Tuesday, 14 May 2013

CORDUROY - Rarities Box-Set

It is between the notes (between the sharps and the flats) that’s where you’ll find the jazz, the good stuff; everything else is just playing scales. Similarly, it’s between the lines of our story (between the myth and the cliché) where you’ll find the source; the musical gold.
      Much has been written about Corduroy, a history of the band spread like Wikipedia whispers through recycled sleeve-notes and the re-ordering of the same tracks over relentless ‘best-of’ compilation albums. This box-set gives fresh perspective, featuring recordings that preceded the group’s fabled deal with Acid Jazz Records, other tracks recorded at the bitter end of the partnership, and some that were simply forgotten; plus the holy grail of all audio treasures - an unreleased single.

Corduroy formed on the periphery of the beat scene, at the tail end of 1991, within a few months, after a brief meeting with Edward Piller in 92, they signed a deal with his label and in the studio the following week. Three albums were released by London’s Acid Jazz Records:

      Dad Man Cat - Raw Hammond funk with fast bass runs, funky drums and punky guitar, the template of the Corduroy sound. The title blended from three jazz words used by the sixties Rat Pack and combined as one - bop-talk.  

     High Havoc  - The soundtrack to a mythical movie; a spy film featuring the grooviest clubs, evil fez wearing villains and the longest limbed girls in the whole of swinging London. The title, a potent mix of ‘high camp’ and unbridled chaos, epitomising the band’s famed live energy, with added conceptual orchestration.

     Out Of Here  - A tamer, vocally led record with nods towards American AOR bands of the seventies; a more traditional ‘Acid Jazz’ sound that ironically led the group to contrive the title to become the band’s farewell. 

Cherry Red Records, with the assistance of the band themselves, have compiled within this box the three albums (including period single B-sides) plus a fourth bonus live album. You may already have one or all of them; chances are you’ve at least heard some of the songs. You will not however have heard the rarities included throughout; sourced directly from band member’s personal archives, they contain the untold story, the bits that have been missed - the lost pieces of the final musical jig-saw puzzle.

Having been previously dropped by Sire Records, proto-Brit-poppers Boys Wonder, led by the Addison twins (Ben and Scott) recruited Richard Searle (the Doctor & the Medics and occasional Boys Wonder bassist) for a one off new years-eve show at Up The Creek in Deptford, South East London, in 1991. The style, heavily borrow from a guitarist friend, Simon Nelson-Smith's own band, largely consisted of jazzy instrumental cover-versions. With Simon established on guitar, the gig was a success and the four-piece started to write and demo more material in the front room of Ben and Scott’s family home in Blackheath. Not only was this a cheap way to rehearse, but the room had great acoustics. To that end, a porta-studio cassette demo was recorded, E-Type (from which a budget video was shot).
      It is from these formative ‘living room’ sessions that the majority of the debut album was written. Recorded in Denmark Street’s Bass Head Studio, some tracks (due to lack of time) were shelved and forgotten. Goober Grape (inspired by a jar of peanut butter and jelly marshmallow whip). Sesame Street (the TV theme - an early inclusion in the very first live set). Funky Freedom (a jam based on a Boys Wonder track). Happy Shopper (a thrash swing number) and a Quincy Jones tune - Hikky Burr. Thought lost, they are included here, mistakes and all.

The follow-up album High Havoc (also recorded in 92) was released and toured in 1993; two singles Something in My Eye (originally a demo on which Ed Piller invited Ben & Scott to collaborate) and The Frighteners, were taken from the album. Another popular live track, Very Yeah, was re-arranged whilst on tour, with vocals (not featured on the album version). In late 1993, it was agreed to edit the album recording, add the vocal part, and release the radio friendly Very Yeah (vocal version) as a third single. However, Acid Jazz was approached by Channel 4’s anarchic television show, The Word, with the opportunity to feature Corduroy live on the program - on the condition that they played a track from their encore (a cover version of Lemmy Kilminster’s speed metal signature tune) Motorhead by Motorhead. The track was reworked, recorded and released as the next single - instead of the Very Yeah edit.
       It transpired that The Word would only show one Acid Jazz band; label mates, Mother Earth (published and managed by Acid Jazz) appeared on the program in Corduroy’s stead. The Very Yeah (Sing Song Sing-Along) was shelved, forgotten and thought lost; it is included here.

