Tag Archives: Sleepy People (Blue Apple Boy)

October/November 2018 – upcoming English rock’n’rap gigs – Collapsed Lung, The Scaramanga Six and Sleepy People (variously 12th, 13th and 19th October; 2nd, 3rd, 16th, 17th and 30th November)

9 Oct

I wasn’t sure whether to title this post “’90s survivors” – partially since it’s such a cliché (bringing up images of my era’s university bands entertaining my greying classmates at nostalgia festivals around the country) but also because it suggests musicians who’ve grimly plugged away for ages trying to tongue up the last scraps of glitter from a twenty-five-year-old hit. A survivor doesn’t have to be someone who never left their band; nor does it have to mean a band which just never went away. In many respects, a survivor is someone – or some group – that simply didn’t let their experiences burn them beyond all recognition and all enthusiasm.

Essex rap-rockers Collapsed Lung fit the latter definition nicely. Formed in 1992, they had a busy four-year lifespan, but chose to wind down in 1996 barely six months after cracking the Top 20 with ‘Eat My Goal’ (record label skulduggery having painted them into a corner). In their case, the derailment seems to have been more of a choice to get back control over their own lives and satisfaction rather than allow themselves to have become a novelty act at the mercy of scamsters. Artistically, it’s done them a world of good. Having first tested the reunion waters in 2010, they made a fuller comeback in 2014 and have been resurfacing periodically ever since, playing alongside contemporaries and sympathetic spirits like Senser and Jesus Jones.


 
This year, however, they’ve finally put together a new Bandcamp-hosted album, ‘Zero Hours Band‘, full of “rhymes about what’s “real” to us. These days – middle aged ennui, social mores, feeling utterly out of touch.” They might be selling themselves as a grizzled old joke, but the record is anything but: it’s a clangorous and argumentative pub lock-in of a record, full of waspish English sarcasm, hilarious bellyaching and bang-on-the-nose caricature. By opting out, they stayed themselves: they’re a band devoid of posturing, and a far more honest representation of their wave of British hip hop than they would be had they either allowed themselves to be imprisoned by their hit or ricocheted back off it into faux-American rap swagger.



 
Their upcoming scatter of British dates from Huddersfield and London to Brighton and Minehead should see Collapsed Lung at their vinegary, middle-aged best: old dogs that can still raise a bark. They’ll probably play the hit, but why not – the brassy ring of newer songs like New Song Old Band and Golf People demonstrate that they’ve earned the right to do what they want. For what it;’s worth, the Minehead performance is part of the Shiiine Weekender, with dozens of other ‘90s or ‘90s-friendly acts: hopefully some of their attitude will rub off on their billmates.

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Crossing paths with Collapsed Lung for their Huddersfield date are The Scaramanga Six. It’s tempting to call them ‘90s survivors too; but it wouldn’t be accurate since (a) the Scaramangas only just scraped into the tail end of the ‘90s with their live-in-a-room debut ‘The Liar, The Bitch And Her Wardrobe’ and (b) they’ve never really gone away since, since they’re not so much survivor/revivers as cottage-industry thrivers. Plugging away across nine vibrant self-propelled, self-released studio albums, they’ve been a model of wilful yet canny independence over the course of two decades, with nary a sniff of major-label involvement.

The beefy panache of the Scaramangas’ records belies their cottage-industry model. There’s nothing lo-fi about their arresting, dramatic rock songs which take an American Gothic template and apply it to the simmering discontent of small town England, in the tones of West Country hoodlums with an armoury of loud guitar, snorting brass, Wasp synthesizers and orchestral percussion (and plenty of self-aggrandising, self-aware melodrama on the part of the band).

It’s easy to see the band’s current release – the double album ‘Chronica’ – as a Brexit metaphor. Billed as “an abstract story roughly hewn from a concept of a dystopian island society”, it takes their existing preoccupation with glowering, violent, self-destructive buffoonery and expands it out into a map of “a place where everything has fallen into ruin, yet people still seem to have the same preoccupation with the trivial crap they had before. The population trudge through a chaotic existence on top of each other with absolutely no hope of a better life. Society is reduced to its base behaviour yet people still crave superficial fixes. The human condition carries on regardless. There is no outcome, no lessons to be learned. Familiar?” Yet there’s also a hefty dose of the band’s manic theatre involved; digressions into sinister homebound nightmares (like David Lynch hitting the Yorkshire rentals circuit) suggesting that – no matter what the direct politics – the Scaramangas will always be most interested in the monstrosities which we bud by ourselves, within ourselves.


 
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The Scaramangas are playing three more dates during November, including a couple of one-band-only gigs in Bristol and London. Joining them for a second Huddersfield appearance in mid-November, however, are Northumbrian oddballs Sleepy People. They’re another band that you might judiciously paste into that ‘90s survivors category, were it not for the fact that they’re more like some kind of Wacky Races jalopy; one of the ones fuelled by wayward stubbornness and which keeps full-tilt crashing in flames, makes surprisingly effective repairs from unlikely bolt-ons, disappears from the race for ages and then comes roaring back onto the course from an unexpected angle while acting as if it had never left.

The full Sleepies history’s a frustratingly complicated revolving door of a story, with plenty of caught feet and snagged umbrellas. Suffice it to say that, after a lengthy time-out, they returned last year complete with original frontman Tiny Wood: he who also sings righteous freak-flaggery with Ultrasound. Here, he intones songwriter Paul Hope’s tales of sinister orphanages, malls and retirement homes, of wild bestial metamorphoses or hatching turtles, of tumbling sympathetic oddballs caught between their own peculiar daydreams and the unforgiving summary of newspaper pages. As a band Sleepy People are a conscious continuation of a particular kind of serious English whimsy – the kind that simmers and zigzags through Cardiacs, Syd Barrett, Gong, early Genesis.

In the Sleepies’ case, though, the flutes, arcane keyboard twinkles and glissando guitars are beefed up by proletarian disco drive, bullish Jam post-punk and a pumping sugar-rush art-punk ferocity more akin to Bis than any psych or prog act. Sometime frustratingly slow on promotion, there’s not enough of them on the internet, but here’s a slightly scrappy look at them rehearsing one of their off-the-wall epics last year (plus a mix-and-match rehearsal/performance shot at another one from their appearance at WWW2 in Preston earlier this year).



