knife were just being absurd and playful. Their world of boiled sweets, ugly zoo animals, and bright primary colours combined with simplistic, garage punk riffs, and appeared to exist as part parodical pisstake (which, one suspects, was slightly lost in translation from Japan to the west) and part joyous adrenalin rush.

"Space Christmas" was a bemusing slab of festive vinyl which nonetheless set the group up as cult figures in the UK from that point forth. It's difficult to analyse its Ramones inspired approach to songwriting in any depth, and it would probably be foolish to do so - however, the naive frivolity of it makes it one of the best indie Christmas singles of the last twenty-five years. It's a world where Santa is dragged along in his sleigh by bisons and the arrival of Christmas Eve seems like a momentous occasion again. Many years later I would find myself spending Christmas Day in a traveller's hostel in New Zealand, and watching Japanese travellers experience a "western" Christmas for the first time, the song remained trapped in my head. Not all approached the wine and party poppers enthusiastically, though - one gentleman sat in the corner with his head in his hands and his wine untouched, and looked as if he was about to cry. Anyway...

4. Captain America - Wow! (Paperhouse)

"The rise of Captain America over the past few months has been quite amazing. Fronted by ex-Vaseline Eugene Kelly, they recently supported Nirvana on their British and European tour as well as releasing their debut EP for Paperhouse. At the moment they are working on their first album which on the strength of 'Wow!' promises to be something else".

I'll give Nirvana one thing, they really helped to increase the visibility of all kinds of marginal indie figures. Captain America, of course, would not remain Captain America for long - their name violated the copyright of the Marvel comics character, and they would soon find themselves relaunched as Eugenius.

On the surface, "Wow!" is really just the Vaselines sound beefed up and given a grungier edge. Whereas The Vaselines were often thrashy, trashy and spindly in their work, Captain America have a much more muscular approach. The DIY punk elements remain intact, though, and it's uncanny how easily a C86 artist could leap into 1991 and be embraced into the bosom of grunge without anyone complaining.

Critically, though, "Wow!" is a fairly basic, chugging piece of punkorama, and didn't really change anyone's lives.

5. The Pastels - Thru' Your Heart (Paperhouse)

"After a two year absence The Pastels are re-establishing themselves on the independent music scene. A cover of Daniel Johnsons' 'Speeding Motorcycle' was their first proper release since the 'Sittin' Pretty' album of 1989. 'Thru' Your Heart' was a Melody Maker single of the week and bodes well for their forthcoming album, 'A Truckload of Trouble'".

Bit of an error in the above description - 'A Truckload of Trouble' was a compilation rather than a bona-fide Pastels studio LP, and mostly consisted of previously released material (It is great, though).

Where Eugene Kelly managed to find appreciation from American grunge superstars, Stephen Pastel remained a somewhat underground figure, but that's not overly surprising. The Pastels didn't push down on their distortion pedals like angry truckers trying to get their destination at double-speed - they produced frequently naive, delicate and rainy singles with chiming melodies. Even in 1991, you could sense their mid-eighties roots showing through.

"Thru' Your Heart" is probably one of their finest singles, though. Had it been written or even covered by an artist wishing to push it in a slicker or more commercial direction, it could actually have been a hit. It's an unashamedly romantic and wistful ballad, filled with heart squeezingly good guitar lines, lyrical asides which seem to underline the preposterousness of romance and ballads in general ("You'd never let me/ But I'd die for you") and simple but incredibly effective songwriting. Progressing from start to finish in an effortlessly fluid way and packaged up as one neat, carefully bundled parcel of a tune in a heart-shaped box, it's The Pastels at their finest. It's also possibly the only track on this compilation I still listen to frequently, if I'm being honest.

And on that note, may I just say that I'm so glad this volume is done and dusted now. It's arguably the darkest and dingiest Indie Top 20 volume of them all, and while it's not without some good moments, it's incredibly difficult to listen to from start to finish. 

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