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Len Bright Combo - Profile

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 15 / 1 / 2014

Len Bright Combo - Profile


The Len Bright Combo were a short-lived garage/punk band fronted by Stiff Records' Wreckless Eric. Malcolm Carter examines both their albums, 'The Len Bright Combo' and 'Combo Time', which have recently been reissued by Fire Records

The only two albums released by The Len Bright Combo are reissued by Fire Records, featuring new packaging and new liner notes by none other than Wreckless Eric. It seems impossible that it is over thirty-five years since we first heard of Eric Goulden. Goulden’s first single under the name of Wreckless Eric ‘(I’d Go the) Whole Wide World’ was issued by Stiff Records in 1977, and was the beginning of a long but not always successful career in music. Goulden was one of those artists who never quite made it. He had some success and certainly deserved more than he ever received. With a knowing pop sensibility, he has mixed in punk, garage and even folk to produce a, at times, fairly unique but ramshackle take on pop music. But always at the heart of Goulden’s music was wit, a way with a winning melody and a feeling that, even if the sounds he was making at that particular point in his career weren’t to your personal taste, his heart was always in the right place. One thing that Goulden has never really been given credit for is his songwriting, and he is obviously talented in that department (‘Whole Wide World’ has been covered many times, and, although many wouldn’t necessarily see it as any kind of recognition, how many artists who were part of the pub rock/punk scene have had one of their songs covered by Cliff Richard? Sir Cliff, by the way, made a fair job of ‘Broken Doll’ the nearest Goulden got to writing a commercial, conventional pop song.) It was almost like he had to sabotage this undoubted talent he had to gain some kind of street credibility by taking this ramshackle approach to his music. Goulden has always been an interesting character, and the last couple of new albums bearing his name that have come this way have been mightily impressive. Recording with Amy Rigby (one of the most underrated female singer/songwriters of recent years. Try to check out her first solo album, ‘Diary of a Mod Housewife’, and go on from there) has seen Goulden produce some of his best work; they have recorded three albums together and compliment each other perfectly musically. Back in 1985 Goulden teamed up (after a short stint fronting a band called Captains Of Industry) with Bruce Brand and Russ Wilkins, the drummer and bassist with Medway wonders the Milkshakes. While Goulden’s musical partnership with Amy Rigby makes more sense these days, back then his hook-up with members of a band that shared the same love of 60’s-influenced beat music and punk ethos made perfect sense. Given that it’s getting on for thirty years since these two albums were made, they still sound remarkably fresh and current. Raucous, short, sharp pop/punk will always find an audience and, when matched with Goulden’s wit and ability to write catchy melodies, even if they did at times sound like they were going to disrupt into chaos at any given moment, it is surprising that the albums were not better received when originally released. Maybe their time has finally come. Apparently the Len Bright Combo’s debut cost less than 90 pounds to record and was recorded in Upchurch Village Hall. It was originally issued on the band’s own label, Empire, and sold less than 2,000 copies. While an undisputed DIY sound prevails over the eight songs, it is not as rough as you might think. Wreckless Eric and the two Milkshakes sound not unlike the early Who on tracks such as ‘Selina through the Windshield’, and, although at nearly six minutes long the song does descend into chaos by the end, it’s not the all-out mess you’d be forgiven for thinking the trio would create. Goulden, as said before, rarely loses all sense of melody, and even at their most wild his songs have some sort of tune to hang onto. Perhaps their best known song, ‘Someone Must’ve Nailed Us Together’ harks back to Goulden’s Stiff Records period, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any of his albums from that era. ‘Combo Time!’ followed shortly after the debut; this time it is ten songs long with Goulden’s vocals more forward in the mix and the songs, while still belonging in garage/punk/pop vein, have a more rounded feel about them. That’s not to say the Len Bright Combo have lost any of the power and rough edges displayed on their debut, but the listener gets the impression that maybe these songs had been worked on a little longer than those on the debut. It is like more thought went into the recording of the second album. Goulden’s way with a melody is still there. ‘(Swimming against) the Tide Of Reason’ is impossible to get out of your head even after one play, and, even when the bands garage roots come to the fore as on ‘Cut Off My Head’, it shows that the band are experimenting more with these songs; the songs are given time and space to breath and there’s less of a “let’s see who can get to the end of the song first” feel. Given that most Wreckless Eric fans will buy both albums (which are being released on vinyl as well as CD and download), it seems pointless to try to make a choice as to which of the two albums is the better one. They really come as a package. If you like one you will like the other, but, while some of the charm of the debut album’s rough and ready approach is missing from the follow-up, ‘Combo Time!’ is probably the one that will give the most satisfaction over time due to the diversity of the songs. A welcome reissue then and more enjoyable than our fading memories would have had us believe. Now if only a label like Fire Records would get together a definitive box set of all of Eric Goulden’s recordings…

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Len Bright Combo - Profile

Len Bright Combo - Profile

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