 
The latest tag they’re toting for themselves is “psychedelic elevator music made by hyperintelligent pre-schoolers”, which captures some of their wide-eyed enthusiasm but not so much of their oblique serious intent. There’s a diffuse swirl of rebellion running through their music – often touching on people’s freedom to think and express in their own way, and on the misunderstandings, deliberate dismissal and persecutions they’re met with. Another common theme is that of rippling the skin of reality to apprehend the mysterious processes running underneath. For those of us who’ve been following them since the ’90s, it would be good to see them recording a new album which somehow pulled all of their wandering strands together, magicalising their North-Eastern home in all of its history and its metaphysical implications. Til then, though, it’s certainly nice to have them back.

As well as the show with The Scaramanga Six, Sleepy People have their own show in their Newcastle hometown at the end of November. Next February, they’ll also be playing support in Sheffield with another of their hero bands and influences, The Monochrome Set, but more on that nearer to the time.

All dates for everyone:

  • Collapsed Lung + The Scaramanga Six + tbc – The Parish, 28 Kirkgate, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, HD1 1QQ, England, Friday 12th October 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • Collapsed Lung – The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England, Saturday 13th Oct 2018, 7.30pm – information here
  • Collapsed Lung – The Prince Albert, 48 Trafalgar Street, Brighton, BN1 4ED, England, Friday 19th October 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • The Scaramanga Six – Rough Trade, Nelson Street, Bristol, BS1 2QD, England, Friday 2nd November 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Scaramanga Six – Wonderbar, 877 High Road, Leytonstone, London, E11 1HR, England, Saturday 3rd November 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Collapsed Lung – Shiiine On Weekender @ Butlin’s – Minehead, Warren Road, Minehead, Somerset, TA24 5SH, England, Friday 16th November 2018 (with too many others to list) – information here
  • The Scaramanga Six + Sleepy People – Small Seeds, 120 New Street, Castlegate, Huddersfield, HD1 2UD, West Yorkshire, England, Saturday 17th November 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Sleepy People – The Cumberland Arms, James Place Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne & Wear, NE6 1LD , England, Friday 30th November 2018, 7.00pm – information here

 

February/April/August 2018 – underground rock flowerings at the Tim Smith fundraiser gigs in Birmingham (21st February), York (27th April) and Preston (11th August)

15 Feb

Following on from the various posts I’ve done on Tim Smith fundraiser gigs, here’s details on the first three to go public this year (in Birmingham, York and Preston). They’ll be shows which are obviously of interest to fans who’ve followed Tim’s work in and out of Cardiacs, but in their lively breadth, they offer plenty for those who’ve never even heard of either Tim or the band.

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Die Das Der & The Catapult Club present:
A Tim Smith Fundraiser: The Courtesy Group + The Nature Centre + Ghosts of Dead Airplanes + The Crooked Hooks
The Cuban Embassy @ The Bulls Head, 23 St Mary’s Row, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 8HW, England
Wednesday 21st February 2018, 7.30pm
– pay-what-you-can event – information

Tim Smith Fundraiser, 21st February 2018The Birmingham event takes place at a Moseley joint generally better known for Latin music: hemmed in by rum posters and playing under the Cuban flag are various Brum-area acts with assorted mind-expanding sympathies, from the slightly fey to the outright bolshy.

I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before – light-touch “fololoppy” banjo-and-keyboards Anglopop meeting a Barrett-y/Partridge-y/Smith-y sensibility, while smuggling in strange tales of misogyny and telepathy under the cover of cuteness – but the other bands playing this pay-what-you-like gig are new to me. Shades of Captain Beefheart, The Fall and Ian Dury infest The Courtesy Group, thanks to Al Hutchin’s pop-eyed, pop-jawed declaiming over tunefully abrasive hubcap-guitar rock grooves (which travel from beaten-up armchair argument to deafening industry, and which deploy an extended armoury including baritone guitar and beatboxing).

 
More zig-zagging commentary and tossed-salad narrative come from The Crooked Hooks, who seem to have started from an electric folk groundpoint (with a flick of country fingerpicking) but then rapidly twisted and buggered it up with dirty art rock. They’ve ended up sounding like a collision between Kevin Rowland and Stump: admittedly, a Kevin who’s let the quest for soul slip through his fingers while he was sunk in esoterica about lost continents, nursery rhymes, insults and horses.

 
Finally, the sludgy jangle of self-deprecating trio Ghosts Of Dead Airplanes defines itself, variously, as “post-post-punk” , “paunch-core”, “noise-pap” and “stupid”. Lurching about all over the shop on a sprawling, surprisingly diverse noise-pop chassis, they formerly bit chunks from what sounded like everything from Pop Will Eat Itself, Nirvana and Gary Numan through to The Double; but more recently they’ve been sounding like anxious boys sticking their bewildered heads out of the billowing trailsmoke-ball of My Bloody Valentine.


 
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An Evening of Fadeless Splendour, 27th April 2018

Maeve Pearson, Jock Bray, Ian Hughes and Simon Piper present:
An Evening Of Fadeless Splendour: Kavus Torabi + Redbus Noface + Paul Morricone + Stephen Gilchrist
The Fulford Arms, 121 Fulford Road, York, Yorkshire, YO10 4EX, England
Friday 27th April 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Several actual Cardiacs (and honorary family members) are showing up at the York gig. Kavus Torabi will be including it as part of his upcoming tour of new solo material featuring a more serious change of tone, in which he’ll be applying his offbeat psychedelic imagination to sombre-yet-colourful acoustic guitar wrangles, ghostly harmonium drones and dark airs about preoccupations and mortality… as well as the odd Knifeworld piece. (Note – if you’re in London on 22nd February, he’ll also be previewing this tour set in Kings Cross.)

Stephen Gilchrist (a.k.a “Stuffy” or, more recently, “Stephen eVens”) will be playing some of his guitar/melodica/microsynth songs about wilful disappointments, bloody-mindedness, childhood holidays and other sardonic aspects of the human condition. For a man who’s ostensibly such a downbeat bastard, he’s always proved a very engaging live performer, clearly relishing his own gallows humour and the grin beneath the growl. (Having delivered one of the finest British songwriter albums of 2017 also helps, I suppose…)



 
Stephen also pops up as part of the lineup of Redbus Noface, the ongoing band project by Mark Cawthra (Tim Smith’s primary foil in the early Cardiacs lineups). Helping Mark and Stephen land the Redbus cargo of chunky art-rock and skewed perspective are Bob Leith (another Cardiac) and Mick Russon (sometimes of Cardiacs-inspired Midlands wonk-pop band 7shades, more on whom later). Bar sporadic gigs, Redbus has been pretty quiet since the release of debut album ‘If It Fights The Hammer, It Will Fight The Knife’ nearly seven years ago: perhaps they’ll have something new for us now.


