LOST MY HEAD FOR DRINK - Bloodloss (Dirty Knobby/SubPop)
Fourteen years old by now, "Lost My Head for Drink" sounds both ahead of its time and retro, and has an elusive timeless quality. Who else puts out such a fabulous mixture of mellow tunes and stifling ferocity? Rock discovered parallel with caustic, free-flying jazz? This version of Bloodloss is its own genre. Simple as that.
No? Look, you know that famous American painting Nighthawks at the Diner? Well, this LP is like that, but more real, more gritty, less smooth but a lot more emotional and substantially more fucking elegant. Ennui and boredom be buggered, in "Lost My Head for Drink", Bloodloss have a classic LP.
Now, there's no cd as yet, which is just fine because "Lost My Head for Drink" reminds me of hearing a seriously progressive, feet on the ground lost '70s classic. A sensation enhanced by slitting open the plastic wrap, sliding out the record in its paper sleeve, and carefully sliding out the vinyl itself and placing it on my worn and shitty turntable.
Bad news - the cover is utterly awful. On the other hand, this fits right in with most '70s record sleeves, especially the hand-drawn ones. The rear cover shows a torn-up blac-and-white shot of a blurry Bloodloss laid down over what looks like a photo Ren once took of my then-local train station. Because "Lost My Head for Drink" elegantly references so much Stooges (Funhouse, including the tracks everyone seems to skip) and free jazz (no names, figure it out) it would be wonderful to see a simple, properly designed cover - hell, Mingus Mingus Mingus, with our hero scrunched into a kiddie kart springs to mind, as does the "Fun House" gatefold. But this, dear friends and disbelievers, is to quibble.
"Lost My Head for Drink" is a mighty record, and one which you should have in your collection. No, a download is not good enough, and nor, when it arrives, is a CD.
Speaking of Ren (again) for a moment, he's disproportionately all over "Lost My Head for Drink". His sax and guitar is instantly recognisable, as is his heavily disguised voice, and his obvious smeary make-up provides a transient depth and poignance the LP's face would otherwise be without. However ... I've seen all of these gentlemen perform, and it's clear to me that first, without Martin's considerable balancing input (his drums are fantastic, intelligent as well as impulsive) and Guy's elusively hypnotic bass-lines (powerful and subtle, difficult combination to achieve) Ren would just be wailing and growling with the wind riffling through the holes in his jeans. It also occurs to me that, had they been able to sort themselves out, Bloodloss should've toured this lLP. You can hear how, in the excitement of treading the dirty boards, the jazz would've roared and the stops would've had either an ugly, pinpoint accuracy or a dervish genius. The balance would've been different.
"Lost My Head for Drink" is also a template for a killer live show.
Which brings me to Mark. Who is a bona fide Rock Star. You may even have heard of him. And who, therefore, you would naturally expect to dominate his fellows with cokey fingers and snotty sulks. But no. Mark's work here is very good, even fine, but not to the fore. If anything, Mark Arm taken a relatively rear seat, which is an incredible thing for a Rock Star to do. Given that he was very taken with Ren, Martin and Guy as the forceful guts of Lubricated Goat and wanted to join them immediately, resulting in not one band but two (Monkeywrench is a different kettle of prawns) I can only suggest Mark must feel privileged to be part of Bloodloss.
When Ren turned up in Adelaide in the early noughties, he had several things with him. One of which was a burn of this LP, rather different since it hadn't been finished (some vocals, some sax etc) and with a few tracks not on this lp if memory serves (no, I'm not going to check. Piss off) so the CD of "Lost My Head for Drink" will be even more remarkable than it is now.
Knowing the disarray Bloodloss were in when they made this LP, I expected a shed-load of angry skronk laden with tuneless sax.
Imagine my surprise and delight ...
The first side is nightmarish. I won't name songs here, discover them for yourselves, I'll give you a few quotes just to hint...
From the opening track we know we're in for a sophisticated story of desolation and lonely recognition of failure. On its own, that sounds like it's utterly miserable - no, girls and boys, what we have here is mesmerising, uplifting, joyous ... the levels of obvious self-realisation layered in are all the more remarkable - hell, the (unattributed, so I s'pose that's Mark) sleeve notes indicate that these songs aren't just songs. There's real emotion, real experience here; 'Don't make me get up again!'