Motorhead featured on the third album Out Of Here (recorded in Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio in Bath) released in 1994, the track Mini was chosen as second single. The prize of an actual Mini-Cooper, with custom Corduroy paint job, was raffled on stage as the highlight to the promotional tour. It still appears at occasional car shows. 

Much of 1994-95 was spent on the road. Gigging throughout Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Japan and the UK, plus a coveted support slot with Camden- lovies- Blur (at Alexandra Palace) alongside Pulp and Supergrass; this was arguably Corduroy’s most popular moment. However, ambition and altercation saw a split with Acid Jazz Records which resulted in Corduroy signing to a subsidiary of Richard Branson’s newly formed V2 record label, Big Cat.
     There were however a handful of recordings for Acid Jazz, that although scheduled as singles, were not formally released at the time. Summer In My Eye (a harder Latin remix of Something In My Eye) and Clockwork Man. Both (including B-sides) have since featured on various, ‘bonus-edition’ releases and ‘best-of’ compilations (to date there have been at least six). However, the band was not happy with the recording of Clockwork Man and re-recorded the song in a heavier style in 1995 (at Eden Studios in London); with the group’s soundman, Ricky Rickets, behind the mixing desk. This new faster version of the song was far more successful, but only featured on one rare Japanese compilation; thought lost, it’s included here.

The fourth album The New You, (recorded in Roundhouse studio, London) in 1995, was released in 96. A vocal heavy, song based album this time, the psychedelically exotic The Joker Is Wild chosen as single.

The fifth and final studio album, recorded throughout 98, Clik was also released by Big Cat in 99. This album, which took a torturous six months to complete, had a more sequenced flavour, drum n’ bass producer Rob Playford at the controls in his own studio. Moshi Moshi  to be the first single from this album.

Many bands have a ‘moment’, a chance to break free from the lower reaches of the record charts; Corduroy never managed this transition. Despite their popularity live, and a fanatical fan base, the group received little radio play and remained an underground act. Things may have been different if they had appeared on The Word, or remained true to their early musical root - the funny filmic funketeers who shared vision and goals. Perhaps they shouldn’t have switched labels. By 1999 tensions and deceits within the band were at a head and moral at an all time low. Moshi Moshi  failed to chart. Big Cat released a second single from Clik, a contrived disco track, Thing For Your Love; the death rattle of a band without direction. Corduroy were dropped by Big Cat Records, Big Cat were dropped by V2. The band split in late 1999. 

The bulk of this collection dates from the Acid Jazz years; however miscellaneous studio recording (post Acid Jazz) resulted in several tracks that were never released. The old-school jazz instrumental Get Ron Carter, a kitsch psych-epic about fractals The Mandelbrot Set, and a protest song that harks back to the glory days of the Acid Jazz years, Man Alive. 

The band’s limping cassette porta-studio was upgraded to a digital hard drive version; experimentation with this new machine resulted in prolific demo recording, Apple Pipe,  Preacher, Another Hundred Years, Finally Atlanta, The Impossible Smile, and the brooding Original Sin. These bonus tracks, thought lost, are also included here.

It is within the musical DNA of the bonus tracks (those featured for the very first time), a spark of brilliance that defines the essence of the true Corduroy sound; a passion and joy for a genre played with an infectious enthusiasm (particularly apparent in the ‘living room’ sessions); a band simply playing for fun. Likewise, the fourth bonus disc, The Quattro (Live In Japan 1994) CD, is a rare live document that commands three figures from certain on-line retailers. Recorded in one of the bands favourite venues, on one of Corduroy’s six Japanese tours; this was the live set (evoking fast cars, fast girls and sharp threads) that helped elevate ‘the fabric four’ to cult status; to be emulated by contemporaries, to pre-empt the verve and life-style since championed by Austin Powers, to be chased through the streets of Shibuya by the prettiest girls with the longest legs in Tokyo; a groovy swinging soundtrack to an imaginary cartoon-world of sheer unadulterated silliness.  Very Yeah!   

  Searle Richard (2013) Corduroy.Very Yeah-The Directors Cut, Complete Compositions 1992-95.

  Searle Richard (2011) Corduroy. Mod Speed Blog.


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  2. Thank you for the excellent post! Living in the U.S. and being a Corduroy fan was difficult. This article taught me much of the band's history that was impossible to learn in the pre-internet days. Can't wait to get the "Very Yeah" box set!