 
Completing the evening’s entertainment is an appearance by main Scaramanga Six songwriter and frontman Paul Morricone, delivering a solo acoustic guitar package of Scaramanga songs and (perhaps) some additional work in progress. His main band, with their Yorkshire-Krays schtick and their tuneful swagger, might be one of the proudest live acts around; but even without them Paul’s presence is undiminished. He’s still got that big, carrying voice, plus two decades of tough, smart tuneful rock songs behind him – many of them mercilessly skewering toxic masculinity from an insider perspective, focussing not just on its frightening cruelties and callousnesses, but also on its footling self-delusions, its stunted fears and resentments, its swaggering nightmares.

With his work given a new uncomfortable resonance in these days of exposed misogyny, Paul frequently offers grim theatre, with clear lessons beneath the tunes and the dark characterisations. Thankfully, the wider wit and elan of his songwriting – its other varied subjects include stagefright, dreams, and the battle for independence of mind and action, often addressed with dark and melodramatic humour – ensure that an audience with him is far from being a brutal drag-down.


 
Further details on the show are yet to be confirmed but the planned visuals by Kandle Voodoo, plus the efforts of assorted DJs, will help grease the brain and ensure that everything should roll on until two in the morning.

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Hyena Inc. presents:
The Whole World Window 2:
The New Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 8JP, England
Saturday 11th August 2018, 12:00pm
– information here and here

Whole World Window 2, 11th August 2018By far the biggest of the three events is the Preston one – a twelve-hour all-dayer happily yomping along in the footsteps of a previous attempt back in 2016.

In some respects it’s a rerun, with plenty of the same faces showing up. Promoter Greg Brayford is bringing his own mutant power-pop trio All Hail Hyena (whom I described back then as “Bo Diddley rocking an birthday-cake castle”). Prime Cardiacs acolytes 7Shades are still probably as close to the punchy, cartwheeling late-‘80s Cardiacs sound as you’re going to find without a time machine. Also making return appearances are odd-fit acapella jazz’n’Latin pop singer Asha Hewitt (a.k.a. “Moon Ahsa”, sometimes part of Solana) and the deafening hardcore tinkle of Britney (I’m sorry, but I can’t top my 2016 description of them as “one-and-a-half-minute bursts of earsplitting rock numbers plastered with crumpled ice-cream-van melodies…”)





In other respects, WWW2 is a monstrously ambitious jump-up from the last time around, with Cardiacs-community names coasting in from all over the country and from further afield in Europe. The last of the 2016 returnees is Sterbus, bringing his lovingly boiled-up jam of Smith, Fripp, Zappa and ‘90s rock influences over from Rome (and travelling in cahoots with Dominique d’Avanzo, his usual clarinet-and-voice foil). As with the York gig, Kavus Torabi will play a mostly-acoustic solo set; also in attendance are his fellow Londoners The Display Team with their brass-heavy, complicated-but-catchy avant-rock songbook.



 
Continuing his ongoing journey from the American underground to the hearts of an increasing number of unsuspecting British freaks, former Thinking Plague/5uu’s polyinstrumental wildcard Bob Drake pops across the Channel from his south-of-France home with a cavalcade of lighthearted weird-fiction tales for guitar, voice and funnybone. From Tyneside and Northumberland, the recently reunited Sleepy People (complete with original frontman and ongoing Ultrasound icon Tiny Wood) will be bringing their pumping, spiralling kaleidoscopic psych-pop for strange city corners; while twilight-folk singer Emily Jones, from Cornwall, will be unpacking her own tales of sea-wives, suspect fairies and haunted post-war bungalows.




 
The rest of the bill features some rich north-western and Midland pickings which have caught Greg’s eye. Former Polyphonic Love Orchestra members David Sheridon and Debz Joy are making what I think is their first live appearance in their new post-punk fabulist guise as Army Of Moths; Telford-based punk-pop absurdists A Pig Called Eggs sound like John Otway and Syd Barrett happily sharing a single body, but struggling for control of a jouncing mathcore band. Rounding the bill off are Mancunian loop-pedal-pushing lo-fi noise-pop soloist RoBotAliEn (a moonlighter from frequent Hyena-gig guests Sweet Deals On Surgery) and folk-singer Cassandra Payne, whose 2016 debut EP ‘Sheltering Tree’ blends a Northern English folk heritage with lessons and Americana ideas picked up from journeys through the Appalachians, the wilds of Vermont and the bohemian idyll of Cape Cod’s Provincetown.





 
Greg has also promised a rash of zines, merchandise and commemorative souvenirs, plus a couple of mysteries in the shape of Hannah’s Storey (a top-secret duo being assembled especially for the event) and a similarly secret headliner (which, given the calibre of the people he’s already managed to sign up, ought to be very special indeed…) Meanwhile, for a peek at the previous Whole World Window concert in 2016, see below.


 

November 2017 – upcoming free rock gigs – Tonochrome back in action in London (25th November); All Hail Hyena host a quadruple-headed evening in Preston with Dirty Bare Feet and Soldato plus the return of Sleepy People for their first gig in sixteen years (11th November)

2 Nov

Tonochrome, 25th November 2017

Tonochrome
The Spice of Life, 6 Moor Street, Soho, London, W1D 5NA, England
Saturday 25th November 2017, 7.30pm
– free entry – information

London progressive pop band Tonochrome have been away for a while – they were last onstage towards the end of 2013. This new gig towards the end of the month is something of a return and reshuffle – it’s their first with the newest in a run of bass players (Andres Castellanos), and an opportunity for singer Andres Razzini and his other cohorts (keyboard player Steve Holmes, drummer Jack Painting and, on guitar, transdisciplinary musical wanderer Charlie Cawood) to show us the latest developments for a promising band. Over an increasingly interesting pair of EPs, Tonochrome have explored glam pop, aspirational indie and a touch of expansive prog, building towards a definitive, textured statement. I don’t know if they’ve got there yet, but this show is free, so get in and see what they have to offer.


 
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Dirty Bare Feet + All Hail Hyena + Sleepy People + Soldato, 11th November 2017Hyena Inc. presents:
Dirty Bare Feet + All Hail Hyena + Sleepy People + Soldato
Ships And Giggles, 3 Fylde Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ, England
Saturday 11th November 2017, 7.00pm
– free entry – information here and here

Meanwhile, up in Preston, herky-jerky odd-rock band All Hail Hyena (who’ve made an initial name for themselves by storming and/or organising assorted Tim Smith benefit gigs) continue their work as promoters Hyena Inc. via a free DIY gig celebrating “one night of pop-punk-rap-reggae-soul-psychedelic space ska nursery-rhymes rock lo-fi metal bossa-nova prog tri-fi music from four diverse and very different brilliant northern bands”. As well as putting on the night and providing the lollipops, they’re performing themselves, bringing new songs of “neon lipstick, the thrill of a stolen kiss, and powerful pop ballads infused with filthy guitars and hot sex”. The gig will be closed by another growing Preston institution, Dirty Bare Feet, playing an audience pleasing “myriad of rap, soul, reggae, dance, pop, disco and jazz”; and opened by Chorley hard rockers Soldato (“four hairy northerners making noise with wood and wire”).




