The McGurk Tapes

BANG&OLUFSEN-1800--PL-GRThis is something I’ve been a little hesitant to post. As you’ll see if you poke into the links provided below, Paddy was, and presumably still is, very much against this having been made available, and various requests were made not to circulate it further.

That being said, it’s a recording of enormous interest, and, like it or not, it is circulating. It’s very difficult to get cats back into bags, and at time of writing, the unreleased song in the set “Joshua and the Fried Bread” was and is on a long standing music blog. The other tracks are on various torrent sites and MP3 download places, and so I feel it’s doing no particular harm to create a properly documented version here.

The history of the discovery is very well told as it happened at the Sproutnet forum. In summary, Dr Barry McGurk, had met Paddy and Martin at the Witton Gilbert garage and learned they were musicians. He invited them to record with him at his home in Esh – he had a Bang and Olufsen 1800 Reel to Reel Recorder – and they visited to play some songs on which he played keyboards and probably drums. Paddy would later visit solo and recorded “hours” of unreleased material, but that tape was lent or lost. Opinions differ as to the date of the recording, with McGurk suggesting 1978, but Martin’s recollection was that he was 14 and the date would have been 1976, in which case these are the earliest recordings available – outside the very inner circle at least – of Paddy’s music by about a year. They’re fascinating too: as one poster in the Sproutnet thread points out, he sounds much more like the 2000 Paddy here than the angry young man of “Swoon”.

Anyway, in 2009, Dr McGurk transferred and posted the recordings on his personal website, not really considering them as being of interest to anyone other than his friends. But of course that was never going to be the case, and towards the end of the August, “James L” discovered them, and great excitement ensued. The good Doctor was contacted, wooed and cajoled, but he was also in touch with Paddy who was evidently unhappy with the material being available and essentially embargoed further circulation. As previously noted, artists are not necessarily the best custodians of their own legacy.

All the same, the music had been ripped from the site, and it gradually circulated. No one is certain whether this is the full extent of the material McGurk had, but because it includes two takes of one song I rather suspect it is a transfer of the whole thing. We have the wonderful “Walk On” – Wendy has said this is one of the songs that made her fall in love with the band, and in this early, lilting, version in particular you can see why – in two takes. “Talking Tornado” is a great little song, later a B Side. And most significantly because previously unknown “Joshua and the Fried Bread”, a reggae inflected but slightly melancholic song about, well, goodness knows! Probably you could bracket it with “Green Isaac” or “Billy” as a little glance into the fully formed world of someone you will never quite know or understand, but who fascinates. With an incredibly dodgy guitar solo.

Not the greatest song ever, certainly, and it’s not really a surprise it never surfaced in the way “Tin Can Pot” or “Dandy of the Danube” did. But even given that, the collection bears witness to a surprising maturity. The arrangements are clever and subtle and work well. Oh, for more of it!

At the time of the release of “Crimson/Red” Paddy discovered a little box of early Prefab Sprout recordings, which were apparently passed on to someone for baking and transfer. There was feverish talk in Icebreaker of creating a box set using them. It will come to nothing. Such a shame.


Joshua and the Fried Bread

Oh brother, what a fool I’ve been.
Oh brother, if only I could sing.

Three wild horses and a peppermint
are all you need to make an ampitheatre.
It’s so strange, but I believed it all along.

I turned into a lightning conductor.
Now mother, what belongs to me?
Now mother, as far as I can see.

And a hall of mirrors, and a sleeping cow,
forked-tongued beauty and an isotope.
But I must laugh, ha ha,
at the handful of oysters in their shell.
I left them crying in the bath.

Oh Billy Smart, where do you fit in?
Oh Joshua, on the first day you came.
I could tell you were a polar bear,
but in a court of law I couldn’t swear.

Upon my word, I jumped the goods train on my own,
long ago. There’s nothing left for them to disown


2 thoughts

  1. These recordings form an important part of the Sprout history and it’s great that you have published theme here. It is nice to hear the raw recordings and compare to the produced/polished releases later on. I wish we had more of this… as for the dodgy guitar solo it really made me laugh 🙂

  2. That guitar solo track I would bet anything was recorded live during the bounce to stereo. This is how we used get free tracks after the 4 were full. You can hear that the guitar solo track has a clearly different sonic color and is a tape generation fresher. So it was performed live during the mixdown if that helps with the history of the track. Mind you I wasn’t there but I have been a full time recording engineer/producer since 1977 and this technique was big back then.

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