I love the Can/ Beefheart nods in the second song. "This is all I've got, all I'm gonna be ... if I had wings, if I had fins …"
Ren's sax is spot-on in the third song. In fact, Ren hits the spot each and every time throughout the lp. It's magnificent - really, especially since he's self-taught. The guitar here is just superb ... elegant and rough. God, the guitar doesn't just nod to the Stooges, it even nods to the Easybeats' "Sorry".
The fourth song begins like purposeful jazz-fusion. I have to confess I hated most jazz-fusion, mostly because the jazzers had no idea about rock 'n' roll. Here we have a bunch of acid-rockers also hooked on hard jazz. 'Do you wanna see a grown man's brains melt down?'. Yes, factories stink, and yes, I've worked in one. Fortunately the place has now been razed to the polluted dirt. More enjoyable than Patti Smith's drawly - and over-rated - "Piss Factory" (maaan). The wah and sax, burning with distinct intent, raging over an addictive, hypnotic rhythm against ... our own stupidities, our own human condition.
By now I'm reeling. What I'm hearing is better than the disc Ren brought back - I'm travelling on a dark journey beneath the bypasses of the everyday, mingling with the jobless poor, the cold unemployed.
The last track on side one (I love writing that phrase, so I'll write it again) side one (there!) is a measured, pull-you-in beat mixed with expert sax and Ren's distinctive helpless self-hate. But ... it's not that simple, it's not just self-hate at his condition, but a regretful recognition as well. And there's more, but I'll leave it to you to dig a little deeper.
It strikes me that if you're looking for song to leap out and make you dance or jump up and down in a crowd, you should be told to keep the fuck away. All the songs here entice you in with slinking rhythm, beguiling, devastating wah guitar and sax. Guy's bass lines are simple but strongly poetic. He goes to the meat of the matter, and you follow, whether you like it or not.|
And then, come side two (again, come side two) they fake us out. Maybe we're in for more of the same. It's as if what happened on the first side was a teaser, in fact. "Why did I take this road? Why did I take this path? Wide open road, wide open mouth. I can't drive this hotrod." Incredibly eloquent, incredibly sad. Helplessness in the face of addiction. Now this is a track which, live, would wipe the floor with any of their previous bands. Here we are, deep in the heart of ... I'm choking up. Sorry.
And then ... we're slip-sliding along into Bland's lyric, and the title track. "I lost my head in the South China Sea, there it is on the shore, staring back at me." This is where redemption slots into place, folks. Horror and humour, a "bland" trait (ever heard Salamander Jim's 'Black Car"? Should've been a hit).
Typically Bloodloss, they jokingly create a sort of lost glam song next, but forget the lyrics. Another hit, but in very traditional Bloodloss form, they don't pursue it. Bastards, really.
By the time of our 10th track we're into backstreets noir territory again dragged in, fascinated, hypnotised, wondering where we're going next, this time via Lunch's "Queen of Siam", with sardonic deadpan doggerel taking the place of lyrics. Mr Bland, I presume? 'Have a stroke with a smile', indeed.
The second to last track is almost hysterical in its apparent irrelevance to what's gone before, but in the context ... it makes sense, the jazzy brawl more akin to their Truth is Marching In recordings ... it's almost like they're attempting to return to normal.
Whatever normal is for Bloodloss, the last track swaggers with laidback menace ... "the fog rolls in and the fog rolls out ... now I'm without'" It's a perfect end to the lp, implying they've reached an end but there's a lot more to come.
"Lost My Head for Drink" is a minor classic and it deserves a much wider audience than the pissy number of LPs issued. Although I'll still be listening to the '80s Bloodloss in 20 years, that's partly my background, that period is as much a part of me as my hair, nails and teeth, and I reckon I could probably rub along without them.
But this little bleeder, I'll be also listening to because it stands alone without my background.
If you're expecting skronk you're gonna be disappointed. If you know you dig intelligent music pushing itself to find real expression, you're about to get excited all over again.
Album of the week I listened to it in. - Robert Brokenmouth
Six fucking bottles, Barman. Six. You hear me?
THE TRUTH IS MARCHING IN - Bloodloss (Memorandum)
Today I did something I haven't done since I was eleven.
