What Are You Waiting For?
I saw The Thanes play only once. They were support to the Soup Dragons who I think were playing an ‘at home’ show at the Art School, Ross Sinclair at that point I’m sure still being the Soup Dragons’ drummer. Certainly his Oor Wullie stencil artwork was still decorating the toilets. As I recall, the Soup Dragons were a huge disappointment, being all rock’n’roll posturing and with none of the snap crackle or Pop we had come to expect, but I remember The Thanes being exciting and strange and magical.

At that time I didn’t know anything about anything. I certainly had no clue about the world of ‘60s garage and psych that was out there, still largely obscured and hidden from view as it was. It sounds strange to say this now, but back in the 1980s there was not the large scale mediated business built around repackaging the past that there is now. Discovering things involved a lot of leg work, was as much a case of knowing the right people and the right shops tucked away in the right back streets. It wasn’t easy. It especially wasn’t easy if you lived in the sticks, but that was part of the deal you accepted. It made the discoveries all the more precious as a result.

I was all over the place in the ’80s. In the ’90s too. I still am to some extent, think I probably always will be. My problem has always been that too much interests me and I cannot spend the time getting obsessed in depth with any one thing. So I end up knowing a bit about a whole range of things, always feeling ignorant of too much and never feeling like I’ve found my place. So whilst I kind of dug the whole ’60s garage psyche thing, it had to compete against so much else. So I found an old Pebbles collection and I got a Seeds record and a couple of Bam Caruso compilations, but I also wanted to hear those old Soul sides people were talking about, and I wanted to hear those Kinks records, and the Subway Sect, and uh, all those early ’80s post punk records that passed me by because I was too busy riding my bicycle and drinking home brew beer in my friends back garden… Maybe you know how it goes?

So The Thanes. Well I bought their ‘Hey Girl’ 7 inch on DDT and I slung the title track on innumerable mix tapes for people who did or didn’t much care about such things. Usually as I recall it would sit next to ‘Anymore Than I Do’ by the Attack and ‘Cremation Town’ by The Poppyheads. I was aware that there was a whole scene out there, that there were a bunch of groups like the Chesterfield Kings and The Lyres making similar noise, and I was aware of the whole Bam Caruso and Strange Things Happening scene going on, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t really for me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that surrounding yourself with a bunch of ‘authentic’ ’60s gear and pretending you were living in an episode of The Prisoner was a bit sad. And maybe you know how that goes too?

So I drifted off to other things, and didn’t even know that The Thanes had kept on going, evolving over eighteen years into a strange reflection of themselves, until this Evolver Rev-Ola set landed in my hands. And listening to it now, the songs sound terrific and on one level that is all that really matters, isn’t it? It matters that so many of these songs are brilliant dynamic Beat Noise, and that equates to great Pop songs, and maybe it’s fair to say now that The Thanes were, and are a great Pop group. Organs swirl around in multi-coloured paisley pattern; guitars scratch and scrape, leap and elope with your heart for just the amount of time it takes to fall a little bit in love; bass and drums pound and rumble, go wandering on strolls along the sea wall in pointy Beat boots, drainpipe jeans, turtle necks and leather overcoats.

In idle moment I sometimes wonder how many kids who own a copy of, say, the White Stripes’ Elephant have heard the Standells or the Sonics, never mind The Thanes. And I wonder if any of them could care less. And I wonder why, or even if, I care if they don’t and if they couldn’t. In those idle moments though I do think it’s a shame that they don’t investigate further, don’t dig to discover those reference texts, thread the lines and see where it’s all come from and might be going to. But then again, maybe they’re just like me. Maybe they have bikes to ride and home brew beer and wine to drink. Maybe they are too distracted by a million and one other things to bother, and maybe you know how that goes.

Having said that, if I was 16 and into the that whole garage revivalist thing, I’d be digging Evolver, dropping tracks next to Dirtbombs and Von Bondies onto mix CDRs and iTunes playlists for people who might or might not much care about such things. I guess some things never change.
So, from the Thanes sounds of the ’80s and ’90s, Rev-Ola go further back in time to the dawn of the ’70s with the salvaged Yes It Is set by Rockin’ Horse. I’ll admit now that I still struggle with much of the early 1970s. I know many who are rigorously searching out long forgotten gems from the era, the Rev-Ola gang amongst them of course, but I struggle nonetheless. And really, I’m not entirely sure that I know why. After all, some of my favourite records ever are from the early ’70s in those Big Star albums that continue to shimmer and sparkle and surprise me every time I play them. And I swear to god that hearing ‘O, Dana’ can drive me to distraction every time. Has done for fifteen years, and I guess it always will. I know there is a lot of delight to be found in that era’s rediscovery of the rock’n’roll innocence of the ‘50s. I mean, I know that those old Bell and RAK 45s are filled with the same kind of delightful r’n’r essence as the Modern Lovers, and I know that Lawrence for one has managed to shine a light of strange nostalgic longing on the era, but still… still I find it so difficult to connect with. Maybe it’s to do with my age. Maybe it’s because I grew up mainly in the ’80s and that the ’70s were therefore too close for comfort; neither completely out of my mind nor filled with any discernable pleasurable memories to be of any worth. The early ’70s were surely times of horrible prog concept albums and hippies with flutes? And flares. And beards.

