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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… The Pink Fairies August 20, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Proto punk… There’s a lot of people who fit the bill. From the Stooges, to MC5 – not, admittedly, much of a spectrum there – to Hawkwind, some Alice Cooper, the Sonics, the Seeds and so on, there are many possible – ahem – suspects. The latter are perhaps the most fruitful source to consider – garage rock in total had the edge. But if we cast our net wider then the Velvet Underground and a range of other groups have to be included, in attitude if not in actual sound.

But, for my money there’s one track by one band that stands out as the almost perfect precursor. Step forward English band from the years of zonk – The Pink Fairies. And for that track? Teenage Rebel which lyrically, vocally, and for much of its length instrumentally, is as close as makes no difference to the Damned or [and this is far from coincidental] Motörhead.

Sure, there are divergences, the twiddly guitar fills look back rather than forward. But if they didn’t then it would be punk and not proto-punk and this post wouldn’t be worth writing. Actually that’s not entirely true because Pink Fairies were even beyond that song well worth a listen. What’s particularly striking about them is that they were such a construct of hippy and yet they somehow were more than that.

How did this come to pass? Well perhaps because the Pink Fairies emerged from the psychedelic underground of late 60s London, being a successor band in part to the Deviants (three of their number came from them, Paul Rudolph, Duncan Sanderson and Russell Hunter). The Deviants were led by Mick Farren, almost the epitome of the Ladbroke Grove scene and later, though not much later, a pretty damn good science fiction writer – but perhaps wisely the other three jettisoned him. Former Pretty Things drummer Twink joined and that was more or less the first incarnation of the band. From there they built up an audience through judicious appearances at free festivals where they worked so closely with Hawkwind that on occasion the two bands played as one – Pinkwind. In 1971 their first album, Never Never Land was released and from their they continued to build on their already fairly solid reputation – albeit one which was presented as outsiders and rebels. This was cemented by naked live performances amongst other attention grabbing antics. 1972 saw the release of their second album What a Bunch of Sweeties and 1973 saw their final album Kings of Oblivion of that period.

What’s intriguing is that there was a fair degree of attrition with first Twink leaving before the second album and then Rudolph leaving after it was released, to be replaced by Mick Wayne. Wayne didn’t last that long and he was effectively replaced by Larry Wallis, late of UFO. And this churn of members seems to have bled somewhat into their sound with a degree of variation that while eschewing a clearly defined Pink Fairies sound, beyond perhaps being categorized not entirely correctly as heavy rock, made them a much more interesting proposition than many of their peers.

My own introduction to them was on a Polydor Special Price Series album which I bought second hand in 1983 or so. I haven’t got a clue why I bought it – possibly because I’d heard of a Motörhead connection. The Fairies weren’t frequent visitors to radio at that stage and their star had faded, had it ever shone really bright. Of course, I wasn’t to know when I got it, but it missed out on a range of excellent tracks including ‘Uncle Harry’s Last Freak Out’, I Wish I was A Girl [a strange and compelling cross between proto-punk, Alice Cooper and hints of early new wave] and many more.

I mention Motörhead because Wallis ultimately went on to join their original incarnation briefly, and listening through the Fairies output that makes perfect sense. There’s something of the same stripped down gruff aesthetic in their work, albeit the Fairies had a much broader palette.

From the almost New York Dolls like ‘Street Urchin’ with a fine descending riff and almost walking bass line underneath it, to the MC5 like ‘Do It’ – which was inspired by Jerry Rubin… natch [and has a most unpunk like instrumental opening on album]. City Kids sounds brilliant even now, so much so that it was covered by Motorhead when Larry Wallis arrived in that band for a brief enough sojourn. I like the Motorhead cover, but I prefer the original. And if it has something of Hawkwind’s ‘Urban Guerilla’, in sensibility if not in sound [though the lyrics are not that different], well that’s merely an example of great minds thinking alike. And the tambourines. The tambourines! But there was a real attention to craft here and oddly the music, apart from the vocals, reminds me of no-one so much as The Only Ones [again listen to the first minute or so of I Wish I Was A Girl]. ‘War Girl’ has an almost Santana like thrust to it, ‘Heavenly Man’ something approaching Pink Floyd. And that broadness of approach, a willingness to experiment, is also evident in the sound itself. There’s lots of reverb here and an expansive quality that gives them an oddly contemporary feel. Lyrically they were a mixed bag, self-deprecating [or taking the piss], rebellious, trippy and sometimes playfully attention seeking.