I mixed concrete. It was as enjoyable and peculiar as I'd always remembered it. Stunk in that ugly beautiful earthy way.
All this is really important to me. This all happened before I changed my name; before that I was a different thing from the thing I am now.
Oh, shit, Bob's talking about his past. It's gonna be a stream of consciousness rant, isn't it?
Relax, fight-fans, I'm not James Joyce and you don't wanna read him, so I'll skip to the bit you need to know: in this piece I say a teary goodbye to what once was, and can never be again, no matter how many punk-nostalgia documentaries would like to pretend otherwise.
See, the best punk was never punk. Not punk as the media knew it, and not punk as the lout on the street (that's you, fuck-knuckle) knew it neither.
Punk was always a limited affair, and it was limited not 'cause it was invite-only, but 'cause most people couldn't give a rats about the music. That simple. Maybe later it gets rediscovered and, in the process, reinvented and repackaged as folk perhaps like you pick it up and figure, hey, I woulda got this in the day. I would've been hip to what was going on.
Nah, you wouldn't. And I'm including myself in that because, although I was there for Bloodloss, almost every time I was there for Bloodloss, that doesn't mean I would've been there for any one of a hundred bands with talent oozing out of every pore and playing just down the street. Would I have 'got' the Sex Pistols? Or the Velvets? Pere Ubu? Hell, even The Filth? I'd like to think so.
Look, the bloke who wrote the liner notes was mates with these musicians and he hardly ever saw them because he hardly ever went to gigs. Like most of us, I guess; we 'get' some things and somehow never find time for the others. Fuck, there's a lot of wonderful stuff out there.
Old punks, huh? See, the best punk is something you never recognise as punk 'cause it don't wear the uniforms; punk is too poor and, moreover, couldn't give a fuck about uniforms. Doesn't get its hair cut too often.
Uniforms? Don't get me started. Ed Harry. Billabong. Rip Curl. Mambo. DK. 50 Cent. CIA.
The real punks turned up onstage in their daily daggies, or some deliberately outre 'against the tide' type gear (more often than not found in a charity shop), and when they reared up and got on with it ... it was only then you knew they didn't fucking fit, were incapable of fucking fitting, could never fucking fit unless the market went temporarily mad.
No wonder Cobain topped himself; there he was, thinking he was a real punk outlaw and it all turned into units, stadiums and castles. Poor sod thought his missus was a real punk outlaw as well. By contrast, Dave Graney's a fucking punk. I mean, for chrissake! Of course he is. Pay attention back there!
Which leads me to another point. Punk was the last great Romantic movement, the last hurrah of the innocents poking their heads out of the burrow.
Since The Easybeats and AC/DC, there have been only two really cool bands to get out of Adelaide into the real world. Including the likes of Cold Chisel and that predictable band Rollins so dearly loved. You know the ones, released an lp called Battlesick (never been to war themselves, of course), supported Big Black and, inspired ('cause they'd never heard of Big Black before), changed themselves to sound kinda a bit like that, but more ordinary. Oh, yeah, and Wolfmother. They could come from anywhere, couldn't they? Like the Stones (who haven't sounded like the Stones since 'Exile'), they're just another band from outta the void or a factory vat. And there's so fucking many of these fucking bands and, as always, I wish they'd all just fuck off.
No, I've always been this way, you know? It's not an act, and it's not a good thing.
So, hopefully with your ire properly primed, let's get to Bloodloss.
Once upon a time, in the early 1990s, the two mainstays of Bloodloss were playing in Lubricated Goat when the Goat supported Mudhoney. A gentleman with the improbable name of Mark Arm expressed an interest in playing with the ex-Bloodloss gentlemen with the even more improbable names of Martin Bland and Renestair EJ, as well as the Goat's Mr Maddison. I have heard that Mr Arm was a little startled at that first rehearsal.
During Mr Arm's hiatus from Mudhoney, a revamped Bloodloss (with Mr Arm and a Mr Maddison) played around the world, and many people thought that what Mr Arm had going was all very interesting but a little confusing.
