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Repomen - Ten Songs That Made Me Love...

  by John Clarkson

published: 4 / 5 / 2024

Repomen - Ten Songs That Made Me Love...

When guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and main songwriter Ric Bower died in October, it brought the final curtain down on RepoMen, a group who had won the title of being “Sheffield’s longest-serving indie band”. RepoMen, who formed in 1991, took an extended sabbatical in 2018, with Bower, vocalist Denzil Watson and drummer James Hughes forming another group Batman's’Treaty in the interim with three other local musicians. RepoMen planned to reform this year for Sheffield’s Tramways Festival. That will never be now, but they leave behind an impressive legacy of fifteen EPs, a compilation and three studio albums. They were also the subject of a 2016 documentary film, ‘Occasional Sensations’. There are other ‘Steel City’ bands such as The Human League, Heaven 17, ABC, Def Leppard and Pulp who have proved similarly durable, but, while they have had major label backing, RepoMen did it on their own, releasing their recordings firstly on their own RepoMen imprint, and then eventually on Denzil’s Phantom Power Records. Only Artery, a late 1970’s post-punk band, who were an influence on the young Jarvis Cocker, and who ironically put out one of their last releases, an EP ‘Standing Still’, on Phantom Power, have come close. Artery, however, spent more time apart than they were together, while RepoMen, other than a four year gap between 1994 and 1998, worked continuously. I was a fan of RepoMen for almost twenty of those years, and here are ten of my favourite songs by them. 1. ‘She’s in Love’ (‘Lights Out’/She’s in Love’ EP, 2000 ‘Lights Out’/She’s in Love’ was the EP that kickstarted it for me, and what was the beginning of my love affair with ‘The Repos’. They had released two previous cassette-only EPs, ‘Omen’ and ‘Burst’, with original drummer Jason Wragg. ‘Lights Out’/She’s in Love’, which came out on CD, was, however, the first RepoMen music that I heard, and what the band came to see as their first official EP. The two title tracks fell under the band’s original ‘pop punk’ blueprint, and there were also two acoustic ‘B-sides’, ‘TakeAway’ and ‘It’s So Easy’, early evidence that they were never going to be confined to any one genre for very long. ‘Lights Out’ is a fine piece of jangling early 80’s Orange Juice-style new wave pop, but ‘the spikier ‘She’s in Love’ has the slight edge for me, and, as I wrote at the time, “is splendidly reminiscent of The Buzzcocks with its tantruming guitars and jagged melody.” Telling of an unrequited love affair, Denzil’s sneering vocals meanwhile have a gloriously bittersweet sense of irony. 2. ‘Save Yourself’ (‘Save Yourself/’Lauren Bacall’ EP), 2003 Ric was never afraid to tackle a difficult or an uncomfortable theme, and ‘Save Yourself’ is certainly uncomfortable, telling of a fundamentalist preacher fleecing his flock for every penny. With buzzsaw guitar work from Ric and discordant backing from bassist Simon Tiller and James, it is written from the point of view of one of his duped converts and the preacher himself. “Just jot down an address where I can send the bills/I'll still plead poverty," sings Denzil with gleeful brutality, capturing the evangelist’s sinister agenda. 3. ‘’Lauren Bacall’’ (‘Save Yourself’/’Lauren Bacall’ EP), 2003 ‘Lauren Bacall’ offered something really different at the time, even by RepoMen’s increasingly versatile standards. A brooding alt. country ballad, it has Ric making his debut on main vocals, and Denzil making his first appearance on piano. While Ric would only rarely take the lead again. Denzil would start to use the piano and keyboards much more regularly in subsequent RepoMen recordings. "Her black and white face on a second hand TV is closer to me now than you could ever be and more real," Ric sings with real poignancy, to his former love about the Hollywood actress of the title. capturing in a single line the bitterness and blame that comes when a relationship turns sour. 4. ‘Love Me’ (‘Out of Here’), 2004 I didn’t really get ‘Love Me’ from the five-song ‘Out of Here’ EP at first. This breakneck number lasts barely a minute but throws in a verse and a chorus. At first it was over too quickly for me to ever really get a grip on it, but over time I have come to appreciate it more and more for the hammed-up narcissism of Denzil’s vocals; the whirlwind, distorted guitars and its sheer cheek and sense of fun. 5. ‘Dietrich’ (‘Dietrich’ EP), 2005 My favourite RepoMen song, ‘Dietrich’ features a photo of the actress Marlene Dietrich on it sleeve, but has as much to do with her as ‘Lauren Bacall’ was really about Lauren Bacall. Taking its name from the German word for a skeleton key, it tells the frankly bizarre tale of a burglar who breaks into a house and finds one of the occupants already dead and the other person there about to kill himself. When the other occupant turns a gun on himself, the burglar continues to ransack the house. Massive in sound, with spiralling gusts of guitar and pealing slabs of brass courtesy of local Sheffield trumpeters Balo Brass, it recalls Dexy’s Midnight Runners at their greatest heights. It came accompanied by a black-and-white video which saw the band all wearing stocking masks and Denzil playing the role of the burglar. 