 
Of most interest to me, however, is that this gig marks a long-overdue return to live action by Tyneside underground heroes Sleepy People. Teasers and tinkerers at the coalface of psychedelic pop, they’ve always been a wilfully eccentric bunch; mingling the countercultural clowning and cosmic glissandi of Gong with bursts of twinkling synth melody, pulses of ska and post-punk guitar chug, set off by moonstruck flute and held together by Paul Hope’s odd yet jaunty songs (which chunter along like sugar-frosted tank engines). The last time they trod the boards was back in 2001: reunited with original singer Tiny Wood (better known as the frontman for ongoing cult-glamsters Ultrasound) they’re seeing what the contemporary world offers them, and vice versa.

Sleepy People, 11th November 2017Despite a strong work ethic Sleepy People never got as far as they should have done during their first lease of life; partly thanks to a constant stop-start of personnel turnover (with Paul and Rachel Hope the only consistent members) but also due to their continual goofiness and repeated nose-thumbing at any conception of cool. Daevid Allen might well have applauded, but the insouciant clowning tended to obscure surprisingly thoughtful songwriting which – while it happily dipped into a soup of esoterica from Gurdjieff to Freemasonry – frequently raised an arch, quizzical eyebrow at contemporary concerns. Among the tales of the frieze of myth and of men turning themselves into birds, the Sleepies also sang about the encroachment of shopping malls, about futile attempts at freezing yourself into immortality, or about modern-day nightmares in orphanages and retirement homes. At other times they’d cast numinous halos of wonder around everyday occurrences (a winter walk home which slowly becomes freighted with significance; the joy of a child running across a beach; or, perhaps on the same beach, the uncomprehending travails of a newly-hatched turtle perilously navigating by the moon).

Things can only be improved by the ongoing reunion with Tiny (who actually rejoined for part of the band’s final stint as Blue Apple Boy around 2002 before they called it a day). Striving to be Wakefield’s own David Bowie and its David Thomas; possessed of a hulking, dramatic stage presence; singing in foreboding and flinty tones like a pop crooner reincarnated as a battlefield crow… he’s always been the best, and the edgiest, foil for Paul’s songwriting. The tail end of the Blue Apple Boy period saw them writing together, Tiny’s more personalised art-punk anguish proving the perfect sour complement to Paul’s sweet, playful tunefulness: let’s hope that they’ve kept that up for the revival.

As for Sleepy People on the web, they’ve still got much to improve on their Facebook page (you’re better off checking them out on Wikipedia) and embeddable delights are few and scattered. Here’s what I could come up with, though – a twirl through Halfway World (with Tiny’s original replacement Phil Sears); recent rough’n’ready rehearsal footage of Every Wave Is Higher On The Beach and Nicky’s Little Army; and half an hour of grainy, raucous footage of a Tiny-fronted band lineup in 1993 (complete with three-fifths of the original Ultrasound).





 

November 2002 – album reviews – Blue Apple Boy (with Tiny Wood)’s ‘Salient’ (“a fistful of hallucinated tabloid pages”)

6 Nov
Blue Apple Boy: 'Salient'

Blue Apple Boy: ‘Salient’

Change your name: it doesn’t always change your problems. Take Sleepy People, for example, who hauled their lively kaleidoscopic music around an unrewarding British indie circuit (and through a dozen fragile lineups) for a decade. In 2000 they relaunched as Blue Apple Boy, yet retained their perennial instability. Within a year, bandleader Paul Hope was stalled back home in Newcastle minus a singer and half of his musicians.

Sometimes, though, you can take advantage of the problems. At the same time, Britpop anti-hero Tiny Wood (the former frontman for indie-glam stars Ultrasound) was also back in Newcastle, his former band smeared across London as a smouldering Icarus-heap of terminal wreckage and recriminations. Before all that, back in the mid-’90s, Tiny had been the original Sleepy People singer: now he and Paul had common wounds to lick, common sympathies, some comforting nostalgia. Perhaps they even shared, and enjoyed, some affinity-building stubbornness. A mutually beneficial team-up must have seemed so logical…

All of which leads us to the Blue Apple Boy debut album, ‘Salient’ – effectively, a Sleepy People reunion, with the additional expectations of an Ultrasound sequel looming over it. Even before a note is heard, this album struggles with the conflicting yanks of cult-pop demands. Blue Apple Boy make as much hay as possible from Tiny’s cult-hero status, but risk a spurning from aggressively heartbroken Ultrasound fans (who might just crucify a hero who won’t do what they want of him). In practice, ‘Salient’ makes the most of these pressures and contradictions. It’s not quite what’s expected, yet it’s firmly familiar and keeps its own defiant identity to the end.

As with Sleepy People, the songwriting remains predominantly under Paul Hope’s control, and it’s his particular psychedelic quirks that dominate the record. All Systems Fail and Who’s That Calling are typical of this: cute and melodic, in-your-face playful; and leaping off in odd, sometimes vexing, directions as they caper and strive for your attention. Peculiar stories are flourished at you like a fistful of hallucinated tabloid pages. Riffling through assorted newspapers, Paul tracked down real-life accounts of sleepwalkers, bridge-fallers and other unfortunates: re-filtered through the Hope song prism, these tales suggest a tilted world in which people constantly stray off into the margins, crumpled and bizarre.

Whatever other changes the band have gone through, their free-romping jolliness remains intact. They retain their twitchy rhythms, their chugging power-pop guitar lines and their fairy-dust spangles of keyboard, (this time, provided by Vietgrove’s Norman Fay). Paul’s wife Rachel Theresa is still on hand to add her twirling cascades of flute and bubbling analogue synthesizer. In the space of a single song, Blue Apple Boy are likely to traverse space-rock, ska, post-punk and light entertainment. They’ll mix up, with equal affection, the memories of Magazine and The Monochrome Set with those of dusty archive clips of ‘Children’s Hour’; or fuse the nervous thresh of Cardiacs with the sitcom jingles of Ronnie Hazlehurst.

