The Cravats – Dustbin of Sound

When I tell you that The Cravats were part of the Anarcho-Punk movement of the 1980s (they were formed in Redditch in 1977) please don’t dismiss them as one of those aggressive buzzsaw guitar bands like Crass, Dirt, Conflict and Flux of Pink Indians (fine as those bands were). One of the great things about that movement was the vast breadth of music contained within. Bear in mind that the Crass label released music by Captain Sensible, Honey Bane and Bjork’s first (pre Sugarcubes) band Kukl, as well as more melodic bands like Poison Girls, Zounds, Sleeping Dogs and The Mob.

With the 50th birthday of Radio One being celebrated this weekend, it seems appropriate to mention that The Cravats recorded no less than 4 sessions for John Peel’s show. Cravats front man, The Shend, comments (in Ian Glasper’s excellent The Day The Country Died book) that:

…knowing how important the PRS payments were to us small bands, he used to even play two or three tracks a night in order to help us out financially. He was responsible for most good music even being heard in the first place, and I’d actually say he was the most influential person ever in British music; he gave everybody a chance.

In allowing John Peel to work unfettered in this way, Radio One was an invaluable conduit for new music — even if it was only for a few hours in the middle of the night through the week. Here’s the band’s single Rub Me Out  recorded for their Peel session of 10th August 1981:

The band has always been led by The Shend (the only original member and occasional actor, who has appeared in EastEnders, Red Dwarf, The Bill, Men Behaving Badly, and Torchwood amongst others).  He’s now backed up, in proper punk naming style, by Svor Naan on Saxophone (who joined in 1978, so almost original), Rampton Garstang on Drums, Viscount Biscuits on Guitar and Joe 90 on Bass.

I’ve seen their music described as “Jazz punk” and whilst I can hear that, there is so much more here. The new album — their first since The Colossal Tunes Out album of 1986 (so that’s a 31 year gap) — kicks off with King of Walking Away. Some of The Shend’s lyrics can be rather oblique and some of the fun of listening to these tracks is trying to work out exactly what he is going on about. I could just fill this review with quotes from the tracks that I enjoy, such as:

But when you bathe that desire, I’m an electric fire
Balanced precariously on your porcelain rim
Soon I will fall, plugged into the wall,
And watch you thrash about as the lights flicker and dim
I’m the king of walking away.

Is this about “Camoron” and his ridiculous, and wholly selfish decision to hold the Leave Referendum, only to lose it and drop the country right in the mire, and then run away? Maybe.

Batterhouse is a fabulous, bass driven, Jive style song — think Dead Kennedy’s We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now, but so much better. Motorcycle Man starts off as a pretty standard ‘chugger chugger’ track, lifted by a great sax riff: “Overtake the undertaker in his black sedan”100 Percent is another song that benefits from a really interesting sax riff: “I reckon I’m at my best when I’m wading through shit”. And Blurred, which was released as a single earlier this year. For me, it’s about the complete collapse of intelligent thinking. We should never trust an expert, apparently:

Smoke too many cigarettes
I eat too many cigarettes
I drink and drive too many cigarettes
I don’t know what is good for me
I don’t know what is good for me…

Power Lines Up sounds like a track that could have been written in the 80s anarcho-punk heyday: “Power lines up, Power Lines down…Pylon”. Jingo Bells was the first single released from the album back in March 2016 — before the Brexit vote — but I think we can safely ramp up that jingoism quotient by 5 times now.

Bury The Wild has a great guitar riff and a pro-vegetarian theme whereas Bigband is a bit of a rockabilly track all about, well, a big band. Following that there’s Whooping Sirens. All about a nuclear disaster, possibly reminiscent of Fukushima, and then we’re straight into “Hang Them”, on the American alt-right’s rabid calls to legally dispose of all sorts of alleged undesirables, by whatever means — and watch the ensuing executions.

Hang them shoot them electrocute them
Hang them shoot them electrocute them
Hang them shoot them electrocute them
Hang them shoot them electrocute them

Big Red Car is all about the driving experience: “Warm and safe in my cocoon, another big bunny in a shit cartoon“. And finally, the most surreal track of the album, apparently written (and I’m taking the lyrics sheet at face value — which may be a big mistake) about a damaged sign that says:

u bish
Will be

Hugely reminiscent of The Stranglers’ Peasant in The Big Shitty — though that might just be me!

This is going to be the most underrated album of the year. I can feel “critically acclaimed” oozing out of the air all around me. This deserves much more. It’s an interesting album with interesting tunes, interesting song structures and interesting lyrics. Do you remember that concept in ‘popular’ music? You’ve got to step back to the halcyon days of John Peel and have a listen to what he used to play to recognise it. But Dustbin of Sound has it in the here and now.

Clearly 5/5