Thursday, 8 January 2015

Fleapit - Music from the Ditch (2002)

It seems strange to consider that I almost sent this one back to Amazon when I first heard it, such was the gap between my expectation and what I found on the disc. Fleapit had turned up in some issue of Hip Hop Connection, three fat red-faced Welsh farmhands in wellies conducting their interview from a caravan in a muddy field over a game of Scrabble which allowed for words like bollocks and pissflaps. There was something compellingly crappy about them, and I just had to hear what they sounded like. The surprise was - I suppose - that on first listen, they just weren't quite so weird or disgusting as anticipated, and the wonderfully named Junior Disprol rapped with that general urban twang that everyone seemed to have at the time, sort of like Tim Westwood but less annoying. I'd probably expected him to sound like Jethro, so it felt as though I had been diddled.

Thankfully I never got around to returning the disc, having finally understood that there's no such thing as too many records, CDs or whatever - excepting those records of Nick Cave hooting and hollering about Jesus while some bloke rattles a broom handle around inside a dustbin. If you get rid of them, one day you will miss them, I realised, and so I knuckled down and renewed my efforts to get to grips with Fleapit.

Gradually I came to appreciate that Music from the Ditch is actually fairly close to what I expected, just not in the execution. It dates from that period before grime really took off, when UK rap was really beginning to develop its own sound, divorced from everything sounding like DJ Premier with Small Faces samples. Secondson - who pulled these tracks together and I gather may later have had some association with the similarly Welsh Goldie Lookin Chain yoots - really nailed it here, bringing his own sound to the table with a nice clean mix of skipping, head bobbing beats, lush orchestral flourishes from sixties cinema, and all sorts of details from 1970s schools programmes, Tales of the Riverbank, material washed up during a youth misspent by means similar to my own. I think it was also the clarity of the mix which threw me off. I'd been expecting something with a faint trace of rotten eggs about it.

The tone is set from the start with the brilliantly horrible opener of Ma! He's Making Eyes At Me picked out on a drunken guitar in an empty village hall, evoking horrors at least as shabby as anything Jimmy Savile ever committed in public, and from there the album sinks ever further into a polysyllabic morass of bewildering references to He-Man & the Masters of the Universe, regrettable sexual encounters, and how it feels to have Stephen Hawking call you a fucking twat.

On reflection, I'm glad Music from the Ditch doesn't sound anything like their publicity promised which, practically speaking, would have been somewhere between Goldie Lookin Chain and the Wurzels. This, on the other hand, is better because it rocks like a bastard, and takes itself seriously enough to eschew crowd pleasing rustic chuckles, so the reward is all the greater in the long run.

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