Label: Beach Heads in Space
Year of Release: 1992
Of course, I've already written long blog entries on Animals That Swim, not least the one speculating that "I Was The King, I Really Was The King" might be one of the great lost albums of the nineties. I've since had written communications from a few people which have convinced me that, for once, I may not be as wildly incorrect about that as I'm often seen to be. You can mock blog entries which feature Rolf Harris, sixties session musos larking around or light orchestras all you want, but it would take a hard and cruel heart to not find something brilliantly moving about "Faded Glamour" at least. "Left and to the Back" is not just there for the oddments in life, no, it's here for the great things too.
Way before they signed to a subsidiary of One Little Indian records, Animals That Swim were apparently a slightly chaotic act who gigged around London (occasionally amongst spoken word and poetry acts) and released occasional bits of vinyl on their own Beach Heads in Space record label. "Roy" was one such issue, and focussed on the lead singer Hank Starrs encountering the bitter and disillusioned Roy Orbison in a pub. "I thought that f__ker was dead!" he exclaims, before the Roy who is the focus of this song dedicates most of the rest of it to giving Elvis Presley a mighty dollop of disrespect. "That Elvis was the dumbest shit I ever met", he sneers, citing examples of his lack of songwriting ability, idiocy, and general over-ratedness, almost all of which are viewed through the prism of extreme washed-up jealousy. "It should have been ME with the songs that I wrote", he spits in conclusion.
"Roy" relies on its lyrics and concept to drive the piece, the melody being stripped back and basic, lending the entire thing a dour air which almost recalls the work of the Liverpool Scene (the vehicle of poets Roger McGough and Adrian Henri) at the height of their sixties infamy.
The B-side, however, is a deliberately Roy Orbison-styled song entitled "Weary Mind" which almost outshines the main event, being two and a half minutes of heightened melodrama, and proof that even at this early stage the band had a songwriting ability easily the equal of their more successful Camden peers. When "Weary Mind" sways and soars its way towards the end like a low-budget indie torch ballad, it's almost impossible not to be impressed - there aren't many bands out there who would dare to attempt a parody of a songwriting style so sympathetically, never mind have the ability to actually pull if off.
Unsurprisingly, the band got signed not long after this single was released, but you know the rest... and it's dogged by indifference and misfortune. Perhaps somewhere out there Hank Starrs is propping up the bar in a London pub ranting about how Pete Doherty isn't as good an urban poet as he was*. He could be forgiven, and he wouldn't be far wrong.
(*although as a footnote, I would like to make the slightly contentious point that some of Pete Doherty's actual poetry isn't all that bad).