Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Cravats - The Land of the Giants (2006)

I'm probably biased in vaguely knowing two Cravats through one former Cravat, namely Martin who was in the very first line up and whom I met on an art foundation course at the Mid Warwickshire College of Further Education.

'Yes, chief,' he told me, because he addressed everyone as chief, 'I used to be in the Cravats.'

I was impressed but also embarrassed through not actually having heard any of their records. I'd seen them in Sounds, and had noted the one bloke's resemblance to the big-haired chappie from the Eraserhead poster, but that was all.

'That's the Shend,' Martin explained. 'He's all the previous members welded together into a single organism.'

The weird thing was that it didn't sound like he was joking.

I rushed to Discovery Records, situated on Regent Street, and made immediate purchase of The Colossal Tunes Out seeing as it had only just hit the shops. Later I met Robin - the guitarist - when Martin recruited him as second driver as we drove down to Maidstone in Kent. Later still, having moved to London, I found myself encountering the Shend in a variety of pubs, usually managing to squeeze out a bit of a chat on the strength of mutual acquaintances, and he always had the decency to pretend to remember me; and more recently he even played one of my crappy songs on his internet radio show. At various points I was in bands with Martin, meaning that had my name ever turned up in one of those Pete Frame rock family trees, I'd be connected to both the Cravats and the Damned by various not actually at all obscure means - which I still find exciting to think about. My point here - aside from the obvious showboating - is that what follows probably won't be particularly subjective, but fuck it...

This collection looked a lot like a farewell when it came out. Aside from a new track recorded with the bloke out of Orbital - a dark but ravey affair utilising samples of previous greats - the Cravats had remained dormant since 1985. Their not particularly secret identity floundered in 1987 when their label elected to throw money at the Sugarcubes rather than at the Very Things' Motortown - mistakenly in my view given that it pisses over anything in which Bjork ever had a hand, but never mind; so The Land of the Giants seemed like closure, and a thematic counterpoint to The Cravats in Toytown, their first album. Robin was recording with Hit the Roof and then Vivarama, and the Shend had his Grimetime and had begun to turn up as a scowling presence in episodes of The Bill, Merlin, and so on. Then suddenly it's 2016, and they're back. Not only playing the possibly inevitable punk festivals, but generating new material, slapping out a single here and there and with enough of the original line-up for it to amount to the same entity emerging from hibernation; so, time to remind everyone what's so great about the Cravats, seeing as a few of you apparently haven't quite got it yet.

The Land of the Giants comprises most of The Colossal Tunes Out - itself a collection of singles - choice cuts from Toytown, plus a few other bits and pieces. It's also one of the few double CDs I have which doesn't sprawl, owing mainly to the peculiar variety of the material. The Cravats were always a punk band even though the fact of it tends to be overlooked at times, but always a pretty weird punk band - sometimes a bit yappy, at others resembling free form jazz forced to hold a tune, and never quite sounding like any other group. Some of it's the saxaphone, but mostly its an aesthetic owing more to John Heartfield era Dadaism than to green-haired punk rockers saying bollocks on Top of the Pops. It might even be argued that the Cravats were the closest English music came to the Residents, or at least the closest without any hint of actually trying to sound like the Residents - as might be said of Renaldo and the Loaf. Always a punk band in regard to what any of it was actually about, so if low on slogans, the Cravats subversive message was their medium, hence the lasting association with Crass and others. If you thought this was mainly just a cartoon then you've missed the point.

I can't think of what else to say. The Cravats are one of the greatest groups of all time, and if you claim to have any interest in music beyond toes tapped to a natty Marty Robbins tune on the wireless yet know ye not the Cravats, then you really don't love music as much as you think you do. I keep writing was and were but of course I mean is and still are, and there still are a few copies of Jingo Bells to be had, and my copy of Blurred came just this morning, and they're supposedly working on a new album - so it's time the rest of you started paying attention; and if this won't convince you...

1 comment:

  1. Life in Brighton may be beset by hipsters and impossible property prices, but one advantage is that I have got to see the Cravats a good couple of times. Never saw 'em first time out, alas, but did see the Very Things later in the Eighties.