HUNGRY FREAKS PARTY
Retrospective Review of:
‘WHAT A BUNCH OF SWEETIES’
by PINK FAIRIES
(1972, Polydor 2383-132)
It opens a direct-call from the distant planet Uranus for the Pink Fairies. ‘This is Uranus calling Pink Fairies’ with a vaguely Irish accent. And just enough Ur-Anus in the pronunciation to imply a tongue firmly-in-cheek.
The alien caller offers the band fifteen-hundred-thousand Galactic Credits to play a gig on frozen gas-giant Uranus. But uncharacteristically they decline. ‘No way man!’
The uncertain prologue dialogue closes ‘Have Fun. Get It On. Don’t Forget To Boogie. And – Up The Pink!’
There’s a tendency among vinyl cultists to build up luring mythologies about great lost American bands – The Stooges, MC5, Seeds, The Dictators or the Flamin’ Groovies, their mystique enhanced by distance and rarity value, to the extend that they sometimes overshadow their more accessible but equally worthy UK equivalents. Around that same turn-of-the-decade 1960s into the 1970s there were ‘Community Bands’ who operate around the battered edges of the fledgling counter-culture, at Happenings, Benefits, Free Festivals and Hippie Clubs, names such as Hawkwind, the Edgar Broughton Band, the Deviants… and the Pink Fairies. The baffled major record companies suspected there was some kind of product there, if only they could work out a way to market it. Polydor had the temerity to sign the singularly unpromising Pink Fairies – tested the water with a try-out single “The Snake” c/w “Do It” (Polydor 2058-089), then they issue three studio albums across three years, ‘Never Never Land’ (May 1971, Polydor 2383-045), ‘What A Bunch Of Sweeties’ (July 1972) and ‘Kings Of Oblivion’ (June 1973, Polydor 2383-212). It’s fair to say that none of them set the charts ablaze, but each is a unique and occasionally vital oddity, artefacts of a bizarre period of Brit-Rock’s evolution.
There’s a gatefold sleeve that opens up into a colour Edward Barker cartoon strip, a visual style familiar from the pages of ‘It: International Times’. ‘It was a dark stormy night. The Terrible One who walked backwards, did so with gay abandon. When from out of the west came a teapot and he was stupid and with him there were three crows. And the three crows had with them three trees in their hands and were wise beyond reason and knew nothing…’
“Right On, Fight On” runs muscular drums and crunching riff around a Zappa-style break into plucked string distortion. Its rough Chuck Berry bones swell into builds and strong ‘Get Back’ guitar over shuffle-rhythms as loose as hell. Slurred subterranean off-mike vocals surface about ‘right on, for what you believe in.’ As a devotee of the strangely esoteric, Julian Cope explains how the track relates the story of police busting-up a Pink Fairies’ joint free gig with Hawkwind, held beneath the Westway overpass just off the Portobello Road. According to the sleeve cartoon-legend ‘they wondered greatly at the prowess of Mad Half-Breed guitar-picker Paul Rudolph. And smacked their lips when they heard the crazed Albanian Dwarf drummer Russell Hunter beat his meats. And swooned to the driving rhythms of suave Duncan Sanderson’s bass guitar.’ In fact, Hunter stomps through the whole thing as Rudolph mouths hoarse repetitions of the title, exhortations to ‘come together’ and to ‘keep a strong position’ in what Cope calls ‘a rallying cry over the loosest, blareing-est of street jams’.
Rudolph had already worked on drummer Twink’s ‘Think Pink’ (1970, Polydor 2343-032) solo LP. As John Charles Edward Alder, ‘Twink’ had led an R&B group called the Fairies, who issued three singles, a cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” for Decca in 1964, and two for HMV a year later. He graduated into the Mod-pleasing In-Crowd, which in turn evolved into psychedelic band Tomorrow. Then he drummed with the Pretty Things. Now, he drums on ‘Never Never Land’. Together the Fairies play the first-ever ‘Glastonbury’ festivals (appearing on one side of the 1972 ‘Glastonbury Fayre’ souvenir triple-album), and at ‘Phun City’ where Twink and Russell fall out of their clothes onstage and embrace naked. When they aren’t invited to play they turn up outside the Bath and Isle Of Wight Festivals anyway, and play for nothing off the back of trucks, according to the dictates of their anarcho free-music ethos. They carry the freak banner, and stagger beneath it too, not only projecting the Underground myths, but doing their best to live ‘em out too. By the second album, Twink was gone, but Trevor Burton – formerly of chart-gods the Move, guests ‘tasty licks’ on the first two tracks.
