Sunday, 17 January 2016

Oliver: Silverfish - Rock On [Peel Session] (12 January 1992)

Silverfish's cover of David Essex's  signature 1973 hit is lumpen and rockist.  It adds nothing new to the original, merely burying itself in weak whistling and dull feedback loops.  It's not a patch on their own majestic Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal.  So why does it take its place on the metaphorical mixtape?  To paraphrase The Importance of Being Earnest, "Nostalgia, purely nostalgia."  After all, I had grown up with Rock On in its original and best form.

My parents were teens of the rock 'n' roll era.  Their 17th birthdays falling in 1958 (Dad) and 1963 (Mum) respectively.  But you wouldn't think it to look at the record collection they had assembled between them before my birth in 1976.  My father served in the navy on H.M.S Plymouth from the late 50s to about 1967, he travelled the world - mostly Africa and the Far East but there were no Fela Kuti like discoveries brought back from any of these tours.  My mother bought With The Beatles and A Hard Day's Night but stopped after this.  She saw The Beatles play live as well, but didn't enjoy the experience because the screaming stopped her hearing any of the music.
It seems that when they got married, the early 70s saw a resumption in their record buying, but it would take me a number of years before I grew to appreciate The Carpenters, a band that Peel loathed.  There were several K-Tel compilations of contemporary early 70s hits, mainly featuring distinctly second division contributions from MudMungo Jerry and others.  It wasn't, Beatles' records aside, a terribly inspiring collection - apart from one double album....

Ironically, I was drawn to the soundtrack album of That'll Be The Day, a 1973 film by Claude Whatham,  because it had a portrait of Ringo Starr standing rather gormlessly next to a gloweringly cool David Essex, while in the bottom corner, the devastatingly handsome Billy Fury was singing into a mic while standing on a dodgem car track.  The record stayed unplayed until I had to accompany my parents to a party in early 1987, about a year or so before I was an age that I could be left at home when they went out.  I was in another room with some other children when I suddenly heard Bobby Vee and the Crickets' version of That'll Be The Day playing on the record player of the room where the adults were getting drunk.  "That's my mum and dad's record!" I announced to general indifference.  But it was a Eureka moment to me.  In the late 80s, I'd discovered rock 'n' roll.  Over the following couple of years, I played the album incessantly at home, soaking up the mix of late 50s/early 60s tracks.  It was a curious hybrid of a record.  There were legends and pioneers on it (Little Richard, Larry Williams, The Everly Brothers), of the moment sensations (Del Shannon, Dion and the Belmonts, The Big Bopper) and other artists I never heard of again (Buddy Knox, Ray Sharp).  I loved it and could still sing most of it to you now.  But it was the fourth side which I started to play more frequently, featuring as it did contributions from some of the stars of the film: Billy Fury weighed in with 5 tracks including the Pete Townshend written Long Live Rock, though typically the track of his that resonanted most with me in my early teens was the more lushly romantic 
Thousand Stars.  Vivian Stanshall, before I heard of The Bonzo Dog Band provided a pitch-perfect track to sum up the era called Real Leather Jacket:

And on his leather belt was spelt, "Don't"
And no one did.

Top of the side though, and reeking of cash-in, was David Essex's incredible Rock On.   A minimalist 70s masterpiece fusing dub basslines, zither like string parts and Essex's scat-like vocals to produce a track that was a whole planet away from the majority of the tracks it was sharing space on the album with.  It understandably stuck out like a sore thumb on That'll Be The Day but for all the right reasons.  Not least because it cannily tapped into the retro vibe of the early 70s which had sprung up as a reaction to the excesses of prog rock, but did so in as contemporary and futuristic style as possible.  A musical career high, which Essex never equalled in terms of quality and which showed one of the fascinating directions that the rock 'n' roll celebrated in That'll Be The Day had moved in.  Through 1992, I would start to move closer in my musical interests towards the Rock On era, swapping the Frankie Lymon's for Beatles and Stones.  But that album and that track, brilliantly written about in greater detail at Then Play Long remain huge influences on my musical taste.

"Slowly evolving into something between Chinese opera, Link Wray, Can and dub"

Videos courtesy of Drew Gordon (Silverfish) and Ulysses Joven (Essex)

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