Part of this confusion would be due to Ren and Martin, unknown to the wider world, having had a rich and diverse history for a considerable period before Mr Arm stumbled over them (I picture Mr Arm's jaw sagging, comically agape, but I'm sure that's just my imagination) and 'taking them under his wing'. (Yes, this is what irony really looks like)
Members of Bloodloss won't like me saying this, but you have no idea how weird it is to see Bloodloss, especially these line-ups of Bloodloss, on a Compact Disc. Look, I even have to put cd in full, as a title: Compact Disc. Two of the things, as well.
No, still can't quite take it all in.
Well, partly because, with cd technology, a cd is the equivalent of (at least) a double album. That's two 12" lps in the one package. So this double cd package is like TWO double lps plus maybe a 12" ep as well.
I mean, who'd have thought bloody Bloodloss would rate not one but two double lps? A band most people walked out on? You know how sports commentators always burble shit like, 'it woulda been a goal, it shoulda been a goal, it coulda been a goal'? Yeah, but it wasn't. No use crying now. You either got it then or you didn't. Bloodloss had the stuff to be huge, and they stayed in fucking Adelaide.
See, in Adelaide in the mid-late 8ts, Bloodloss were utterly woeful when it came to self-promotion. Where were the posters? Where was the covertly-sprayed grafitti? So, not that many people came to their gigs. This must have been frustrating because they were a stonking live act, mighty powerful at what they did and, whisper it quietly, they really wanted to be rock stars.
Now, I'm not going rooting about in storage for my notes and cassettes just for you 'orrible lot, so you'll have to put up with my memory, greying and spidery and filled with birds poking their pointy yellow beaks through it as it is. Although, if you have any interest in the music history, Harry Butler still sells reprints of his fanzines, and the first 30 or so are well worth having.
Seattle connection, pah. Bloodloss are an Adelaide band as, for that matter, are or were Lubricated Goat. Now? Well, they're an international force, really.
Seattlists and Mudhoney-inspirees should note that Seattle isn't that much bigger than Adelaide, but has ready access to very large population, whereas Adelaide had access to three musically-inclined cities; Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. Adelaide simply cannot support a creative core of musicians. Those who haven't fled resort to continuing to play, often in four or more bands, and the 'punk old guard' end up playing to a small coterie of friends, most of whom are ... yeah, you've guessed it, other bloody musicians.
By way of example of Adelaide's daft incestuousness of musicians, during this period Ren was also a member, briefly, of both the Primevils and Fear and Loathing. While he was in Adelaide in the 00's, he was in the Billion Dollar Bums (a rather brilliant Alice Cooper cover band, the first gig of which resulted in Ren being emphatically floored twice), Peterhead and Viva Vas Deferens (see Smelly Records or Anton Becker for details). Sharon was in the 22nd Sect with Liz Dealey (Chris Willard's partner). Chris Wiley, Bloodloss' then bassist, was and is a sworn-in and fully-paid-up member of Fear and Loathing (Australia's longest running punk band - well, they call themselves punk but you know, they're nothing like it) and must have been in more than thirty bands in just over thirty years. He's currently in F&L (they can't get rid of him, apparently) and Fluffy, and Raw Sex and Captain Spud (at least).
In punk's Australian beginning, the late seventies (oh, yes it was, oh no it wasn't, oh yes it was), there was a small series of dissatisfied youves who stumbled into the night, senses reeling from Iggy and The Stooges, Pere Ubu, Suicide, The Doors and a host of other imported records. Finding each other in the days before 'social networking', they formed core alliances. Punk was not always about the Clash, the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag (almost no-one had heard of them in Adelaide until 1984), the Misfits (ditto, except until about 1989) and the Exploited (god, weren't they a pile of babyshit?).
Back in the late 7ts, Martin Bland and Renestair EJ formed half of Head On, Adelaide's first real feedback-based band. The other two members were Dave Mason and Chris Willard. Head On were, put simply, great, a thrill to witness. Feedback bands were still a shy and rare species, remember. Still wrestling with their sound and their songs, for me Head On were one of the few exciting local bands around. However, they split in 1980 and provoked a mind-numbing series of musical adventures involving a slew of other outfits (see those DNAs for the entire bloody story, wispingly hinted at here in HB's notes). They did release a tape, and that's another old punker artefact I'd love to see cleaned up and released on Compact Disc.
