Segregated education, bigotry, an English as the collective noun for 'poof', racism, Slik, sectarian violence, Andy Cameron allowed inside a recording studio, Alcohol abuse, Ally's Demobbed Tartan Army, Heart
Disease as a hobby, a river so polluted that atheists can walk on water, Lena Martell, draconian licensing laws, Midge Ure
, deep fried craic, the Krankies, an accent that makes females sound like lobotomized bingo callers, 'pure mince' as a pejorative and where even the dogs smoke. How do you know it's summer here? The rain feels warmer. When dinosaurs ruled the earth, we kept Pterodactyls as racing pigeons. Welcome to Glasgow (twin town: Sodom, motto: absente reo - and a roof would be nice thanks)
For the sake of clarity, I have no delusions about the milieu of my past: the so-called 'Scottish Cringe' is a fallacy engineered by those with vested interests in shielding us from the reality that culture is but a pacifier provided for those who are unable or unwilling to articulate their own ideas. Culture R'Us or Culture R'Yous? If you want a litmus test of a healthy spirit, then a strong dose of self depreciating caustic humour has to be a must. How much skill is there in being born within any particular nation's borders? Like most of my contemporaries in 1978 I thought popular music and mores sucked everywhere
I grew up in a northern suburb of Glasgow which was considered quite posh e.g. our graffiti had punctuation and such provocatively soft boys as myself were given many a hearty kicking by the respective tribes from this divided city (Celtic and Rangers fans) who wanted to bring a whole new interpretation to R.D Laing's The Divided Self. As an adolescent craving stimulus I frequented a Live
pub music circuit that included the Halt Bar, Curlers, the Maggie, Windy's, Blackfriars and perhaps significantly for this review, the legendary Burns Howff in West Regent Street. This revered watering hole, sadly gone now, provided a starting place for subsequent stars Stone the Crows, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band (via Tear Gas) and Beggars Opera
. Stories of Chou Pahrot's performances there are legion and my favorite is the one where guitarist Mama Voot visited the gents toilet during a solo without missing a note or the band having to stop in mid song (it was an incredibly small venue) Most of the bands I saw were more memorable for their names and attitude than the music they created e.g. 12 Massive Explosions, Harry Reptile, the Egyptian Sex People, Exit the Lemming, The Outpatients and there was not a trace of any Prog lineage in said combos' rudimentary laldy bluster. However, there was one notable exception to this unwritten 'Law of Keech': complicated clever s.h.i.t. = a right good doing (a.k.a. the Malky) in the unkempt, uncontrived and eccentric form of Chou Pahrot. Messrs Beard, Zarb, Voot and erm...Amphibian/ McTeeth somehow conspired to cut across all preconceived boundaries of musical brand loyalty and very often good taste to boot. I think they were from Paisley, a town that considers itself entirely separate from Glasgow's environs and whose inhabitants are termed 'Buddies' which might go some way towards the 'outsider' appeal of this fascinating group. Here was an unlikely amalgam of sophisticated avant sourced rock, celtic punky primitivism and irreverent hippy slapstick couched in 'Sunday Post' dialogue that made perfect sense to the locals but must have struck the uninitiated as the Broons performing an exorcism during Hogmanay. Sadly, I never saw them Live
as they disappeared to Germany for a tour just as I reached drinking age. Veterans of the Live
music scene in Glasgow often take the view that Live
does scant justice to the breadth and scope Chou Pahrot were capable and there are even some dark whispers that the album ain't really 'Live
' at all, but a studio recording with audience ambiance added thereafter. I can't find corroborating proof of this or any telling consensus but either way, we can only appraise what is, and not what becomes an increasingly futile and apocryphal take on what should be. The Glasgow Film Theatre was certainly the venue used but being robbed of the visuals (somewhat ironically) means we don't get to see the only credible JazzPunkClassical band tearing the place up behind rubber masks and wedding dresses alas.
Pantomime Shrub - a neurotic and nagging take on something the Crims circa '73 only hinted at, with an obsessive ostinato and Bartok 'machine rhythm' that after finally grinding to a halt just picks itself up, dusts itself off and goes again with gusto redoubled. By virtue of the many twists and turns to be enjoyed before the end you're glad of such obduracy.
Sylphonic Diplivits - Mama Voot's thick fuzz lead guitar and Eggy Beard's rapier violin spar on a memorable opening riff before trading dialogue thereafter in a bartered exchange where neither is subservient to the other. Like so much of this music, if you were to remove a single constituent, the entire construction might very well disintegrate into thin air. It's also clear that the laddies have a fondness for the Mahavishnu Orchestra
and the gradual accelerando they embark on at the midway point is incredible to behold. Listen to how Zarb's clattering Rickenbacker bass and O'Neil's fusillade snare even lay back into a jesting rubato at what is a terrifyingly high tempo without letting the underlying shared pulse waver for a nanosecond. This is an ensemble with a battle hardened empathy that was clearly road-tested into effect by constant gigging.
The Wee Thing - Our first glimpse of that wistful and rather melancholic strain of celtic folk that lurks at the heart of we Scots. There is not a trace of any mawkish sentimentally throughout this beautiful creation however, and perhaps Crimson are the only other band I can name capable of encroaching on such territory without lapsing into maudlin teuchter p.i.s.h.
The Random Shoggy - Those of you familiar with the anti intellectualism of Ivor Cutler will recognise that spirit in the sung portions but what remains, by way of stark contrast, is split into several discrete sections that encompass horror movie creepy, skipping rhymes with a noose?, african 'jangle' and a weird rock assimilation of some very astringent chamber music.