Burton can be heard on “Portobello Shuffle”, a fast boogie-beat, with a spine-shivering heavy guitar solo, slowing into a reverb fade, ‘he’s drunk and he’s stinking’ but ‘I would hope that maybe, we could get it on’. Then “Marilyn” takes a blues-riff over speeding drums for what the ‘It: International Times’ review called ‘a cautionary tale that all god’s chillun should take to heart,’ adding ‘Oh Marilyn, whatcha carrying’’ this song should be compulsory background music at all clap clinics across the land,’ asking the groupie ‘you gave the band the clap, why d’ya wanna do that?’ intercut with swift riffing and the kind of drum solo that jazz-savvy Ginger Baker gets away with, but few others have the chops to attempt. There’s an almost Zeppelin-like attack interplay between guitar and drums here, deep and echoed.
The inner comic-strip continues ‘and for 3000 years and a bit longer the Earth hung like a gleaming tit in the inky vastness of space.’ Until ‘at last one of the trees blossomed and its fruit was rotten.’ The rotten fruit bears a Hitler moustache. ‘And lo, the second tree also blossomed and its fruit was off.’ A frazzled female fruit. ‘And eventually the last tree blossomed and its fruit was pink. And the pink fruit was fell upon by all the creatures of the Earth who named it ‘Dope’ and couldn’t get enough of it.’ Nothing subtle here.
How to follow that? With “I Went Up, I Went Down”, a token softer more melodic shot, even venturing into harmonies. Again there’s the story of a casual street-meeting that takes an unexpected turn. ‘I met a girl the other day, she asked me if I’d been to see a milky way, I told her no, but would she show me a way I could escape reality?’ It’s stoned cosmic Robert Crumb cartoon-banter, with frames that reel inside your head, ‘and then she said lay on the bed… I took a pill, it was a thrill.’ Suddenly colours never-seen are all-spinning, and psychic energies bright with visions thrum up beneath solid ground. There are surges of what sounds to be reverse-tapes imitating oriental tunings, buzzing and tripping, rising into steady solid drumming and smashing Who guitar into the fade.
The album closes with a fairly straight concise 3:09-minute cover of “I Saw Her Standing There”, the first track on the Beatles first LP, the inaugural countdown to Rock ‘n’ Roll’s biggest adventure. Although the ‘alright John’ aside into the instrumental break – surely it should be Paul? From that same studio sessions the relentless Don Nix hard-Blues outtake “Going Down” – as recorded by Freddie King, was later included as a CD bonus. Proving the Pink Fairies could Rock worthy of a ZZ Top, altering the lyric only as far as ‘going down to Birmingham,’ with piano surfacing in the pounding mix.
There’s nothing fragile or effete about these Fairies. Moving from the Deviants shambling looseness into tighter harder guitar-driven heavy Rock. An uncompromisingly focused attack intent on pummelling the audience into submission with its sheer Punk-intensity. It’s nasty and it’s in your face, ‘a mystifying jumble of tracks as exuberant as they are shambolic’ (Julian Cope). But ‘it was at this point that the Fairies unique self-destruct mechanism came into play,’ as Mick Farren writes in the ‘New Musical Express’… revealing ‘the rumours behind the truth’ (26 April 1975). By the time of ‘Kings Of Oblivion’ Rudolph had quit – going on to work with Eno and Hawkwind, with various line-up changes resulting in Larry Wallis taking lead guitar. Which was it, for now. There was a one-off reunion for the ‘Live At The Roundhouse’ LP (Big Beat WIK14), recorded 13 July 1975 but not issued until a revival of interest in 1982. There were various other incarnations, for the attention of obsessives and vinyl cultists. But really, all you need to know is here and now.
Meanwhile, ‘Have Fun. Get It On. Don’t Forget To Boogie. And – Up The Pink!’
The ‘Julian Cope Presents Head Heritage’ site… www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/thebookofseth/pink-fairies-what-a-bunch-of-sweeties