Snotty, surfy psych-punk/power-popsters the Barracudas, catching every wave from their first few summers.
Release Date: 17th February 2023
Label: Lemon Records (Cherry Red)
Format: 3xCD (in a clam-shell box)
I remember them well, those long hot summers of the late 70s, freshly released from school and relishing the delights of that there London, a student now, with no responsibilities and fewer scruples. Entrenched in the switch from flares to drainpipes, rock to punk, there were a number of outré bands who could effortlessly embrace the future whilst celebrating the past. The Barracudas seemed to be a bridge between the candy-striped fresh faces of the 1962 Beach Boys with the grizzled punk-infused rock of, if not the Pistols or the Clash, certainly the Flamin’ Groovies. And that was fine by me. Surf punk a go go. Hell, yeah, despite, like Charlie, neither could I surf nor were ever likely to. I remember picking up a review-copy-do-not-sell of His Last Summer from that stall in Soho where all the NME and MM journos got rid of their surplus stock. Captivated forever, I have it still.
This set captures their very first riptide, from 1977, with initial demos, rehearsals, covers and live tapes, through to their first (and, IMHO, best) LP record, entitled as is this boxset, hoovering up the singles and offcuts as it goes. Ending in ’81 . Four years. And, as the blurb says, four great guys and three great chords. Seatbelt fastened?
While you dither, have some more backstory: Canadian Jeremy Gluck had met up with Robin Wills at a show they were both attending in London. Bonding over their love of both surf and psychedelia, they did as all like-minded did in that day, and started a band. That was 1977, it taking a bit of time to convince the natives as to their vision, with the pair, picking up bassist, Nick Turner, and David Buckley, on drums, after a false start or two, along the way. All sang, of course; Gluck the lead voice and Wills the king of surfpunk guitar. All this gets explained, and much much more, in the typically lavish booklet Cherry Red bestows on this and all their heritage output, much of it in Will’s own words. Post ’81 the band didn’t end, but continued, with varying line-ups, breaking up and reforming, actually a number of times, as is the way, but this is their first few summers, their high water mark, when the surf was, indeed, up.
To be fair, it is the first disc that is likely to get most traction, comprising that first album, onto which is tagged the 5 b-sides of singles therefrom, together with a few alternate versions and demos. There is also a song otherwise only available on A Splash Of Colour, a WEA records sampler. So, forty-plus years on, was/is it any good? with the answer a definite, if compromised, yes. I guess you had to be there, and, if you were, down will fall the scales of time. Kicking the traps down with opener, I Can’t Pretend, it could almost be Eddie & the Hotrods, a lively generic thrash, it not until, next up, We’re Living In Violent Times for them to exert a Byrdsian, very Byrdsian personality, all jangle and faux-attitude. This could be a song from a decade before or, witness the likes of Ian M. Bailey, even today. So far little overt surf references, as proto-power pop chugs follow on, one after the other. A terrific cover of Buffy St. Marie’s Codeine rises above the parapet, set to the lurching rhythm used by, that band again, the Byrds for 5D. Another head lifter is the psych wig out of I Saw My Death In a Dream Last Night, a song as good as its title, some organ adding texture. Drugs may well have been taken, not shied away from in the notes. Somewhere Outside, which closes the original side one, is another joyous 12-string canter, and has the first burst of baa-baa-baas in the chorus. And not before time.
The two singles kick off what was the flip. Summer Fun is still a corker, but the cheesy advert idea now fails to do much other than irritate. This is what most purchasers will be here for, the peerless amalgam of a new wave gallop and yet more, many, many more of the baa-baa-baas. Glorious, with the falling pyramid of chairs drums always a pleasure. His Last Summer then reminds how much a thing death songs were in the 1960s, and, as a pastiche, this is still as good as any, complete with Chris Montez organ and Beach Boys/Shangri-La’s bvs. Heck, even the talkie bit is, well, fine. Not as a pastiche, it is still great, and I can see why I bought it all those years ago. The livelier feel is maintained with the Arthur Lee and Love indebted Somebody, the guitar solo clangy as can be. In fact, play side two first, and you’ll be hooked, or, fitting with the orthodoxy of the compact disc, tracks 7 – 14, with a couple more relatively generic bangers, each with clear nods to the garage-y vibes of Santa Barbara, circa 1965. You can clearly assume the Nuggets compilation was somewhere close to hand for the making of this. California Lament revisits the Spector songbook, riffing into the time Brian Wilson realised quite what could be done, by adding vocal parts to the Chuck Berry template. A great song unheard by me before, and for which high hopes existed, (I Wish It Were)1965 Again closes the album proper. And it is a great title.
