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Reading about Wreckless Eric in and old MOJO. One of the first albums I ever bought was Live Stiffs: Wreckles Eric, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Larry Wallis in 1979. It was a Nice Price job, costing about as much as two singles (£1.99) and I couldn’t say no. I was a big fan of Ian and Elvis and I loved it all.
I can still sing all the words to Police Car, Wake Up And Make Love With Me, Sex’n’Drugs’nRock’n’Roll, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, Miracle Man and most of all, the funny and extremely bawdy but housebroken, “Billericay Dickie”. I had just moved from Billericay to Cardiff, after my parents divorced and it was amazing to hear the far off and alien world of Pop Music crossing paths with my own little world. I had assumed all music happened in That London or America or some planet that just made odd looking people. I certainly had not noticed any Pop Stars in Billericay’s not-all-that bustling High Street. The most exciting thing there was a tiny and quite crap museum which boasted a stuffed two-headed lamb. That was quite cool. I wonder if it’s still there.
All these amazing tunes were live and it all seemed quite “grown up”, with a lot of sweary beer talk between tunes. I was 9 at the time. I have always assumed the long haired slightly menacing-looking dude in leather was Wreckless Eric. The name seemed to fit. It has been 35 years but I realise my mistake now, of course. So, sorry about that Eric, Larry. As you were.
THE BREAKS BY MARTIN CARR
When I reviewed American Interior forWales Arts Review earlier in the year, I wrote that it was the first time that I hadn’t missed the natural chemistry that the other members of the Super Furry Animals brought to Gruff Rhys’ songwriting. Well, it has to be said that I feel the same way about the new record by Rhys’ fellow Cardiff resident and all round kindred spirit, Martin Carr. Since the Boo Radleys split up after releasing the excellent Kingsize (1998) to an almost entirely indifferent public, their lead guitarist and songwriter, Carr, has released a series of interesting, periodically brilliant albums under the Brave Captain moniker, before more recently making records under his own name. The problem with the reception of these records has possibly been owing to the fact that Carr’s vision underpinned every piece of music that the Boo Radleys created. Perhaps these subsequent records, then, couldn’t help but feel a little bit like expensive demos, or at least like a Boo Radleys’ record without the sense of symbiosis that the other members brought along to their songwriter’s compositions.
This is probably being unfair to Carr’s solo oeuvre but, in any case, suffice it to say that The Breaks is the type of album that relegates such concerns to irrelevance. It is a record that brims with such confidence and ebullience that you suddenly remember what an absolutely essential – especially around the time of Giant Steps – band The Boo Radleys used to be. Maybe Carr went too far on ‘Wake Up Boo!’ (although for me the problem with that song was simply that it was overplayed – and of course, overplayed in so many hideous contexts!), however, whichever way you choose to look at it, it is still, quite frankly, a bizarre state of affairs to not listen to one of the most important songwriters this country has ever produced on the strength of his having made one – one! – cheesey pop song. Should we not listen to David Bowie because of ‘The Laughing Gnome’? And anyway, isn’t ‘Country House’ a vastly more offensive piece of commercial Britpop?
But perhaps the problem with ‘Wake Up Boo!’ is really that its impact caused Carr to somewhat turn his back on what was always one of his key strengths: Lennon-and-McCartney-esque verse-chorus-verse pop-symphonic perfection. The genius of the Boos’ masterpiece Giant Steps was that the band took this perfection and then experimented wildly with it. Fucked it up really. Post ‘Wake Up Boo!’ however, Carr appeared to try to write songs with much more deliberately experimental structures, the sonic experimentation that accompanied them seeming at times to verge on the contrived. This is not at all always the case – the aforementioned Kingsize, for instance, contains some of his most lovely and overlooked works – but, nevertheless, there has, at times, hovered the sense that here was a songwriter unwilling to play to his strengths.
The brilliance of The Breaks (a record that Carr envisioned as being simple and direct solely because he didn’t have a band and so could only get acoustic gigs), is that it finds Carr re-embracing these core strengths i.e wistful, erudite, poetic lyrics sung over a deliciously idiosyncratic take on 60s/70s pop, folk and country (with that early Radleys’ love for Kevin Shields always looming frostily in the background).
