Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Composites For A Generation: James Fry’s Baker’s Dozen

From the hits of Hot Chocolate and the trashy joys of Sigue Sigue Sputnik to the 'death jazz' of Miles Davis and the angst of Portishead, James Fry takes us through his life in thirteen albums

Photo by Mark Ashby

James Fry has a new book out called A Licence To Rock And Pop. Its subtitle ‘An Inventory Of Attitude’ could also work easily to describe the albums he’s picked for his Baker’s Dozen. The book is dedicated to his old pals Tony Ogden and Nick Sanderson, both of whom are now sadly departed, both of whom were in the much missed World Of Twist with the stylish Ogden on vocals and the spirited Sanderson on drums. They were too good for the then very good Madchester. Fry was also an early member of the band along with guitarist Gordon King, and he went on to work again with Sanderson in Earl Brutus, a band that time will reveal to be among the best of their bracket.

They were a glorious punk glam amalgam and sang about the SAS and Navyheads; teenage operas and a putative teenage Taliban; bus drivers and Midland Reds. Performances were anarchic, explosive. Earl Brutus knew their targets: Tudorbethan mansions, hair designs by Nicky Clarke, Harvester pubs. Earl Brutus was the thump of the Glitter Band meeting the creative destruction of Gustav Metzger. Earl Brutus were feral. Earl Brutus were quite brilliant. And their mantra? You are your own reaction: barked out as loud and proud as those hairy hard glam-era rockers Nazareth fired up on high dose dexamethasone.

After Sanderson’s untimely death from cancer in 2008, Fry regrouped with King and formed The Pre New whose debut album cover featured the British Rail logo in pink on a yellow background. This was their joint tribute to train driver Sanderson and the Sex Pistols’ design for Never Mind the Bollocks.

Fry’s book has an essay by Luke Haines, a blurb by Michael Bracewell. There’s a foreword too by Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne fame, another band Fry has worked with in his other role as photographer. He’s been responsible for many iconic images of stars including Lee “Scratch’ Perry and Oasis. He knows everything about the importance of stance and background. Fry is a keen student of Mick Rock and his images of David Bowie, he knows what a good album cover looks like and his book highlights and interrogates classics like Prince’s Lovesexy, Ian Dury’s New Boots and Panties!!, Dr. Feelgood’s Down By the Jetty, and the Ramones’ debut.

He’s just returned from a trip to Rome, and I from Islay. Promptly identifying we are of the same age, our antennae quickly pick up on shared experiences: growing up in suburbia, over-populated comprehensive schools, drug scares in fifth year, playing irritating records at teenage parties when the girls wanted to hear Fleetwood Mac. (Fry: discordant Lou Reed contract filler. Me: Hang On to the Night by XTC). He’s seen Be Bop Deluxe live but somehow dodged the axe attacks at Suicide gigs. Earl Brutus, though, would have eggs and melons and glasses chucked at them in due course.

The deaths of our respective fathers fostered an unpredictable need for the more out-there records by Miles Davis, and it’s noted how our dad’s spending too much time on work and looking after their kids had unforeseen consequences. Dads who couldn’t enjoy Elvis because they were still dealing with the fall out of the war and rationing or wiping their kid’s arses. Our parents missed out on the excitement. They were unlucky: unlike us they didn’t have the Pistols or acid house.

There’s talk of brothers too, and how they have reciprocally influenced our taste: Fry’s elder is Martin from ABC. The Sheffield scene crops up in discussion and Clock DVA are remembered. There is reminiscing too, shamefully, about clothes admired and clothes we’ve bought because of Bowie (sky blue breeks and the like). There are bows to the great sleeve designers and the pop artist Derek Boshier. Fry admits to being 61 and feeling lucky to have lived through the height of pop music and what it has meant.

James Fry’s new book A License To Rock is published on 17 October. To begin reading his Baker’s Dozen, click the image below.

First Record

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