The Ceramic Hobs - 50 Shades of Snuff/Welcome to Malaysia Airlines
Disco Mental - Never Can Say Goodbye
Smith Research SRV21. 7”
I’ve been digging through my singles of late, spinning a few and wondering why I still keep those that I either don’t like anymore or have no idea whats on them. I’m not the worlds biggest single fan but I do have an abiding admiration for a format that is unmistakably of itself. Its a single. It has a single on it. Once upon a time, in a dark and miserable past, they contained a track taken from the album and a b-side that was the instrumental version, a cheap and shoddy way for uncaring record companies to pump product on to an uncaring and easily pleased consumer base. At their best they’re visceral slices of a moment in time, the perfect piece of plastic that for a few minutes is the best thing in the whole world.
Over the years I’ve accumulated several Ceramic Hobs singles including one that I had a hand in [read; sent Steve a cheque and six months later received a hundred singles in return] which’ll be Shaolin Master, which I still claim to be one of my all time favourite seven inchers, there was that flexi on Pumf’ ‘The Stoat Rides Out’, the lathe cut with Greasy Walter and the Razors [who were probably just the Hobs under another name and who sang a Neil Young song to a Led Zeppelin tune], ‘72 Hour Drink Binge Alco Pop Madness’ and more lately ‘33 Trapped Chilean Miners’. There’s no doubting that Ceramic Hobs singles have certainly got darker around the edges as the years have passed.
Which is hardly surprising. Their guitarist Nigel Joseph died of a drug overdose in 2014, various members have seen the insides of psychiatric units and one peripheral member was found washed up on the Fylde coast, drink is a constant, sanity seems as far away as Mars but still they make decent records. It must be the Blackpool sea air that does it.
There is no instrumental on ‘50 Shades of Snuff’. There’s no b-side either, for this is a split single, one side of which is Disco Mental; a one off collaboration between Hobs man Morris and the recently departed John Several who between them do an almost straight cover of Never Can Say Goodbye. A song most famously given a disco backing by Gloria Gaynor but here given a cheesy synth drum preset 4/4 beat by Several with Morris singing over the top [in more than one sense] though tons of echo, a performance that disintegrates and becomes ever more tortured as the needle progresses. So we have a dying John Several, a man whose name you thought would never end up in the same sentence as word ‘disco’, recording a disco track thats being sung, almost as in eulogy, by the singer of a band who have either all been sectioned or who are dead? As black humour goes this is as dark as its possible to get.
The doom factor is further in evidence on ‘50 Shades of Snuff’ a track book-ended by recordings made at the inquest into former Hobs guitarist Nigel Joseph’s death from a drug overdose [here given his real name Keiron Wilmot]. Both tracks finds the Hobs staring into a black mirror whilst chugging out stop, start, cracked riffs. Morris’s vocal delivery is, as ever, a thing apart, a raw vibration from the diaphragm, a fag smoked patina hoarse shout, the sound of vocal chords being gripped by pliers. What ‘Welcome to Malaysia Airlines’ is all about I have no idea, apart from the obvious. Morris says at its onset ‘Acid’s groovy’. Lets leave it at that.
I get the feeling that however many of these singles exist have now all been covered in Dr Steg artwork and sent out to loving homes. My copy arrived bearing a postcard I’d sent to Dr Steg many years ago. I slide it in next to ‘33 Trapped Chilean Miners’ and wonder how much darker the Hobs can get before they eventually collapse into a Blackpool sized black hole?