Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Practice bar for bar and don't get muddled up

Ages ago I took it upon myself to make Myspace pages for some of my favourite unsung bands of the Britpop era. Bands that had no internet presence but that I thought important enough to me to merit a little corner of the internet. Holding pages for if the bands ever wanted them I suppose. I wrote this little essay on one of them, for Swimmer - but since Myspace introduced a new profile formats, it vanished. So here it is, preserved and presented to you.

BOXES A play of Swimmer's first single 'Boxes' by Steve Lamacq on Radio 1 some time in mid 1994 alerted me to this band. A bizarre and lumpy song, with high pitched vocals and wobbly plodding bass. I was smitten. It was Lamacq's single of the week that week, so the next night I tuned in and taped it... the recording I made kept me company for the best part of a decade. Pre internet and being stranded in Southampton made it impossible to find out more... and it wasn't until the end of that year that I managed to find their second single, the totally excellent 'She' (pictured) (Editors note: In fact, my pal Barnes sent me a copy, taped over a Propellerheads cassingle - and while we're at it, it's fair to say that '1994' off the Silvery album 'Thunderer & Excelsior' owes quite a bit to 'Boxes'.) 'She' was a totally different type of song to 'Boxes', it appealed to the ex-Suede fan in me, heavy glam guitars and brilliant, brilliant liquid melody. Swimmer became my favorite band on the strength of these two songs. I tracked down the CD in it's little card sleeve and still treasure it.. taking in every detail... the band lineup*, the writing credits, 'Quixotic Records', even the phrase 'Recorded at Toe Rag Studios'.

TIN BOATS It probably would've been several months later that I tracked down their third release 'Sinking My Tin Boats', a noisy clattering exploration of, well, whatever it is about (or is that 'a boat'?) All three songs on the disc filled in the gaps of my understanding of the band.. the beautiful 'Millions of Me' and another slice of stuttering, spitting Swimmer tuneage called 'Breakfast With Omar'. The sleeve had an address on it (their new label ~Sweet Records~ 116 Old Street, London) and I set about making contact with the band, and the correspondence lasted a couple of years... all sorts of flyers and freebies were sent to me ('when they finally got some to send') and adorned my student walls. When I get around to it I'll put some up here.

TROLLEYDASH Now living in Hatfield within striking distance of London, myself and some pals went to see them for the first time at the Kentish Town Bull & Gate. Meeting the band was an exciting experience, all the questions I had built up over the past 2 years coming out all at once. It turned out that those three singles were their entire output, an album was due out ... the bizarre marketing ideas Quixotic Records had, how they got the doggy to bark on 'Millions Of Me', the organ on 'Boxes' was actually a guitar, guitarist Ed wanted to change their name to Trolleydash, and was the same 'Ed' credited on the earlier releases as a Toe Rag studio employee. It turned out the line up tonight was 75% different to the line up on 'Boxes' (with Duncan 'Dav' on other guitar and Home & Away t-shirt, and 'Sinking My Tin Boats cover star Karl 'Benny Hemlock' on drums) and as such there would be no old stuff played... a massive disappointment to me that I never saw any of those songs I loved so much performed live (subsequent requests to listen to old gig recordings rightly were ignored). I had such a great image in my head of them opening with 'She' and coming across like some kind of Ziggy Stardust / Roxy Music group in DMs and turned up demins. They previewed tracks from the forthcoming album, sounding (sonically at least) like the Swimmer tracks I owned. Musically the sound was much more New Wave, somewhere between Elastica and Modern Life era Blur (ok ok... Wire). Next single was dedicated to me and my pal Adam, which I found quite touching. We went away happy (and sicking) awaiting the next time we could come to see the band.