Onward with the bevy of b-sides, and, aside the gauche charm of Chevy Baby, let’s say they were on that side for good reason. How Barracuda Waver didn’t fall foul of the writers of Wipe Out beats me, other than there being so little to copyright, I guess, in the first place. The ability of Gluck and Mills to pen a great title is maintained, mind with the wonderfully named The KGB (Made A Man Out Of Me). Of the demos and alternate versions, the alternate versions of Summer Fun and His Last Summer are the most fun, a little rawer, with additional organ for the first and, apparently, Joan Jett on additional backing vocals, a weird psyched-out version for the latter, with pianos and banshee wails. Oddly appealing. A song that didn’t appear on the UK release, saved for the later US pressing, We’re Living In Violent Times, is better for the airing, but needed more work than the demo here.
Disc two is wall-to-wall demos, some of which would appear on the later, second album, Mean Time, with a new rhythm section and both additional keyboards, Pete Gage, and second guitar from a bona fide Flamin’ Groovie, Chris Wilson. But this reveals the work in progress with the original foursome. I guess the problem with demos are they are just that, seldom having the polish of a contracted studio recording, but many of these buff up well, and explain the ongoing interest they could attract from record labels, even if that then seldom materialised much beyond that interest. Don’t Let Go is one such example, a good deal spikier than the album, as is the appearance of early live favourite, Tokyo Rose. The early His Last Summer, excised of much the later kitsch, works in this straighter format, handclaps the only concession to appreciating the irony of the lyric. A lovely gem of Little Red Book is also included, showing again their awareness of the Arthur Lee songbook. (And like most, I’ll bet, probably unaware of the actual writer being the recently deceased Burt Bacharach!) Grammar Of Misery, which, on Mean Time became a firm fan favourite, appears as a version presented to Roy Wood. “I hear no hit,” said he, thereby ending what could have been a golden partnership. It’s a solid enough and workmanlike ditty. Ballad Of A Liar, also later on Mean Time is terrific, a blend of Rickenbakers and a driving motorik rhythm. So too, Shades Of Today, which could almost be a lost Who single from 1966, in its construction. There are also some versions of songs held over for the third album, Endeavour To Pleasure, notably She Knows, which, at this stage, starts off a distorted version of Satisfaction, if as performed by the Pretty Things. Which isn’t a bad idea. Rather more keyboards start appearing for the final few cuts, as varied players are being trialled out. Inside Mind benefits well from the addition, and has a blissfully, swirly lysergic feel. Hear Me Calling has some nice Farfisa touches that lift this song also, again precursing its Mean Time appearance.
The final disc acts largely as a receptacle for any other odd and end that exists on tape. And while that sounds damning, it isn’t totally without redeeming values. One such is the interestingly titled, I Want My Woody Back, the first-ever recording by the nascent band, only the second time Turner and Buckley had been in a studio with Gluck and Mills. Like the title, it’s, um, interesting. There is a gawky naivety present, that DIY feel then so so de rigeur, and sufficient for tiny indie outlet, Cells Records to sign them up for it, their first single. Making it up as they went along, Subway Surfin’, also from 1979, combines toe-curling lyrics with a not half bad meld, as was their intention, of Jan and Dean with the New York Dolls. The other songs from 1979 are more enthusiastic than much else, dropping influences right left and centre, Rendezvous being especially Ramone-like. A third in and suddenly we get a snapshot of an even earlier day, Gluck and Wills in a grotty London kitchen, seguing into part of a song recorded in 1978 at the fabled Roxy club. How does it sound? Arguably like any other band ever recorded at that venue, and so, here more for completism than listener pleasure. Followed by a couple of songs, recorded (yes, really) in a squat, with another early rhythm section, for which the same comment might be made.
I don’t mean to be snarky, even if it reads sometimes that way, but the fact the residual bulk now of this set comprises rehearsals didn’t imbue that much confidence. So it is with some joy, relief even, that I can report it has some shiny stuff, caught up between the cranked-out will-it-do for soundcheck performances. So we get a lovely Wipe Out, sadly counterbalanced by an execrable Let’s Dance. The Trashmen’s King of the Surf gets a what’s more garage than garage rip, as does another Surfaris number, Surfer Joe, with some terrifically mesolithic harmonica. The album closes with a live cover of a Flamin’ Groovies song, Slow Death, a pointer perhaps of their future direction, but, ominously, the night, the song and the moment they got thrown off EMI, courtesy of some visiting executives, unimpressed by the comments about the label, made from the stage. Self-destruction in a little over two and a half minutes.
As we know, Gluck and Wills far from threw in the towel, and whether Cherry Red do a similar job with their later output remains to be seen. But, however many warts and all, this is still a worthy collection, showcasing the promise and sheer damned enthusiasm of these two obsessives, hooked on psych-garage, schooled in punk, drawing on both and realising their dream, or certainly a version of it. “But you can’t sing,” said Glucks’s mother on first learning his plans. Here we learn he could, and even sometimes did, with Wills having the nous to give him the material to curl that wave, he being the main songwriter of the vast majority of these songs, a few co-writes with Gluck. As well as cranking out the appropriately primitive guitarage to dress them with. (And, by the way, also writing the entertaining song-by-song notes provided in this package, and compiling the content, often from his own personal tapes.)
(I Wish It Could Be) 1965 Again:
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