As I wrote in my earlier post, our sixth form school common room was a hotbed of musical fan-dom. Known as the dungeons due to its subterranean location at the back of the school, it boasted a tape deck which made it ripe for the enforcement of musical tastes.
I mentioned the musical diversity in my last blog and this pick highlights that as we move seemlessly from reggae to psychobilly.
Psychobilly was a primarily a fusion of punk, garage rock and rockabilly. The devotees were recognisable by their flat top hairstyles, their appropriation of a combination of leathers, biker threads and rock and roll attire. For our school, it meant pushing the size of the quiff as far as the school regulations would allow (with my curly hair I was a none starter) and suede shoes purchased from the Oasis in Birmingham. Oasis was a subterranean (how often things were in those days) collection of stores in the centre of Brum where one’s tribalism could be indulged within an inch of its life. Goth, two-tone, metal, punk, new romantic – you name it, Oasis could clad you in the man made fibres to suit.
I still have fond affections for three pairs of shoes I bought from there.
- A pair of blue suede shoes similar to these babies:
- Similar again but with some animal print for good measure:
- And finally some hideously narrow winklepickers that with my aging fallen arches I couldn’t countenance wearing now:
Top this all off with a biker jacket that my grandad was particularly fond of, and we were good to go.
The music sparked a mini-boom in the eighties. The Meteors, Guana Batz and King Kurt toured regularly, often playing our local venue, JBs in Dudley. The scene had a central point at the Klub Foot in Hammersmith, a club night at the Clarendon Hotel. One of our favourite albums was a live compilation taken from the venue, “Stomping At The Klub Foot.” This featured amongst others Billy Childish’s The Milkshakes, showing the garage band influence within the genre. The album featured a mix of covers (“Baby Please Don’t Go”, “Train Kept A Rollin'”, even the Joe 90 theme) and originals.
The proginetors of the scene were the American band, the Cramps and it was their “Smell of Female” mini live LP which regularly hit the decks at High Arcal.
Opening with a gong, an MC announced “Live from the Peppermint Lounge – The Cramps”. The percussive blast of the opening sound signaled the excitement to follow for a generation raised with the Rank Gongman.
What followed was a head long blast into chaotic hedonism. The pace was barely sustainable and often by the band’s cover of the Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction”, we were flagging.
First up though was “The Most Exalted Potentate Of Love”. This was a bracing blast of rock and roll setting out the singer Erick Lee Purkhiser aka Lux Interior’s sexual prowess with a wonderfully simple guitar solo thrown in.
Dedicating the next song to “all of you Gucci bag carriers out there”, we straight into “You Got Good Taste.”
Well, you got a big vase,
But one thing, babe, you gotta face
Oooooh, and that’s good taste!
Working through the Cramps trash aesthetic, this reels of the things that Lux considers to be signifiers of a cultured individual, unsurprisingly finding a place for fishnet stockings in his list. Again, it’s recognisably from a rock’n’roll tradition but with a touch of Iggy if he hadn’t fancied the Stooges/MC5 vibe.
The videos were filmed for the Midsummer Night’s Tube, broadcast by Channel 4 in June 1984. I recall getting a bunch of friends around to watch it over a few beers. The highlights included a feature on the Bunnymen’s Crystal Day event in Liverpool. The Tube was an event to rush home from school on a Friday for and the Midsummer Night’s edition was 4 hours long and made for a good night in.
In it’s original form, “Smell of Female” was over in less than 18 minutes. Their early output was captured on a rather wonderful compilation, “Off The Bone”. The Cramps kept going until Lux’s death in 2009, with the only constant’s in the line up being him and his partner Poison Ivy. For me, the joke wore thin as time moved on but their early stuff still stands up. The sheer energy and velocity of their intent pulls the humour along with it.
I never saw them live. A few friends when to see them on the “Date With Elvis” tour at Birmingham Odeon in 1986/87 but the time had passed for me.
But “Smell of Female” is literally a blast from the past and still stands up as a sub-twenty minute whirlwind.