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The Total Groovy

(Drag City; US: 31 Jan 2012; UK: 30 Jan 2012)

Groovy Records has become somewhat legendary in underground circles—founded by Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks), the label’s total output numbered three releases, all featuring Shelley in some capacity, all released in 1980, and all rare enough that one legend has Jim O’ Rourke unloading his copies of the Groovy releases in order to finance a trip to Japan. You won’t find Buzzcocks’ cast-offs among the original three releases, nor on the previously unreleased fourth disc, Strange Men In Sheds With Spanners. Instead, it’s all highly experimental, peculiar, and occasionally musical sounds that dominate.


The first of the Groovy releases, the four-song Free Agents (Francis Cookson, Eric Random, Barry Adamson, and Shelley) release £3.33, maybe the most far out of the quartet, opening with a 17-minute piece (all four are numbered but not titled) that sounds like a glacial eruption or perhaps a World War II air bombardment of Great Britain. Or both. Of the four pieces here it’s arguably the most compositionally sound and the most interesting. Although, as is often the case with experiments, the energy and enthusiasm overrides content so that by the second track of the second side the ideas begin to repeat themselves and it becomes apparent that much of what’s here is haphazard mucking about that has good intentions but can’t always deliver the goods. The album’s closing track, a six-minute foray that recalls Fripp and Eno’s better work salvages the record, suggesting that £3.33 could have easily been halved, making for a more coherent and peak-oriented record.


Shelley recorded Sky Yen in 1974 before the Buzzcocks emerged. He used primitive electronics, emerging with something that sounds like a dentist’s drill on an expressway to your skull whilst some sinister someone submerges your hand in ice cold water and a dancing clown appears to do birthday magic tricks for you. A real gem for the noise the enthusiast but basically absent any true compositions across the two 20-minute tracks.


The Hangahar soundtrack from Sally Smitt and Her Musicians emerged in 1980 and finds Mekon Sally Timms and cousin Lindsey Lee joining Shelley plus Francis and Gerard Cookson in a two-track, 33-minute jam that’s as free-form, psychedelic and imaginative as anything else the short-lived label released. Owing a debt to Can, musique concrete, and reckless abandon, the material is coherently composed and undeniably entertaining with vocals that are haunting, unnerving, and accomplished.


The previously unreleased Strange Men In Sheds With Spanners captures 13 late-night vignettes from Shelley’s residence in the early 1980s. Remarkably, this batch of odds and ends, most of them clocking in at around the two-minute mark, would have made for a concise and interesting proper album back in the day had an effort been made to finish the pieces.


The full box features an interview with Shelley and plenty of room for the miniature LP sleeves which house these gems. A rarity that seems likely to quickly become rare once more, Total Groovy is an adventure worth taking even if the thrills are sparse and unpredictable.

Rating:

Jedd Beaudoin is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. He holds an MFA in creative writing (fiction) from Wichita State University and hosts Strange Currency six nights week for Wichita Public Radio. His writing has appeared in No Depression and The Crab Orchard Review as well as at websites such as Ytsejam.com and Amazon.com.


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