Martin's adventures in Sydney were not limited to Zulu Rattle, and included Salamander Jim with Tex Perkins and Stu Spasm; he then returned to Adelaide and ended up in The Primevils. Chris Willard was part of The Lizard Train, who managed one overseas tour, lost a member and, tragically, never returned despite lining up three utterly killer sets. These days the Lizard Train seem to be remembered as being David Creese's first band. Chris is in the Hired Guns these days (if not another two bands but there you go).
Meanwhile Stuart Grey (AKA Troy Spasm or Stu Spasm), would-be guitar-star joined the Bad Poets in 1980, lifting and expanding their sound several notches. The Bad Poets moved to Melbourne sometime in 1981, following The Sputniks, who'd left Adelaide in 1980 and, shedding a couple of members, became The Moodists.
Anyway, Bloodloss formed (again) in Adelaide in early 1986 and, after a cassette-only lp and a vinyl-only lp (both on Greasy Pop) over three years or so, Sharon finally left. Since the Primevils had split up recently this allowed Martin to rejoin, sharing vocals with Ren. They recorded an album, and then Martin and Ren left Adelaide with Stu Spasm (now Lubricated Goat) in late 1989. The lp came out on Aberrant while the Goat were touring overseas.
As I say, Bloodloss never were much good at promoting themselves. But why take my word for it? Here's a quote from an interview with Martin and Ren (from my last fanzine 'Steel Jaw Clenched', from early 1990), half an hour or so after they'd just recorded most of the songs for 'Truth is Marching In' in their living room at East Street;
'Me: Why don't you think you're more popular in Adelaide?
Them: No idea.
Bob Lehrmeyer (who recorded the songs above): You don't really go out of your way to promote yourselves, do you, let's face it.
Them: Is that the answer you wanted?
Me: Well... I don't see posters all over the place every time you do a gig...
Them: Doesn't make any different to the music.'
The discussion continued, ending with Martin saying; 'I don't like going into pubs and asking for gigs 'cause they treat you like shit. No-one likes being treated like that.'
See what I mean? Romantics, innocents, the lot of us.
So. To the cds, then. I start - and so should you - by turning up the volume VERY LOUD and by putting the second cd first. That's the one with the earlier, Sharon-era material.
The thing to remember about Bloodloss is that, like many bands, the recorded stuff ain't a patch on what they were like live. So I'm approaching this with a bit of trepidation. I'm also not going to dig out my old tapes either; let's see how I respond twenty-odd years on. Was I right to think they were so super?
Well, a few less brain cells later, yes they were and are. Mind you, you may have to tinker with the graphic equalizer and apologise to the neighbours.
Rather than describe the songs, I'll try to put things in perspective. There's 7 songs from Bloodloss' early period (partly as Zulu Rattle) in Sydney in 1983. In Australia, 1983 was the year the Hoodoo Gurus got big while Kim Salmon's Scientists should have but didn't. Salamander Jim and the Beasts of Bourbon were about or forming or some damn thing. Certainly the Johnnys were about. Iggy Pop and The Gun Club toured shortly after the Birthday Party broke up. Bands called the Corpse Grinders were considered fab. So Bloodloss should've fit right in.
But they were too bloody noisy, so they didn't. Pity. All the 1983 tracks here are really damn fine, you can hear a lot of thought going into the squealing, mourning guitar and structure of the songs, trying to make a diamond out of a fake-fur coat. Sharon's guitar works well rubbing up against Ren's. The 3 songs recorded in the 'unknown studio' are the ones recorded by Tony Cohen, and include Mr Spasm, who makes the songs even stronger.
The 5 songs from the Greasy Pop cassette are also crackers, and because they include Charlie Tolnay (Grong Grong having broken up in 1984, he was currently, I recall, in King Snake Roost) gritting his trademark rapid scratch against Ren's more laid-back yowl is a bit of a treat. Charlie has been tempted from his cavern and recently Grong Grong have been doing a few reunion shows.
The three songs taken from 1987's 'Human Skin Suit' are the ones with the least horns, and therefore fit right in here. Incidentally, they're among the most moving; the twisted, fucked-up romance-ending of both 'If That's Okay, Baby' and 'Take This Gun' are extraordinary; you could imagine a torch singer getting their hands on them and making a meal of them.