GREY STRIPES Following the gig that Easter (1996) singer Chris (introduced to me as 'Reggie') sent me a tape of a few cuts off the album ('Ponces', 'Another Face' and 'Grey Stripes') backed with the full (and un-Lamacq-ed) 'Boxes' and it's AA side 'Whippings'. A lovely gesture. I ordered the next single, the indescribable (and improbable) 7" 'It's A Dirty Job (Vera's Box)' / 'Don't Slow Davy' from the local Our Price. It seemed Swimmer were now playing The Sweeney influenced 70's detective punk.. all shouty references to keeping yer mouff shat and hitmen. Again, different, but excellent. Once the occasional (and I mean one) Sweet Records mailout arrived signaling that the album 'Petits Pois' was out I ordered it immediately and I finally got my copy of the CD. It would prove to be the first of many, as every time I see a copy I tend to buy it and make sure friends have a copy. Ed liked the fact it soundtracked my summer, being the exact length of my walk home from my summer job, each song being connected to each street. Beyond the tracks from the tape and 7", stand outs were the bonkers 'Elvis Hour', 'I Can't Start' and 'Works Party'. Well respected session trumpeter Terry Edwards played on a couple of tracks as he had done on my favorite ever album, 'Tindersticks Second Album'. Over the next months of winter '96 - '97 I saw them several times, armed with a knowledge of the ..new.. songs ... besuited at The Red Eye (don't look for it, it's not there anymore), Copenhagen Street, N1 (playing twice also as backing band for support act and 'Petits Pois' cover artist Sexton Ming), colossally drunk (me, not them) at The Horn Reborn in St. Albans with label mates Buxom (with Ed on drums) stand out. A London bound pal picked up a free tape they gave away at a gig I couldn't make (Upstairs At The Garage). Housed in a Fab lolly style box ..'Live At the Greasy Hood'.. contained rehearsal recordings of 3 new tracks: 'Thamesmen', 'B - Line' and 'Transport Overseas', showing the band perfecting their angular sound. I can't remember how long it was after that, but it went a bit quiet.

MUM'S SHORT DAY On a trip into London, I found a compilation CD containing songs by bands who had played at some venue or another (can't remember what it was called) that featured Swimmer's 'Short Day' renamed 'Mum's Short Day' (I think) .. short of cash, I decided to pick it up next time. Alas, that one got away. A chance meeting with the band in Wetherspoons on Old Street revealed some bad news. They had called it a day. I don't think I was too bothered as I remember looking forward to the new project they talked about starting. I'm sure 'The New Cum Shots' was a joke name but it sounded like fun. Not for the first time I asked to help out, and not for the first time nothing came of it :o)

UNCLE BENSON Again, maybe a year later, I accidentally found myself on a number 73 bus with Duncan. He talked excitedly of him and Chris being on the radio again. Now called Ten Benson and playing understated experimental defiantly Post - Brit Pop country. I was very pleased for them and once again went about tracking down their first single 'City Hoppers' I manged to finally find it AND second single 'The Claw' at the same time, all four songs not hinting at the metal band they would become within a couple of years. I was lucky enough to see their first gig at the Camden Falcon that summer (1998) when they took to the stage dressed as bow tie wearing US garage attendants. Chris and Duncan joined by last Swimmer drummer Napoleon and keyboard player Johnny who I remembered chatting to at previous Swimmer gigs. Donning pornstar 'taches and cowboy hats, my pal and I even got referenced in the subsequent NME review. Coincidently around this time I found a various artist CD from 1994 that contained 'Boxes'.. quite a bizzare turn up, but of course it was lovely to have the song finally on a digital format. Literally a couple of days later in the same shop (MVE on Berwick Street) I found a still sealed 10" vinyl copy of 'Whippings' / 'Boxes'. I remember standing holding it for eversuch a long time in disbelief I finally had a copy. Over the course of singles and EPs and albums I was interested to observe Ten Benson occasionally digging up old Swimmer songs and giving them a make over... 'Hell This Hour' was formally the punky 'Elvis Hour', 'It's A Dirty Job' was a straight copy, 'Bardot Style' and 'Transport Overseas' were new versions of unissued Swimmer tracks I remembered from my collection of setlists. The story beautifully came full circle when after two singles, Ten Benson were signed to Steve Lamacq's Deceptive label.

POSTSCRIPT Ex members went off to a variety of things: Ed and Napoleon and Duncan were in Sonic Torpedoes who did a couple of acclaimed singles, Karl joined Fraff and went back and forth to Ten Benson. Chris stuck to Ten Benson and gained all the plaudits he should've done with Swimmer, massive support tours, lots of radio plays, press cuttings and a big audience. He has recently revived Ten Benson with Karl on drums.

James was interviewed at his tailors 'Champagne' over a Strongbow and Silk Cut by Bobby Chinzno for Sweet Records, 116 Old Street, October 2006. With thanks to Barnes for the scans.

*A note: Through the years the ranks have included: Chris 'Reggie' Teckham: bass and vocal, Roger Hellier: guitar, Duncan Campbell: guitar and organ, Huw Dainow: drums, Ed 'Gib Gibbons' Deegan: guitar and vocal, Dav Davenport: guitar, Benny Hemlock: drums, and Napalm: drums