Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Flash Metal Suicide: The Boys

The BBC Sessions 
Vinyl Japan, 1999
By Stu Gibson

"Deathwish Drummers and Suicide Kicks"

The Boys were by far and away the best 'punk' band of their time. As bold an opening statement have you ever seen, hmmm? Possibly also one of the best things released by Vinyl Japan too, incidentally. They may not be a typical Flash Metal contender, but they qualify for inclusion simply because they were so fucking good and also as they remain fairly obscure amidst the fake anarcho-politico bullshitto brow-beaters of the time. So in true Flash Metal tradition, we hereby herald another bunch of reprobates, beat degenerates and, in their case, classic songsmiths to boot who weren't punker-than-thou pseuds, or Oi thugs, but classic trash rawk'n'rollers with an innate ear for tunes and hungry tongues with which to taste 'em and lick 'em into shape. They had more in common to me with perennial US under-achieving geniuses The Flamin' Groovies. For, residing in their tight-pant pockets were scraps of all manner of great 'n' good streamlined songshapes from The Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, T-Rex and The Sweet, with MC5 'Back In The USA' grit and garage fumed frenzy and Blondie pop nous and knowledge. Y'know - Rock'n'Roll. Jukebox jivin' good time music. (And also possessing a drummer as good as the more celebrated Clement Burke). Ribald raconteurs, ragged school graduates with honours degrees...

...The Boys were also one of the first of the punk bands to be signed and, if memory serves, some record or other they hold is that they were the first band to have a full-length 'platter' out, to The Damned's having first single. Something like that. Trivia 'n' tosh, really. Typically, they suffered at the hands of their label, NEMS, not really knowing what to do with them, having signed any old band it seems and then being dumb and not realizing exactly what they had on their hands. Or books. And while they were on said label all kinds of mishaps happened with the distribution so their well-received records couldn't be really received by the boy-hungry kids, as it were.

But for a little history first of all. Once upon a time there was a New York Dolls-y / Facesmess o' blues type of band in London called The Hollywood Brats. Yeah, I know, so you knew that, but what about the people that didn't eh? Think of them as they rush out to buy these raw relics of razzle dazzle Rockin'. They ground to a halt and two members of said band - Casino Steel and Andrew Matheson (not to be confused with star of a thousand TV movies Tim) – sruffled their way around London that summer of '75 and bumped into the cool as a cat named Matt Dangerfield, who'd knocked about in famous meeting-point-for-punk rehearsal room crew the London SS with Tony James and Mick Jones and others, who all sat around dreaming of shooting brown and being like

The Ramones and Johnny Thunders. Kind of like a UK Rocket From The Tombs, but without the gumption and get up and a go go to actually do anything. Worked out well in the end as we got Generation X (well, OK, coulda done without 'em but they did a few good things), The Clash, The Damned and, yes, indeedy people, The Boys. See, this Dangerfield character knew some other cats, with even better names than his (I used to be sooooo impressed with The Boys names when I got this record, as they sound like some Sarf Lahnden Victorian street gang) let's introduce 'Honest' John Plain, Jack Black and Kid Reid into the picture. Hi, guys.
'BBC - play our single please / You have missed us off your playlist'
- "T.C.P"
The reason, in case you're even remotely curious, that I'm writing this in relation to the BBC album is purely for the fact that it's the first one I came across several years ago, not that's it's necessarily the best one or the one to go chase after or anything, although as Flaming Star crooner Max Decharne says in the sleevenotes, it's great to have it released seen as the BBC seem to have erased far too much of the old archives. Guardian of our nations culture my ass.
I'd only ever heard of them in the tour programme for The Dogs D'Amour's Errol Flynn tour in 1989 (which, in typical Dogs style, they were still flogging on the following years Straighttour!) and to be honest never really bothered with rushing out to discover them.

