It’s not often that I’m left speechless by something in Word magazine, aside from the occasional hopeless Andrew Collins article (eg “Why I Think Homeopathy Is Real (Because That Richard Dawkins Shouted At Me)”. The other night, tucked up in bed, I turned over the page to be confronted by this ad:
(ignore the white writing over the top)
Now I don’t really know who Sweet Billy Pilgrim is, but I sure as hell recognised those lyrics. I was, to use a phrase, gobsmacked. Why? Well, I know one other person who has ever heard of Slab!, and that’s my brother, so he doesn’t really count. Yep, they did some Peel sessions back in the day, but history appears to have totally forgotten them. There isn’t even a Wikipedia article about them. Being confronted by evidence that at least one other person in this cruel, dark world cares about them – and cares about them so much to use their lyrics in an advert – got my jaw dropping rapidly toward the duvet.
So, what do these Slab! people sound like then, I hear you ask? That’s a tough one. John Coltrane being run over by a steamroller? James Brown in a steelworks? Squarepusher in his bass-playing persona being pushed down the stairs by a very, very angry rhino? Swans playing in the middle of a Reggae soundclash? I really have no idea. I listened to this lot religiously for a good couple of years back in the mid-late ’80’s, all that extra musical knowledge I’ve gained in the last 20 years hasn’t helped one little bit.
And thanks to the wonder of the Internet, you too can revel in the joys of discovering one of the most unusual bands around. Steve Dray and Paul Jarvis, the main Slabsters, have set up a website and have offered some of their tracks to fans. What an eye-opener they are too. I was always more of a fan of their earlier material, and twenty-odd years later, they are as fresh, funky, and downright ominous as they were when I listened to them on my old Dual turntable back in my parent’s house.
“Music From The Iron Lung” – a collection of their first two EP’s – is a good entry point into their twisted world. “Mars On Ice” has what sounds like an 808 going a bit mental, overlain by glacial guitar and then a marvellous horn break, straight from a Blaxploitation movie. “Oedipus T Rex” has more horns, a hugely funky bassline and the sound of dive-bombers. “Parallax Avenue” features Islamic chanting, a dirty bassline, noisy guitar stabs, and deeply disturbing drawled vocals. And the rest ain’t bad either.
Then came “Descension”, the first of their two (released) albums. Darker and more expansive than their early songs, and featuring the aforementioned “Dolores”, it’s a queasy ride through burning streets in a Hummer whilst explosions go off around you, with the sky darkened by smoke and missile trails. It is, frankly, the sound of the end of the world.
As tends to happen with great unsung bands, it all started going a bit wrong, with their follow-up LP “Sanity Allergy” not going down as well as their debut, and their third LP not even getting a release. So Steve and Paul went their separate ways, but staying firm friends, and have now started to look back at their younger days and the astonishing music they made, and are now sharing this with us by putting songs up on their blog and website. They’re in the process of trying to release the first two LP’s, along with the unreleased third LP. Steve’s started to post excerpts of tracks from this third LP, and they are sounding pretty damn fine.
As the band say, they ride like a Harley-fuckin’-Davison, and roll like a hundred ton truck. I urge you now to visit their site and have a listen for yourself; and try the songs below. You won’t regret this one.
MP3: Dolores by Slab!