“Whaddya mean, you’ve never heard of Prag VEC? What’s the matter with you?”
Everybody who works with people younger than themselves has had this very conversation, perhaps more than once. This time it prompted me to ferret about for my own ancient Prag VEC single, in breathless anticipation of its rosily-recalled excitements. But I’d lost it. Damn! An internet trawl for a download drew a blank, not just on this but on a variety of other tunes which once seemed as natural to me as the weather. It became apparent that a lot of music which may once have been considered a little obscure now appears, in the sunshine the digital age, to be hopelessly obscure. Legally, at least. Whither late-70s DIY pioneers the Desperate Bicycles, The Dogma Cats, Doberman Pullover? Footnotes to a forgotten John Peel show at best, and obscure enough to make Prag Vec appear bigger than The Beatles. Of course, the bands themselves may be responsible for this, and in some very terrible cases it’s possible that even the internet can’t be bothered with them, but for now let’s have a look at the forgotten stuff at the very back of the cupboard…
The Brinjal Fusiliers – Bantam Pagoda (1983)
An Indian punk band, writhing with all the venom of their western forebears. The B-side is, to all intents and purposes, the same song, but even faster. They appear mainly to be shouting about gay rights, or the lack thereof, in their home country, although a lot of the lyrics are indecipherable, if only to keep them out of trouble.
Crust – The Madness of Mountains, Parts One and Two (1980)
Formed by students in Aberystwyth, Crust became the embodiment of the hard-working, hard-touring heavy rock band, playing admired but seldom trendy venues like Liverpool’s Moonstone. On this evidence, their music was something else, the single fading in to a series of slow, earths-core guitar riffs that don’t develop as much as just, well, exist. The lyrics are an occasional but indistinguishable wail, and after four minutes or so the whole lot fades out, only to resume on side two. One suspects Crust were an “albums” band, so it was a shame that nobody asked them to make any. Legend has it that the band split up on the day their van died, their most useful member.
The Spenglers – Get A Grope On Yourself (Exi-Disque, 1977)
Three art students from Toulouse shrilling over an oddly familiar churning riff. Some people thought that this miniscule French-only release was the work of a University-educated British band having a laugh at the accusations of sexism that were regularly levelled at them. Even more people thought it was somebody having a laugh at the band, which was far more likely. And very easy.
Doctor Trumble’s Brain Emporium – the Lovable Onion (Callymazoo Records, 1986)
A reissue of a “Freakbeat” record from 1968. Bill Fleet of Callymazoo Records, a lifelong collector and archivist of 60s music, had for some time enjoyed unrivalled access to the vaults of many record labels, and his dust-downs and reissues have done much to enrich our understanding of the music of the day, whether we’ve asked for them or not. Doctor Trumble himself – Derek Treble, as he was baptised – worked by day as a pharmacist in Earl’s Court, and as such was popular with many of the scenesters of the time. This, their one flop single on Deram, featured cameos from a host of session luminaries, all of whom had forgotten about it by the time they’d repaired to the pub. The Doctor now lives quietly in West London, his musical legacy limited to this forgotten 45 and a long-deleted compilation album shared with the likes of the Crocheted Doughnut Ring and Gertie Himmler’s Infinite Potato.
Gramsci’s Hourglass – County Road Fantasia b/w Birko Meffs (1985)
An early effort to rehabilitate drug offenders by the medium of popular song, recorded pseudonymously by a Liverpool band mired in narcotics abuse. Inexplicably, it was funded by the Government, and, perhaps more explicably, it was lousy. Although it failed hopelessly, there were some lessons learned, but not as many as there were instruments nicked and budgets fiddled. The band’s members largely faded from view, but their singer/accountant/removals man, operating under a variety of names, now administers http://www.bagheadtrabs.co.uk, specialising in sartorial and home interior options for the chemically unpredictable.
Dobermann Pullover – Live At The Rat Club, 1979 (Cassette Only)
In the wake of punk, a lot of ideas were bandied about as to how to change the music industry. Most of these were terrible, but none so bad as the cassette-only release. Usually issued by bands incapable of self-editing, these would normally consist of a sloppy gig recorded on a portable cassette recorder from the back of the room. In mono. This mess was chucked up when the band played fourth on the bill to Throbbing Gristle and the Good Missionaries at London’s Rat Club’s Second Annual Festival of Revulsion. It consists of half a dozen lengthy, unmusical and hectoring improvised dirges, entirely in keeping with the rest of the evening’s menu, and was apparently a “limited release.” Whether it was the supply or the demand that was limited has, like the band, long been forgotten.
Barrington Camp and His Cyclones of Syncopation – Singing In The Bathtub (1957)
Barrington Camp – Piano/Vocals
Rusty “Clarinet” Lewis – Trumpet
Mick Toss – Clarinet
Alan Leathers – Bass
Hans “Dutchy” Rudd – Drums
Musically anomalous, perhaps, but this band’s journey into the collective amnesia was as swift as that of anybody else listed here. As jazz’s followers famously split into modernists and traditionalists, a lot of bands who thought the whole thing was daft faded somewhat into the background. The Cyclones were one such band, hitched to the fast disappearing dance band movement and rather distanced from both Trad and Be-Bop. When the work dried up, Camp himself became a handsomely paid studio musician in the film industry while the rest took an ill-advised foray into the avant garde under the name of Lewis, Leathers and Toss.
The T.Rex Pistols – Truck On Tyke/No Feelings (1981)
London’s T.Rex Pistols were a two-trick pony, neither trick requiring a great leap of imagination. This immensely entertaining live flexi-disc was sneaked out as a free gift with issue one of the singer’s fanzine. They split shortly afterwards, having exhausted both themselves and their trick bag on a short tour with their friends, The Sex Beatles. In short order they reconvened as “T.Rexcellence,” performing one trick very well and becoming one of the earliest progenitors of the Tribute Band movement, often supporting themselves as their sideline band, Bing Crimson.