Sunday, 15 November 2020

The Boys on Safari - Feature on the new Cherry Red Records 5-disc box set from the Power Pop Punk legends

My first introduction to The Boys came via the faultless Punk & New Wave compilation album “20 of Another Kind” which I picked up at my local record store as an eager 14-year-old schoolboy mini-Punk Rocker on its release in 1979. I still have that album, it’s one of my most prized possessions even though it (rather embarrassingly) does have my name written in BIC biro on the front cover, a must if you wanted to get your records back after swaps at the school record club. It featured lots of my favourite bands of the time such as The Jam, The Stranglers, Stiff Little Fingers, Generation X and more but it also had some unfamiliar names to me such as The Jolt, 999, The Lurkers and The Boys, who’s tuneful track “First Time” really stood out. Another of my favourite albums of the time was The Jam’s “All Mod Cons” and I remembered on the back cover there was a picture of Paul Weller’s trademark Rickenbacker guitar sporting a sticker of The Boys. So, if they were good enough for Weller then surely, they were good enough for the general record buying public. After all, “First Time” was as catchy and melodic as any songs by the bands I was watching regularly on Top of The Pops such as The Skids, Buzzcocks and The Undertones. Unfortunately, I never got to see the band play as they split up around the time I was old enough and able to start venturing out to my first gigs. The Boys never seemed to achieve the fame and acclaim of many of the other bands on that compilation but over the years their reputation and influence seemed to spiral as all over the world any Power Pop, New Wave or Pop Punk band worth their salt would cite The Boys as an influence. 
The band were formed, like so many others in that initial London based Punk Rock explosion in 1976 from the now almost mythical ‘band’ the London SS, who must have boasted every aspiring Punk musician turning up for an audition. Matt Dangerfield was one such musician but he decided to form a band with Casino Steel the Norwegian keyboard player with The Hollywood Brats whose songs such as “Sick on You” and “Tumble with Me” they would take into their fledgling outfit they named The Boys. By the way, at this point I must strongly recommend Hollywood Brats vocalist Andrew Matheson’s hilarious memoir "Sick on You: The Disastrous Story of Britain's Great Lost Punk Band” a kind of “Withnail & I” meets “Spinal Tap” story of their pre-Punk Mott The Hoople meets the New York Dolls band. Casino’s art school pal Honest John Plain was later joined by bassist and singer Duncan ‘Kid’ Reid and drummer Jack Black and the classic Boys line-up was in place. The band were snapped up by NEMS Records and released two albums “The Boys” in 1977 and “Alternative Chartbusters” the following year. But despite their second and third singles “First Time” and “Brickfield Nights” now being widely accepted as classics they never hit the heights of their contemporaries or even had a big hit such as “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors or “Back of My Hand” by The Jags, similar tuneful Pop Punk contemporaries. The band then signed to Safari Records and remained with the label until their fourth and final album “Boys Only” which was released in 1980. So that brings us onto this new compilation from Cherry Red Records “The Boys on Safari”. Sitting at my computer looking at a play-list of MP3’s of the 71 songs that make up the compilation at first it feels like a slightly daunting task but thankfully when things get going it is The Boys after all, and it makes for a surprisingly consistent collection that even though missing their classic first two albums, still throws up enough gems to keep you satisfied. 
Yep, I mentioned the whopping 71 songs, for that’s what is included in the 5-disc box set that takes in all the Safari releases from 1979-1981 and more besides. The tracks have been remastered by Matt Dangerfield and he also adds liner notes to the included booklet which also looks to feature lots of band photos, press cuttings and example of memorabilia. Some of the rarities were discovered after a studio clear out and a lot of them hadn’t been heard in around 40 years. The first thing that hits me is that the sound is powerful, punchy and clear even on my laptop speakers and testament to Matt’s excellent work with the remastering. So, things start with what was the third studio album “To Hell with The Boys” which is kicked off by a vicious, raucous cover of Khachaturian’s famous ballet piece “Sabre Dance” and they transform it into a kind of James Bond on the Trans-Siberian Express Spy movie theme. This leads nicely into the excellent “Rue Morgue” with it’s duelling twin-guitars. One of the album’s great singles “Terminal Love” boasts some fine heart-tugging vocals and the other 45rpm release, “Kamikaze” has some nice stabbing brass. A swaggering “See Ya Later” is driven along by prominent keyboards and handclaps and I’m really getting into the swing of things. But its “Waiting for The Lady” that is one of my favourites with its naggingly catchy guitar riff, it’s a masterclass in Power Pop and “Bad Day” crashes in on a whopping “My Generation” sized intro. By the time they released “Boys Only” in 1981 Casino Steel had left the band, it does seem to lack his contribution somewhat and I think the album is a more polished, straight ahead Rock album. However, the opening track and single “Weekend” is an absolute classic with its Summery harmonies evoking a drive along a sunny coastal road in a convertible, top down, singing along to the melodic chorus. It’s on a par with the Barracudas “Summer Sun”, The Undertones “Here Comes the Summer” and the Ramones “Rockaway Beach” in the great Summer Pop song list. My other highlights include the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders strut of “Wrong Arm of The Law” along with “Monotony” and “Gabrielle” which are both high-class lessons in melodic guitar Pop. The Rarities disc includes eight unreleased demos as well as B-Sides and various mixes that differ from the album versions. Usually, I find that unreleased tracks are unreleased for a very good reason – they are generally not deemed good enough at the time to make it onto official records. However, thankfully the “Rarities” here include some real gems and it’s a rare exception to my rule. Actually, it’s testament to the strength of the song-writing that a pretty damn decent official album could have been put together from this collection. For example, “Schoolgirls” is a classic, a great track that was originally written for a children’s TV show. The next two songs show an influence of American proto-Punk, there’s “Jap Junk” which is driven along by an insistent, repetitive piano riff that reminds me of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for The Man”. “See You Later”, a demo from 1978, seems conjures up the Stooges “No Fun”. There are a couple of decent slower paced songs, ballads I suppose, “Cry Tomorrow” with just vocals and acoustic guitar and then “Love in Pain”, which adds piano to the voice and guitar. 
Then there are different mixes of “Terminal Love” and “Kamikaze” and two tracks which evoke the Rolling Stones. “I Love Me” is a take on the Stones’ “We Love You” single and a there’s a cracking cover version of “You’d Better Move On” which has a superb Spector’s Wall of Sound feel. I also really like “Jimmy Brown” and although in the liner notes Matt Dangerfield said he never liked the lyrics, it does boast a great line that made me smile, “I wish I could play guitar like Johnny Ramone; I wouldn’t have to sit in the corner of the pub alone”. Then there are five demos from the “Boys Only” sessions including one “Little Run-around” that didn’t make it to the LP, somewhat surprisingly as I think it’s rather good. I mentioned earlier that I think you can judge a band by the strength of their rarities and unreleased tracks but I also think a good barometer is by how good their B-Sides are and “Cool” and “Lucy” included here, are damn fine examples of what B-Sides should be. “The Yobs Christmas Album” is an irreverent and humorous Punky bash through various Xmas songs, carols and originals – mostly given a foul-mouthed twist. The Yobs were actually born out of a legal dispute with NEMS Records, so rather than release the album as The Boys, they just decided to reverse the name and in doing so, perfectly captured what you can expect from the record. If you like The Macc Lads and the Sex Pistols “Friggin’ in The Rigging” then you’ll no doubt love this. The fifth and final disc features an excellent 1980 live recording from the “BBC In Concert” archives and in the introduction, the presenter informs us that the band were fresh off a successful tour supporting the Ramones. Here we do get the classics “Brickfield Nights” and “First Time” as well as a superb run through of “Living in The City” and a version of The Lurkers “New Guitar in Town”. So, all in all I reckon this compilation will be a must-have for even the most die-hard of Boys fans, you can get it from Cherry Red or from The Boys own web-site here
Original band members Casino Steel, Matt Dangerfield and Honest John Plain got back together as The Boys to release the “Punk Rock Menopause” album in 2014 and continue to this day. Duncan Reid is now a solo artist with his own band The Big Heads.

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