Various Artists-ARTIFACTS ten-inch flexidisc (no particular label)
Here's one ol' obsessive/compulsive me's been wanting to hear for quite some time! Well, at least ever since I read that final issue of JAMZ (the one with the drawing of Alvin Lee short-circuiting on the cover) where none other than Richard Meltzer, in the course of a special segment where odd and rare seven-inchers were being discussed by various critics including Greg Shaw and Mike Saunders, actually wrote up a nice few sentences regarding the much-desired Titfield Thunderbolt single entitled "Born on the Wrong Planet"/"In The Can". I'm sure you're perhaps the least bit acquainted with this oft mentioned (at least by me) entry which also featured the rejected by FUSION review of said single with Meltzer and Nick Tosches alternating every other word...if not, it's the one where Our Hero laid on us some interesting revelations about this Virginia-based act with their own self-produced indie single (in 1970???) such as the bombshell that these Thunderbolt guys actually considered themselves "the MC5 of Virginia"! Being on the MC5 bandwagon back when most of you readers were fighting each other over Kiss Army patches, such a brazen and life-reaffirming comment naturally got my tastebuds a waterin'! After all, given the lack of current-day high energy jams to be kicked out (or jams to be kicked out o'er the past few decades for that matter) I naturally have to go back to the distant past to find whatever leftover jollies there may be, and I gotta search for whatever power rock acts I can find wherever and whenever I can, no questions asked!
So for the last two decades I've been looking high and low for not only this (as they say) "elusive" single but for whatever shard of info I could find on these Titfield Thunderbolt guys even though all I ever did find out about 'em was that they more or less evolved into that Bomis Prendin band that did the PHANTOM LIMB flexi-disc back during the heyday of industrial moosh. But,as the wise men say, "good things come to those who wait" for after all these years I finally got to hear the Thunderbolt in all their low-fi glory along with a whole slew of their Virginian underground compats on this ARTIFACTS flexi-disc sampler. And as far as "samplers" go, it's sure a flipped-out cornucopia of cranked out free-noise, pre-punk stomp and other affronts against the fine citizenry of the Old Dominion, and if you don't think I'm 100% all gosharootie glad about it may I call you candypants, or even Dave Lang's trust fund accountant for that matter?
I'd wager a hefty bet that ARTIFACTS was at least an attempt to document a few musical ideas that were going on in the Richmond (not Roanoke, as Meltzer erroneously told us in his review) underground between 1970 and 1976, not exactly primo years for local rock scenes to flourish and evolve. However, like in various other burghs both here and abroad, this recording proves that some people, even those out of the "loop" stuck in mid-Ameriga, weren't merely content to sit on their duffs while coke-riddled FM radio programmers and sycophantic Cleveland rockscribes with Greek names were content to "speak for their generation". Y'see, the music on ARTIFACTS despite its relative anonymity is just as vital and important to the development of an Amerigan underground as the innovations that were happening in Cleveland and Boston around the same time. And, given the mix of the local rock and free-form soundscapading that appears here it's no surprise that Meltzer would have championed the likes of the Thunderbolt and probably the other acts that pop up on ARTIFACTS, for the spazzed out feel of this limp disc does have the same tilt and force of a standard HEPCATS FROM HELL radio broadcast with its ability to be avant garde yet dunce at the same time not unlike the various Smegma/LAFMS sounds that Meltzer would ultimately align himself with in a good two decade's time.
Although the Thunderbolt only appear on one track they seem to be all over ARTIFACTS, with 'bolt member William "Montserrat" Burke's "cover concept" and liner notes pretty much setting the tone of this barely-over-twenty-minutes true floppy disc. I dunno how much of a hand Burke had with the selection of the tracks that appear here, but I would assume that he had more than a few fingers in it considering the mix of straight and spazz that seems to play off each other to the point where you have trouble figuring out which starts and ends where. But in all it's a fine smattering of various sound stunts that is certainly due a reissue perhaps with more like minded sounds added to pad things out to a nice CD length most suitable for the kind of late-night fanzine reading I like to indulge in.