The band’s tinges of eerie head-spinning sound and fairytale absurdity – all very English – also nod to Syd Barrett or, more often, Gong. Despite Tiny’s top billing and Paul’s songwriting dominance, there’s occasionally a communal Gong-family feel to the album, and on three tracks, Tiny is absent altogether. It’s Rachel who provides the spun-sugar lead vocals to The Moon Is Hungry’s Gurdijieffian bossa-nova; and to the hokey-cokey, carousel-prog of Leave The Mud For The Worms. On Apples And Pears (a brief whimsical interlude of psychedelic innocence and nursery babble) Paul and Rachel’s children provide chatter and giggles.

Yet at the heart of the album is the return of Tiny – who has never seemed more at home anywhere than he does here. While Ultrasound had their moments of true connection and emotion, they were ultimately victims of their own grandiose quest for scale and significance: at their worst, they’d belly-flop into grotesque navel-gazing parodies of arena-rock. ‘Salient’ proves that Tiny’s brooding outsider tendencies and flinty tones turn out to be better in smaller environments, posting beady jabs of art-rock from halfway up the pole.

In addition, Tiny displays a knack for adding sardonic, solemn depth to even the most whimsical ideas. Carefully souring Paul Hope’s sonic candy, he highlights the dirt and scrapes lurking behind the playfulness. If Rachel has always been Paul’s most loyal musical foil, Tiny’s always been the one to add grit to his fancies.

For instance, a song about the disorientation and horror of retirement homes (Sunshine Valley Paradise Club) has almost too much musical gamesmanship going on. There are bundles of instruments falling out of the cupboard; there’s a spooky careen of a verse leading into a chorus like a ’70s sitcom theme wrestling with Iggy Pop, then tumbling down the stairs. To cap it off, there’s a dirty great plume of polluted guitar noise from Richard Green (another ex-Ultrasounder and former Sleepy Person, passing through with a psychedelic razz). Yet it’s Tiny, teetering between dignity and hysteria, who reaches through all of this romping and draws out the song’s humanity; the failing dignity of the elderly narrator, the chintz and decorum which rubs shoulders with the sinister.

At other times, Tiny shoves his way through a song like the bastard bare-knuckled offspring of Howard Devoto and the young Peter Gabriel. On Hanghar, Blue Apple Boy deliver a dogged psychedelic pelt along the reality faultline. While a bossa-nova flute-and-birdsong break sweetens the pill for a moment, Paul’s choppy blunt-razor-punk guitar and Tiny’s snarling slides across the melodies make it flit edgily between freedom and menace, vision and insanity. “Seeing the door that’s carelessly open, sliding like a shadow you move… / Light as a feather you’re sailing / while they’re nailing your face to the floor.”

Across the album, Tiny proves to have many more strings to his bow. He lends a junk-Sinatra majesty to the moonstruck marine gloom of Every Wave is Higher on the Beach, with its midnight compulsions and harbour lights: while its cryptic lyric is actually about spawning turtles led astray and into peril by human encroachments on their world, Tiny makes it sound like the return of a disorientated prodigal son. On the sinister sleepwalking fantasia of Dead Man Walking, he snarls over the spasming riffs like a resentful marionette. When he’s simply interpreting a song, though, he adds no more than implications, fine though they are. When he’s given a hand in the songwriting – adding layered lyrics to Hope’s musical inventiveness – he focuses the whole band onto something more pointed.

On the two occasions when this happens, Blue Apple Boy rise above their eccentricities to blaze out two Tiny-scaled anthems for the lost and sidelined (“Born from hope to homelessness, I think / Life is just a kitchen sink…”) As theatrical as anything Ultrasound offered, they recapture that band’s zest in spitting from the outside. These two songs also see Tiny fully focused – a surreal, self-appointed martyr; a champion of car-crash lives at the sharp end of a brutal universe. One of them, Cold War, is even explicitly billed as a follow-up to Ultrasound’s blisteringly romantic Stay Young. It sounds like the evil twin of a Christmas single – stately, but apocalyptic. Tiny struggles though a blasting, suffocating winter-of-the-soul: as people die in the snow around him, distant heartless bells tinkle.

The other song, Jump Start, has already had a few trips around the block. Previously (with different lyrics and frontman) it was a jittering, paedophile-panic single called Freak. Transformed by Tiny, it becomes a cavalcading anthem of blockages, resurgences and blown chances. “The golden door, / it shuts in your face and you’re always poor.” As melodies veer and crash around him, Tiny delivers a sardonic twist on the ageing underground spirit – “Citizen Smith went to heaven, and everyone else drove to Brighton / Cleaner, greener, newer – and I’m frightened…” Maybe it’s a portrait of the Ultrasound collapse; maybe it’s just Tiny voicing a sudden sense of the cold wind that suddenly blows around ageing romantics and freezes the Byron out of them.

Either way, it encapsulates the way this late, reconciling album works. There are bumps in the dream. If handed a nasty twist in the tale, sing it out with your own twist.

Blue Apple Boy (with Tiny Wood): ‘Salient’
Soma Sound, SOMASOUND002
CD album
Released: 28th October 2002

Buy it from:
Best obtained second-hand.

Blue Apple Boy online:
Last FM YouTube
Sleepy People online:
Facebook Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Amazon Music
 

June 1998 – single & track reviews – James’ ‘Runaground’; The Monsoon Bassoon’s ‘Wise Guy/28 Days in Rocket Ship’; Sleepy People’s ‘All Systems Fail/Every Wave is Higher on the Beach’

28 Jun

James: 'Runaground'

James: ‘Runaground’

OK, it’s a marketing trick, alright? James have a Greatest Hits album out and apparently need filler. So this is one of those irritatingly “exclusive” singles which bands now record especially to give obsessives a reason for buying their compilation albums. But, despite all the incentive to hate it for that reason, this is one of the few times when the phrase “bonus track” actually makes sense.

Runaground is more than satisfying in its own right. Here’s one of James’ occasional warmly blue-tinted songs, coming from one of the reflective lulls between their big anthems (Laid, Sit Down, She’s a Star)and their bursts of dervish doolally (Avalanche, Bring a Gun, Sometimes): with a soft bush of guitars rather than a wall of them, a lilting breathy melody, and Saul Davies’ thin sweet glow of violin coming through like light under a mother’s door. “For every woman you will leave an open door / You find yourself thinking “why can’t I have more?” “.


 
There’s a directness to Tim Booth at such moments, an unguarded wistful sadness to his herald’s voice as he ditches the metaphysics and the egghead bluster. Runaground’s one for the frightened fool, grasping for every tiny illusory chance in order not to get stuck, only to find they’ve dropped everything that’s worthwhile anyway just to grasp at shadows, and that they’ve gotten stuck anyway. “Oh no, she’s gone, back wherever she came from. / You watch her go, your reactions much too slow. / Let her go. / Runaground.”

