Monday, January 29, 2018

Ceramic Hobs - Black Pool Legacy

Ceramic Hobs - Black Pool Legacy
Harbinger Sound. 2XLP + booklet. Harbinger 171

That the Ceramic Hobs have finally achieved some kind of recognition after thirty years ‘at the bottom end of show business’ comes as no surprise to those that know them. That it should come after they’ve split up comes as no surprise at all. Nothing was ever straight forward in Ceramic Hobs land. A recent interview and article in Wire magazine and a twenty five track compilation, as selected and sequenced by Phillip Best isn’t that bad a way to call it a day though. That’s if they have split up. You can never be sure with the Hobs. Nothing was ever certain as far as they were concerned. That’s an enormous part of their appeal. If you want certain go and listen to Radio 6.

Simon Morris is the constant. The only member of the band to have witnessed every one of those thirty chaotic years. Through incarceration in various mental health establishments, the death of band members, the drugs, the drink, the fall outs, the gigs played to ten people, the nearly thirty band members, the Mad Pride outings, he’s seen it all. It’s Morris’s band now but when I first heard them, over twenty years ago it was more of a Morris/Batcow operation. Stan Batcow being the ying to Morris’s yang, Batcow a tall ginger haired skinny teetotaler [surely the only one they ever had] seemingly forever dressed in day-glo beetle crushers, skin tight stripy leggings and a kaleidoscope of lycra tops. The riff-tastic Batcow complementing Morris’s growling, shouting, talking vocals like Blackpool and drink. There’s no doubting that once he departed the Hobs soon found themselves in a far darker corner of the room. With Morris at the unstable helm we get the culmination of thirty years work in the shape of Voodoo Party, a side long cut of crazed sample psych madness that was the last track on their last album. Like writing your resignation letter using the wrong hand after three bottles of Buckfast and a bifter.

We’re in Blackpool. Blackpool by the sea. Its the only town in England the Hobs could have possibly come from. A neon lit shithole at the end of the railway line. A place where drink and drunken sex are the common denominator and where prescriptions for antidepressants outnumber the people who live there. A black pool. Why they’ve bifurcated it I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Simon. Its either got some deep, esoteric meaning or its because it didn’t fit in with the design. The legacy bit is easy. This is their legacy, the release with which that legacy will be forever cemented .

Phillip Best has done a fine job in collating and sequencing these twenty five tracks. A tough job in difficult circumstances what with the Hobs back catalogue having more than its fair share of hard to track down obscure material [so don’t go thinking that that Discogs page is ‘it’]. A handful of albums on Batcow’s Pumf label, their last album Spirit World Circle Jerk on Must Die Records, a smattering of singles and the rest is a scattered to the wind flock of CDR’s, cassettes, flexis and lathe cuts half of which have already been lost down the backs of settees. You could even argue that some of their best work lies in obscurity like the 90’s ‘Free Tim Telsa’ six track mini LP on the Small Orange label or Pumf's ‘Ultramont’ an album that contains the ripping fifteen minute whip lash bass line epic ‘Altamont - Birkenau - Masada [Never Surrender]’, none of which are represented here. Whether this is through choice or the simple matter of being unable to source the material I don't know. Squeezing thirty years of work on to four sides of vinyl was always going to leave gaps but such are the myriad depths of the Hobs back catalogue we can always hold out for volume two. And three.

Best gives us three of their best to get us in the mood; two singles in ‘33 Trapped Chilean Miners’ and ‘Shaolin Master’ then ‘Irish Jew’ [‘I’m an Irish Jew what’s it to you?’], Shaolin Master is pure Hobs joyous lunacy with Morris projecting a couch potato who thinks he can still handle himself [‘I’m trained to destroy’], all killer riff and spindly guitar solo before slipping in to the synth pop spoken word oddity that is ‘Does He Take Sugar’. You can go anywhere from here, from the seven minute jangly pop of ‘Flower’ where the vocals and lyrics are given over to Jane, just Jane, another short lived band member with its deliberately warped tape of Smiths like jangle, to the barebones of Hard Horn Blues and Hey St Jude which is the nearest the Hobs ever get to stripped down. For much of the what the Hobs do isn’t stripped down and bare, its the exact opposite, its cluttered with samples, voices, shouts and calls so you can expect to hear bits of everything from ISIS recruitment videos to Blackpool tourist commercials to the theme from The News at Ten, to the theme from 80’s kids TV show Rentaghost, Marylin Monroe singing Happy Birthday Mr President to the cod football chant of ‘yer dads yer mum yer mums yer dad’ some of which may even be on this record and some not, to be honest I’ve listened to that much Hobs this week I don’t know my Al Al Who from my OZ OZ Alice 6.

Their thirty years are well represented but no tracks off 'Spirit World ...' which is understandable seeing as how it only came out a couple of years ago. Tracks from 'Shergar is Home Safe and Well' and 'Straight Outta Rampton' are well represented as are several of their singles. One track I’ve never heard before and can’t place is the strummed along Catholic Monochrome Holocaust which is apparently due to it being pulled from the many Oz Oz tape sessions. This info as taken from the accompanying booklet as written by long time fan Chris Sienko who does a sterling job of sifting through the many hidden references and multiple layers of every track on the album. A fine document in itself and one of the few on the Hobs that I know of. Then there’s The Prowler and the homage to Blackpool punk bands Blackpool Transport with its rasping bass line and mass of Blackpool punk band samples, M61, Amateur Cops, Prisoner Cell Block H Theme, Pro-Ana Tips ‘N’ Tricks, Rainbow Self-Realisation Therapy, All Psychiatrists Are Bastards. If the song titles don’t intrigue then look away now, if they do then dig in. Last track of the lot is the title track from Psychiatric Underground [easily their densest and most impenetrable release], a statement on the hopelessness of the psychiatric system ending with a voice culled from a found cassette reading, rather badly, an essay on English Industrial history, all set to samples of 18th century combat, horses hooves and a seaside Wurlitzer organ [maybe], the last voice you hear is the same one saying saying 'this tape has run out'.

The last time I saw the Ceramic Hobs [The Ceramic Hobs? Ceramic Hobs? Theeee Ceramic Hobs?] was last year in Leeds on their farewell tour. The merch table carried copies of their current single 50 Shades of Snuff each one coming with a handmade Dr. Steg cover, each one the subject of many hours of work. There they were in a little pile all on their own, the Hobs only merchandize of the evening and on top of them a piece of paper with the word ‘free’ on it. And nobody would go near them. Perhaps they feared they had dog shit smeared on their insides or that they’d melt when they got them home or maybe they thought that nobody in their right mind would ever consider giving away their records. Nobody in their right mind ...

Black Pool Legacy might just get Ceramic Hobs some rightly earned cultural credit. For one of the most inventive, creative, crazy bat shit groups of the last thirty years, a band that by rights shouldn’t have lasted anywhere near thirty years, its the least they deserve.

Harbinger Sound

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