the boys - The I-94 Bar
This is a simple and simply beguiling record, pared back rather than pared to the bone and impregnated with pop smarts. If the Johnny Cash take-off on the cover art didn't tell you already, it doesn't take itself too seriously either.
If you didn’t twig already, Honest John Plain is one of the survivors of the UK punk scene, recruited into the first line-up of the band that became The Boys way back in 1975. In-between re-appearances by The Boys, Plain has been surfacing in his own bands ever since.
The Boys rode the original wave of UK punk in the ‘70s, missed the crest and ended up in the shallows; it wasn’t their fault. They suffered from poor distribution after signing to a second-order record label, but in the end they were far too musical to be lumped in with most of their contemporaries.
The Boys - specifically singer-guitarist Matt Dangerfield - had their origins in England’s most celebrated non-functioning band, the London SS, whose ranks included Mick Jones (later of The Clash) and Tony James (who went on to Generation X.) Both their subsequent outfits and the Sex Pistols made their first recordings in Dangerfield’s rented Maid Vale basement. Talk about being at the scene of the crime. Casino Steel did time in a glam band the Hollywood Brats who almost out-pouted the Dolls.
If you see the Action Recordz label on an album and you’re a regular at the I-94 Bar, pick it up with confidence. The French label doesn’t often miss and its in-house producer Johnny Cat has an impeccable touch.
If you didn’t know, Honest John Plain was/is a member of London’s The Boys, an under-appreciated and wonderfully melodic punk band that grew out of the rehearsals-only London SS. After stints with various outfits (including The Lurkers) he started cranking out records under his own name in 1996 and “Vocal Remover Requested” is his latest.
It’s a record full of Plain’s trademark buzzy guitars, unassuming hooks and meat-and-potatoes vocals. There’s nothing wrong with the latter - the album title is presumably ironic - and Honest John is in a long line of singers with a guitar player’s voice. You expected Aled Jones?