Is it one of Booth’s flagellating stabs at his own unreliability, as with Come Home and Don’t Wait That Long? Maybe. One thing’s for sure as the waves of another great James chorale surge up: with this, the Manchester stadium-pop weirdos have touched down gently on the human feelings they neglected too much on the patchy techno moves of the ‘Whiplash‘ album. Experimentation’s nothing without soul and empathy. “You take for granted all the riches of the world / You may have oysters, but you’ll never find your pearls…” Almost a desert island disc.

The Monsoon Bassoon: 'Wise Guy/28 Days in Rocket Ship'

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘Wise Guy/28 Days in Rocket Ship’

For some, it’s best to kick off with a statement rather than an insinuation. Especially when it’s one which no-one can argue with. This debut single’s a double-barrelled shotgun blast of twisted intent. The Monsoon Bassoon (who’ve been regularly carving up Camden indie-pubs for several years now) are allegedly “psychedelic pop”. But if that automatically makes you pull out a checklist and start ticking off (a) druggy sonic syrup, (b) honeybee harmonies, (c) kiddie songs and (d) wobbly blues guitar ad infinitum, forget it. If they’re anything to do with current psych-pop, the Bassoon are Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci shorn of their Brian Wilson fixation, off their heads on chaos theory and frantically shagging a stapling machine. If you could fix it so that a tropical rainstorm could blast through a double reed, you probably would end up with this sort of shrapnel.

Both tracks on this double A-side start out as songs. With the emphasis on “start”: two duelling, slashing guitars and three voices quickly fractalise the songs into manic battling melodies. You get plenty of pop hooks, but before too long they’ve turned into egg-whisks and grappling irons mounting a major assault on pop strongholds. The Monsoon Bassoon can take a song and turn it into a sort of Philip Glass No-Wave party during which The Pixies, Henry Cow, and Television all get smashed and then get caught up in an argument which they enjoy so much that it takes the police to get them out of the building.


 
The prog word rears its head too, but with any hint of cosiness snipped off by Tim “Cardiacs” Smith’s rough’n’ready garage-y production. If the Bassoon sometimes resemble a younger, more hyperactive King Crimson – those revolving guitars, Sarah Measures’ daredevil flutes and reeds, the way the music booms back and forth between celestial minimalism and bellowing, screaming blasts of red-hot air – they’ve also got a good deal more of a sense of sheer fun and dynamism than Crimson themselves are exhibiting these days.


 
You might not remember the tunes, but you’ll certainly remember the commotion en route. The choppy pop of Wise Guy explodes like axe-heads coming through hotel-room doors, twirls the odd piroutte as it does so, and leaps up to a trumpeting, triumphant, speaker-melting fanfare. 28 Days in Rocket Ship is superficially calmer until the monster bass riffs and bells rock the belfry to bits. This is hardcore pronk to the max, with a eerie sideswiping charm to compound its relentless ecstatic ferocity. This music yells “fuck you, get out of my way,” and in the same breath, flashing a brilliant grin, adds “but you can come too.” Dancing on giddy splinters.

Sleepy People: 'All Systems Fail/Every Wave is Higher on the Beach'

Sleepy People: ‘All Systems Fail/Every Wave is Higher on the Beach’

With the effusive Phil Sears – a.k.a “Earl Slick” – waltzing out of the band shortly after the release of their second album, Sleepy People have spent some time singerless. Not a band to take things lying down, they’ve recruited new teenaged singer Lee Haley, messed around in the engine room a bit, and got these two songs down on tape, battling on to maintain momentum and taking another look at the songwriting business while they’re at it.

Sleepy leader Paul Hope has never been one to back off from a challenge; and writing for Haley’s lighter, more fragrant tones (a clarinet compared to Sears’ brazen and operatic trumpet) has certainly brought out the best in his glowing psychedelic pop. All Systems Fail compresses and channels the Sleepies’ usual sprawling, ornamental music while losing none of its jack-in-the-box explosiveness. Moogs burble and fizz, Paul’s guitars snarl and swipe like fuzzed-up little kittens, the rhythms are as jumpy and cheekily punka as ska on itching powder, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were juggling the odd plate as they recorded (“What goes round / Must come down”).

Lee skates through the whole thing with a suspicious schoolboy insouciance. Angel-faced or not, this is a guy who managed to shoot himself through the liver while messing about with a pistol between rehearsals: and he warbles like a naughty chorister alongside Rachel’s moonbeam harmonies, while everyone else yelps like dogs on the chorus: “steaming creatures with violent features… wind them up and run!” It could almost be a proggy Bis: glittery hairslides, sherbet flying saucers’n’all.

Every Wave is Higher On the Beach is more familiar Sleepyfare. Epic, complicated, Gongpop stuff, as moonstruck as ever: Rachel sending her flute in rolling smoketrails through Anna’s spooky streaks of keyboard as the band drive through the night. But this time their eccentricity has a much more haunting edge to it. At his best, Paul Hope’s one of the few pop people who can capture the eerie wonder of someone’s more mystical, Fortean Times-y experiences. And this is him at his best – urging a langorous, hypnotised performance out of Lee as a man in the grip of an atavistic compulsion, pulling out and away from the world. “Although I’ve never been, / I know the sea’s not far away from here. / Rumours carried on the waves / will help me find the way that I should go… / Although I’ve never seen, / I know there’s something really big out there. / Is that the moon I see, / or harbour lights leading me astray?”

As the bass throbs and the guitar mounts in a spiral of pulsating alarm, Sleepy People seem to be taking a great leap in the dark, “across the never-ending sand” out upwards from their frequent foolery and into somewhere far more soul-stroking, more threatening. The madness behind the face-paint isn’t so theatrical this time, but is far more effective. Sleepy People have proved they can take another body-blow and come back grinning.

James: ‘Runaground’
Mercury Records, JIMCD 20 / 568 853-2
CD/cassette single
Released:
23rd June 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) original single best obtained second-hand; song appears on several James compilations – ‘The Best of’ and ‘Fresh As a Daisy – The Singles’.
James online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘Wise Guy/28 Days In Rocket Ship’
Weird Neighbourhood Recordings, WNRS 1 (no barcode)
7-inch vinyl-only double A-side single
Released:
June 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) original single best obtained second-hand; ‘Wise Guy’ appears on The Monsoon Bassoon’s ‘I Dig Your Voodoo‘ album.
The Monsoon Bassoon online:
MySpace Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Spotify Amazon Music

Sleepy People: ‘All Systems Fail/Every Wave is Higher on the Beach’
The Soporific Foundation (no catalogue number or barcode)
Cassette-only double-A-side single

Released: June 1998
Get it from: (2020 update) original single best obtained second-hand; original song versions currently unavailable, but different versions sung by Tiny Wood appear on the Blue Apple Boy album ‘Salient‘.
Sleepy People online:
Facebook Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Amazon Music
 

January 1997 – live reviews – Podsdarapomuk @ The Hope & Anchor, Islington, London, November 13th 1996 & January 23rd 1997 (“passages of dreamlike contemplation with surges of magnificently tangled art-rock splurge”)

29 Jan

Podsdarapomuk - concerted action (photographer unknown).

