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Sunday, 9 January 2011

Review: 23 Skidoo - Seven Songs (Released 1982 on the Fetish label)

First put online on the Head Heritage website in 2006

If there was one 'alternative' album, that really lit up the skies over the U.K. at the time of it's release, it was this startling debut from a group of young people that, to say the least, had their eyes well open and seemed to be channelling some forces that even they couldn't comprehend at the time.

What's in a name? Well, there is the obviously Crowley and Burroughs connection, but the group (apparently) took their name from a tombstone situated in the notorious Highgate Cemetery in London, although I'm sure they knew of the other sources of the phrase.

Formed in 1979, they had released the 7" 45- "Ethics / Another Baby's Face" on the Pineapple label and were receiving a helping hand from a member of the fresh new pop chart heroes of the time- Madness- the man in question being Mike 'Bedders' Bedford.
An odd single, as the two tracks didn't bare much likeness (to say the least), in what was to come along later.
That said, the 'Baby's Face' cut maybe did hint at some kind of muted funk/psyche scenario and went further out with their next release "Last Words", released on the new Fetish Records label.

By the time of 'Seven Songs' (housed in a brilliant Neville Brody sleeve design), they had the core group nucleus of brothers Alex and John Turnbull together with Fritz Catlin. The sleeve doesn't give the full rundown on who did what, which only added to it's mystique,
not to mention the frustration!....messrs Mills and Heslop come on down.

They also had on board, for 'co-production' duties, 'Tony, Terry and David', which were in fact TG/PTV mafioso Peter Chrisopherson, Genesis P. and Ken Thomas, which also led to the myth that this album was recorded at the 'Death Factory' in Hackney, but in fact was recorded at a studio in Buckinghamshire.

"Kundalini" literally kick starts the album to marvellous effect, with a short burst of delayed electronics before the loping rhythm comes barging forward, treated with millisecond delay that would do the likes of This Heat proud.
Congas ripple throughout, while all manner of distorted sounds and chanted voices are pan-weaved in and out-
"move me, move me cold sweat!"-
I bet Highgate Cemetery was bouncing that night.
The rhythm eventually strips down with the other sounds becoming clipped and then eventually merges into the next track-

"Vegas El Bandito"
Crisp drumming and percussion hold court with some deft wah-wah
guitar and what starts as quite an upbeat track, soon drags you back from a californian coastline, to the pathway next to the stagnant canal with the sprawling sound of the treated horns.
This track also bleeds into the next, once the rhythms are taken out.
"Mary's Operation" is a nightmare landscape of tortured horns (brass and human!), together with disembodied voices, tape snatches and spiralling downward guitar which eventually succumb to "Lockgroove", not a new idea of course, but one that certainly lends it's qualities to this album, not because of the albums short duration (it was classed as a 'mini-album' after all), but considering the heady mixture of the previous tracks, it was always good to just let it go on for a good five minutes!

"New Testament" perfectly soundtracks the cities of the UK at the time.
Seemingly in two parts, uses slowed-down percussion and a foreboding backline hum, which lulls you into a slump until "IY" springs into your room, all brisk and sparkling rhythms and some fine Sax sounds chipping in.
The vocals are great here, half-chanted half-sung, culminating in the outbursts- "well I've seen the light!!"- which add to the general 'Up' feeling.

"Porno Base" brings you back down into the depths of your mind again.
Featuring a massive reverberating pluck of a bass guitar string, matched with sparse percussion to accompany a taped interview of nazi uber-frump Diana Mitford (sister of fellow uber-frump Unity Mitford and wife of British right-wing goon Oswald Mosely), here espousing what's wrong in her world with 'pop music being likened to the effects of drugs' and other ramblings, before one of the assembled studio creators, lets loose with some truly inspired psycho-babble vocalising in response.

The cleverly titled "Quiet Pillage" brings the album to a close.
A distorted take on Martin Denny, the images in your mind are certainly not of lush coastal areas and beauties in grass skirts.

This album topped the 'alternative charts' in the UK music papers of the time.
23 Skidoo could have been tempted to do a 'seven songs part two' as it were, but no, ever moving and exploring, they went off on equally inventive tangents, then had a rest (!) and came back to watch their influences (and actual sounds) seep out into some suprising (and unsuprising) places.

Certainly ahead of it's time on release.
This album hasn't dated one bit.

Written by Tim Jones in june 2006


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