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Swell Maps - Wastrels And Whippersnappers

  by Andrew Carver

published: 14 / 3 / 2006

Swell Maps - Wastrels And Whippersnappers
Label: Select Label
Format: CD


Excellent compilation of rarities and lost recordings from the Swell Maps, the late 70's/early 80's first band of highly acclaimed musician and singer-songwriter Nikki Sudden, who died suddenly in March

Swell Maps emerged from a dull suburb of Birmingham in 1978 with the single 'Read About Seymour', released on their own label, Rather Records. A distribution deal with Rough Trade followed, and the band went on to release four albums, be compiled, and become a declared influence on bands who admired their DIY ethic and noisemaking abilities. The band’s reputation expanded even more when the two brothers at its core, the late Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks, went on to further careers in music, and bassist Jowe Head later joined cult favourites the Television Personalities. Of course, that 1978 single wasn’t the real start of Swell Maps. The new compilation 'Wastrel and Whippersnappers' covers the musical activities of Sudden, Soundtracks, Head, Richard Earl, John Cockrill and David Barrington (credited as Phones Sportsman) between 1974 and 1977. This circle of friends made noise in their basements, garages and front rooms, gathering in groups of two, three or four to record home-made music on primitive equipment for their own entertainment. The attendance at these early recording sessions is scatter shot, with the core quartet of the band’s albums only appearing on six of the 23 recordings. The lo-fi punk influence of Swell Maps comes through most fully on the five tracks that team Sudden, Soundtracks, Head and Earl, including an early versions of 'Dresden Style' (sounding more like a 'Raw Power' outtake than ever) a medley of 'Full Moon' and 'BLAM!!', complete with a Lydon-esque “waaargh!” from Sudden. One of Jowe Head’s tunes, 'Harmony in Your Bathroom' also displays a punky vocal slur. On other tracks two or three of the Maps collective get together and bang on a tune for a few minutes: The bass-heavy 'Instronaut' emerges from Joy Division territory before falling apart; 'Pets’ Corners' overdoses doom-flavoured wah-wah skronk; the tremelo-laden guitar, clattering percussion and flute of 'Sahara' making a good case for being a No Neck Blues Band song three decades ahead of its time (as does 'Improv Number 1'). 'Sweet and Sour (Parts 2, 3& 4)' moves through a moody intro to a sub-Shadows instrumental. The album closes with the harrowing drone of a solo turn from Epic on Organ, entitled 'Organism'. These rhythmic tracks sometimes display an admitted krautrock influence. The more experimental end of Swell Maps is covered by 'Wireless', with Epic playing a spooky piano figure behind Jowe’s manipulation of radio signals and 'Gramofonica', which as the title suggests, is Nikki torturing a classical record on a turntable with Epic babbling and hitting things (this is what happens when you leave two brothers alone with things that make noise). Thought the recordings are rough, any Swell Maps fan will enjoy hearing the gestation of ideas ... it’s also a well-sequenced comp, with challenging numbers being sandwiched between relatively conventional tunes. Head and Sudden also provide excellent historical perspective and background in the informative liner notes.

Track Listing:-
1 Intro / Sweet And Sour Part 2
2 Dresden Style
3 Pets' Corner
4 Shubunkin
5 Sahara
6 Full Moon-Blam-Full Moon
7 Instronaut
8 Televisions
9 Wireless
10 Harmony In Your Bathroom
11 Camoflage Attack
12 Gramofonica
13 Harvist
14 Johnny Seven
15 Sweet And Sour (Parts 2, 3 & 4)
16 Sheep Police / Septipede
17 Improv Number One
18 Platinum Blind
19 God Save The Queen
20 Ratbag And Goblin ('Batman' Theme)
21 Vertical Slumber (Prototype Take 1)
22 Below Number One
23 Organism

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