I still shudder at the memory of seeing the singer Nick licking the Perspex barrier of my deejay booth clean, obviously and hilariously under the influence of some wonder drug or other, in crazed reaction to (and I may be guessing but I’m sure I’m not), a Fela Kuti record.
People come and people go in the world of music. This merry-go-round of half-forgotten faces and temporary friendships can be a drag, and I wouldn’t recommend it for those who seek emotional succour… but sometimes very pleasant surprises can occur. I’m going to talk about one of them now.
Six, nearly seven years ago we knew a Manchester band called Politburo, mainly through a friend. This friend is now happily settled and being the emotional and creative rock behind British Sea Power’s drummer, Woody. Politburo, for their part, made a couple of great and rousing singles that were clever and abrasive and promised much; but, as is the way of these things, they managed to slip through the cracks of Joe Public’s consciousness. Still, they were good fun and talented. And back when we were all fumbling around in the dark in terms of telling a sceptical world about the Dutch underground, they came and supported us– displaying a remarkable amount of cheek and vim on a particularly soul destroying night out in an empty Liverpool club in 2007. I still shudder at the memory of seeing the singer Nick licking the Perspex barrier of my deejay booth clean, obviously and hilariously under the influence of some wonder drug or other, in crazed reaction to (and I may be guessing but I’m sure I’m not), a Fela Kuti record. Then they disappeared. Now and again, just like Ann Magnussen thinking about her old Greek boyfriend in Bongwater’s Obscene and Pornographic Art, I often wondered what ever happened to them…
Late last year I got my answer, albeit “in mufti”. A mail appeared, not only giving me a download link but also asking whether I remembered Dom from Politburo, for it was he, and he had a new Politburo LP to offer. Why Dom had decided to call himself “Renowned academic, TV presenter and charity figurehead Leonard Skully PhD” is anyone’s guess but there you go…. It was Dom and he’d sent me the new Politburo LP.
Now far be it from me to review a band favourably because of good personal memories. At least, I’ll try my hardest to remain objective for a little while, and of course there are always those “it’ll be shit/not as good” style thoughts trailing around in the back of your mind, but well, I am glad to banish them forever in the context of this record.
Politburo were always great at doing something notable, regardless of style or context. Now, seven years on, their style has jumped a few hurdles in a surprising direction: almost scarpering away from the growling darkly gothic post punk splendour it showed before. Now the band seems to inhabit a sonic land where constant signposts are pointing to Traffic’s Mr Fantasy or the more warped, muddy corners of Psych’s greensward. We get psychedelic cut ups as interludes, we get long, drawn out guitar slug-it-outs like Hung from a Tree and we get a whole heap of sounds and attitudes on tracks like New School Shoes that have you thumbing through your Rubble compilations with a wondering frown.
Gandalf’s Garden indeed. The opener, If You Thought You Believed, employs those cod bawdy agricultural labourer choruses so beloved of the Small Faces or The Bonzos or Gong. There are the same heavy, fuzzy Nick McCabe-esque guitar runs that always conjure up images of Victorian terraces in the rain, or velvet-clad people lighting joss sticks with the Sabs playing in the background, but there are lighter touches to leaven out this sound; such as the reedy organ on Orange County Encounter and the Cope-style whimsy on Edword Prinss. Very fried… Now and again things grind mercilessly around in the bottom of the Glam barrel (The Yang) but there’s always a pleasantly bucolic air to these tracks; it’s always a dreamy, impudent record, at no point too serious or dull or anodyne. In fact Drug Poem, Hung From a Tree and An Enclosure are damned witty tracks, whereas Ju Ju Mountain is a particularly addled journey, not that dissimilar to a speeded up Hammill-tastic folk blitz, and blessed with a great refrain too. Other folksy wanderings (where the vocals get ever more elfin) are found in The Candle Snaps and Drug Poem: the way the melody hops around in these tracks is very prog, very Soft Machine. Very Witthüsser & Westrüpp.
So: really enjoyable, distinctive record and one that sort of kicks all the other 66-67 revivalist types into a cocked hat. Granny takes a trip.