Podsdarapomuk onstage (photographer unknown).

On an early-November afternoon in 1996, I’d hopped out of a car travelling up from Kent and made my way to one of ‘Organ’ magazine’s “Vital Organ” gigs at the London Astoria 2. As usual, I was following their lead on where newer progressive and psychedelic rock was pushing at the door. At the moment I can’t quite remember who was playing. Some scribbled notes somewhere might tell me that it was Sleepy People (still tootling, yelping and gamely plugging away at their foothold on the capital), or Porcupine Tree (keeping a sharp grip on themselves and gathering speed at their own pace). Or perhaps it was Terry Bickers continuing on the slow, injured trajectory out of his House of Love and Levitation stardom – winding out ashy cigarette-coils of dream guitar with his recently trimmed-down, soon-to-vanish Cradle, he was avoiding eye contact, preparing to evaporate. However, that’s a story for another time, if I can dig the details up.

Over at the merchandise stall, I was leafing through the Organ stock of colour-splashed vinyl and obscure demo tapes – a typically eclectic, magical crop from bands with unknown names, complex influences and musical agendas ignored elsewhere (people were concentrating on Oasis’ gobby bloat, and on the sorry disintegration of The Stone Roses). It was then that I was collared by an earnest young German drummer called Claas Sandbothe: wiry limbs and granny glasses, a schoolboy’s fringe, a grinful of persistent little teeth. He tried to talk me into buying something by his band, Podsdarapomuk; an enthusiastic rave about it from Marina at ‘Organ’ clinched the deal. So I bought Claas’ band’s EP, and it just knocked me out.

Ten days later, and I’m in a pub cellar in Islington as the group takes the stage. Podsdarapomuk turn out to be five young gentlemen-longhairs in suits and ties; German-born (hailing from an out-of-the-way little town near Stuttgart) but London-based (up near Leyton, home to many an intriguing left-field band of late). They look like a young undertaker’s convention. They grin shyly, and sound like…

Daniel Klemm in contemplative mood. (photographer unknown).

Daniel Klemm in contemplative mood. (photographer unknown).

…well, hell, we really are onto something here. Imagine a band with the nervous jazzy edge and contemporary noisy indie-cum-art-rock punch of dEUS, but which also sounds like every period of King Crimson from 1969 to 1996 all rolled into one; apparently taking its melodic cues from Gentle Giant and its double-back musical bungee-jumping from Mr. Bungle or Primus, and stirring in more than a smidgin of John Zorn. That’s what we have here – something complex, wearing its hungry tonal erudition on its sleeve.

But don’t expect wackiness or calisthenics; and while there’s a strong dose of prog to the band, it’s the crepuscular kind. While Podsdarapomuk may have left home, they’ve also brought it with them – trailing sombre Germanic influences, their music prowls rather than jiggles. It has a peculiar, rickety-ghost-house unease to it. Studied, grotesque expressionism wells through the lyrics – images of puppets, of ships in peril, of flowers and beautiful paintings about to have huge, horrible shadows cast over them. Elusive, sinister pictures are etched by the beautiful haunted wail of Daniel Klemm, which rooftop-hops over Lars Puder’s sinewy bass, Klaas’ stalk-and-pat drumming and the dual punch of clawing guitars from brooding main tunesmith/spine-provider Thorsten Pachur and his sweeter foil Christian Schmidt. Debra Scacco (one of London’s art-school journeywomen), guests on flute, offering a sunny smile and journeying melodies which seem to follow their own sweetly oblivious path on top of the raging electric music underneath.

They’re scrupulously polite and smiling throughout: solicitously ensuring that we’re comfortable before they tear into our eardrums. A Dream & Rage In A Cage teeters briefly on Daniel’s eerie chant before the band plunge down into concerted action and a succession of metallic talon feints, as they were trying to blowtorch and harrow fresh life King Crimson’s ‘VROOOM’ via Captain Beefheart restlessness. Heavy jazz-electric riffage ransacks the room on A Fool’s Smile, like a threesome of John McLaughlin, Fred Frith and Hendrix turned bad, all stalking each other with Bowie knives. The punks in the room are confused and sulking. The little knot of proggies present are jamming themselves up near the front to drink it all in. They get it. Crimson-like, the Pods alternate passages of dreamlike contemplation with surges of magnificently tangled art-rock splurge.

Podsdarapomuk's Christian Schmidt conjures a noise (photographer unknown).

Podsdarapomuk’s Christian Schmidt conjures a noise (photographer unknown).

The effect is a bit like unscrewing the back of a magnificent antique clock, only for the clockwork to burst out and ambush you in a chaotic explosion of precision parts. Torn Puppet Without Hands Nor Tongue tumbles into grungy post-Fripp shapes, lunging haphazardly over Daniel’s slice’n’dice vocals and the bebop-y spine of Claas and Lars’ rhythms. On the hunched, hanging Make The King Laugh ( which sometimes sounds like the Shulman brothers soundtracking ‘Twin Peaks’ by way of stuttering trip hop), Christian adds to the unsettling shimmer by tricking alien insect-calls out of his guitar with his slide and the jack-plug.

Podsdarapomuk close the set with the comparative calm of Is It? – a spindled and vulnerable bit of near-acoustica which, again, is reminiscent of Gentle Giant, but which also has the ravaged prayer-feeling of Kurt Cobain. On the final whispering, jazzy chord, it’s as if a door has shut on a world of ever-so-slightly dangerous wonder: one you know you’ll soon want to open again.

*********

Two months and four gigs later… It’s January 1997, and I’m back at the Hope & Anchor watching a group that’s evolving at a frightening speed. Personally, they’re still as polite and amiable as ever, still given to mild surreal humour and little comedies of manners. (In a nod to ‘Don’t Look Back’, Daniel is now holding up cards with the song titles printed on them). In contrast, Podsdarapomuk’s mutable music seems about as stable as nitro-glycerine these days. Watching it go off is a rare thrill. Sometimes the band’s music explodes in a jagged flash of brightness: sometimes it’s just an ominous smoke-cloud rolling out from the stage, filled with glowing cinders and embers.

