Sunday, November 06, 2011

Flash Metal Suicide: The Barracudas

The Barracudas
Complete EMI Recordings
1991, EMI

"Soda Rock And Bubblegum Roll"

To those of us of a certain age The Barracudas may perhaps be best remembered for their smash hit single 'Summer Fun' being the soundtrack to kids summer (funny that) school hols TV. Huge waves of backing vocals swelling into a gloriously irresistible flow causing kids all over the world to spontaneously rush out and jump about in parks in unremitting glee, while their parents organized street parties and village fetes. But before I get too Stevie Wonder all creeds united under a Barracuda banner and get too carried away already, it is an absolute pop gem, like a Phil Spector orchestra production, using an entertaining old ad for the Plymouth Barracuda at the start, puts a huge blast of air in your lungs, causing you to surge around on seabreeze adrenalin...Plus, it's far more effective than Alice Cooper's 'Schools Out', as it actually gives you the same rush you had as a kid when school was, well, out. As well as the same feeling that hit you, ooooh, about three weeks before term time finished. All in the space of about 3 minutes too. Goofy surf obsessed garage dudes? Yup, maybe. Genius? Ohhh yes. However mundane and deadening it is it's never quite the same effect when you're leaving work but play this and hit the high summer head on and if you ain't smiling then you're more of a miserable cynic than me. Christ tho', what do we have now - a flaming frog ringtone and in the early 80's it was garage popsters The Barracudas! Aaaaah, the bliss of curmudgeonly old age.

I don't actually remember this programme at all, as it happens, but others my age do. I think this is because I was always bundled out of the house to play in order to make use of the pitiful British sunshine and not 'be cooped up inside all day'. TV was a no-no when you could be doing more useful things. (Such as sizzling in the sun?). I didn't agree then but I kinda appreciate this approach now. Then I'd end up smashing a football angrily against the kitchen wall, being annoyed thinking of all those lucky kids that are watching mind-numbing shite on the tele. That's maybe why as a semi goth teenage idle I developed a dislike of blaring heat which I still have tho' I kinda appreciate the sunshine.

However, I aren't saying that being forced outside into the blazing heat is any reason for falling head over cuban heels in love with The Barracudas when I was passed a tape of their 'Complete EMI Recordings' back somewhere around summer 1999, appropriately enough. I think I'd only first heard of them a few years before on a drunken night in Manchester's Grand Central where we somehow, now lost to the mists of time - tho undoubtedly one of those people who answer the desperate ads you put up in music shops for singers and such like - were in the company of a chap called Ian, I think, whose favourite band, he kept telling us in between bouts of transcribing English things into Flemish ('Dutch Pancake House' - 'Duutch Paancakka Huuusa'. Thanks, man), were The Barracudas, coincidentally enough, else that would have been an even more pointless interlude than it already was!

Anyway, so I was passed this cassette and how blown away was I? Blown away enough with these slightly kooky tales of surfing paradise, sultry sunset nights down on the strip with car groupies interspersed with melancholic moments where they realized they were living in London in 1979/1980 and not, as they so wished, California 1966 or thereabouts, to sit down almost immediately and write a song called 'Wipeout In The Rain'. No, not that it's the prelude to a tale of riches and regal splendour. Merely a way of emphasizing the all-consuming brilliance of these recordings. Such that I took the surfing idea and mixed it with Manchester's rain in the summertime vibe...or reality...incessant reality (Oh noooo)!...I loved that song at the time, as you do when you've just written something you're pleased with. Tho' on listening to The Barracudas as I write I think that's because I nicked most of the melody and structure of 'Surfers Are Back' too. And some chords. I just added a fairly weak chorus instead of 'Surfer's...' 'Surfer's Are Back - And Here To Stay / Surfer's Are Back - Won't Go Away' gangland Glitter Band yelp.

Whoops. Oh well, a lesson learned. Pinch an idea and make it better, not worse. Go West and squander, young man. I don't recall much of that time, partly as it was a while ago and I had a fondness for cheap-shit Scotsmac (an insidiously toxic mix of wine 'n' whisky), tho' I was living in some squalid dump in Manchester's lovely Whalley Range area in some state of despair and disrepair, almost literally kicking dead leaves against the wall, and The Barracudas tape was on heavy rotation being impossibly cheerful, (and it also had Murder City Devils on the other side!) yet having resonance too in the more downbeat songs, which we'll come to in due course. Hell, I just dug it, loved it, how much more scholarly can you get? I aren't Greil fucking Marcus. As is my wont I loved the mix of dumb, tho' knowing good natured humour, the nods to their heroes, the sorrowful sad songs, the energy they managed to cram into these roughly recorded relics. Sheer Rock'n'Roll spirit, pure and simple. A glorious tilt-a-whirl ride from surf city to teenage laments, and a few spots inbetween.