Opening song – and lead single – ‘The Santa Fe Skyway’ is quite simply one of the best pop songs Martin Carr has ever written. Opening with a crunching industrial sound and a spiralling orchestral note that recalls Kingsize opener, ‘Blue Room in Archway’, the song suddenly spins away into open chords and a blissed out Hammond organ. ‘I was drunk inside my socks/ Rocking up to your house’, sings a delighted-sounding Carr, immediately sounding better vocally than at any other point in his solo career. Perhaps it was inevitable in the past that Carr would feel in Sice’s shadow as a vocalist – when the Radleys’ vocalist had such a unique voice – but here Carr sounds completely in charge. ‘You know your father kicked me out/ Said I was a lout and a liar’ he hollers, clearly entranced by memory in that same lysergic way that he used to be when he had Sice to ventriloquise his words for him on classic Boos’ cuts like ‘Barney and Me’ and ‘From the Bench at Belvedere’. Add to this Isaac Hayes-esque trumpet parps, blissed out harmonies and looping background violins that seem to echo ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’, and you are left with something so overburdened with feelgood elements that you think that it shouldn’t work. But no. It works ridiculously well; carried along, as it is, by it’s own self-belief and innate brilliance.
‘St Peters in Chains’ is named after an actual school. Carr was shocked and dismayed to find that friends of his were sending their children to the unforgettably named Catholic school of the song’s title and was ultimately sent back to thinking about his own experiences of corporal punishment and Catholic schooling. People don’t always think of Carr as a great lyricist – erroneously dwelling on about the deliberately throwaway lyrics to ‘Wake Up Boo!’ – but Carr has always been a literary lyricist, able to fit poetic introspection into catchy pop structures in a way that Lou Reed would be proud of. In ‘St Peter In Chains’, for instance, he works the Beatlesey ‘…dreaming’ hookline onto a variety of poignant reflections:
My mother said if you can’t behave/ We’re gonna send you away to be saved/ Concentrate the mind and purify the soul/ Wake you up from your dreaming/ …Love with the ruler or the hand or the cane/ My face against the wall/ …Dreaming…
I had initially presumed ‘Mainstream’ to be about the Radleys’ foray into the charts in the mid 90s, a time when Carr became conflicted by the band having achieved the success that they had always sought. However, quite rightly, Carr prefers not to dwell on those days, and the piece is instead about the quiet life he now lives as a married father of two, having long since turned his back on a more alternative way of life. Musically the piece contains delightful echoes of his long term hero, Jimmy Webb but there are also some surprising Leonard Cohen phrases too, not least in the form of the beatific, eerie female backing vocals whereby Carr has his singers swoon the words, ‘sleeping gas, chloroform…’, to unsettling effect.
The Breaks is a record full of many such startling moments. It is a work of pop immediacy but it also one that repays repeated visits with hidden depths. It is very nearly – whisper it – a masterpiece. Martin Carr is one of the best songwriters the United Kingdom has ever produced. It’s high time that people got over ‘Wake Up Boo!’ and started listening to him again.
The Breaks is released on CD and Vinyl by Tapete Records on Monday.
Never had a note from the “greatest democracy the world has ever seen”
or a chance to ring up and berate Scots on the company dime (theirs too presumably) and obligatory sign-up to the Conservative propaganda sluice
Pleased I am from “A country with the British values of fairness, freedom and justice” which the Scots would presumably turn their back on as soon as the die is cast, sinking balls deep into the Buckfast trough and murdering each other for jokes
|On Thursday, Scotland votes – and the future of our country is at stake.
It is a once-and-for-all decision. There is no going back. If Scotland votes yes, the United Kingdom will split, and we will go our separate ways forever.
I desperately want our family of nations to stay together – and if you do too, please do everything you can to help save our great country:
It would be heartbreaking to wake up on Friday morning to the end of the country we love.
The country that launched the Enlightenment, abolished slavery, drove the industrial revolution and defeated fascism.
A country with the British values of fairness, freedom and justice. Values that say wherever you are, whoever you are, your life has dignity and worth.
The greatest example of democracy the world has ever known, of openness, of people of different nationalities and faiths coming together as one.
Millions of people in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland could not bear to see our country, the greatest country on earth, ending forever on Friday.
So please – the United Kingdom needs you. Do all you can to help:
K. Leimer “Ceylon”// John Cale “Andalucia”// Dele Ojo “Jekoyewa”// Claude Denjean “Lay Lady Lay”// Scott Walker “Lights Of Cincinatti”// Mike & Rich “Eggy Toast”// Jackie & Gayle “I Wanna Make You Happy”// Linea Vienesa “Hibernacion”// Spike “Magic Table”// Drexciya “Unknown Journey VII”// Section 25 “Inspiration”