Saturday, 16 September 2017

Volume 21 Tracks 11-15 - Whiteout, Supergrass, Ash, 60ft Dolls, Bandit Queen

11. Whiteout - Jackie's Racing (Silvertone)

"Da-vid!" cried my mother in disbelief when she heard me listening to this, "have you started listening to seventies teenybop stuff now?!"

I - sort of - get where she was coming from on this, and can also completely understand why Tim Millington chose to place it next to Ride's "I Don't Know Where It Comes From" in the tracklisting. Both have a wistful, breezy seventies styled pop production, although I suspect Whiteout were using The Faces rather than the Bay City Rollers as their sonic template.

It wasn't just my Mum who wanted Whiteout's guts for garters, either. The music press were bafflingly savage towards the group, frequently focussing on their very young age and inexperience as reasons to attack them, while praising Supergrass for precisely the same characteristics on the other hand. Some of Whiteout's material was a whirlwind of energy, the likes of "Detroit" in particular rivalling Oasis's earliest work for attitude and force of personality (indeed, Whiteout co-headlined a tour with them).

"Jackie's Racing" was Whiteout's peak mainstream moment, and is perhaps atypical of the rest of their output, but is nonetheless a solid pop song with many fantastic melodic flourishes and twanging guitar work. With its lyrics focussed on a girl (played by actress Caroline Catz in the video, later of "Doc Martin" fame) enjoying her "kicks" and "teenage fun" who "wears tight clothes that don't quite fit", it's hard to take the song overly seriously or get emotionally involved in it. However, its bouyant innocence does act as a tonic, and it acts as one of those all-too-rare examples of a very young band being able to communicate their enthusiasm and zeal in an infectious way.

Whiteout never did really become properly famous, though, even at the height of Britpop when everything should have been in their favour. Their debut album "Bite It" (which bizarrely left off many of their best known singles) received a muted critical and commercial reception. Singer Andrew Caldwell left the group not long after its release, and their follow-up LP "Big Wow" in 1998 failed to attract much attention. They rank as one of the era's most bafflingly marginal groups.

12. Supergrass - Caught By The Fuzz (Parlophone)

Speak of the devil... Most of Supergrass last appeared on Volume 16 of this series as The Jennifers, a rather naive teenage indie band who could on occasion sound slightly like Whiteout at their most wistful. By the time "Caught By The Fuzz" emerged, however, it was clear that they had morphed into a group of some wit and ferocity.

I don't intend to sound disparaging when I say that I laughed my head off when I first heard "Caught By The Fuzz". It sounded like a group of naughty seventeen year old boys trying to write lyrics like a wittier, more interesting version of Jimmy Pursey while Keith Moon played drums in the corner. A small part of me doubts that "Caught By The Fuzz" was ever supposed to actually be as amusing as it turned out. The frantic, panicked delivery of Gaz's vocals suggest that it was originally written as a cathartic exercise after he had his collar felt (he has confirmed that the lyrics were based on true experience) which only seem amusing if you're sufficiently removed from the situation. His delivery of "Who sold you the blow/ WELL IT WAS......... NO-ONE I KNOW!" and "if only your father could see you now!" create little visual snapshots of an eighties teenage kitchen sink drama shown on Channel 4 in the early afternoon. The music behind them, on the other hand, is so pile-driving and determined it sweeps you along effortlessly.

It would have been easy to dismiss Supergrass as some kind of NWONW one-single wonders were it not for the flipside to this, "Strange Ones", which appeared largely unchanged on the number one "I Should Coco" LP. There was clearly much more to the group than punkish melodrama about being caught with naughty cigarettes, and while the group always did have a penchant for playful silliness (as "Alright" would later prove) that's often caused them to be overlooked by casual listeners who have failed to absorb some of their more mature, developed and occasionally psychedelic work. Without exaggeration, Supergrass were one of the last truly great bands to emerge during the Britpop rush, as their superb debut LP and follow-up "In It For The Money" both go to enormous lengths to prove.

13. Ash - Uncle Pat (Infectious)

More teenagers with attitude. Prior to this moment, Ash were mostly known for their heads-down, no-nonsense punk approach, with debut single "Jack Names The Planets" having both a determined amphetamine charge to its sound combined with fluffy, innocent almost nursery rhyme melodies.

"Uncle Pat" is much more laidback and sombre in its tone, but can't quite shake the innocent edge the band had until this point, with simple, chiming guitar lines and marching rhythms. Focusing on the tale of a recently departed relative, it seems like a slightly personal and melancholy moment for the band which acts as an innocent garage-punk prayer rather than something to excite audiences on the national pub circuit.

Ash would obviously go from strength to strength from this point, gaining benefits from Britpop and continuing into the late nineties as a group who enjoyed a certain degree of popularity among provincial rockers and the kind of skate-punk kids you saw in the local shopping centre every weekend. They remain a going concern to this day, even if their star has waned somewhat in the present decade.

14. 60ft Dolls - Happy Shopper (Townhill)

Unlike most of the bands we've dealt with on this entry, at least one member of 60ft Dolls had something of a significant previous history. Lead singer Richard Parfitt had previously been involved in the eighties mod group The Truth as their bass player, and had even had a prominent stint in the largely unknown Welsh mod group The Colours. The latter had a ripping and largely unknown single out in 1983 called "The Dance", which can be heard over at my "Left and to the Back" blog.

Whereas The Colours and The Truth tended to have a bit of a swing about their work, 60ft Dolls tended to favour a rough, tearing aggression, and that can clearly be heard in "Happy Shopper". It junks anything approaching a groove overboard and instead sounds like a furious, murky hybrid of NWONW and grunge ideas.  Whereas 60ft Dolls would release some great singles - "Alison's Room" and "Stay" among them - "Happy Shopper" is unfortunately a track that, to me at least, is a giant tantrum which comes and goes without leaving any major impression. Doubtless this sounded wonderful live, and as a single it has energy to spare but no real stand-out hooks or defining characteristics.

15. Bandit Queen - Give It To The Dog (Playtime)

Bandit Queen were formed in 1992 by vocalist Tracy Godding, who had previously been a member of the almost entirely forgotten early nineties baggy group Swirl (who, for what it's worth, featured on another Beechwood indie compilation "Forever Changing", but never found a place in this series).

Despite their presence on the roster of the relatively low-key and cash-strapped Playtime label, Bandit Queen clearly had the budget to swamp regional music journalists with promo records and CDs of their work and also tended to feature in numerous fanzines throughout this era. Mainstream music press appreciation was harder to come by, however, and the group seemed to forever be "bubbling under" - the subject of many brief live reviews but no interview spreads.

"Give It To The Dog" is a walloping piece of fat, distorted, heavy riffola which owes slightly more to the American underground than the dominant trends of 1995, though, and it's possibly not surprising they failed to find a way through. For all that, it's an interesting listen and Godding's vocals have a compelling force of personality, giving the track an edge it might otherwise have lacked.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again for this series. Great to revisit this stuff. And well done for not mentioning 'Ian Hunter vocals' in relation to the 60ft Dolls track.