'We Don't Have Any Boards But We Really Don't Care...'
One of the reasons this is just so good for the soul is the sheer endearing, grin inducing lunacy of a band
based in central London, or well, anywhere miles from the sea, and thousands, if not ten, away from California, coming along intent on proscribing surfing as THE way of life. Classic. That they then were able
to effortlessly infuse their music with this same lunacy and spirit makes it a winner. Singer and founderJeremy Gluck (himself from Canada, which at least starts with C, but isn't exactly noted for it's surfing supremacy) recognised the need to present a unified image to the media (not for nothing did he have a job as a journo, and still does, I think) so picked a surf-centred image thru a love of The Beach Boys and other assorted 60's pop and for the fact that nobody else had done it before. Tossed it about in a dinghy on a stormy sea with some garage-pop-punk, a slight overdriven Stooges squawk and a dorky tho knowing Ramones sonic surf assault...And whaddya know big boy, it worked!! A treat. For about 5 minutes. But
whaddya expect, l'il gyal? After a few problems finding the right rhythm section Gluck (who'd come to London after recognising the emerging punk scene there as something akin to the 60's garageland) and Robin Wills recruited drummer Nicky Turner and bassist David Buckley to the ranks of the boardless hoards and they proceeded to demo before signing to EMI, hence these recordings. Their early sessions, as featured here, bore the surf-orientated songs, such as the stomping squall of 'Surfers Are Back', that has one of the greatest lines of all time, except for the heading above - 'There ain't no scene for surfers / That's no reason why we shouldn't wipe out', and it's a gloriously mindless rampage from the opening 'COWABUUNGGA' to the closing rejoinder 'Look out London - here we come' as though they're using surfboards as weapons stood there all scrawny and starving like an even more confused Monkees, having beached themselves in England. Frantic, chaotic rollers of guitars breaking into 'Waaaa-Ooooooooo' backing vocals sending the adrenalin rush of surfing surging down your spine (I imagine - Manchester's not much cop for surfing either, duude) as the vocals hang just so, faltering perilously as the cling onto the waves generated from Nick Turner's chirpy drums smashing headlong into the cheerleader chant of a chorus. Sublime.

'Chevy Baby', who's 'always true' to him as he has such a cool car; 'His Last Summer', a kind of a 'Dead Man's Curve' for the waveless London crowd, an early afternoon cocktail of '96 Tears' and 'Leader Of The Pack' where the local hero takes a bad wave causing da boys a spot of introspection - 'It was his last summer and we started to think / We stopped surfin' and started to drink', 'On The Strip', where the Beach Boys fixation is in full-tilt ('On the strip...Good Vibraaaatioooons') and the stood-up, left on the pier blues of 'Rendezvous' ('Waiting here in the sun / I just ran out of bubblegum'). For all the tongue-in-cheek goodtime humour Gluck's teetering on the edge of the pier vocals carry some deceptive sentiment effectively. The lines 'Is she coming or is she late / Shall I keep on waiting - is it a mistake?..' are anguished enough to suggest it happened to Gluck only the day before the recording session. 'Don't Let Go' is a similarly frazzled up all night desperate pleas from the wee wee hours. There's also 'I Can't Pretend', which shows a deceptively sneering side, as though Gluck'd been hanging out with Stiv Bators a little too often, indeed, at times he has a Stiv-like edge to his voice tho' more earnest, much less sly and Machiavellian. signing off as it does with the sneering 'It doesn't break my heart to see you cry'. The absolutely storming '(I Wish It Could Be) 1965 Again', which is a touch misguided, what?, but a nice eulogy to their heroes and inspiration, having a great ad lib vocal riff on the end name-checking Seeds, Chocolate Watch Band and Standells songs. They crash through it (yeees, like a wave) with even more manic, frantic, energy than di played on 'Surfers Are Back'. They mean it maaaan.

'All I Got Is A Teddy Bear To Hold Tight...'
However, unbeknown to the record company, by the time these chestnuts were roasted and released the band had also started incorporating different ideas into the swirl, songs written at a similar time but radically different in mood if not in sound. Featured on debut album proper 'Drop Out With...' the tracks 'We're Living In Violent Times', 'This Ain't My Time', 'I Saw My Death In A Dream Last Night' and cover of The Charlatans Nuggets classic 'Codeine' was a step too far into melancholia for the suits at the label, who in time-honoured fashion wanted the band milked in those white surf-boy outfits they adopted around the time of 'Summer Fun' (as seen on Top of the Pops) to the last sour drop. They are the reality shot to the surreal, dreamland mythical landscape of their California seaside sanctum. Sitting on the egde of a bed in a damp bedsit in Camden Town or Finsbury Park, realising they're living in grey, drab early 80's Britain and just waking up to the unfolding descent into horror of the Thatcher years. Entering a decade of complete cynicism as opposed to the 60's superconfident, hopeful times. And Britain was a hell of a drab place back then, take a look at a Punk docu like 'D.O.A.' and it's shocking. So grey. No wonder they hit on the idea of bringing the surfing ideal and idyll over from California...they needed cheering up, dude...and starting off 'Surfers Are Back' with 'Here in London town, they're ain't much fun kicking (getting?) around / People don't unde stand you gotta live for the sun'.

