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Beat, General Public and the Fine Young Cannibals - General Public and The Fine Young Cannibals

  by Fiona Hutchings

published: 5 / 12 / 2023

Beat, General Public and the Fine Young Cannibals - General Public and The Fine Young Cannibals


Fiona Hutchings reflects on a new book from Sonicbond on The Beat and also General Public and The Fine Young Cannibals, which featured many of the same members.

Steve Parry discovered The Beat in the summer of 1980, thanks to the musical oracle Smash Hits. From the dedication on page one, which includes Jesus and his agent (although neither are returning his calls), to the self-deprecating conclusion 124 pages later that he’s probably said enough, Parry’s love for the original band and beyond shines through. As too does his sometimes sarcastic but never cruel sense of humour. In the foreword Parry writes, “I wrote this book because The Beat never seem to get their full due. They are always lumped in with Two Tone as if they never managed to cut the apron strings and are reduced down to a few early hits.” I agree with him, so we are off to a strong start. The Beat always sat nearer UB40 in my head than The Specials, although putting them together with Madness seemed equally reasonable. ‘Mirror In The Bathroom’ and ‘Too Nice To Talk To’ were early mixtape favourites of mine. Their cover of ‘Tears Of A Clown’ is ranked equally for me with Smokey and the Miracles’ original track. Beat bassist David Steele and guitarist Andy Cox went on to form Fine Young Cannibals, but I knew very little about the other offshoot band, General Public, despite the fact they supported Queen at Wembley. We all know how these books from Sonicbond publishing work. Each book does what it says on the tin, covering every album and every song. The fact checking and completeness can be trusted at this point. What makes or breaks these books is the actual writing. I want to read about the personal connections of a writer to a song as well as the band’s history and opinions. A sycophantic ‘fanifesto’ for why their favourite is the best with no critical input is no fun to read. Loving a band means loving them through their mistakes as well as successes, but let’s not pretend they didn’t happen. Thankfully, there is nothing to worry about on that score here. On one hand, Record Mirror is characterised as the ornery anti-Beat magazine. On the other, the song ‘Mole in a Hole/ The (Algeron Wants You to Say) Okay Song’ is deemed a 'vinyl aberration’ by the author. Obviously, ‘Mirror In The Bathroom’ is a fantastic song. Parry deems several Fine Young Cannibals videos as dull, while also acknowledging that they were able to ’shift units without visibly trying’. I’m glad someone else called out the oddness of the main three pleading on their knees in the ‘Johnny Come Home’ clip. As for General Public: “Generally speaking, the public aren’t interested” is his conclusion. That’s despite their single ‘Tenderness’ hitting 27 in the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1984, and their cover of ‘I’ll Take You There’ peaking at 22 a decade later. There’s a round up of post-90s line ups and name changes/uses for completeness. The story of these three bands is woven together with personal, social and cultural history. From Thatcher to Phil Jupitus to AIDs to feeling lost in your twenties, the people, the songs and this commentary weave it all together expertly. Sadly, in recent years we’ve lost original drummer Everett Morton, saxophonist Sara and the unforgettable Rankin Roger, I wish they’d been around to read this exuberant rundown of the band members’ varied careers. Parry was right – this book was overdue.

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