The absurd stands out...Frozen Horizons' excerpt from "Circus of Terror" (a grouping that features a member by the name of "Key Ring Torch" which I was told, via a comment on this very blog a year or so back, was also the original name of the Titfield Thunderbolt adding to even more confusion) comes close to what I would imagine some Smegma outtake to sound like with its free flow of sound and various wheezing wind instruments (and this was in 1970!). The only thing this one's missing is Meltzer's own voice booming over the musique which would have been gratifying to say the least. The Vampire Cows do likewise with their track taken from a radio broadcast on WGOE as Bonnie Biggs tinkles on the "idiot piano" while the unnamed band members create an equally-inspiring racket. Taking the prize for sheer audacity has to be Little Lacy & His Trembling Lips, who does a solo trumpet-like rendition of the old chestnut "Cocktails for Two" here entitled "Cocktails for Thieu" in honor of the former S. Vietnamese prez who was then spilling sour grapes in Paris after his nation went down the tubes a good year prior to the recording of this piece.
On the rock & roll side, things get pretty cookin' with groups sporting such non-pretentioso names as "X-Breed" (who got a major label deal a good ten years after these recordings under the name Single Bullet Theory), Big Naptar and Rodney Maynard and the Hundred Dollar Band presenting some surprisingly outta-nowhere thumpings that sounds more or less like that hot late-sixties punk band from down the street that never did make it. Complete with the same sort of "metal electricity" that Jymn Parrett was talking about in his review of the IT'S ALL MEAT album in the final issue of DENIM DELINQUENT and yeah, it is kinda heartening to know that some of the better aspects of the 1968 high energy style did live on long enough to affect mid-seventies rock bands. All three groups had a rather good rock & roll aesthetic that they must have copped from too many readings of CREEM, and it's a shame that most of these great original music acts hadda get lost in the shuffle while tiresome cover bands got the choice gigs and adulation for way more many years than any of us could imagine. But at least they left us these recordings to appreciate them by, which is more than I could say about too many of these hot flashes who seemed to have all of the talent and innovation necessary to play all-out resensification music yet passed on without a trace.
(And could anybody out there tell me if pursuing the various Single Bullet Theory albums would really be worth my time and energy? I mean, I did read in an on-line article that this band had a former Titfield Thunderbolt member in their ranks. And come to think of it, in that very same article there was mention about how the Thunderbolt and Breed would experiment with such innovations as lobsters on keyboards and mackerels in place of drumsticks which makes me kinda shudder to think of what other chicanery these groups would've come up with! But it all seems to typical...typical of some of the screwed ideals that could come out of the Confederate underground of the 60s/70s [see Red Crayola, Debris, Hampton Grease Band...])
And as for the TT, their sole track is in actuality the flipside of their single, here entitled "On", instead of "In the Can". Either way, one listen to this "Albert Ayler workout" as Meltzer called it will show you how this 'un got such a name...recorded July '70 at suite bee, 1603 Grove Avenue in Richmond in case you wanna stop by and take pictures, "In/On the Can" features "Bill" Burke playing his alto sax scronk (not surprisingly sounding straight off a Smegma recording) in the men's room as the rest of the band walks in and taunts him because there's no toilet paper in his stall! After a few more Ayleresque honks the song's over! And as far as authenticity goes, well this one sounds like it was actually recorded in the john and I see no reason why the TT guys should lie about it! It's so authentic that you can actually smell the minty cakes in the urinals as well as a few unflushed toilets fulla deep green pee and asswipe strands. I wonder how this 'un compares to the a-side which Meltzer said was the group's country sell out but like any good number "Can" sure left me hungerin' for more.
As for a hard-copy of that oft-mentioned single who knows, but I might actually be able to latch onto one for myself! Y'see, on the back gate-fold cover there's an address which tells you where you can not only buy additional copies of ARTIFACTS but get hold of your very own copy of the TT single for a mere $1.25! I might just write to this address and see if I can score this rec which I assume is still in ample supply because, why wouldn't it be? Just in case it ain't and only a few precious slabs are still available I won't give it out in order to secure myself a copy of what might be the archaeological find of 2008, or even 2009 if I'm lazy enough to wait so long. But whatever, I'd sure like to hear more from these guys whose "fame" has risen probably because of Meltzer's perhaps spurious claim about their alleged MC5 self-comparison! And while I'm at it, I wouldn't mind hearing more from the rest of the bands who thankfully popped up on ARTIFACTS, not to mention any other underground Richmond acts who didn't make the cut as if anyone could outdo Little Lacy for sheer lunacy. Any BLOG TO COMM reader in the area prepared to finance such a project and lose a lotta money???
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Various Artists-ARTIFACTS ten-inch flexidisc (no particular label)