'...Violent Times' is swept along mournfully, a gently reflective folksome funereal fugue with a superb hang-dog vocal, almost pastorally sat 'neath a weeping willow tree - 'Stayed in all day / I was scared of getting killed / Didn't pick up my pay / I know I'll just get bills...'. These lines could come across as somewhat pathetic, moping indie drivel, or merely stating the obvious but they are set atop some still sunny music, all chiming, ringing guitars with a nicely measured lolloping gait, and are to the point and succinct, no pretense of being all angst ridden 'n' Byron-esque. A simple theme that resonates all down the lines, and when did your favourite band do something like that?

'I Saw My Death...' swizzles along in a similar vein, suitably surreal sounding, swathes of paranoid scuzz guitar swoosh at the start heralding him waking from a speed-sleep nightmare into a Byrdsian bad-trip reality.

(An aside) - I used to have strange nightmares about nuclear holocausts and stuff when I was about 5, in the very early 80's, as it was on TV a lot. This saw little me wandering downstairs to ask my folks the positively inane question as to whether there'd be any nukes popping over tonight like I thought my Dad was a Ruskie with full knowledge of the missiles in Kiev or wherever. Maybe Gluck had similar nightmares...

'This Ain't My Time' is a fuzz feast, literally waves of it swooshing the song onwards behind Nicky Turners pummeling drums (Nick Turner was the original 'Bouncing Baby' as sang about by Julian Cope in The Teardrop Explodes. Just check out the Lords of the New Church 'Live in London / Live At The Marquee' vid for some ecstatic sat on a spike drum action.) that I could bet my shoes-I-haven't-bought-yet on that Stivney and co incorporated into The Lords 'Holy War'. Robin Wills guitar playing isn't a whole lot removed from Brian James' early Lords stuff at times either, come to think of it. Obvious to some by it's very 'out of time' title, it plonks itself wholeheartedly in garageland by way of The Beach Boys.

'Lies, Lies, Lies...'

Possibly my absolute dynamite jet rocking fave from this set is the glorious 'Campus Tramp', a hard-luck, knee scraped paean to lost love and unfelt leather, with another immense lyric...

'All the football players make passes at you - but I know better, All the football players wanna play with you - without your leathers.'

Our poor, sensitive broken hearted narrator Gluck losing out to the jocks, or football scum, because of the wiles of the campus tramp, despite the fact that, as he informs us, 'I'm broken hearted but I'm still proud / I let other boys touch her now', which is a fantastic piece of Rock'n'Roll stoicism, ahh well, show the world a shrug and hide your tears in the collar of your leather jacket, and should elicit a wry grin from anyone ever bypassed. At the start of this piece I admitted a slight theft of some 'Cuda's stuff.

I recall nicking the double-time bridge bit for this too (the 'I cried in the parking lot, cried in the classroom...' bit) Well, not nicking as such. Just tried to play a similar riff. Sounded good. Just that the song itself turned out to be a stinker.

Perhaps they reached the heights of their happy/sad surf-punk schizo sound with 'California Lament', starting with a Beach Boys 'Don't Worry Baby' sort of riff, then relating a tale of a chap boarding a plane Calif-bound with his chums - 'I always wanted to go to Californ-I-AAAAA' - in a chirpy manner that belies the nostalgia tinged melody line that steams steadily along almost resembling the inflight sound and atmosphere, detailing how he can't wait to hit the 'promised land' with its 'sandy beaches where I belong' and how he had no qualms about leaving his buddy behind. But just as they're about to land, in an eerily apt passage in this day and age - 'Then I hear the captain's voice saying something's wrong / Some fanatic has planted a bomb...Now I'll never see - Ca-lif-orn-iaaa'.

After only one album and a few singles on EMI The Barracudas were mercilessly dropped, in time honoured fashion, and left to starve, despite the odd half-hit single and relative success, being popular with the mod-revival crowd as well as the rockers (supporting The Cramps amongst others). Perhaps they couldn't have gone on much further as after this they were working on a second album, a few tracks of which saw the light as the 'House of Kicks' EP, the full set emerging as 'The Garbage Dump Tapes' in 1989. By no means a bad record, in fact it's quite good, it just loses a lot of the spirit they so effectively captured on these early recordings, concentrating instead on a more serious, darker tone heralded on the 'Drop Out...' album but, unfortunately, after numerous plays over the last few years, are about as memorable as an episode of Coronation Street. Almost like the genie flooped back into the bottle and floated off on the sea and is currently lapping about on the waves waiting for the next shore to land onto and launch the dreams of some aspiring children. Grown up ones or not.

So this remains the essential Barracudas stuff, in all its glory. The glory of new-born giraffes at times, in their inimitable gawkiness that still shows a certain grace. Every song here is a a sun-bleached, salt-water soaked paean to the power of Rock'n'Roll, dreams, a touch of fantasy and a few laughs and what the hell's wrong with that? Makes me feel powerful and full of the possibilities of sunshine and seafroth and goodtimes. Go forth, find and buy, dear people. Me, after listening to this a lot for the first time in a while I'm off onto Amazon or somewhere to get me a CD copy.

Cowwabuunggaaaa!

A ridiculously in depth history and interview with Jeremy Gluck is viewable HERE.

-FIN-

-Stuacuda Gibson

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