Listening to it all again I am drawn into their whorling patterns, the hypnotism of the sound. Chris' bass is just superb, it really is. Ren's guitar is just beyond criticism, you know? It just ... is what it is. Just like all the old punker bands, and, you know, all the original fifties underground bands, you either get it when you hear it or you don't. Like, you either heard The Fall on John Peel and your ears and mind perked up, or it didn't. It's not a maybe situation, girls and boys. Take Bloodloss or leave them.
It's traditional to carp on and on about the poor choice of songs on a compilation, why didn't they include this, they shouldn't have done that and where's my free t-shirt.
Okay, the drawings on the front and back of the booklet are by Ren, circa 1988/1989 I think, and the pic on the tenth page of the booklet, on the live poster (yes, the original was an A3 photocopy) is likewise by Ren. The green and black girly musicians are from the front cover of the 'Human Skin Suit' lp. The black and white pic on the right fold down is the Charlie-era band; l-r, Andrew, Ren, Chris, Sharon and Charlie. This pic was also used on some live posters.
Live staples 'Nutbush City Limits' isn't there, nor is 'Mexican Caravan'. I actually don't mind this because this compilation gives a smoking, broad-brush introduction to the Bloodloss I knew and followed until the birds left the nest. As for the liner notes, we have to assume Andrew Stosch played drums on 'Drag the Lake', 'cause Butler forgot to tell us. And that big gap after 'Whipping Tree' is a bit of a worry; 'Whipping Tree' I think is one of Martin's; he took it to the Primevils in 1985, where it went down a storm.
I know I keep banging on about what they were like live. Well, if you're like most people, you either would've walked out or you never would've gone in in the first place.
Me, I loved them. In fact, noticing that the pub (the Centralia, I think) hadn't bothered to pay a lighting dick for them, I asked if I could do the job, they said yes, and I did so for a while. Years later, at the MC5 reunion tour in Adelaide, I met Ren for the first time in years and, once the fug of years had passed, he belted me as hard as he could. 'That's for turning the fucking lights off!'. Oh, dear.
Ren's guitar was very unguitar-like. I know people who used to watch Ren tune up, then, once the band started, would bugger off to the bar. I knew other people who always turned up in time to watch Ren tune up. See, Ren would have his wah pedal plugged into his amp. He'd plug his guitar into the wah pedal and,without reference to any visible tuning device, make his poor battered instrument (he'd smashed the poor thing's neck at the last Head On gig and couldn't afford another, so for at least a decade - yes, ten years - he played with gaffa tape wrapped around the neck) go; 'squeal. Squeal, wail. Squeal, wail, screech. Skriiik. Squeal, wail, wail, wail, screech.' After which he would look up and say, 'Okay, I'm ready'. Ren's tune-ups were wonderful to behold, and they were astonishingly quick. He has a surprising ear, does Ren.
Live Bloodloss were the epitome of sloppy makes tight. Some songs would just go the way they were supposed to, others would kind of make a sudden lurch and, like a drunk driver with his foot on the pedal, swerve from one lane into oncoming traffic. 'Nutbush City Limits', 'Come Down and Dance', 'Mexican Caravan', 'Can't Float in My Boat' and 'Jimmy Drove a Dream' were all a bit like that at one time or another. They'd do flat gigs as well, of course; trouble was, even the flat gigs were really good because there was simply no-one else like them. At one point I wrote that watching them play was a bit like standing on the runway as a SAAB jet comes hurtling straight at you.
I loved the 'Charlie' period, the 'Andrew and Martin twin drum assault period', and that strange period when they took to the stage after Sharon had left and we stood there, stunned, at the giant's handful of cracking songs they dumped on us.
Over the years Stu Spasm would return to Adelaide on several occasions, usually as a performer; Bloodloss supported Lubricated Goat in December 1987.
In my first fanzine, 'Delay', I wrote; 'If That's Okay Baby', 'On the Rack', 'Big Daddy Trevor' and 'Come Down and Dance' were standouts tonight, loads of energy. A pity the bass seemed a bit subdued/ buried, although this meant an inevitable emphasis on Martin and Andrew's drumming, which seemed uncannily precise as always, a blockade of noise. Ren's guitar came out clear as a wine glass' rim being rubbed. Not the best of nights, but pretty good overall and very good in places.'
I was jaded, see. I'd seen Bloodloss so often I could be critical. I'd sell my toes - all of 'em - to see this band onstage again. Preferably but not essentially with a decent mix.
