um:— Honey at the core
They woke up Sleeper’s audience and seem set to do the same for the rest of the country. Fiona Shepherd talks to Octopus, the sixteen- legged groove machine.
If you recently stumbled inadvertently/were clubbed in the street and dragged in by the hair to a Sleeper gig. you may have experienced momentary respite in the shape of Octopus playing the hang-up-thc- guests‘-coats slot before Radiohead wannabes The Longpigs and generally making the headliners‘ set look like a rummage in the dustbin of imagination compared to Oetopus‘s expansive busy-busy ultra-hummability.
The ‘Pus (as they call themselves) aren‘t smug though. Singer Marc Shearer recalls his earliest songwriting experiences as similarly basic efforts.
‘When I was seven. I had a band called The Bumble Bees. We had two songs. “We Are The Bumble Bees" and “Haunted House“. “We Are The Bumble Bees“ went We are tlte bumble bees. l):::::' and “Haunted House“ went — and this is true — Haunted house. immmo '. Unfortunately. we split because one of us developed a really bad sweet habit.‘
Oh. fora bootleg of those gems when Octopus fulﬁl their abundant pop promise. Although now installed in the Octopad in Hackney. North London. the group started life in Shotts (are
Marc Shearer’s ’Pus
they from Glasgow? are they from Edinburgh? neither — they‘re from Planet Pop). After a brief spell gigging in the Central Belt (at which point they already looked dressed for success) they moved south. recruiting other members like harmonica player Nick Reynolds. the son of Great Train Robbery mastermind Bruce Reynolds. Now they are eight. appropriately enough. including an intrinsic brass section.
‘Everything is written for an eight- piece.‘ says Shearer. ‘How many times have you had these indie pop bands with a horn section chucked on as an appendage? Our idea is not “let‘s tan it up with trumpets“ — it‘s instrumental to the whole song.‘
Ideas aren‘t a problem for Octopus. who are happy enough with the description ‘space pop‘ to use it themselves. Whereas their tourmales encourage their audience to look inwards and weep. Octopus advocate looking around you and rejoicing on songs like two-chord wonder ‘Theme From Joypop‘. ‘lt‘s meant to be uplifting and take you somewhere .else.‘ says Shearer.
While not exactly leaping around the countryside like wood nymphs or .arbitting the moon (yet — but they have met Buzz. Aldrin). Octopus are not averse to exploring their environment to enhance their recorded ambience. Their rural residential studio in Cornwall was a boon.
‘We were continuously picking tip everything that was going on.‘ says Shearer. ‘The trains at the start of [current single] “Your Smile“ were the white clay trains that passed by in the mornings at about live o‘clock. We recorded the dawn chorus and there‘s loads of me singing outside‘ — hello birds. hello trees. hello Bjt'irk — ‘lt was total situationist recording.‘
And in technique terms. they‘ve only
just begun . . .
‘l‘m really into this textural thing at the moment. but I‘m going to get samplers on board and use them the way nobody‘s used them before. except My Bloody Valentine. but within the confines of a pop song — I‘m talking Top l() pop. I‘ve got this crazy notion that I want us to storm the charts and once we‘re in there . . . I think it‘s important that people realise if we get there it‘s going to be one hell of a ride.‘
More euphoric even than the Octopus fairground ride from which they take their name.
'Your Smile' is out now m1 I’oml Records. ()etopus play 'I' in the Park on Suit [4 July.
It is hard to believe that Bits-49’s raunchy re-working oi hard-core country and hillbilly roots has become one oi the hottest properties in ultra- commercial Nashville. Not that the band are up there with mega-selling crossover acts like Garth Brooks or Reba McIntyre, but at a grassroots level, they are the hippest thing in town.
the quintet play at llobert’ , a boot store on lower Broadway which converts to a honky-tonk every night that BBS-49 (the name comes from a comedy routine in the country show llee llaw) are in residence. Now the band, who have rarely played outside Robert’s, tar less toured, are bringing a taste at their hard-core country sound to Glasgow.
Gary Bennett, who shares guitar and singing with Chuck Mead, explained that his love oi 503 country came from ‘Iistening to my mom and dad’s records, and I think that goes tor each oi us.’ Gary met Chuck when he heard him singing Johnny ilorton tunes at Tootsle’s Orchid Lounge, three doors
down from Robert’ . Pretty soon they were playing together, the band grew from there, and things started to happen. Fast.
“We were playing for tips at Robert’s, and figured maybe one of our songs might get picked up or something. ‘l’hen the crowds started to get out oi hand, and the media picked up on it, and next thing we knew there were nine major labels courting us.’
The band chose Arlsta, because ‘they left us alone to make the record we wanted.’ That studio album is due out later this year, with a live at Robert’s six-track EP out now as a
ens-49: new hillbilly heroes
‘We love this music, and we feel like part oi something that’s going on around the edges oi the mainstream right now, and, who knows, maybe it will get back to being the mainstream again. We don’t see ourselves as all that special, but we are iocused completely on our music from the moment we get on stage to the moment we come off, and just as long as it’s tun, we’ll be out there doing it.’ (Kenny Mathleson)
835-49 play with the Radio Sweethearts and Des Ilorsiall at King Tut’s on Sat 15.
mm— Slap and tickle I
In Skye's Gaelic College last summer. a place well used to musical performance. and in front of many accmnplished step dancers and fiddlers. Open House engendered dmnb-struck astonishment. then waves of tumultuous applause.
The group. based in the States. has superny tasty. inventive mandolin and guitar played by Paul Kotapish. and a remarkable and wacky character in Mark Graham. whose great talent on mean and musical clarinet and harmonica is outshone by his speciality: constructing songs to admittedly nondescript tunes that have stunningly convoluted and funny lyrics. He's the Gary Larson of acoustic songwriters.
Add one of the best fiddlers iii the world today in the shape of Irishman and ex-Bolhy Bandperson Kevin Burke. and you‘ve got a top quality ensemble playing a highly original synthesis of beautiful acoustic music.
But the thing that marks them out from the few others that perhaps play to the same high quality is their secret weapon. dancer Sandy Silva.
‘l)ancer‘ doesn't really do her justice. She's a full drum kit and a bag of percussion. Using stepping techniques derived from Scots. lrish. .»\ppalachian and clogging traditions. with tap routines and spontaneous imprm‘isation. she plays the rhythm track. She also dances in conventional. modernist ways. but always with a rhythmic inventiveness that wholly complements the tune. And she uses more than just her legs. slapping sounds from various parts of her body. head and cheeks with impeccably in-time hand-clapping. dancing all the while.
This is not specifically Irish music. nor American. but more. as their title suggests. a potpourri of melody from round the world. And though their appeal is global. it‘s best appreciated by an English speaker when Graham‘s lyrics are sure to bring a smile. His Oedipal cowboy ballad has the memorable refrain 'He killed his pa and married his mu. thev don 'I even do that in Arkansas". He explores the philosophy of infinity in the old notion ofa ‘Monkey And A Typewriter‘ eventually producing the works of Shakespeare. and he pays homage to the dinosaurs in ‘Their Brains Were Small And They Died‘.
Open House is one of the best antidotes to brain-shrinkage I know. (Norman Chalmers).
Open House play the Muirend Inn in Symington, Ayrshire on Tue 25 and Adelaide Iv, Glasgow on Wed 26.
The List l4-27 Jun I996 43