There were a couple of reunions and even albums intermittently released through the late 1970s, through the 1980s and on into the 1990s, but you’d wonder whether was that missing the point. A proto-punk band has little currency post-punk – particularly in the 1980s, and this was a band that despite it’s innovative stylings was very much of its time. Indeed it’s only now, four decades later that I think it’s possible to get a real grasp of what they were about. With that thought in mind it’s worth noting that Jon Savage in England’s Dreaming doesn’t mention them at all, whereas the more recent An Oral History of Punk by John Robb has a number of contributors name-checking them as influences. But as with so many other examples they perhaps underline the reality that while punk was without question a defining moment it too had roots and influences that could be found sometimes in the most unlikely places.

Enjoy.

Teenage Rebel

Street Urchin

Do It!

City Kids

I wish I was a Girl

Heavenly Man

War Girl

Portobello Shuffle [some nice images from those aforementioned years of zonk on this one]

Comments»

1. sonofstan - August 20, 2011

Great, great band.

Nothing from What a Bunch of Sweeties?

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WorldbyStorm - August 20, 2011

Ach! When I was putting this together I was thinking ‘go easy on the proto-punk, thrown in a bit more’ but you’re right, an accidental omission.

Portobello Shuffle is now in place.

Were they a presence on your musical horizon, I ask because they’d vanished completely by the time a short bit later when I was getting into music [and thinking back it’s more likely to be the Hawkwind rather than Motorhead connection that got me into them].

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sonofstan - August 20, 2011

I was aware of them when they were active, but I was *only* 13 when Kings of Oblivion came out (I’m not THAT old), so I didn’t hear them till later – think I bought the 1st album and Kings from the second hand bins in Pat Egan’s towards the end of the seventies.

I don’t ever remember thinking that there was that radical a break between Punk and that particular stream of English hippie-dom, despite the rhetoric from the punk side – it was clear enough to me the first few times I went to London how many people who’d come of age in that Ladbroke Grove/ Portabello Rd scene were involved in punk – you mention the Only Ones, and they’re a perfect example of that.

More and more, it’s the likes of the Fairies, Mott the Hoople, Spooky Tooth, Keef Hartley, and the Edgar Broughton Band I go back to from the pre-punk English scene, rather than Roxy and Bowie, which was what I was actually into back then (although Mott were a constant). Hard Rock, before it was subsumed by metal.

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WorldbyStorm - August 20, 2011

Yep, that’s more or less how I see it, that there was a continuum with breaks but also continuities [by the way one huge booster of the Pink Fairies was Capt. Sensible and then given he went onto work with Robyn Hitchcock you can see the linkages back to an harder edge psychedelia].

I’ve been listening to a bit of Edgar Broughton Band recently for the first time in any serious way. Really good. Weren’t part of the Only Ones originally from Spooky Tooth?

I think you’re right too that the hard rock thing prior to metal was very interesting – not least because it wasn’t formulaic at all.

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2. rockroots - August 21, 2011

I love, love, love the Fairies. Funnily enough, my first Fairies record was the same vinyl comp, which I picked up donkey’s years ago, again probably because of the Hawkwind link. And I’ve been obsessively collecting everything related to them ever since, despite some dire barrel-scraping.

I should give an honourable mention to the most recent – a tribute cd called Portobello Shuffle from about 6 months ago (mail order only, I think) which features the original line-up (minus Twink, who they all seem to despise) playing Do It! I won’t pretend that it’s classic Pink Fairies, but it’s got some good stuff by the above-mentioned Captain Sensible and others, including a great, haunting, Wreckless Eric cover of I Wish I Was A Girl – always one of my fave Fairies tracks. It’s also for a good cause (in aid of their roadie/associate Boss Goodman, following a stroke) and they even threw in a free Brian James (Damned) EP!

Great post WbS, I await the Edgar Broughton eulogy!

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WorldbyStorm - August 21, 2011

It may arrive, it may so!

One thought just to add to what you say, someone who I was playing this to this weekend said some of the guitar work is weirdly like Television.

I know what you mean about being obssessive about them. They’re sort of one of the best bands most people have never heard of.

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3. crocodileshoesCrocodile - August 21, 2011

Or Mott. Over the summer I found myself (as you do) in the rock&roll hall of fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and was puzzled by the prominence given to Mott. Then I copped that Ian Hunter had written the song ‘Cleveland Rocks’ that is practically the city’s theme song.
I was mad keen on Mott – the first record I ever bought was ‘Honaloochie Boogie’ and Hunter’s book ‘Diary of a Rock and Roll Star’ was my bible for a month or two when I was 13. The original 5 members – mostly in their seventies now – did a big reunion gig in 2009.
BTW anyone else been to the R&RHOF? A day weirdly spent.

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4. Garibaldy - August 21, 2011

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about this weekly thread when I saw this

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/gallery/2011/aug/21/air-guitar-championships-in-pictures

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5. How To Buy: Pink Fairies « Rock Roots - February 7, 2012

[…] See also: The Cedar Lounge Revolution: Pink Fairies […]

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