"I met a lady, she had a doggy, she said his name was the random shoggy"
Almost impossible to describe but beguiling and unremittingly brilliant throughout. This is indicative of what the band's longer and more challenging pieces, that many Pahrot lovers deem are largely absent from this album, may have resembled e.g that 'Loch Ness Monster' of an instrumental and anecdotal favorite remembered simply as 'Mince' where the only lyric is sung at the very end of its 'Magnus McOpus' duration (being the word 'Mince' bellowed in stacked harmonies)
Itchy Face - Nobody is 'telling' me anything here but I just love it to bits. Imagine the Knack's My Sharona deconstructed by a glue sniffing Rab C Nesbitt accompanied by John Wetton
, Tony Williams, Jerry Goodman and Joe Strummer. Make of the following what you will but it's certainly NOT designed to harbour or cloak any arcane mystery and if you are at all receptive to the work of the aforementioned Ivor Cutler no more needs to be said:
"Ah know a man wi' an itchy face, it's a pure disgrace I know a man with a skelly eye, looks like he can see the sky Aye Eye Aye, Eye Yi Yi..?".
The lyrics take a sinister 'Sawney Bean' turn towards the conclusion where I could swear I hear the protagonist's actions described thus:
"and he eats his maw and he eats his hoose and he has his tea and he has a pee?"
I'd pay good money to hear Jon Anderson
Lemons - Something of a Live
staple and drummer 'the Amphibian' lends this a rockier feel than that represented by the Buzgo Tram Chorus
EP version. By some obscure reflex I'm always prompted by what a Madness
song would have sounded like if tackled by Prime Time or the Magic Band. Take note that although the unfettered and unbridled fury of free jazz is referenced in places, it's principally as a textural device only (i.e you don't meet any feedback noise improvs that involve the sound of strangled balloon animals) Why can't more avant garde inspired rock display the economy, brevity and discipline that Chou Pahrot do so masterfully here? It's often on the edge of chaos, but this is tourniquet tight chaos. Yes
I know, I'm a slave to structure, so kill me. You wont find anything similar to the following in any Pete Sinfield or Greg Lake collaboration:
"Lemons for your face, Sitting on the sideboard, Lemons for your face"
Circa 4 minutes in you are witness to one of the most gloriously sinister passages in music full stop. Over Monica Barb's unyielding pedal point Mama Voot embarks on a diabolic ascending sax trill that never fails to summon forth images in this listener's head of terrified commuters trampling over each other to escape that mental patient in the carriage who was flossing his teeth with a machete. (but that might just be me?)
Mary Submarine - An outline rock sketch filled with softer fleshy tones sourced from the white underbelly of folk but the trumping palette betrays a plaintive darker sorrow that leaves simple pentatonics and fisher folk light years behind. Like The Wee Thing this is distinctly at odds with Chou Pahrot's habitual absurdist stance. Pay mind to the exquisite, and all too rare, sax solo from Voot that always summons the neck hair sentries to attention.
Day o' the Mug - Some of Stravinsky's chamber/dance pieces come to mind and maybe even a daydream of Zappa transcribing Bartok into the blues. Those wishing to catch a glimpse of this quartet's technical chop quotient are invited to drool in awe at the playing hereabouts. Even better than that, you don't actually notice the prodigious technique (it's always disguised by the music)
The Yaw Yaw Song - Eggy Beard's lonely restive violin conjures up a considerably less effete David Cross
until the bass, drums and guitar rumble, clatter and chime underneath in robust syncopated support. The alluring and teasing main theme finally disrobes into a shocking chanted chorus that makes the Ramones sound long winded. If only more bands were as imaginative as this with just four instrumental parts.
Some of the reference points in Chou Pahrot's music are not hard to identify but this cannot really provide any idea as to what they actually sound like i.e. a list of ingredients is neither a flavour or even close to the pharmaceutical berserker porridge served up here. So for what it's worth we might itemise this sonic food fight as redolent of: Krautrock, Beefheart, Bartok, Wild Man
Fischer, Stravinsky's chamber music, Celtic Folk, Zappa, Free
Jazz, Crimson, Ivor Cutler and an elusive ingredient 'X' which I can only liken to 'aggressively keeping shtum'. If they have anything in common with their Prog counterparts it's that reluctance to say anything that defers to the brinkmanship of mundane reality. Someone like Yes
never had anything to say while Chou Pahrot had plenty but chose not to: both are culpable. Chou Pahrot's failure to surmount the localised fame they garnered was probably down to several factors of which their cartoon graffiti lyrics deLive
red in a thick Glaswegian brogue was just a part. They fell between a 'Rock' that was too aggressively 'punky' for the hippies and a hard place considered too 'out there' for formulaic Punk and Metal's jealously guarded conservatism. Record company reticence to gamble on this ambivalence resulted in no deal, disillusion and eventual breakup. Chou Pahrot were latterly reduced to the odd European festival appearance and being trotted out at various outdoor equivalents in Glasgow as an increasingly antiquated curio for metalheads to gawp at and shower with appreciative beer cans. It's a real shame we never got to hear this unique group develop, grow and reap the fruits afforded to those artists who get to mature over a series of studio albums and tours.
Despite the misgivings of those who rue the lack of a souvenir consistent with their fading memory, let's just enjoy instead a document that at least attests to that once in a blue/green moon when 4 dwarf stars threatened to illuminate the darkest recesses of the old firmament.
*Apologies for a lot of Scottish slang:
laldy - very loud the Malky - getting beaten up maw - mum hoose - house keech - fecal matter