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John Clarkson examines South London-formed alternative rock band the Godfathers' eponymous and rarely heard 1993 album, which is about to be re-released for its twentieth anniversary in a double CD edition
When the Godfathers released their eponymous fifth studio album in 1993, it was to very little fanfare.
The South London-formed alternative rock band’s previous three albums, ‘Birth, School, Work, Death’ (1988), ‘More Songs about Love and Hate’ (1989) and ‘Unreal World’ (1991), had all come out on Epic Records, a branch of the major label Sony Music.
While those three albums – and their self-released 1986 debut album ‘Hit by Hit’ - had earned the Godfathers much critical acclaim and a strong live following, they had all remained just outside the radar of the charts. In 1992, when Epic/Sony as a result dropped them, they signed to Intercord Records, a Stuttgart-based label. It was to prove a debilitating move that would constrict the Godfathers’ progress for many years.
Intercord only ever made ‘The Godfathers’ and its 1996 follow-up ‘Afterlife’ available outside mainland Europe on expensive import, effectively wiping out in those days just pre-internet the Godfathers’ American market (where they had had a hit with their 1988 single, ‘Birth, School, Work Death’), and also that in their native UK. There are hardcore Godfathers’ fans in both countries who to this day have still not heard either album.
Fans had until then had always known the Godfathers as a five-piece with duelling twin guitars. As the original members of the group began to drop out after ‘More Songs about Love and Hate’, its founders, vocalist Peter Coyne and his bass-playing brother Chris, decided to strip the band down to a four-piece for ‘The Godfathers’, consisting also of guitarist Chris Burrows who had played on ‘Unreal World’ and new drummer Ali Byworth. After making four albums in one format, one can understand the Coynes’ wish to try something different. The gifted Burrows – always one of the most underrated of the Godfathers – is a flamboyant, fiery guitarist and never anything else but listenable. For those few fans who did hear ‘The Godfathers’ it, however, still came as a shock. There were some admirers, but others missed the dual guitar sound, and, at time when the Godfathers were already struggling to maintain their regular audience and had little means of promoting themselves, this shift to a leaner format did little again to advance sales.
As the rights for ‘The Godfathers’ have recently reverted from Intercord back to the band, the Coynes are now re-releasing it on their own Godfathers Recordings label in a remastered twentieth anniversary deluxe edition, which comes with an additional CD of unreleased demos and live recordings from the era.
Fans have had more opportunity to get used to a stripped back version of the Godfathers. While after a several year hiatus they reformed in 2008 briefly in their original five piece line-up, they have toured for the last few years as a foursome. Their much acclaimed album ‘Jukebox Fury’, their first studio record in seventeen years, was also recorded as a four-piece.
‘The Godfathers’, which has also become known as ‘The Orange Album’ because of its blow-up of an orange on its front cover, is not without flaws. There is a slight over-abundance of love songs (or anti-love songs as Godfathers’ love songs usually end badly), and it could have used another two or three of the vitriolic politically charged and socially-conscious rock and roll numbers that made ‘Hit by Hit’, ‘Birth, School, Work, Death’ and ‘More Songs about Love and Hate’ all classics. Although Ralph Jezzard’s production is solid, it misses too the crispness of the late Vic Maile’s work on those earlier records. For all this, however, this under-heard, little acknowledged and misunderstood album stands up a lot better now than it has been remembered. It may not be one of the great Godfathers albums, but it is certainly a very good one.
‘The Orange Album’ starts magnificently with the tongue-in-cheek ‘Free Yourself’ in which a half-rapping Peter Coyne, backed up by a gloriously urgent, spiralling riff from Chris Burrows, name checks his way through a role call of outsiders, some admirable, others more dubious – Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Reggie Kray, Mao Tse Tung, Jesus Christ and the IRA – and citing them as examples implores his listeners like them to liberate themselves.
Equally first-rate is the slow-burning ‘World on Fire’ which can be interpreted as both an against-the-odds love song and a poignant reflection on world affairs (“In the war against the truth/I make my stand right next to you/We need to know we are going somewhere/The stars will fall out of the sky/This world belongs to you and I”).
‘The Prisoner’ meanwhile starts with a stubby blues riff and, building up in velocity, captures with great pathos and dark humour the plight of a wrongly convicted prisoner (“I miss my girl and I miss my ma/I dream of walking out through that door/But to my surprise I’m institutionalised.”)
Amongst the love songs new download single ‘Strange about Today’, ‘Seven Days’ and ‘Trip on You’ are all particularly effective. The former has an element of 60’s bands like the Small Faces and the Move with its ringing guitars and snappy backing vocal harmonies, and finds Peter Coyne once again in limbo (“Day after day I wait for you to call on me/Day after day I wait for you to show your face again”). On the guttural rhythm and blues of ‘Seven Days’, he is suffering from the opposite problem and too much of a good thing (“I’m burning, baby, like a moth to the flame/Pushing on your button/Make me do it again/It is so hard/Seven days a week”). The equally hilarious, waspish rock and roll of ‘Trip on You’ meanwhile has him beating himself up for not having made a move on a girl faster (“When I saw you in the corner/I should have told you that I love you/Instead we talked about the weather”), but it has a rare-for-the-Godfathers happy ending anyway in which by its conclusion he has won her over.
‘The Godfathers’ is concluded with the urgent ‘Time is Now’, a viperish hardcore mesh of discordant guitars and stabbing drum beats and a rallying call against complacency and for us all to play our part in society. Twenty years on, with the world at one of its lowest ebbs, it sounds even more vital than ever.
This overlooked Godfathers album very much deserves a wider audience and following.
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