HERE WE go again, and all the young men go marching past. Now with gloomy faces, their hopes dashed. Or something like that.
Down the electric staircase go Julian Cope, Mac Bunnyman (he was called simply ‘Ian’ in my time), Edwyn Orange Juice, mad Wylie, Bono of the never ending energy supplies. Mark E: the missing part of Rotten that Rotten never knew about. The motion the stairway makes is funny now, looking back. Or so it appears.
This was meant to be a recap on Kitchenware Records of the Newcastle scene. I have already praised the label, and their initial two acts, Daintees and Hurrah! That the third act on the label, Prefab Sprout, should come around for a ‘mention’ at the same time, quirkily enough, as sad Orange Juice get a bad hit — it would seem appropriate enough for me now to once again extol the (early!) virtues of Orange Juice and Postcard Records. But that was discounting the arrival of Another Young Man.
The eyes are constantly ‘lit up’; the energy is boundless; he reels off lists of authors like books were pop groups and pop groups were EXCITING again. The likelihood of his getting at least the chance of stardom seems … irrepressible; nobody can stop that staircase!
I spend my time in Newcastle, interviewing him, letting him gush, most of all not-so-inwardly laughing at his ineluctable progress toward THOSE POSITIONS. It is all incredibly funny now.
He looks like Tom Courtenay. I have not a clue what his name IS. .
PADDY McALOON. Not very inspiring I admit, a trifle unshapely in fact; but there had to be a Paddy McAloon. Better know him (for the present) as The Next One.
PREFAB SPROUT, importantly perhaps for Kitchenware overall, are not at all like the omni-influencing Orange Juice. From their name onwards, it is best to think of them in terms of Steely Dan. American and, in their own words, “spikey” (spirit, not barnet, mush).
Prefacing this, the news about Kitchenware, who mean more to Newcastle than a thousand haywire Tube’s, is that they have got a publishing deal with the prestigious April Music (something to do with mega CBS — pretty mighty), which has given them the finance to build their own nifty studio in the city centre, and are currently ‘negotiating’ a major deal with a major company.
More interestingly, as well as Prefab, they have found another band, one Kane Gang, who are soulful, funky and. if it doesn’t endanger the altruistic Kitchenware of becoming this dynamite ‘wee’ label with e whole stack of dynamite bands who nobody gets to hear, they sound like winners as well.
It’s getting mighty hot up there in Newcastle, with the Kitchenware mob (Spandau people are already asking favourably about the Kane Gang!). Keith Armstrong’s ambitions. and his good taste, are surely reaching the bursting point, the awful breakthrough.
The Prefab Sprout single, ‘Lions ln My Own Garden. Exit Some One’ (phew), is their third release and should be hot off the presses as you read this. The prefab is beginning to sprout. Be prepared.
PREFAB SPROUT as long—winded Steely Dan off-shoots (off-sprouts?): not as impossible as it seems but not the whole story by any means.
Steely Dan were never up to much really, but, as usual. the rock thing is so infuriatingly LIMITED and stunted that it takes literally in this case years for a worthy idea, as Donald Fagan’s was, to be further acted upon.
In retrospect, Dan were about a pleasantly rolling literary image. An effortless matching of literature and popular music, as never before. It was dynamite tune- making that made the (appealing) combination click. And this is what Prefab have too, to, in turn, make their gawky descendancy from the Dan not really that important.
If they get the chance they will have hits; they are already writing songs it took Joe Jackson half a career to get around to writing — ‘Technique’ and ‘Bonny’, you could just picture Jackson doing these songs now and having enormous Stateside hits. I could just see Prefab doing it very soon as well.
McAloon as rolling-laconic-worldly-wise Junior Fagan figure so many years on. The chronology is not as impossible as it sounds, Prefab Sprout having been around for almost half a decade in one (very young) shape or another, at one stage even incurring the favour of aged Sounds man Phil Sutcliffe — the result of all this, is that you now have instant success just waiting to go (far).
I SWITCH the cassette on and young Tom Courtenay just BURBLES – I knew immediately it was another one of those assured young hopefuls!
