Black and Blue
Kevin has a great way with words. One of my favourites of his is 'the past is passed', but although I find myself loving the phrase, and indeed the idea inherent that things from your past belong just there, when it comes to reality I can't help but feel that my mind and my heart is never going to allow me to toe that particular line, that I'm never going to be able to fully get to grips with forgetting my past.
I've said before that losing your memories is like hacking off your limbs, and although I feel quite adept at this in many respects, I know that there are essences that always linger. The scar tissue maybe, and didn't The Bodines have a song called just that, and there you are you see... there's the past right there. I listened to The Bodines again the other day and their records still sound like magnificent Pop gems.
I played the Pixies the other day also, strangely enough in the context of taping them for a fourteen year old student from school. We had been in London for two days trying to win money for our school and she kept asking if I liked, oh you know... Reef... Coldplay... whoever... I felt somewhat bad about being always negative, always saying No, I don't really like that, No, I really don't like that. Then she asked if I liked the Pixies, and I was delighted because you know, yes I DID love the Pixies, and like Sonic Youth and Husker Du, Pixies were one of the groups that, in certain circles, you just were not allowed to like. But then I never felt aligned to any one 'scene' anyway, so sod it... I always loved Pixies, right up to Doolittle, which I only half loved, which means I loved two albums, because the first is only really a mini-album isn't it? They played one of the best shows I ever saw too, at the QMU at Glasgow with Kim Deal in a Dennis the Menace t-shirt, many years before I saw Stuart Murdoch in similar garb deliver another of the finest performances ever, and I wonder what the connections might be there?
Pixies made a raw howl, they put that barbaric yowl of Whitman into Pop, and despite what many of my friends always said about Pixies, Pixies were always about the new possibilities in Pop rather than Rock. I used to listen to the first Pixies record and say it was like Fire Engines, which wound a few people up, and although sonically it's hard to hear a connection, I maintain the link is there nonetheless; two groups sounding unlike anything else at their time, making a manic, dark yet uplifting racket with monumental tunes and hooks a-plenty. Others will insist on disco being a more valid connection with Fire Engines manic Pop thrill, but it's just another way of wandering the pathways of sound.
I was delighted recently to be sent a magazine called Magic, featuring as it did a full page piece on Tangents. Cover stars in this particular issue are I Am Kloot, a group I have heard mentioned several times in the past few months. The painted illustrations of the band in Magic make them look a little too Oasis like which clearly put me off, but Dan had heard some of their Natural History album and suggested it was good in places so whilst picking up the Andrea Parker album after school on Friday, I decided to splash out and get the I Am Kloot as well.
And hey, fuck me if it isn't Johnny Dangerously.
I suspect the name Johnny Dangerously will mean nothing to most of you, but it's one of those names that takes me back to the end of the 1980s when a singer armed with a guitar and a clutch of sad songs that referred to, you know, growing older and poorer, fighting and finding your way in the world was always going to win me over. It happened with Rodney Allen, Somerset's answer to Billy Bragg who in fact made the finest teenage angst album full of love, laughs and the delights of languishing in rejection ever in his Happysad collection. Of course it makes no sense except as a comic Pop representation of growing up in the middle of nowhere where the closest center of entertainment is Shepton Mallet, and if you want to know the truth that album is the soundtrack to Peter Benson's The Levels. In fact Rodney Allen was a fantastic character who possibly took the wrong paths, but that's not for me to say. What is for me to say is that if I gaze back into the murky depths of the fading light of the 1980s, I remember warm welcomes in Pilton, standing on the stage of the old pyramid stage with an audience of cows and the most heart-stoppingly beautiful rendition of The Motorcycle Boy's 'Room At The Top' performed by Rodney and his sister Bevereley.
Johnny Dangerously was really called John Bramwell and he always reminded me of Rodney Allen. I first heard him on a 12" called You, Me and Alarm Clock that I picked up for 50p in a store by Glasgow Central Station in the summer of 1989. It was a great record with six tracks of Indiepop Blues. 'Junk Culture' was a great track right from the opening line of 'stumbling through small life nowhere England' to it's reflection about 'wondering do I really care about sheet metal workers' which always seemed to me to be a point at which I knew inside that Pop was always about politics rather than Politics and was why I would love Billy Bragg so much more for 'The Saturday Girl' than for anything else. 'Pierfront Arcade' was custom made for anyone who ever grew up by the seaside desperate to leave, whilst 'Black and Blue' was an aching love song filled with the hollow-eyed desolation that seemed to prevail at the time, and if the ending words of 'too many words are hard but true, we'll all wind up like we knew we'd do, bruised black and blue' seem defeatist then maybe it speaks more truth about the lasting impression of the '80s on a generation than any glossy retro TV special.
A second single appeared in 1990 under the name of The deBuchias featuring Johnny Dangerously, although only the fine a-side 'Introducing Jane' seemed to have a band involved, the b-sides being 'Tearing It Down' from the previous years record, and 'Subway Life', which also appeared on a Manchester North Of England compilation album that I have long since lost, and which also featured a demo version of the Inspiral Carpets' forgotten classic 'Joe', and incidentally, every time I play their 'Keep The Circle Around' single I am reminded of the certainty that it is one of the ten greatest Pop singles ever, and in fact Clint Boon gets a thanks on the I Am Kloot record too.
Natural History is a great record. It's an accomplished English take on contemporary country/rural rock that nods at itself in so many places; there are echoes of the Lilac Time, of the Kinks, of The Claim and of their copyists Blur circa Modern Life Is Rubbish... which is a pointless thing to be saying of course because really all you need to know is that I Am Kloot sound as naturally post-modern as you could want. There is a sense of this sound being made not as reference or reverence but because it feels right, which of course is as it should be. Alasdair Mclean of the Clientele recently suggested a wish for the return of Irony because what seems to be replacing it at the moment is bombast and fanaticism, which I think is an interesting way of looking at things. I Am Kloot however manage to do something that I feel the Clientele have managed for some time, and that is to be making records that both reflect some sense of Past and Tradition but that are thoroughly without artifice, that have a perfect poise of self-awareness that is at once understated and supremely confident. They have no need of either irony nor arrogance.
Someone recently suggested, upon hearing Coldplay on the pub jukebox, that it sounded right out of the detested '80s, that you could easily imagine Phil Collins singing the track. I admit this surprised me, and although I don't go along with the suggestion, I think it's close to hitting some nails on their heads, specifically that it's impossible to take things out of their context. In other words, you could imagine Phil Collins singing 'Sparks' but it would be the idea of Phil Collins and all he stands for (and this demands that you lived through the '80s) that would be so off-putting and not the song itself. I can imagine I Am Kloot appealing to fans of Coldplay but really, Natural History shows a far greater depth, a far more human connection to the realities of life, love, collapse, dissolution and the rebuilding of self, which maybe is because John Bramwell has had at least twelve years more experience to draw from, or maybe is because he's just far more talented. I don't think it's fair to make that judgement just yet. What it is fair for me to make judgement about, however, is that Natural History is the finest New album I've heard in 2001, and alongside the sounds of Augie March, is set to accompany the late Spring with the sound of tears falling from the sunsets.
© Alistair Fitchett 2001