20 January 2006

Feargal Sharkey - Listen To Your Father

JAZZ1 (JAZZY1 picture disc)

Less than a year after singing Never Never for the one-off Assembly single, Feargal Sharkey did another great oddity.

Madness had been around for years and had just left Stiff Records to set up their own label. Peculiarly, they didn't kick off with their own stuff, but with this.

It is basically a Madness single with Feargal on vocals. It was written by Madness' Carl Smyth (aka Chas Smash), and Madness play all the music.

Like other Smyth songs such as Michael Caine, there's no clear meaning but somehow the words fit the music brilliantly; impressionism rather than literalism.

Madness shifted to a more reflective vibe for much of their remaining work (basically the Mad Not Mad album) as typified by the haunting elegant anti-Tory single Yesterday's Men. This, though, has all that gleeful pounding stomp we knew and loved them for.

A year later, autumn 1985, and Sharkey was back with his eponymous debut album and it's flagship single, the Maria McKee-penned A Good Heart. It was all a bit glossy and saccharine, lacking the kick of the Undertones, the emotional punch of Never Never and the kinetic bounce and boistrousness of Listen To Your Father.

At the end of 1985 Madness did a new year's eve concert at Hammersmith Odeon, and Sharkey came on and did Listen To Your Father with them (relased on the Mad Not Mad Party bootleg album if you can find it).

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

06 January 2006

The Assembly - Never Never


He didn't hang around much in the early 80s, Vince Clarke. Formed Depeche Mode and wrote their debut single I Just Can't Get Enough, then promptly left them to form Yazoo. Barely a year of that, then split.

A few months later he got together with EC Radcliffe of The Silcon Teens and put together The Assembly. Clarke wrote Never Never and thought Feargal Sharkey's plaintive pleading tone would suit the song. They rang Sharkey who readily agreed and swiftly cut the track.

Thinking it would always be that easy to get well known high calibre singers on to their record, they started planning an album but nothing ever came of it and this single remains an anomaly.

The lyric is one of relentless isolation, beautifully complemented by the starkness of Clarke's electronics, yet there is a sparkling splendour to it too. This song of alienation and coldness is one more example of how we can put our darkest feelings out and create something of beauty and consolation, something affecting and gorgeous that has the net effect of enhancing those it touches.

Grant McLennan of The Go-Betweens said, 'it's neither fair nor reasonable to expect sadness to confine itself to its causes'. Letting it beyond its causes into art and bright pop music is certainly nothing new, and in that arena we can see that it also seems neither fair nor reasonable to expect the only effect of expressing sadness to be more sadness.

The tremendous ache and tingling icy beauty of Never Never are utterly captivating and, provided you're not a hopelessly alienated outcast like the protagonist, the fact of something so gorgeous existing scatters shards of silvered affirmation all over you, it prods your heart and makes you feel more alive.

Veteran British sessionist Clem Clempson gets a credit for guitar on the track but I'm buggered if I can hear a guitar in it.

There were a few such peculiar 'let's get an established singer' projects around that time. The previous year Heaven 17 put together British Electric Foundation Presents Music of Quality and Distinction Volume One, an album featuring all kinds of oddities; Tina Turner doing Ball of Confusion, Gary Glitter doing Suspicious Minds, Billy MacKenzie doing Bowie's The Secret Life of Arabia. MacKenzie also wrote a lyric for an excellent Yello single, The Rhythm Divine in 1987, that had Shirley Bassey doing lead vocals (the 12inch had a version of MacKenzie's own take).

See what I mean? Loads of this sort of thing at the time.

Within a year of The Assembly, Vince Clarke put together Erasure and Feargal Sharkey recorded Listen To Your Father, a corking one-off single with Madness that I'll put up as the next post here.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]