So stylistically at least I have difficulties with Rockin’ Horse. There are flares. There are beards. But thankfully no flutes nor concepts beyond that of a band having a great time. The roots of the band lie in groups like The Merseybeats and The Kirkbys; lads from Liverpool who had a hand in the revolution that took hold of the world of Pop in the ’60s and of course moulded it into something new and wonderful. And even if you hate the Beatles, you have to accept that revolution was more than just in people’s heads.

So Rockin’ Horse then made the kind of sound that made reference back to those ’60s days of innocence and r’n’r playfulness, before the excess hippy daze came and soiled things in so many ways. Like Honeybus, Rockin’ Horse recorded some mighty fine songs that understood the essence of Pop; great hooks, a line or two that sticks in the mind and that stays there all day and all of the night. And like The Kinks, there are strains of the old English Music Hall tradition filtering into the sound too: ‘You’re Spending All My Money’ for example, could be a hidden Ray Davies gem from Arthur, whilst ‘Julian The Hooligan’ could be from some strange Gilbert and Sullivan take on A Clockwork Orange, and that’s a link you could run out to Sudden Sway and their Kids of 76 set, and hence onwards to Denim, and there’s Lawrence again standing astride the early ’70s, somehow making it his own. It’s easy to see the links between bands like Rockin’ Horse and the essence of Denim, even if sound wise its much closer to the sublime Felt swansong Me And A Monkey On The Moon. All of which of course ought to be making you jot Rockin’ Horse’s Yes It Is down in your notebooks with an asterisked reminder to pick it up on your next trip to the record store or Amazon or whatever your preferred source of such gems might be.

Still, whilst this album adds ammunition to the assault on my prejudices of the early ’70s, I somehow feel it’s going to take a few more years yet for my defences to crumble. Thankfully the chance of seeing me in aviator shades, denim shirt and sandals remains slim at best.
I don’t know if any of the members of Bronco Bullfrog have ever worn denim shirts or sandals, but I do know they have made some mighty fine records that often bristle with the same kind of Power Pop wonder of Rockin’ Horse and those afore mentioned progenitors of the genre, Big Star.

I’m not sure why I never heard of Bronco Bullfrog before now. They have one of the greatest band names ever, being lifted of course from the cult movie made by Barney Platts-Mills as the ’60s dissolved into the ’70s. The film was massively influential on so many, even though it was almost impossible to see for so long. As I recall it was screened just once on TV in the late ‘80s and was never available on video until last year, when Platts-Mills finally released an exquisite DVD. I remember seeing it on the TV that one late night. I came home early from the pub specially for it, and I remember it confusing and beguiling me. Carrie had just bought me a copy of the Quadrophenia album with the booklet sleeve, and I thought it was cool how the imagery for those photos was so clearly influenced by scenes from Bronco Bullfrog. I also figured that not a little of the Sea Urchins aesthetic was straight out of the film, a fact cemented a little later when the sleeve of ‘Solace’ appeared to be a still from the movie ­ Del tinkering with his motorbike / moped. It was all grimy and depressing as all hell but also so undeniably cool, like Shena Mackay’s Music Upstairs.

I’m not sure why I never heard of Bronco Bullfrog before now. They make some of the most honestly enjoyable Pop I’ve heard in ages. Not deep, not clever, not brimming with intellectually challenging lyrics or Art School wank (and hey, you know I LOVE Art School wank in the right context). Just straightforward Pop songs played with a delight and a pleasure that draws me back to thinking about those aforementioned early ’70s acts rediscovering the appeal in the naiveté of early r’n’r. Similarly, there is a clear line to be drawn back to the early ’80s and to groups like The Page Boys, The Mixers, The Direct Hits and The Times, and maybe then it’s no surprise that they should surface here on Joe Foster’s label.

What People Did Before TV then is a collection that brings together some of the Bronco Bullfrog highlights from their output over the past eight years or so, and it’s more or less uniformly delightful. From the hook-laden ‘One Day With Melody Love’ (try playing it over breakfast and NOT have it lodge in your head for the rest of the day) to the country-Mod edge of ‘Home To You’; from the hazy hints of the Paisley Underground threading through ‘Octopus’ to the sweet Squeeze tinted melodic melancholia of ‘Witch’s Garbage’ (try playing it over breakfast and NOT have it… well, you know the score by now I’m sure); from the lovely ghosts of the Action’s ‘I’ll keep on holding on’ in the driving ‘Down Angel Lane’ to the dreams of swingeing London that lie in the potential Up Against It out-take ‘Barnaby Slade’; this set is a terrific collection of Mod inflected Power Pop, and another fine addition to the ever expanding Rev-Ola canon of sweetness.

So what are you waiting for?

© 2004 Alistair Fitchett