“We get compared to Steely Dan a lot. Wait till you see us live, that’s all I say! There’s a much rougher edge to it. We’re much sharper. Demos seem to bland us out a bit. But we’re still just learning — about the studio and that.
I suggest Prefab are Dan right down to the parallel weirder-than-current-weird nomenclature. McAloon goes loony:
“You went the whole story? Right: when I was fourteen (I’m twenty five now) all the groups had names like that, and I knew then that one day I’d have a group called ‘Prefab Sprout’. I swear to God, but this was 1971! Simple as that. I did have that group. .
Aren’t you scared that the name’s a little too … clumsy?
“We didn’t want to be the Squirrels, or the CNDs, which we could have been… We know people hate the name; we know A&R men have not wanted to hear anything more about us BECAUSE of it. But I’ve had it now for over ten years, and I’m keeping it. I mean, Keith might try and tell you we’re very contemporary. But I’ve been doing it for AGES!”
“‘Walk On’ is ’76; ‘Lions’ is ’81, that’s very recent for us… I don’t do any pre-’76 now, it’s too embarrassing.”
Aforesaid, “early” ‘Walk On’ has bits in Arabic on it; Paddy says it’s about “the consolation of pop music when you’re young, doing exams, listening to pop music, and ending up in your own little world.”
Hot stuff for (he calculates) an eighteen year old unknown. But why the obscurity all this time?
“We needed someone like Keith and Kitchenware to come along. Also, I’m not nearly pushy enough. It used to even be when we played live that people would think, God it’s just not THERE! As if I hadn’t got faith in the songs: I’ve absolute faith in the songs!”
What about some of the writers that are obviously, so- agreeably behind some of those weaving, twisting lyrics?
“Michael Jackson, Associates. You mean writer writers? OH MAN! Knut Hamsun? Joyce? Nabokov? Spot on, he is. Thomas Hardy, now he’s a bit cranky but some of his prose is first class. Why are you laughing?
“MY MUM even likes us. And you know that’s more important than if anybody out there knows or cares that I’ve read Joyce. It doesn’t matter that I have. There again, why waste something that is there and can be used?”
We discuss (wait for it) the relationship between pop music and literature. The Newcastle Brown suppers must have thought we were a right pair. We were right!
Paddy agrees that there’s so much, so many words that haven’t been used in rock and pop. He talks about his “adventures” in his music. He refers to, queerly enough, Georges Simenon (‘Maigret’, John) and later Anthony Burgess, deciding that their vast output is what he’d like too (also their successful, could-be-pop-music balancing of commerce and art?).
“D’you realise Simenon had his first sexual experience when he was twelve? He cut his knee on a branch and a girl licked the blood off for him!”
I don’t think Saxon or Discharge would know about that: more’s the pity for music papers! Prefab are like Simenon, when the latter used to talk about the heavier side of his writing being like painting -— three dimensional, something literally extra there, compared to the two-D appearance of everything else he did.
Prefab have that weight, that richness that is capable of astonishing the jaded rock theorist once he hears it – (again!). It hasn’t gone away, it’s just been missing beneath a welter of tat and not very interesting people.
Two examples of this richly mature young writer:
“I’m proud of ‘Diana’, I have to say that … It’s about the deification of a girl. It’s really about the DaIly Mail, the way they wrote about Lady Diana Spencer. The burden she had. Don’t you think it’s funny and ironical that she has the virgin goddess‘ name, when what she represents is motherhood, the perfect mother?
“‘Technique’ is absolutely spot on! It HAS technique, structure within it you see! It’s about a guy who wants to work at Jodrell Bank, a star-gazer who knows he never probably will.
“Anyway, this chap realises he has more passion than anyone who actually does work at Jodrell Bank and that makes him more powerful than any one of them put together.”
Prefab want a big production, something that Kitchenware, at least this early on, might not be able to provide them with (this, and the initial notion of having Prefab with Kane Gang as a second Kitchenware string to the two main bands could, Paddy admits, lead to conflict — personally, I think Prefabs are the label’s brightest chart hope so far).
Prefab are fab. This many Young Men on, I’m glad I have the nerve to say that.