To Die With Pleasure b/w Waterloo Sunset - Bob Short (Full On Noise Records)
Along with half of once-underground Sydney, I know Bob Short. Unlike the rest of Sydney, it seems, I’ve only seen the scrote play once and, because he was rather brilliant, he rates a decent listen and a proper review of his first 7”.
This isn’t an essential purchase, not in this world of freebie downloads and rubbish music. Surely?
Well, actually I rather love this little record, and it looks super in my collection. And, as I understand from Bob’s accompanying pitiful blurb that there’s an LP in the works, all this is as far as I am concerned, most certainly essential. Why?
So settle back on Granfer’s knee and I’ll tell ye a story young feller …
It’s not well-known or properly understood in this country, but way back when the late '70s punk and after boom came along, it was being ably supported by a few, pertinently placed radio chaps in the UK. Yes, I know there was a bit of significant support in the 2JJs of the world, including the odd live show, but compared to the likes of the late John Peel (criminal the man was never knighted in my opinion) the distinction is gigantic.
John Peel. It was a radio thing which united listeners around the nation. If Peel liked it, he’d play it and - maybe - get you in to record a 15m demo (known as a Peel Session). Can did three in the early 1970s, Captain Beefheart did two in 1968 … punk came along and the number of bands which did these recordings before being signed to a major label is utterly legion. The list of bands and their sessions is phenomenal
See, many, many bands were able to use their Peel Session(s) to demonstrate their radio-friendly status. They’d get (bigger) gigs, travel round the country while their material was being played and perhaps their home-made single released (like The Damned and The Cure). And major labels would sniff around, sometimes signing, sometimes not. John Peel played The Damned’s first single, "New Rose", the same month it was released, and had them in to record a Peel Session four weeks later. John Peel played The Cure (you may have heard of them)’s first single, "Killing an Arab", on his radio show, and had the band record their first Peel Session that same month, December 1978.
You don’t have to read Clinton Heylin’s book "Bootleg…" (1994) to know that by 1978, there were numerous bootleg cassette stalls in London’s Camden Market. They knew what was up-and-coming, and they’d have a tape of the band’s latest gig complete with paper cover (even the previous night’s gig), sometimes with a Peel Session added on. In fact, by the mid-1980s, if a band were unsigned and un-Peelied, but being bootlegged, major labels took interest. The majors finally got their undies in an uproar and, when the police realised that Big Crime was involved (and possibly not paying enough baksheesh to the coppers) Camden Market and Portobello Road Market was raided in 1987 and the trade went underground.
Now, John Peel Sessions launched or helped launch hundreds of bands’ careers, including The Birthday Party. And you’ve heard of a lot of them. But yeah, loads more bands managed to gain a bit of attention before imploding in that mysterious way bands do.
As a band developed a successful career (let’s take The Clash as an example), demand for live tapes and … Peel Sessions … would flourish. With The Clash, some years ago the demand has allowed the band to release the original demos of their third, world-wide breakthrough lp,London Calling.
The Clash are still regarded as hugely significant, which of course they are. But that desire of the fan to get to the bottom of the band won’t go away, any more than it will for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys et al…
So. What if there was brilliance bubbling up from under, but we never got to hear it..? It never quite got developed, taken under the wing of a major label..? Would you be curious..?
Of course you would. Blood and Roses did a Peel Session in April 1982 and released an ep on Kamera Records in February 1983 … the guitarist was Bob Short. Blood and Roses didn’t last; the talent was there, but … life and other stuff got in the way. What had been a lifelong dream of music was altering … and we all, I’m sure, know that feeling.
"It might have been horrible, but it was freedom."
That’s a quote from Bob Short on these times he lived through.To Die With Pleasure was written about seven months ago, a reflection on the time and place he was in. That is, a squat in London, not too far from Waterloo Station. This version of Waterloo Sunset was kind of inevitable, as the song itself played frequently at the squat, itself a celebration of freedom, poverty and ambition. We are what we make ourselves.
So, as The Barman has pointed out below,"To Die With Pleasure" doesn’t actually sound brilliant. But so what? That’s the sound of the squat, and hey, sounding good can disguise some fairly indifferent songs (there are four such of the six on the third side of The Clash’s "Sandanista!" which should’ve been relegated to B-sides of US singles, for example).
And as for "Waterloo Sunset", well, it’s heart-felt. And you can hear the warped magic; Fifteen or so years since the original and the world had changed irrevocably; the promise of the Swinging Sixties had been damped down into the real UK world of "Get Carter", not the posh porn of Paul Raymond … that’s what the ‘post-punk’ world was about, a mixture of idealism and ambition, a return to music and delight in establishing a creative niche … some didn’t quite get to seize the moment.
These days bands cheerily release entire LPs worth of Peel Sessions, recorded as a band should be, bashing away in a studio, no overdubs and no production gloss; quite different from many of the band’s subsequent work."To Die With Pleasure" b/w "Waterloo Sunset" is like a chink opening into a rather significant past, the post-punk 8ts, which far lesser mortals are still mining with far, far lesser results.
Yeah, maybe "To Die With Pleasure" b/w "Waterloo Sunset" is essential after all. What is, is, sure, but it’s also human nature to wonder, "What if …?" - Robert Brokenmouth
and a starving rat
Compared to those disposable commodities called MP3s, seven-inch singles are immortal (or so somebody once told me), and here’s the first from Bob Short, founding Sydney punk, I-94 Bar reviewer and vocalist-guitarist with long-running slam-it-out trio, Dead Rabids.
It's a solo 45 from his forthcoming LP and arrived for review with a note of trepidation from its maker, himself no beater around bushes when it comes to running the rule over someone else’s work. So let’s cut to the chase and say that it’s not going to have Kayne West shitting himself any time soon...
It sounds like it was recorded in a toilet of a very cheap studio; it doesn’t have a hope of being played on anything resembling mainstream radio. Now it's been released from captiivity Bob Short will also remain free and able to walk the streets of his home town without being arrested. Which adds up to it being likely that many of you will like it as much as me.
“To Die” is a Gothic ballad chronicling squat life in early ‘80s London. Knowing Bob departed Australia and inflicted that existence upon himself puts it beyond doubt that he’s certifiable. “To Die” has a sound as bleak as the view from a homeless man’s cardboard box in the middle of a UK winter when he realises the bottle of warming cooking sherry just ran out.
The vocal nails the mood with a degree of tunefulness and the doom-laden guitar line sits just right. I can hear where a window-rattling solo was meant to go but never arrived. Oh well. Despite Bob’s best intentions, the chorus is almost catchy.
The flip is the Kinks classic turned into a lo-fi psychedelic trip. The original is one of the the greatest songs ever recorded; in Bob’s hands it’s had its deceptively bright levity drained out like a visit to a Dracula-operated franchise of the blood bank.
The harmonies are askew - like Ray Davies had his meds swapped for non-prescription pills of dubious origin - and sonic detritus bleeds nicely through the outro like it was recorded to heavily-used tape. It’s quirky and warped even but you didn’t want to hear a straight cover, did you?