Man Chest Hair
, December 13th, 2012 08:48
In which the dudes behind the perma-feted Mancunian reissues label Finders Keepers pause for thought, take stock of their continentally sprawling catalogue, think "and yet… we've never been to us," and start drilling for sweet crude in their home city. What, if anything, does it say about the FK collector mentality that they compiled decades-old rarities from Wales (twice - they had a third one planned as well, at some point at least), Hungary, Pakistan (twice), Persia, Spain, Germany, Thailand, India and Ireland before excavating their own back yard?
Probably that they like a challenge. Also - if the great and excitable sleevenotes are to be believed - the existence of a shit ton o'Manc groups who once clawhammered out the kind of muck Finders Keepers freak over (psych, garage, no-count hard rock, budget prog) had almost entirely escaped their attention. This is understandable. The 18 songs on Man Chest Hair (really, these songs could be a lot crappier and the title would still justify its existence) spans approximately a decade, with Chris Statham's transparently and heroically fake punker from '79, 'Getaway', closing the compilation. This is, safe to assume, not the music you think of when you ponder this city and that year.
There were Mancunian bands extant prior to the Buzzcocks who were successful, left a lasting legacy, and no doubt gave the area an extra coat of pop-culture cred. However, it only started to script its own mythology from punk onwards. Although some of the bands featured here gigged together and had broadly similar notions of how to present themselves (specifically: scrappy and ale-thirsty, much like London's nascent pub rockers), history has not remembered it as a movement. It's frequently said that if all the people claiming to have seen the first Sex Pistols gig in Manchester were actually there, it would far outstrip the venue's capacity. (How does this work in practice? Is there a central committee that you report to every time you hear it claimed?) Perhaps the same reverence is warranted for the 1970 show in Blackpool, preserved here via anecdotes and a flyer, where Black Sabbath were supported by three of Manc's finest: Grisby Dyke, Stack Waddy and Urbane Gorilla. All feature on Man Chest Hair, and all are cookin'.
Grisby Dyke's 'Nebula' is flutey psych with some fairly muscly riffing, albeit muddied by the only source being a knackered acetate. Stack Waddy, a typically scant-selling band on John Peel's Dandelion label and one of two bands on here I'd previously heard of, affirm why clued-in spotters include them among metal's progenitors: 'Hunt The Stag' is massively heavy for 1970, John Knai actually appears to sing "Pickin' boils off ladies' bums" at one point, and on this number at least they batter the Groundhogs at their own game. 'Ten Days Gone', one of only two surviving songs by Urbane Gorilla, is no wet blanket itself, saxily honking away over boner-sporting electric blues.
In fact, call me a grotesque and deaf caveman - no, please do - but nearly all the best parts of MCH are the ones striving for 'eaviness. J.C. Heavy, the band whose two pricey 45s began the hunt that fuelled this compilation, start off 'Is This Really Me?' with Quo-riffic boogie thud but usurp it via trippers' diary lyrics and splattery psych solo wailing. Plasma are the only group with two songs on here, so Finders Keepers clearly revere them; can't say I'm hearing much surf in their purported "proto-metal surf", but James-Charles Hazeltine gives his fretboard an enthusiastic handjob to make up for having to play with two nameless session musicians and no singer. Better still, The Way We Live (another Dandelion signing, slightly better known by their subsequent name, Tractor) offer, through cardboard box drums and lyrical namechecks for Easy Rider and witchcraft, a northern riposte to capital city Mandrax-eaters like the Edgar Broughton Band and Third World War.
Tractor were unruly enough, and lasted long enough, to enjoy a degree of affiliation with punk when it broke - the only such band on MCH. In some cases, band personnel evaporated from the scene before they had a chance to embrace punk, or denounce it. In others, specifically Spider Jive (whose 'Crocodilla' is an oleaginous midpoint between the Beatles, Queen and ELO) and Young & Renshaw (sub-Free leering entitled 'Can't Get Enough Of Your Love'), members went on to Sad Café. If you're looking for a singular narrative tying together the bands on Man Chest Hair, you're out of luck: some were bang on trend, some were after the fact fashion-wise, some (well, Stack Waddy) were arguably ahead of their time.
However, almost to a man - and, save for J.C. Heavy singer Josephine Levine, they're men to a man - these groups were singing of simple pleasures; rock music as anything other than escapism was still a raw and slightly curious concept at this point. When Brian McGladdery, frontman of Oscar, gruffly insists "I love the life I lead, I lead the life I love" during absurd 1974-vintage paean to medallion-glinting seduction, 'Good Lovin' Woman', it's easy to imagine a teenage Mick Hucknall stumbling upon it as he fiddled with his wireless. Frantic Elevators, my foot.