Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Farmer’s Boys – Edinburgh - 1983

October 1983

Edinburgh Nite Club/Dance Factory

The Farmers Boys - Edinburgh - 1983

I saw The Farmer’s Boys at the Edinburgh Nite Club/Dance Factory twice in close succession in 1983 – once before and again just after the release of their debut album Get Out And Walk.  The most memorable contrast between the performances was that for the second, vocalist Baz had dyed his hair blond – very clearly taking this pop star thing to heart.

The set, certainly on this second evening, began with Soft Drink, after which Baz apologised for opening proceedings with their “most disturbing song”, but promising to close with the least disturbing (Whatever Is He Like?).  Which, indeed, they did.

I had first encountered the band on Kid Jensen’s evening show on Radio 1 – essential listening back then – when I heard their sprightly and rather fine Whatever Is He Like? single.  With its tinny Casio keyboard opening and primitive sounding drum machine, the song seemed to epitomise the can-do indie spirit of the age.

The next release, More Than a Dream was even better, on the b side of which was a witty C&W pastiche entitled The Country Line.  With their tongues firmly ensconced in cheek, the band’s next two releases actually squeaked into the top 50: Muck It Out (clearly a song called Work It Out, given a silly title) was a driving electro-pop thingy, whilst For You sounded as though it was written once the guys discovered what the button marked “Cha-Cha” on the drum machine did.

By this time EMI had snapped up the band, and the corporate giant would have been looking for a bit of investment return with the Get Out and Walk album, released in October 1983.  But the album only just grazed the top 50, as the Mindless Masses proved to be stubbornly resistant to the Boys’ brand of light hearted yet intelligent pop.  The album really is one of the lost masterworks of the Eighties.  Woke Up This Morning and The Way You Made Me Cry still delight, as do the slightly darker Who Needs It and Wailing Wall – this latter boasting an irritatingly catchy riff, which I could never work out if it was being played on a lead or bass guitar. 

It takes little imagination to picture EMI A&R suits’ dismay as the group’s next single, Apparently (by far their best, IMO) also stiffed, resulting in the Boys being frog-marched into the studio and compelled to record something/anything which could possibly be a hit.  There can be no other explanation for the anodyne nonsense that was In The Country.

The ever so slightly homoerotic Phew Wow (an East Anglian re-write of YMCA), was a return to form, but as ever it was ignored by Joe Public and, after completing the With These Hands album, the band split.  Although songs like Art Gallery and the Elvis Costello-esque I Built The World were amongst the band’s best, this second collection generally had an air of Contractual Obligation about it.

Weighed down by a twee, almost whimsical image, I always felt The Farmer’s Boys songwriting ability was often criminally overlooked.  Baz perhaps didn’t really help with his keyboard on an ironing board gimmick, and the pink pig shaped singles had a whiff of get-me-into-the-charts desperation about it.  But behind the façade, clearly here were four folks who knew how to pen and perform quality pop.   

Frog was the serious, slightly nerdy electronics boffin at the back – I could almost imagine him having to convince the rest of the band in the early days “No, honest Guys, we really do all have to be playing in the same key”.

Baz, as all good frontmen should, perhaps took himself a touch too seriously, but his vocal performances on Country Line, Apparently and I Built The World are first class.  Mark with his floppy fringe, and high slung bass provided the looks, but guitarist Stan was always the real star for me. 

Determinedly uncool, with his big glasses and side parted hair, he was I recall, (rather unkindly) once described as a “Ted Moult lookalike” in a contemporary article in the Sounds.  I have never seen anyone enjoying himself onstage quite so much as Mr T appeared to, during his solo in the middle of The Way You Made Me Cry.

It did not surprise me in the least when I discovered some years later Stan was (like myself) an NHS Biomedical Scientist, for I know from personal experience just how this particular profession both attracts and creates eccentrics.

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