sábado, 9 de março de 2019

Rupert Preaching at a Picnic (Compilation, UK, Naïve Records, 1981)


Short review:

Typical DIY local-band compilation from the early '80s, with many annoying no-hopers, a few minor promises and absolutely zero bona fide NWOBHM to be found. If you like metal, you're well advised to steer clear of it, as your hard-earned cash can be safely spent on far better purchases, believe me. Please kindly skip to the next review. Thank You.

Extended version (and it's going to be somewhat lenghty, so hold your breath):

The phenomenon of local-band compilations in the UK coincided with the advent of NWOBHM pretty much by chance: though there are dozens of such LPs with a fair proportion of long-haired hopefuls (some, such as "The Bridge Album" and "Offering of Isca", happening to be quite generous in the metal contingent featured), most had little or no interest in showcasing NWOBHM bands, being way more inclined towards including punk, indie, power pop, new romantic, minimal synth and whatever else the guys and girls were willing to try their luck with back then. As a consequence, many of such items will be of little (if any) interest for NWOBHM collectors - which is the case with the bizarrely-named "Rupert Preaching at a Picnic" (some sort of inside joke for the compilers, I'd wager), released by the fly-by-night Naïve Records in 1981. Still, I must admit I enjoy listening to records such as this - maybe because if helps to give context on what else was going on in the scene to a NWOBHM aficionado that wasn't there at the time, who knows. And it's also a sought-after album that is often sold for near-extortionate prices, so I think it's useful to drop a few lines about it so people can perhaps make a more informed choice before buying it.

It's a DIY record typical of those times, mind you. As it transpires, a few guys from Hertfordshire were in a band called The Frets, and, after borrowing a 8-track tape recorder from a friend, decided to record songs from whoever came to visit a certain basement in the space of a single weekend in early 1981. It must have been quite eventful, you see, and I'm sure everybody enjoyed themselves while it lasted, but you better be OK with rough edges if you're willing to give this one a spin: the production job is acceptable at best, the musicianship is virtually nonexistent in some cases, and many songs were registered in a one-take-no-dubs approach that is surely heartfelt, but tends to highlight the flaws rather than the merits, if you know what I mean.

As you can probably gather by now, there's nothing to really set pulses racing when it comes to NWOBHM around here. The strongest point of interest would undoubtedly be Oblivion II, whose "Storm" number brings some powerful guitars and interesting solos to the table. Still, it's not all-out metal by any stretch, though the musicians involved (whoever they were) seemingly spent a fair amount of time listening to a few NWOBHM bands at the time. To my ears, it sound like an unusually heavy new wave proposition, a bit like a more forceful (and less punkish) version of The Shattered Dreams, or perhaps a least accomplished version of Rough Cut, if you ever listened to "The Bridge Album" in the first place. Not really recommended for those who wear denim and leather before going out to buy a snack at the local convenience shop, but it's a decent tune if you ask me, and may be a interesting enough listen if you're OK with borderline material from time to time.

Given the DIY spirit that guided the entire project (c'mon, the artwork and credits are but paste-ons over a plain white sleeve), one will hardly be surprised to learn that "Rupert Preaching at a Picnic" is mostly a collection of fairly enthusiastic, but not-really-accomplished indie/punk/new wave music. The Frets, who actually got the whole thing together in the first place, opens proceedings with "Two Choices", a noisy punk track with out-of-key vocals, but also some enthusiastic guitar work to make the grade. It overstays its welcome a little, getting quite annoying towards the end, but I'd say it's charming enough to deserve a listen. In fact, the other minor highlights (such as Life Machine's new wave rocker "Life and Times" and Innocent Vicar's "She Was My Girl", a noisy bubble-gum punk that really sounds like a Ramones demo or something) deserve a mention not because they show impressive signs of promise, but rather for being reasonably listenable, which is already an achievement of sorts.

The Marine Girls are something of an underground cult band to this day (I'll get back to it later), and their "Hate the Girl" contribution have a charm all of its own, but you really have to be into indie music to fully appreciate the ultra-simple guitar-bass aesthetics and the riot-grrrl vocals on this one. Not bad (I enjoyed listening to it, actually), but surely not something any of us pathetic metalheads will ever hold in high regard. Similarly, Deranged have a mostly good thing going with their rough "Factory Girl" punk-rocker, though I'm not sure why they didn't record a second take, as they commit some aberrant mistakes and even lose track of each other in places. Or maybe it was actually the best take they could do and the compilers just had to go with it, who knows? But oh well, apart from the aforementioned Oblivion II contribution, the second most interesting tune around here (and perhaps the best composition overall) would have to be Köln's "Dope Prohibition", a pretty decent power pop number with good basslines and a not-remotely-obvious, stop-and-go chorus. Maybe these lads could have turned into something really interesting if given the proper time to mature.

Plugs' "Bat Brain Moon Man Boiler Boy" needed a more careful production job if you ask me, since the Clash-inspired horn arrangements are way too overwhelming and you can hardly listen to anything else. After somehow educate my mind to identify the guitar and bass behind the barrier of trumpets and bugles and whatever else is being played up front, I could attest a perfectly passable display of songwriting - but let's face it, few of us will ever be willing to make such an effort, so this one can hardly be listed as a highlight. The obvious limitations in equipment and budget also ruin Elusive Diplomats' "Twist and Run" (a somewhat atmospheric post-punk number marred by a truly irritating guitar tone) and Absentees' "Fairytales", this power pop attempt also suffering from a highly immature vocal delivery - after listening to the chorus for the first time, you'll be wishing the lads had somehow forgotten to repeat it so you wouldn't have to listen to it again, which is not the case, unfortunately.

