Cherry Red 1983. MRED53
My liking for Edward Barton sets me apart from most people on this planet, but with his abrasive delivery removed, the beauty of his songs is more obvious to everyone else. This mini album deals with that by having his (then) girlfriend, Jane Lancaster do most of the vocals. The best known track, It’s A Fine Day appeared here a long time ago, and the rest of the album is similarly haunting.
Wooden Records 1988. Wood2
I’m rather fond of Edward Barton as a songwriter and also as an artist. He’s featured here before as the writer of the classic It’s A Fine Day by Jane, and because of his self-curated tribute album, Edward Not Edward. Here he’s in his more challenging guise of performer on a four song EP. The songwriting is (mostly) as good as ever but these performances are not easy to listen to.
Telephone Box is a bittersweet, whimsical tale of a naive guy who mistakes a peep show for a phone box and falls in love with the stripper within. Knob Gob is, well, I’m sure you can figure that one out for yourself, but our hero ends up with a broken back as a result of his efforts. I’m not sure what the point is of I Slap My Belly, but the harrowing last track about his dead brother is very clear.
I think his difficult performances are worth persevering with, but my other half stomped out muttering about yet more shit records when I was playing this. You’ll probably agree with her, but if you’re up for a challenge you could give it a go. He’s something of a cult figure these days, so maybe you’ll earn some cool points from having heard this.
Wooden 1988. WOOD 6
This single barely sold at all, and is now largely forgotten. That’s not because of the quality of the music, nor of the performers. I suspect the problem was than no-one had any idea who “Us” were and Wooden had virtually no distribution.
In effect this single is by A Guy Called Gerald, with Edward Barton on vocals. It’s from the same period as Voodoo Ray, and I think is almost as good. Like its better known companion, this is a superb slab of acid house; minimalist and menacing. Barton’s odd vocals work surprisingly well in this context, as does the sample of the hateful Edwina Currie indulging in a spot of victim blaming. As you’ll know if you follow this blog, I like politics in music, and this works well on that score. If you’re familiar with the UK you’ll know of the huge and ever growing gulf between the wealthy south-east and the rest of the country. Back in 1988 it was bad enough, but it’s grown substantially since then, and it’s good to see musicians expressing their anger about it, and the politicians who seek to perpetuate the divide.
Wooden Records 1989. WOOD 7
This is a remarkable album by any standards. On the face of it, it’s a tribute album to the maverick Manchester artist, Edward Barton, but there’s more to it than that. The usual tribute album is about a long established, legendary artist (like the Neil Young tribute I posted a few days ago), and the performers are either newer artists or unknowns, but this is the other way around. Many of the artists on this album were well established, at least in independent music circles, whereas Barton was little known. It also appeared on Barton’s own label, Wooden, and it appears, was compiled by him. The last odd element to this is how unlistenable Barton’s own performances of these songs were. He was at the time best known for a disturbing appearance on The Tube where he performed I’ve Got No Chicken, But I’ve Got Five Wooden Chairs solo, playing his acoustic guitar with a wooden spoon with a manic vocal delivery which generated a surprising number of complaints, despite the absence of anything obviously offensive.
However, as this album shows, Barton was much more than a novelty act. With his, er, difficult delivery removed and replaced by some of the best Manchester had to offer in 1989, his songs are revealed to be startlingly original, both musically and lyrically. Apart from Chapter and the Verse’s contribution which hasn’t aged well, there’s hardly a duff track here. Highlights are 808 State, whose inspired version of Sorry Dog features a couple of young kids on vocals and tells of a man’s feelings of guilt after he shits on the floor and blames the dog. The Ruthless Rap Assassins (more music from them at some point in the future) deal with the sorry tale of a car crash in Z Bend, also covered strangely poignantly by Ted Chippington. I’d been listening to this album for years before I realised that when A Guy Called Gerald said “pump the jack” in Barber Barber that he was talking about the barber’s chair, not some sort of dance move I was way too uncool to be aware of. As always, Gerald is excellent.
There’s a surprising amount of Edward Barton material available. His new (ish) album which is by far his most accessible to date and really worth a punt is available here. It’s obvious his early releases didn’t sell well, so you can buy them direct here. There are also a few free MP3s if you hunt around.
Cherry Red 1983 (CD issue 1993) CD Cherry 65
This is, apparently the biggest selling audio recording of a poem, at least according to its writer Edward Barton, about whom there will probably be more in future posts. It sold pretty well for an independent release of the day and later appeared on the Jane and Barton album. The singer, Jane, is Jane Lancaster who was Barton’s girlfriend at the time.
The song is best known for the cover version which charted in 1992 by Opus III, which I thought worked pretty well at the time, but now it sounds like a 20 year old dance track. It was also sampled to good effect by Orbital on Halcyon. This original version, being acapella is timeless and it’s a beautiful song.
Bonus track on the CD is the A Guy Called Gerald remix. You can never have too much Gerald, and if you think the Barton/Gerald pairing is an odd one, there will be more when my vinyl rig is fixed.