This week I’m going to write about a couple of things rather than focusing on just one, ripping off the format that Rich uses for his picks. Hopefully Rich is back soon with another staff pick. I haven’t caught up with him in a few weeks, but I know he’s been super busy. I think right now he’s on the road traveling to Gonerfest. I’m sure our loyal newsletter listeners can agree that sounds like an interesting thing to write about HINT HINT RICH.
Ronan Fitzsimmons: The Toy Dolls: From Fulwell to Fukuoka book
The Toy Dolls have been on my mind lately. Of my few post-lockdown trips out of town, two of them have been to Philadelphia, and on both trips I stayed with my friends Jim and Amy, both of whom are big Toy Dolls fans. Shout out to Jim and Amy! I’m pretty sure that on both trips I told the story of when I got to see the Toy Dolls live. I can’t remember the year, but it was in Richmond in the late 90s, and they were fantastic. I didn’t know much about the Toy Dolls other than that they were an old UK punk band, but that was enough to get me to the show. Maybe it’s because I had no expectations, but the Toy Dolls blew me away that night, and their set lives in my memory as one of the best punk gigs I ever saw.
About a month ago, Scarecrow was in Richmond for a gig and, as usual, we stopped by Vinyl Conflict to check out their wares. I spotted this book on the shelf and grabbed it immediately. I have quite a few books like this that were printed and distributed primarily in the UK and it was a giant, expensive pain in the ass to get them, so even if this book sucked, I was willing to take the risk at only twelve bucks. Thankfully, though, it’s a great read.
From Fulwell to Fukuoka is based mostly on a single long interview with Olga, the Toy Dolls’ founder and mastermind. Over the course of the interview, the author and Olga discuss the entire history of the Toy Dolls and they go deep, even if (as the author notes) the rounds of pints take their toll after a while. The author is a die-hard Toy Dolls fan who grew up in the Northeast of England, just like Olga and most of the band members. He’s knowledgeable and passionate about the band, and Olga’s answers to his questions are rich with detail, if self-deprecating (he dismisses about 90% of the Toy Dolls’ output as “crap”). Olga’s recollections are rounded out with details culled from other sources, and the author spends a lot of time explaining the references in the band’s lyrics. There is some summary of Coronation Street plots, but the book remains readable throughout, thanks to the author’s combination of wit, humor, and passion for the Toy Dolls’ music. There’s also a surprisingly touching section at the end where fans share their stories of how they discovered the Toy Dolls and what the band means to them. From Fulwell to Fukuoka reminds me of Parks and Recreation, hilarious and unexpectedly heartwarming at the same time.
The Fall: Live in London 1980 12”
Loyal newsletter readers might remember several months back when I wrote at length about the recent Fall live album on Castle Face Records, throwing around the idea of a series of staff picks about live albums by the Fall. I’ve listened to Live in London 1980 five or six times since I had that idea, but even with all that attention I haven’t come up with an “angle” that could support an entire staff pick. I think said everything I have to say about Fall live albums in general in that piece, so I’ll just fill you in on the details on this record.
Live in London originally came out as a cassette on the Chaos Tapes label in 1982. The Fall was an odd fit for Chaos Tapes, whose other releases were by bands like Discharge, Chron Gen, and G.B.H., but the release sold out its edition of 4,000 copies, making it to #7 in the independent charts. The recording is magical (it became known among fans as “The Legendary Chaos Tape”), capturing one night of a two-night stand where the Fall showcased material from the recently released Grotesque and numerous songs from Slates and Hex Enduction Hour, neither of which they had recorded yet. Some of the newer songs are rough around the edges, but you don’t want a bootleg to sound exactly like the studio versions, do you? According to Mark E. Smith, the label pressed up the recording from the wrong gig and the other night was the better performance, but this may be a bit of attempted myth-making. While hardly exceptional, the sound quality is solid and the band’s intense performance shines through the grit. Mark E. Smith famously hated London, and one gets the sense he channels some of that ire into this performance.
The Fall: The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall 12” (1984)
Spending so much time listening to Live in London 1980 gave me a hankering for some Brix-era Fall, so I pulled out this gem. Coming just before the landmark This Nation’s Saving Grace album, Wonderful and Frightening captures a very cool moment in the band’s history. While Perverted by Language always sounded tentative to me, like they were still figuring out how to integrate Brix into the band (though the album has its proponents… I know it’s Dave from Cochonne’s favorite Fall record), and This Nation’s Saving Grace is so perfectly synthesized and realized, Wonderful and Frightening splits the difference. It’s not so much that individual tracks seem to look forward or backward; rather, songs like “2x4,” “Lay of the Land,” and “Slang King” have something of both the art rock / pop sensibility Brix brought to the band and the amphetamine jitter of the Grotesque / Slates / Hex era. It’s also, despite its title, a ridiculously fun record. Paired with a too-late-in-the-evening cup of coffee, it prompted me to clean my entire house, a process that stretched well past midnight.