6. ‘Songs They Never Play on the Radio’ (‘Songs They Never Play on the Radio’), 2007 ‘Songs They Never Play on the Radio’ originally appeared on ‘Sunset: False’, a compilation on Slow Noir, a short-lived label that I was involved with and for which I helped to put the track listing together. As well as RepoMen, it featured various other acts such as Baptiste, Last Harbour, Sain Joan, the Transmissionary Six and The Workhouse., which Pennyblack was pushing hard at the time. It sold virtually no copies, and I was, therefore, relieved when RepoMen decided to re-release ‘Songs They Never Play on the Radio’ again four years later as the title song on what was their debut album. One of the darker RepoMen songs, it takes its name from a memoir about Nico. written by her piano player James Young, and a hardcore number with powerful, churning guitars tells of the fallen Velvet Underground chanteuse's last years as a heroin addict in Manchester. 7. ‘Trophy’ (‘Songs They Never Play on the Radio’), 2007. With all three of their albums, RepoMen combined together new songs with old material. ‘Trophy’ had originally appeared on a 2006 Phantom Power 7” split single, which also featured another of its acts, Screaming Mimi. Based on a true story, it tells of a member of the Louisiana underclass, who, caught in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, takes as his prey one of its richer and more vulnerable victims. Denzil pulls off the double trick of making this character, who has suffered years of persecution, at one level sympathetic but also absolutely terrifying. ("For years I've lived inside your system/Now it's my turn/Your credit cards won't help you now/It's just survival"). It opens in a burst of swaggering, jangling guitars before keyboards unusually surge their way up from beneath the guitars to take main stage. 8. ‘Dry Land’ (I’m Only Doing This Because I Like Your Robot’ LP), 2015 ‘Dry Land’ is one of the lesser-known Repomen songs, and only ever appeared on their second album, ‘I’m Only Doing This Because I Like Your Robot’. It stands out for me as it shows how far they were prepared to push themselves musically, and what an intelligent and thoughtful lyricist Ric was and how unusual a lot of his subject matter is. ‘Dry Land’ is an epic, scorched-sounding number heavily dominated by Denzil’s swirling keyboards. It is about the battle between two neighbouring landowners for the ownership of a river between their properties, but acts as a wider metaphor for Ric’s thoughts on the selfishness and greed of the capitalist world (“I kneel and I drink with cupped hands/I empty bottles on hot sand/I love my neighbour’s dam”). 9. ‘Path of Least Resistance’ (‘Path of Least Resistance’ EP), 2016 The title track from what turned out to be Repomen’s last EP is a taut indie funk number that recalls one of both Denzil and Ric’s favourite bands That Petrol Emotion with its jangling guitars and James Hughes’ superb bouncing drum work. Denzil is clearly enjoying playing the role of a shadowy underworld figure and fixer who is called in by so-called ‘respectable’ people when all their other legal options have failed. “I’m deadly but I’m your best chance of getting out alive,” he spits out as an opening line, and later on “It scares you to see the things that I normally try to hide.” 10. ‘Statelines’ (‘Parallel Schizophrenic’ EP), 2016 Without doubt, the oddest and most obscure track in RepoMen’s long career, ‘Statelines’ appears uncredited on the ‘Parallel Schizophrenic’ EP. A spooky ambient number, it is a peculiar merging of echoing drum beats , wonky and distorted keyboards and guitars, and indistinct, mumbled vocals, but, strangely forceful and compelling, as with all Repomen numbers, it has its own magic.

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Repomen - Ten Songs That Made Me Love...

Visitor Comments:-
10126 Posted By: Denzil RepoMen, Sheffield on 10 May 2024
Thank you for the article and support over the years John! It's very much appreciated. Here's a Spotify playlist of the 10 songs you chose... https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5z7bDTMKxk4PwNtSsdocX1?si=01dd77dd0c334216

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John Clarkson writes about his ten favourite songs by ReopMen, who were Sheffield's longest-serving indie band.


Interview (2015)
Repomen - Interview
John Clarkson speaks to Denzil Watson, the front man with durable Sheffield indie act RepoMen about 'Occasional Sensations', which is a documentary film about them, and their recent album, ‘I’m Only Doing This Because I Like Your Robot’
Interview (2011)
Interview (2004)
Interview (2002)

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