However, twas after I'd moved to Manchester and spent several fruitless years and friendships trying to put a band together with this drummer called Simon that I finally heard them, as Simon was a big fan (he'd been in a Manchester punk'n'roll band calling itselfSuicide Kicks many years before). Many a cold autumn day was passed quaffing cheap-shit cider and stale morning beer wading through the guys gargantuan record collection. Unfortunately his stereo was buggered so I couldn't tape much of this vinyl Valhalla, if ya like, but it stood me in good stead just to hear all this stuff, be it The Lurkers, the Radio Stars ('All Kinds of Girls' - fantastic), Heavy Metal Kids. After a chaotic falling out sometime around 1998 all I was left with was a compilation tape he'd done us with 'Classified Susie' and 'Brickfield Nights' on, two of their best off second album 'Alternative Chartbusters' helpfully.

And so it was one summers day in 1999 that I was returning back from Hull and a visit to the parents that I popped into Vinyl Exchange, an awesome shop in the centre of Manchester which happens to be mainly CD's really, but yeah, whatever. Anyway I unearthed this then about to be released beauty and rescued it with the help of a tenner I'd bummed off ma Dad, and boy, was it worth it? Hi, there, the answer you're looking for is yes, wake up out there.

It featured both of the above two titles, and mouth-frothingly had 'Brickfield Nights' on twice (as the CD is a compilation of two LP's,  'The Peel Sessions' and 'In Concert').  'Brickfield Nights' is just swoonsome, a brilliant tale of teenage nights hanging around and loitering, 'Every night we'd meet at the same place same time / Late nights spent kicking round a football / We carved our initials on the school wall' to the comical adolescent trying so (over)hard 'Then the girls came with their long hair / High heels and their make-up never quite right'. A never-ending tale of kids hanging out and trying to impress each other, parading around provincial English towns like it's the promenade in 'Born To Run', occasionally fighting, just that now they'd probably knife you for being a freak. As The Boys sing in this themselves 'Remember those dark nights / Down Brickfield / Never a blade in sight' looking back through the old rose-tinteds after too long in dismal grey late seventies Britain. An unusual nostalgia piece for a 'punk' band, but not when you hear its Phil Spector-esque Shangri-La's /Ronettes / Shirelles (take your pick) trying to coax a shy Brian Wilson away from the piano for a dance beat and perfect appropriation of early 60's pop with its innocent air and candy floss summer holiday skylines. A truly glorious moment in the whole history of this thing we call Rock'n'Roll.

I was even further made up as this album had 'New Guitar In Town' on it, a Lurkers song that Honest John wrote for them and was a single along with a masterly cover of 'Little Ol' Wine Drinker Me', that was pretty faithful to, tho far better than, the Hollywood Brats version. 'New Guitar...' is another real highlight. A Western themed anthem for a hot young guitar slinger roaming from town to town and their lure to the ladies.
But what I really remember with this record is the all too rare occurrence that as soon as I put it on - well, I seem to recall skipping straight to 'Brickfield Nights' and 'Classified Susie'  - another storming song. A bored housewife takes to advertising for sex soirees while her husband's out at work, probably paying Soho whores in his lunch hour.

'Pretty housewife, 21 / Interested in daytime fun / A new vibrator / She wants to use it / AC/DC / She's not choosy'. This should be included on Punk dross compilations and revered likeThe Members 'Sound Of The Suburbs' - relishing the delight of hearing them in pristine CD quality, or any sort of quality really - that I was completely taken with them from the initial rumble in the jungle aggro-romp of 'Sick On You' (a sped up and speeded up version of a Hollywood Brats song, kicking the '73 / '74 glam stylings up the arse with its own stack-heels and adding some '77 snot 'n' gristle to taste a la 'L.A.M.F.') and the Steve Marriott meets John Malkovich's character in 'Dangerous Liasons' singalong 'Oh - Oh, oh, oh' of 'First Time', a not so gallant tale of how he's charmed some young wench out of her dress - Yes, the one he just manfully sicked on - and now she's telling him it's her first time and to 'Please don't hurt me'. Chivalry be damned. Hell, she was gagging for it anyway, mate. Pure Faces swagger, as aped by their younger brothers zipping round town on 50cc scrambler bikes, smoking tabs and starting fires after school drunk on two cans of hideous tramp radiator fluid. 'Cop Cars' is maybe a bit punk-by-numbers in hindsight, you know, ya gotta mention a song wiv ver pigs in, like, but is a good Clash-tastic rollicker that woulda been perfect for '77 I imagine, seen as it sounds pretty pert 'n' purty in 2005.