However, I wrote of the Goat; 'The music is the real strong point; a very brittle and abrasive guitar sound, shored up by some excellent bass lines ... this Guy Maddison can play bass well ...' but then 'Stu Spasm has always thought highly of himself, and it shows... The guy loves himself. No crime, certainly, but I kept comparing him with Billy Idol...' And I was a lot ruder than that later on.
Okay, rant over. Onto the second, sorry first, cd, 'The Truth is Marching In'.
The first I knew Ren was playing sax was when I visited him at East Street and found him practising against the 'Funhouse' lp. I mean, he's in good company banging away to old records; Joan Jett and Spencer P. Jones both banged away to old Bowie records, for example. Ren wanted to stop playing guitar. I do recall him saying to me that he didn't think he was very good at it and me being utterly gobsmacked.
I did ask Sharon, Martin and Ren about what I thought was a distinct jazz bent to the band's music. Particularly with all the horns on 'Human Skin Suit', which they wanted cacophonous, bonkers and out-of-tune. Well, they sort of got that, but they weren't happy with the outcome so, although I love the album, I can see why the three HSS tracks here are wearing no horns at all.
Bloodloss were keen to dismiss a jazz influence, but I thought I knew better. Among other things I knew Martin was a fan of John Coltrane (er, Martin, if you're reading this I still have your bloody Coltrane book. Get in touch and I'll send it over) for example, so I figured they just didn't want to be lumped in with the vast swathes of pointless tootling which masquerade as jazz. I remember recommending a sax player to Ren and Martin when we were discussing Steve Mackay's work on 'Funhouse'; Albert Ayler, and his rather brilliant lp 'The Truth is Marching In'. Astonishingly, they grabbed a copy of it - Ren in particular was taken by Ayler. Those of you who haven't had the pleasure, allow me to most emphatically recommend it. But the usual caveats apply: if you don't get it straight off, you probably never will. Sorry about that.
The 'Truth is Marching In' period Bloodloss were a ferocious proposition. Just ... savage.
Perspective. Picture it, 1989, 1990. Nirvana cruise through town, breaking all over the radio and the USA. The following week, These Immortal Souls turn up to much smaller crowds. People lucky enough to see both would often remark how much better TIS were. Can you imagine Nirvana continuing in their trajectory, had TIS or the current version of Bloodloss supported them along this tour? Yeah?
Well, you're probably right. Nirvana were a pop band.
And Bloodloss sound like they want your intestines, quite frankly.
'The Year Punk Broke'. What utter crap.
Do I have to explain again that this Bloodloss cd is also best PLAYED LOUD?
Okay, the bad stuff first. I never really thought this was a balanced lp when I heard the record, not compared to the East Street sessions anyway. I also think some of the vocal treatments sound a bit clunky and unnecessary (although it works brilliantly on 'Everybody Hates Me', a very funny pisstake). By the fifth song, 'Let's Make Garbage', you're just utterly hooked, but the whole thing really turns around and grips you by the throat like a speeding bulldog with the eighth song, 'Shake Your Leaves' and simply doesn't let go thereafter.
But the hell with carping. There's some great, great material here. Martin's structural input is quite clear, Jim Selene's bass is instantly a different beast to Chris Wiley's, more thunderous and less precise in some ways, Andrew's drumming is explosive and a serious hazard to your health, as usual. There's a lot of humour in here too, albeit somewhat twisted.
I've always loved 'Beautiful Feeling' and 'Dr Shepp' ('just something we made up on the spot. One of those between-songs jams', said Martin), and 'Shake Your Leaves', but that's just me. 'Blissarama' is really funny, as is Groin Grocer and Let's Make Garbage. As for 'Blairin' Linda', I'm just glad they didn't put the last three words of the original title down. Those of you familiar with the 'Black Eye Compilation' will probably recognise a few themes and tendencies here. Bear in mind that that compilation featured quite a few escaped Adelaideans (including Bland).
The last track, the cover of Ayler's 'Truth is Marching In', is as if the metal corsets surrounding their guts suddenly separated and all this ... gook ... has come out; it's a fine, crackling version which makes me wonder just how much and what is remaining from these sessions. I get the distinct impression there's probably quite a bit.
