Tag Archives: The Jazz Butcher

The Jazz Butcher • In Bath of Bacon [LP]

In the last few months I’ve reviewed two different box sets of albums by THE JAZZ BUTCHER. The first one, The Wasted Years, covered Pat Fish’s first four elpees under his nom de plectrum. Album number one, In Bath of Bacon, has just been reissued on vinyl for the first time since, ever?, and now I’m the proud owner of a copy. Complete with an English OBI, this vinyl treat is a glimpse at the nascent Jazz Butcher, circa 1983, fumbling towards greatness. Recorded primarily as a solo project by the man himself, the songs range from silly ditties about love kittens and girls who keep goldfish, to zombies in love, grey flannelettes and gloop jiving. What does all this mean? Well, as noted by the music press at the time, it’s “reminiscent of… the Modern Lovers,” (NME) and “[conjoins] Todd Rundgren’s DIY home recordings [with] a guitar from Wes Montgomery’s cupboard.” Together these make up a pretty apt description of the sound of Bacon.

Finding this album on vinyl has been a difficult ordeal, with original copies in decent shape fetching $25-30 easily. It was pretty obscure in the first place, at least here in the States, though it was issued at one point on CD (and even that’s been hard to find). And, while not The Jazz Butcher’s best album (I vote for Cult of the Basement or A Scandal in Bohemia), Bath of Bacon is worth checking out as a vital piece of the Butcher puzzle, especially now that you can get it either as a singular vinyl record or as part of a totally worthwhile 4CD box set. Buy it, enjoy its lo-fi charm, and then start awaiting the massive awesomeness of A Scandal in Bohemia and its return to vinyl.

3.5/5 (Fire Records FIRELP461, 1983/2018)

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The Jazz Butcher • The Violent Years [4CD Box Set]

jazz butcher the violent yearsSecond in a series of archival releases culling THE JAZZ BUTCHER’s albums together, The Violent Years delves into the first half of the group’s tenure at Creation Records, from 1988 to 1991. As with The Wasted Years, this one is a 4CD book-bound set, and includes longplayers Fishcotheque, Big Planet Scarey Planet, Cult of the Basement and Condition Blue.

By the time The Jazz Butcher’s residency at Glass Records came to an end, the band had turned in Distressed Gentlefolk, their most polished elpee to date. After realizing that his contract was up – and he had basically disbanded the band – Butchie signed to the hot Creation Records and decided to do an album with more of the indie sound of the early records. He didn’t quite achieve that. 1988’s Fishcotheque came off as an almost identical record, production-wise, to Gentlefolk. As for the songs, yes, Pat Fish had written some real barn-burners, like “Looking for Lot 49,” “Next Move Sideways” and “Chickentown,” the type which were sorely missing from the previous outing. But others, like “Get It Wrong” and “Susie,” were kinder and gentler, despite a new group of musicians. He achieved a bit more of the distress he was looking for on the following year’s Big Planet Scarey Planet, at least in sound, but the songs themselves were mostly of the same two veins – either kinda rockin’ (“Burglar of Love”) or kinda personal (“The Good Ones”). What did stand out, though, were new things like “Do the Bubonic Plague,” a stab at creating a new dance craze (which was a thing back in the day!) with all kinds of dialog samples and a pretty funky rock groove, and “The Word I Was Looking For,” which, though of the fastest tempo on the record, is also one of the smoothest tunes on the release. Fishcotheque and Big Planet delivered both the clever/humorous wordplay and the beat group sound we’d come to expect from anything attributed to any group with the words Jazz and Butcher in its name. Cut from the same cloth, then, these first two Creation releases were indicative of a band that really needed to shake things up.

And that happened on 1990’s Cult of the Basement, which figuratively and literally closed the door on the first era of The Jazz Butcher. Opening with the sound of an actual door shutting, the album ushers in a new, fully realized sound drenched in reverb and perhaps a bit of disgust, tempered by Fish’s usual verve with words. “The Basement” has a sinister, spy-theme vibe motif that is expanded upon a few times on the album, and is followed by the should’ve been hit single, “She’s on Drugs,” a tune that epitomizes the man/band’s ability to house his wry observations about the current pop scene in a spot-on corker of a song. Other JB classics are “Pineapple Tuesday” and my favorite, “Mr. Odd,” both slow/medium tempo songs, the latter somehow encapsulating just what makes The Jazz Butcher one of my favorite bands from the ’80s/’90s. At that time I not only played their records as much as I could get away with on my college radio show (KCMU birthed many a Pacific Northwest JB fan), but also reviewed the album in local music magazine, The Rocket. [Click here for a post of that review.] Further standout tunes on Basement include “Girl Go,” “Turtle Bait” and “Panic in Room 109,” which takes the aforementioned spy theme idea and cloaks it in a complete song of its own. I still can’t get enough of Cult of the Basement, even nearly thirty years later.

Condition Blue, from 1991, is a further expansion of what Fish & Co. created in the Basement. This time the songs are built more around grooves, and the musicians let these grooves go until conclusion (instead of fading them out). That concept doesn’t always work out well, but it does here. My faves on Blue are “Shirley Maclaine,” “She’s a Yo-Yo,” “Our Friends the Filth,” and the super groovy “Harlan” and “Racheland.” The guitars and vocals are pushed into maximum reverberation, creating more of that badass atmosphere that The Jazz Butcher had patented a couple of years earlier.