'There's A Subway To Heaven And An Underground To Kingdom Come'
- 'Livin' In The City'
From the very off it was a case of knowing 'Oh my, this lot are Gooood' and the attendant excitement of realizing that once more you've stepped out of the shit and into that gallery of goodness. Along with The Lurkers they could perhaps be classified as something akin to a British Ramones, if you're into that sort of thing, such is their punked up adrenalinized savage riproar thru classic Rock'n'Roll stylings whilst they still maintain a peculiarly British edge. They were also cleverer, more adventurous and, sorry, much as I like The Lurkers, but less lunk-headed than them, boogie-ing at almost unfathomable brake horsepower at times ('Tonight', or the supremely frenzied Chuck Berry Quo-punk of 'Livin' In The City', off the first, self-titled album) while still having a deftness of touch that is quite remarkable, what?

But ultimately, they make you wanna dance, and they make you laugh and smile and just plain and very simply make you happy. With the same kind of naturally exuberant glee that ran thru the Small Faces they pulled off pleasingly inane but brilliant lines like 'You've had all The Jam / Even Paul's old man / And all the rats in boomtown' on 'Backstage Pass' in a similar way to what Plain would bring to The Crybaby's. (A young version of Tyla was clearly impressed too, lifting 'Heroine' onto his own song, titled, with strange almost paranormal synchronicity 'Heroine', but providing a soon-to-be-classic Tyla bittersweet edge to The Boys 'When I needed you / You arrived on cue / Like the Heroine / In a movie' with 'Your love brings me down / Like a Heroine / Don't love the hero in the end / In the end of the film'. You could also go as far as saying Tyla's riff could, just could, have been written while listening to his dusty copy of 'Alternative Chartbusters', or someone's copy anyway). Unfortunately, this didn't translate wholesale into their Christmas transition into The Yobs. I've only heard this record once I think, at Christmas a couple of years ago, trying to protect my sisters sensitive ears, but I'd rather stick with The Macc Lads, meself, if anything.
And to show the similarities between this Rock, or Punk, thing and all its little subsections on later tracks such as 'Rue Morgue' they bring back the mad speed addled scenes of mods dancing as seen in Quadrophenia, not a hundred miles away from The Who, if they were any good, perhaps a heavier Small Faces (tho not Humble Pie who sucked worse than The Who. At least on a par with...) having a soul influenced melody within it's punk fuelled tale of bored youth looking for kicks with a French chick. I'm not sure these days you'd get away with songs based around the differences between English and French either, but that's the problem with today. One of 'em anyway. And that's The Boys for ya. Boys done good, out on the town, having a laugh and a drink and just so happenin' to be pretty fucking happening on the songs side of things too. Like The Crybaby's, that Plain later formed with Darrell Bath, there's a real air of old-time British provincial small town soundtrack to The Boys, something almost quaint. Hanging around outside the chippy, having a sneaky pint aged 14 in the old men's boozer that hasn't been redecorated since the war. Aaaah Rock'n'Roll sweetheart. As Ian Hunter sang - 'The Golden Age of Rock'n'Roll will never die / As long as children feel the need to laugh and cry'. Unfortunately it seems that kids ain't laughing and crying much these days but there'll be a little pocket of 'em somewhere, somewhere that The Boys will always find 'em. The Boys albums aren't an every song's a classic scenario but as a whole are bristling with razorsharp poppunk tunes that should have had a much wider audience.

"Boys Keep Swingin'..."

- Stu

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