Another glaring case of lacking musicianship comes with Frankie's Crew and their poppy-punkish "Something" number, with a singing lady that, despite owning a sweet voice, just didn't knew how to sing just yet - and she's also struggling with some of the least inspiring vocal lines ever laid down on tape, including a songtitle-turned-into-chorus of the poorest kind. Bona Dish's "Actress" is unexpected, if nothing else, but one will hardly be impressed by this avantgarde number, packed with unusual (and annoying) percussion and hippies-on-acid vocal melodies (and some screams too, for no tangible reason). We're getting closer to the finish line, and I must tell you it's not getting any better, so hold on there, because Amatory Mass comes forth with "Girl on the Corner" - and oh man for God's sake, tune the damn guitars properly! Not that the bass is exactly in tune, because it's not, but I guess you can get what I mean. The vocal lines seem to have been recorded by phone or something, and it only adds to the precariousness of the composition as a whole. But it's still sightly better than Eddy Steady Go's "Boy Named Sue", believe me. It's nothing but a goddamn speech (delivered in the best just-don't-give-a-damn accent possible) about a one-night-stand-gone-wrong or something, that just go on and on until it's abruptly over, near the 1:50 minute mark. Youthful beatnik-meets-punk poetry in all its glory, I guess.

And then comes Portion Control's "Preach", the final offering of the record. A false start. Then, some bossa-nova-tinged experimentation with synthetizers ensues, with Casio keyboards bringing some horrid-sounding melodies to the table while some voices make weird noises on the background, all with not a hint of harmony and no sense of purpose whatsoever. It finishes with a backmasked message of some sort, and oh yeah, I'm a pathetic enough person to bother to open the mp3 file on my Audacity and find out the reversed message actually says (sorry for the spoiler, but here it comes): "Rupert Preaching at a Picnic". Funny, eh? Actually, I'm compelled to share with you good reader my sincere impression that the file actually sounds better when played backwards (yeah, I did play the backmasking from end to end, don't ask me why), but let's leave it to that, right? (actually, I need to tell you people something else before dropping the subject: the false start was actually the final lines of the Eddy Steady Go "song" in reverse, and I only found out about it because I played the whole file backwards! Yeah, go figure, the world is really full of surprises and all that.)

You may be intrigued to discover (well, if you don't know it already) that the very same Portion Control that inflicts us such shambles is actually the most successful history here featured by far. After recording a lot of bedroom-made cassette tapes in the early part of the '80s, the duo became something of underground darlings in the British industrial/electropunk scene, always with a strong DIY spirit and bringing new music to the world up until the present day. The Marine Girls didn't really last for that long, seemingly going their separate ways in late 1983 or thereabouts, but still got as far as to record a few cassette albums in their prime. One of the ladies involved (Tracey Thorn, that is) is now a well-regarded artist in her own right, both with Everything But the Girl and her solo efforts. Minor successful stories come with Bona Dish, that later recorded two cassettes now regarded as ultra-collectables in the indie scene (oh well, maybe I'm missing something here); The Frets, who took part in a handful of similar compilations, sometimes under the name Clampdown; and The Innocent Vicars, with two 7'' singles released via No Brain Records even before this particular LP compilation was out.

Curiously, many of the acts appearing on "Rupert Preaching at a Picnic" are also featured (all with different songs) on a cassette-only compilation called "An Evening with Rupert", also issued in 1981. Given that it came out on In Phaze Records (the same label responsible for many Portion Control, Bona Dish and Marine Girls releases), I tend to think this tape was a later showcase, coming out a few months after "Rupert Preaching at a Picnic" (the only release in Naïve Records' catalogue, as far as I'm aware) and using a similar title as to create some sort of thematic connection. Against my theory, though, comes the fact that "An Evening with Rupert" presents a band called Oblivion, apparently the same individuals responsible for "Storm", but without the 'II' - an indication that the cassette actually came first, and Oblivion added the suffix in a later date to acknowledge line-up changes or something? We obviously need some further enlightenment here, so be more than welcome to drop us a line if you happen to know more and/or are able (and willing) to share audio files of this elusive local-band release.

Many thanks to Die or DIY blog for audio files! Also thanks to Discogs for picture sleeve scans!

01. THE FRETS - Two Choices
02. ELUSIVE DIPLOMATS - Twist and Run
03. BONA DISH - Actress
04. LIFE MACHINE - Life and Times
05. KÖLN - Dope Prohibition
06. OBLIVION II - Sword
07. THE ABSENTEES - Fairytales
08. INNOCENT VICARS - She Was My Girl
09. MARINE GIRLS - Hate the Girl
10. FRANKIE'S CREW - Somebody
11. DERANGED - Factory Girl
12. PLUGS - Bat Brain Moon Man Boiler Boy
13. AMATORY MASS - Girl on the Corner
14. EDDY STEADY GO - Boy Named Sue

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me (drequon@gmail.com) and let me know!

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