Thorsten Pachur - Podsdarapomuk's brooding heart (photographer unknown).

Thorsten Pachur – Podsdarapomuk’s brooding heart (photographer unknown).

There’s plenty of new material. The chippy guitar intro of Waiting For God leads into a mating of jazzy-walking with Beefheart word-slicing, and even if you could brush this off as being a little shapeless and jammy, they rock you back on your heels with the following I’m Your Dog, a blistering blast that could have come off the most ferocious moments of ‘Exposure’ via The Jesus Lizard. Another new song swerves along like a sprinter weaving through a minefield, Thorsten and Christian morse-coding their guitars over the kind of skittish body-blocking drum patterns that’d make Bill Bruford weep with joy. Later, they’ll be telling me that they’ve been saving every penny to catch Bob Berg gigs at Ronnie Scott’s: that they’ve been studying with Talvin Singh, and listening to Portishead.

It’s clear that their studies and their omnivorous hunger is flourishing into new creative heights. Most evidently, the restless electric jazz that was always percolating deep down in the Podsdaramomuk sound is starting to flood up now, raising the boats and crowding in at the windows. Songs are evolving – Make The King Laugh has somehow deepened, added layers of delirium and almost become a new genre of dub-prog. When A Dream & Rage In A Cage makes a reappearance, it’s been seductively greased and funked-up; Torn Puppet Without Hands Nor Tongue has become tighter, fiercer. Another new piece, Biscuit Murder Blues, is full of forbidding Bark Psychosis jazz-guitar swells, and effortlessly morphs from Daniel’s sleazeball lounge-lizard singing to frenetic pogo-punk in an eyeblink.

They finish up with the tap-dancing metal-mathcore of Little Bombs, with a shriek of John Coltrane saxophone flown in on tape. I finish up with a dawning belief that Podsdarapomuk could go anywhere from here. Unfortunately, it looks as if it’s going to be Berlin – they’re already planning for the end of their London sojourn, and we’ll only have them until the middle of the year. It’ll take us that long to remember how to pronounce their name properly. Perhaps we should spend the time appreciating what we’ve got, while we have it.

Podsdarapomuk - concerted action (photographer unknown).

Podsdarapomuk – concerted action (photographer unknown).

Podsdarapomuk online:
Homepage MySpace Last FM

The Hope & Anchor online:
Homepage Facebook

October 1995 – live reviews – Organ presents Poisoned Electrick Head + Sleepy People @ The Monarch, Chalk Farm, London, 17th October (“another little banquet of progressive strangeness”)

20 Oct

Another little banquet of progressive strangeness is being laid on for us by those fine people at ‘Organ’ – unusual nourishment, as usual.

Newcastle’s Sleepy People are another from the expanding pool of bands under the giddy influence of Cardiacs. Those beloved warning signs are present: bizarre stares, a manic focus on the sort of music that ransacks your brain while it entertains you, frantic stop-start rhythms, and an obsessive love of cramming: cramming enough melodics for forty songs into the space of one, squeezing a whole orchestra’s-worth of sound into the kitchen-sinker of a rock band’s line-up. They don’t exactly look like your average clutch of prog-rockers, either. Two sane-looking people handling the rhythm section, some unholy cross between Bernard Cribbins and Sparks’ Ron Mael on synth, two impassive women doubling-up flutes and backing vocals, a singer who looks like the monster under Suede’s bed and a dead ringer for Uncle Fester Addams chopping away on guitar. More tea, Vicar?

The music itself starts out as Hammer Horror prog-punk and veers off to uncharted places: foggy treated flutes, yelping digressions, hallucinated carousel tunes, folk-classical suites composed by crazed cartoonists. I try and fail to write down coherent descriptions. The closest analogy to Sleepy People’s music is the glorious noise which you get when you knock over the music cupboard and everything falls out. If you can imagine that full-tilt chaos with intent and lunatic melodies, you’re halfway there. They announce songs with cheery, cosy titles like Home is Where Your Telly Is and Mr Marconi and His Unusual Theory, and they could write about paint drying and make it sound like the most fantastically surreal thing in the world. A band to cure the terminally bored.

We’re not out of Hammer Horror territory yet. Accompanied by hymnal keyboard invocations, a trio of fearsome skeletal masks take the stage and grin out at us. Poisoned Electrick Head have materialised. The singer (whom, for reasons best known to himself, chooses to travel under the name of Pee) comes skipping up through the audience in a devil mask, a sprightly little Old Scratch in a business suit. But although the masks may be other-worldly, the music is less so.

In contrast to Sleepy People’s cut’n’paste barrage of demented chops, Poisoned Electrick Head stick to a more familiar recipe of chunky geometric hard rock (not too far from prog metal, but light on the flashy virtuoso posing and stronger on the roughneck oil and grime), flavoured with a spicing of Hawkwind space rock and topped off with the kind of hooky, brassy keyboard spurts favoured by Devo (or by Asia, if they’d ever had a sense of humour). It’s diesel-powered music, sometimes close to biker territory, but always with wild colour and imagination spinning it clear of grease-pit stodgery and into far more delightful zones. The odd thrash-cello sound, thundering piano ostinato or blazing Marillion-style keyboard lick doesn’t hurt, either.

Just ask the people romping away down at the front. Poisoned Electrick Head are sturdily and definitely rock: but they’re also marvellously, bewilderingly poppy and absurdly danceable. Pee’s manic, acrobatic presence and cunning, theatrical vocals are a major part of the appeal. Even with the devil mask off, he may look a little Satanic; but this is a sly friendly off-duty Mephistopheles, here to give us a conspiratorial wink in a bar after working hours, and to tell us exactly how much we’ll be swindled in the end when we sell our souls.

Some such diabolical bargain might have gotten PEH their excellent songbook, though; packed with raucous intelligent liveliness and sardonic strangeness. Angular stalks through Amsterdam nightlife, songs about doublespeak or the infiltrations of technology. Crowd hysteria is reserved for the scathing Snobs, an urban class-driven savaging of privilege and pretention along the cartwheeling lines of Marillion’s Garden Party, complete with an assortment of silly noises of the patent Zappa kind.

As a genre, contemporary prog can get so humourless sometimes that it’s a rare delight to discover a band that can be funny, smart, sexy and a bit prog. If Poisoned Electrick Head were a motorbike, they’d be one of those sinister James Bond practical joke-machines – faster, brighter and gleamier than the competition, yet full of all sorts of deadly surprises; capable of dealing out mayhem with impeccable comic timing. Unmissable stuff.

Poisoned Electrick Head online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Amazon Music

Sleepy People online:
Facebook Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Amazon Music
 

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