From here, The Jazz Butcher story goes kinda wonky – and I’m guessing that it will be told in a further box set. However, I must reiterate here that a collection of the JB’s singles and B-sides would be a welcome addition to the two anthologies we’ve been treated to so far. Call it Wasted Violence, or Violent Waste, or whatever you want. As I’ve said before, there are a solid three or four CDs worth of Jazz Butchery that deserve to be preserved before releasing things in a physical format becomes a thing of the past.

4.75/5 (Fire Records FIRECD470, 2018)

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The Jazz Butcher • Cult of the Basement [CD, LP]

[Originally published in The Rocket, Seattle, September 1990]

Once again, Pat Fish proves he’s the penultimate modern pop eclectic. Continuing from where last year’s [1989] overlooked but outstanding Big Planet Scarey Planet left off, Cult of the Basement is THE JAZZ BUTCHER’s latest go-round and it’s one hell of a ride.

Cult opens with the spy-themey “The Basement,” a recurring theme at that. Then, with a curt “and you can dance” a la Madonna, Butchy delivers “She’s On Drugs,” which may or mayn’t be about America’s bullet-braed diva. Lest we believe the Jazz Butcher’s always got something wacky up his sleeve, there’s “Girl Go,” released earlier this year [1990] as a single (in the UK) and a quintessential take on JB’s patented guitar-heavy reverb ballads. “Pineapple Tuesday” is in the same mode, but hardly a copy.

As a guitarist he’s great, as a singer, supreme. But first and foremost, Fish is a songwriter second to none. And if the world were a fair place, he and his band would be everywhere in 1990 except the basement.

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The Jazz Butcher • The Wasted Years [4CD Box Set]

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The Jazz Butcher began life as a fellow named Pat Fish. As a young man, Fish found himself writing peculiar songs in the English countryside and eventually put together a loose collection of blokes to help him perform them. That evolved into a band, which was also dubbed THE JAZZ BUTCHER, and they soon managed to record some of their nascent musical scrapings and have them released by a fledgling indie label, Glass Records. A handful of albums and singles followed, and the long players have now been compiled into a 4CD “box set” they call The Wasted Years.

Spanning 1983 to 1986, The Jazz Butcher’s four initial albums (their entire Glass LP discography) make up four discs in a book configuration, with a short 20 page booklet that includes Pat Fish’s recounting of his band’s early history. Released by Fire Records, it’s a nice overview of a band that mixed humorous lyrics about oddball subjects to “new wave” music with compelling results. Bath of Bacon was their 1983 debut, a time when (according to Fish) “none of us really had a clue as to what we were at.” As he also notes about the band’s primal beginnings, some songs from the album have stood the test of time, such as “Partytime” and “Zombie Love.” Bath of Bacon was definitely a rookie recording, with its lo-fi sound and skeletal arrangements. That was to be improved upon tenfold with A Scandal in Bohemia, The Jazz Butcher’s second full length and quite the stunner.

Only a year later the group had gelled with Fish, guitarist Max Eider, bassist David J – who had been in Bauhaus and later Love And Rockets – and drummer Owen Jones. The Scandal lineup committed numerous JB classics, such as “Southern Mark Smith (Big Return),” which was a remake of a single track in a more stately arrangement with new lyrics, and “Caroline Wheeler’s Birthday Present”, a rocker about a peculiar episode of a woman getting stuck in an elevator with a gift “made entirely of the skins of dead Jim Morrisons – that’s why it smelled so bad.” We never learn what the present actually was, though it was biodegradable so that elevator must’ve really stunk! From hard rocking rave-ups like that to the introspective (if slightly skewed) “My Desert” and “Real Men”’s anti-racist/fascist/sexist rant, Fish’s lyrics, the band’s arrangements and John A. Rivers’ production are compelling and warrant repeated listening even today, some thirty plus years later.

The followup to Scandal, Sex and Travel, is a bit less amazing but almost as good. This time we learn pretty much nothing about “President Reagan’s Birthday Present,” which features the chant “red Russians shot my rocket down” over and over, but we do get the sober and almost beautiful opener “Big Saturday” and another thought provoker, “Walk with the Devil.” Sex and Travel, with only eight songs, was sort of like a mini Scandal Part 2.

1986’s Distressed Gentlefolk gets short shrift in Fish’s notes, and it did with many of The Jazz Butcher’s fans at the time, too. The album lacked a lot of the humor and oddball situations that made the previous albums and singles so fun, and the band – though more seasoned – play it too seriously and sober. Humor and anarchy, hallmarks of the band, took a backseat on Gentlefolk. That being said, one of Fish’s most gorgeous songs, “Angels,” closes the album (and this box set) on a hauntingly beautiful note.

The Wasted Years gives us those four albums, and those four albums only. None of The Jazz Butcher’s great singles tracks are here. Not “The Human Jungle,” not “Death Dentist,” not even “Water” or “Grooving in the Bus Lane.” I know there’s more than a full CD worth of stray songs the band did circa 1983-1986 that warrant compilation, and they would have been very welcome as bonus tracks on each of these four discs or as a fifth disc to sort of wrap up the proceedings. Perhaps that compilation is in the offing. Whatever, The Jazz Butcher’s first era set up a great foundation for the next one, when they moved on to Creation Records and put out more brilliant LPs, such as Fishcotheque and (my favorite) Cult of the Basement.

Anyway, I’m not sure about the title of this set. Does Fish feel that ’83-’86 were wasted years? Wasted in the sense of not worth it? Or in the sense (I suspect) that the band spent much of its time wasted? Either way, if you don’t own these albums, or are missing the very hard to find debut, The Wasted Years is certainly worth the price and no waste of your time or money.

3.5/5 (Fire Records FIRECD 460, 2017)

 

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