Graham Reid | | 3 min read
The Jazz Butcher, the quirky and sometimes eccentric project of singer-writer Pat Fish, delivered interesting and increasingly crafted albums in the early Eighties.
But by the time they arrived on Creation Record in '88 (alongside My Bloody Valentine) Fish had refined his sometimes wayward songs into crafted (but still quirky) pop confections and had a whole new band of jangling guitars, and horns.
The band's four earlier albums were packaged up by Fire Records (through Southbound in New Zealand) as the box set The Wasted Years and now from the same source comes four from the Creation catalogue, Fishcoteque ('88), Big Planet Scarey Planet ('89), Cult of the Basement ('90) and Condition Blue ('91).
If The Wasted year was the sound of band finding itself and growing up in public, The Violent Years collection (an odd title but the JB were into odd song titles too) was them a well-honed machine and delivering their crisp pop with energy and wit.
At times on Fishcoteque they could almost be a very angular Lloyd Cole and the Commotions with a more skewed and suburban worldview (Living in a Village with it closing lines “all I want for Christmas is a pair of walking boots to get out of this village”), but they could also punch out the brittle Looking for Lot 49 (referencing Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49) and then go all weird with a primitive rap-funk chant-down about cooking chicken (The Best Way) with a mash-up of tapes, turntables and noise for the last minute or so..
Yes, the Jazz Butcher were always going to remain different.
Yet the empathetic, domestic ballads were also there (Susie, Keeping the Curtains Closed).
For their follow-up Big Planet Scarey Planet however everything sounded bigger, wider and more urgent (The World I), and Fish's humour frequently darker (New Invention, Line of Death possibly influenced by How Soon is Now).
There is still thumping pop (the nasty and vengeful Bicycle Kid), the post-Gang of Four dance-funk (Burglar of Love) and guitar chime (the violent passions of Bad Dream Lover).
Cult of the Basement the following year might just be the perfect album title for this band of seemingly discontented travelers, but it is also one of their most interesting, if still flawed and ignored, Creation releases.
Fish and friends always seemed intent on subverting their music – the instrumental opener The Basement sets up a dramatic spaghetti western guitar twang but is crosscut with incoherent vocals in places – but as always the lyrics are witheringly sharp (the witty and addictively poppy She's On Drugs).
The little instrumental passages (with water noises from a shower and waves) are irritating and could have been chiseled out, but you suspect no one would tell Fish what to do.
But as always, there is heart (The Onion Field) alongside the acerbic humour (the gentle Daycare Nation) and quirky British social comment (Mr Odd written by bassist Laurence O'Keefe). And guitar overdrive on Panic in Room 109.
Right at the end is the worldweary Sister Death (“Come Sister Death” were allegedly the final words of St Francis of Assisi.)
The final album in The Violent Years set is the more downbeat Condition Blue and again you can hear a more melancholy Lloyd Cole in places where the wit seems more tempered (he was going through a divorce) and the music also mostly dialed down appropriately.
It is the most attractive, deepest, crafted and sonically interesting album (the repeated guitar figures and stacked up backing vocals on the compelling Our Friends the Filth) of the four . . . and yet despite what he might have been going through at the time Fish could still find it in himself to knock out terrific power pop (the snarky She's a Yo-Yo, the laidback and defeated Honey, the brittle'n'bouncing Shirley MacLaine).
Pat Fish made more albums and has toured, but as with the likes of Robyn Hitchcock, he will probably always only ever command a small audience, but there's ample evidence across these albums that he and the Jazz Butcher are worth serious and enjoyable investigation.