And as for the taster of the 'Hair of the Future' lp, recorded in the brief moment when Ren and Martin were in Adelaide before heading off to the USA in 1991, the songs chosen fit well with the direction the band are clearly heading in, and, now we have them out in the open we can more easily see how the Bloodloss of the perhaps over-emphatic 'Ghost Rider' is the same critter, in essence, that most people seem to know from their interest in Mark Arm.
'Safari', for example, is a wonderful little audio landscape, while 'She's Gone' and 'You Need Fire' ... well, look. You may have to do what everyone did with 'Sandanista' here. Record your favourite songs to construct a more immediate disc. I won't say what I think of that, but it's human nature and I promise not to grumble if you do.
Anyone approaching this set with Seattlish expectations (or hangovers) is likely to be disappointed. Comparing Bloodloss, any version of Bloodloss, with any other band is a fool's exercise. Sure, there's a couple of covers, and you can see, kinda, sorta, how that influence fits in. But you can't really say Bloodloss are much like any band except any other band which has had or has Martin Bland or Renestair EJ in, 'cause they're simply unique.
More from that interview in late '89:
'Me: The whole recording turned out really well - you recorded it in your lounge room - you didn't mix it at all?
Martin: No, we will, but we didn't as we recorded it, no; that just fucks up the sound. We can though, it's on four tracks. Yeah, it's just a waste of time mixing it as we record it. We just use three microphones, and it comes out perfectly alright; you get the whole sound, y'know? Overall you get all these random harmonics from the room itself...
Me: Whose idea was it to do the cover of the Albert Ayler track?
Ren: That was Martin's idea actually, but he didn't really have to fight to get it put on there. When he played it to me I thought it was very funny. I think it's definitely got a lot of humour in it.
Me: There is a certain element of humour in your own work...
Ren: Yeah, I'd like to think so. I dunno if anyone else ever gets the joke or not.
Martin: 'Truth is Marching In'. It was just a fluke. We didn't sit down and work it out so's it would work; it just did. Some people might hate it, but I like it.
Me: You've only just started playing sax, haven't you? Do you actually know what you're doing?
Ren: No, not at all, no. I'm just finding my way around it.
Martin: ... Jim's the only one of us who's playing his normal instrument on this album. I'm not really a guitarist, Andrew's really a guitarist ... '
Did I mention I thought they were brilliant before? Oh, yeah.
Now then. Two double lp collection or not, this is really only a taster, isn't it? I mean, this cd set is all very well but I want more, and so do you. We want to hear the two Greasy Pop lps, each in their entirety. But since some of us already have them, what we really would love to see is a remastered two disc package for each lp; the lp plus a few escapees from rehearsal on one disc, and a compilation of live tracks on the other disc. And a live set of the 'Truth' period, thanks very much. I mean, have you seen what Castle have done with The Fall? Fuck!
No, no, it's not impossible. All this stuff exists. And it's down to you out there. I'll do my bit. Contact Memorandum. Pester Martin Bland. If you see Mark Arm, kick him (hard) on the ankle. If I see him, I'll bite him. Tell them you'll report them all for un-American activities if they don't release their music in this way. Preferably with a huge poster in the deluxe package. Ren's artwork will do.
See, that's the bloody trouble with this poking your ears back into the past. It all comes flooding back and you want to go out into the night and avoid all the crap music and rubbish events and see that band again and you ... just ... can't.
That time is gone.
Alright, we know how strange it is to look back in time at one's younger self, in my case my younger, more obnoxious and unpleasant self, and realise just how awful I really was. And I have witnesses so I can't lie.
Of course, I would like to think that nowadays I'm a better, more tolerant person.
Now the. My nephew Lucas, the dead spit of me at 5 (poor sod) recently described me in unforgettably derisive terms;
'Nasty Uncle Robert! Horrid Uncle Robert!'
All too much truth there, I fear.
Even as I knew I'd be incapable of fitting in back then, young Lucas knows I can never fit in now.
Buy these cds and discover what I knew back then, that Bloodloss could've been huge, and they fucking stayed in Adelaide. Buy the damn thing and reflect on what Kurt Cobain and Mark Arm might once have been but never can be now - outsiders.
By the way, is there really a market for toes, or did I just dream it? - Robert Brokenmouth