Thursday, 16 June 2016

Athletico Spizz 80 - Do A Runner (1980)

Hearing Where's Captain Kirk? on the radio in the evenings  probably constituted my first awareness of it being possible for music to be wonderful without troubling the mainstream top forty or ending up introduced to pop picking telly viewers by a flared kiddy fiddler. Prior to the two or three spins it took for the song to sink in, I'm not sure I was even aware of there having been music other than stuff which had been on Top of the Pops at some point. Spizz, who by then had expanded to Athletico Spizz 80, featured in a double-page spread in my first ever issue of Sounds music paper, which I bought having become increasingly frustrated with the some of the hopeless shite receiving coverage in Smash Hits. The Sounds feature was illustrated by, if I remember correctly, team Spizz leaping athletically around a basketball court in what would eventually be recognised as skateboarding gear, and it made me think of Devo, another fairly recent discovery for me.

I've never quite stopped thinking of Devo where Spizz are concerned, which isn't to imply any sort of influence of one on the other, only that Spizz seemed to be the English expression of whatever had caused Devo. There seemed to be a shared sense of humour, a similar love of retrofuturism; and of course both bands have been regarded as faintly ludicrous novelty acts by those for whom anything with less testosterone than Ted Nugent may as well be Pinky & Perky. I have no strong recollection of how Do A Runner was greeted by the music press back then but suspect it may have been a general scratching of the head, as typified by an unusually Partridge-esque David Hepworth asking, 'It seems to me that the album sees Spizz going in a lot more serious direction than the singles previously had done. What do you think about that?' on the wireless back in August, 1980, to which Spizz himself responded:

Well, I don't know about that. Singles are supposed to be fun, pokey, short, snappy things and albums are just a whole wider range of what someone can do with a recorded piece, and that's what it is. It's basically a collection of all the songs which we didn't want to see disappear without reaching vinyl. We wanted to get all these out on record before they disappeared because we thought they were worth it and we didn't want to lose them, or to get tired or get old before they got to vinyl.

The notion of Spizz as a novelty act - as differentiated from simply a band or bands with a sense of humour - most likely stems from the success of Where's Captain Kirk?, doubtless fortified by later Trekkie-pleasing songs such as Spock's Missing and Five Year Mission; but it's a warped vision, as is obvious even from a quick ear cast in the general direction of the aforementioned fun, pokey, short, and snappy singles - not least the magnificent No Room which still makes most other records of that year sound shit, to be quite honest. Similarly, Do A Runner hardly constitutes frowning modernist essays from a former circus entertainer, what with the wilfully ludicrous Clocks Are Big and the general spirit of the thing, and - for fuck's sake - how could we ever have forgotten?:

Nuclear scientist producing plutonium,
Nasty little substance that we can't controlleum.

I suspect it's simply that we like a little more narrative consistency in our rock ascendencies, and Do A Runner was always at a serious tangent to a bloke jumping on stage with a guitar at some punk gig and making stuff up. It is equivalent, I suppose, to a new John Otway album sounding like Tangerine Dream; not that this does, but it's hard to miss the eight-minute pseudo-krautrock instrumental of Airships, or the weirdly angular Beefheartisms of Intimate, Rhythm Inside and others; except I suspect most of this material simply evolved out of the combination of these five people being in the band that year, and these being five people with no real interest in simply chugging out a few standards.

Do A Runner wasn't really quite like anything I'd heard back in 1980, and it still sounds reasonably unique thirty-five years later. I know Spizz did okay and is still remembered, but what with this one and Spiky Dream Flowers, I still don't quite get why he wasn't much, much bigger. I suppose someone will eventually dig this out and be able to listen to it without thinking of William Shatner, maybe even appreciate it for it's own very considerable merits. Maybe that person will turn out to have been me.


  1. Having another dip into your world of Blogs and this review is a great read. Tracy and I know Spizz quite well - he's a lovely guy and has come to a few of our birthday celebrations (and always hogs the attention - which is fine by us) and we came close to making a documentary on him late last year. Anyway - the irony of this is that while I've seen him live quite a few times and think he puts on a good show - I've never listened to any of his records. This makes me want to.

  2. Ha! I sometimes get the impression of being the last man on Earth who doesn't actually know Spizz. He used to play (and possibly still does) football with Dave, who was my neighbour in London for about a decade. Those three albums, Runner, Flowers, and the History collection were pretty much perfect records in my view.