As its members gear up for their first single release in more than three decades, Phil Hedgehog Tonge documents (in a rare guest post) the intricate obscurities of the cassette, vinyl and CD releases of The Cravats and their descendants…
The Cravats seem to have swept up in the fluff those modern music writers and bloggers use their dustpans and brushes to categorise the band into another Anarcho-Punk band. Nay not so. Although associated with the British Anarcho scene (in the same way a fighter escort accompanies bombers), they were very much ploughing their own furrow with their unique Dada-Jazz-Punk agenda.
Formed in those heady anything-goes days of 1977 in that hideaway West Midlands, England town of Redditch, The Cravats began to build a distinctive audio approach (the so-called Redditch “Dustbin of Sound”). This enticed a small to medium-rare following of fans, including Pete Stennett (Small Wonder Records), Mick Mercer (Pop Music Scribbler) and John Peel. Mr Peel was famously quoted as saying that he hated Toyah records and loved Cravats records, but everyone went out and bought the Toyah records instead.
As the band went through their existence as underground cult group and whispered rumour, they eventually spawned the collective project DadaCravatsLaboratories aka DcL. This was to encompass not only The Cravats, but combos such as The Very Things, DcL Locomotive, The Babymen and (the never recorded) Piston Smash (though the outfit Gritty Foreskin was probably a DcL/Mick Mercer wind-up). [footnote 1]
Now, to celebrate the band releasing their first new recording since 1985 [footnote 2], we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to compile a discography. The difference being, whilst most of the music of The Cravats/DcL is easy to find on-line, what exactly are your chances of getting a physical copy?
Well, surprisingly the early 7″ singles on Small Wonder, even Gordon, come up frequently on eBay, usually at quite reasonable asking prices. Although I still get the disturbing feeling that this may be due to the fact that first generation fans are dropping dead and the family’s having a boot sale.
When we get to stuff like Terminus rarity kicks in as do the prices. Rub Me Out seems to be under guard by Crass records die-hards and if you want In the Land of The Giants 12″ you can whistle for it. When we get to The Very Things two things happen, One, availability is negligible and Two, when they do appear on auction sites, they’re being sold by rather rapacious, mercenary gentlemen (and let’s face it, they’re always blokes). One occasion saw one seller trying to get 300 quid for the Bushes Scream LP. The CD version. As for The Babymen and DcL Locomotive singles. Forget it.
The Cravats: A Discography
Audio Cassettes. For many years there has been talk amongst music anoraks like myself of the legendary audio-tape releases by The Cravats. They even had catalogue numbers, Choo 1-3.
It turns out this was a massive punk rock wind-up of epic proportions and reinforced by the fact Gordon has the Cat. No. ‘Choo4’ on it. According to The Shend [footnote 3] some people still claim to own these. And there’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Tristan Tszara.
Gordon / Situations Vacant
7″ Single. Released July 1978. On own label which was white/blank, so some sources have the label name as ‘Situations Vacant’ or as ‘Lyntone Recordings’. Most copies have a Small Wonder stamp on the label after Pete Stennet bought the remaining copies because he liked it so much.
Burning Bridges / I Hate the Universe / The End
7″ Single. Released Spring 1979. Small Wonder Records. Cat. No. Small15. I Hate the Universe was many years later used as the slogan on the front of one of The Cravats’ official t-shirts. And boy do you get some weird reactions from the public when you wear it. From “Couldn’t agree more” to “And what don’t you like about it then?”
The Cravats in Toytown
12″ LP. Released Early 1980. Small Wonder Records. Cat. No. Cravat1. Recorded in a hotel in Taunton for some bizarre reason. Re-released in 2012 by DcL Electric Recordings through Overground Records as a 2 CD set (Cat. No. OVER 129CD). Disc one is the original album plus the Small Wonder singles including (at bloody last) Gordon. Disc 2 is the album ‘re-imagined’ and generally fannied-about with by Penny Rimbaud. Still available to buy. In fact it’s currently the essential purchase. Why are you reading this if you haven’t already got it? BUY IT! NOW!!
Precinct / Who’s In Here With Me?
7” Single. Released August 1980. Small Wonder Records. Cat. No. Small24. The A-Side is inspired by the newly opened Kingfisher Shopping Centre in Redditch (“Come and see the palm trees!”). The B-Side is apparently about the voices in The Shend’s head, which he says keeps him company these days.
You’re Driving Me / I Am The Dreg
7″ Single. Released March 1981. Small Wonder Records. Cat. No. Small25. Dreg is the aural equivalent of an angry wasp being stuck inside your head and is of course, splendid.
The Cravats – at Southern Studios – recording Off The Beach – December 1981
Off The Beach / And The Sun Shone
7″ Single. Released November 1981. Small Wonder Records. Cat. No. Small26. Small Wonder pissed off John Peel royally when the package containing the promo copy of the single burst open on his desk covering it in sand and seashells. The B-side is the track I want played at my funeral.
Flexi-disc that came free with the Dutch magazine Vinyl issue 11. February 1982. Cat. No. SHOL 3232. It actually lists the track as ‘Fireman’.
Terminus / Little Yellow Froggy
7″ Single. Released February 1982. Glass Records. Cat. No. GLASS 021. The best record you’ve never heard. The B-side is an instrumental that ends with a disturbing fairy story about a ‘Little Yellow Froggy’ that meets a lump of plasticine.
Rub Me Out / When Will We Fall?
7″ Single. Released July 1982. Crass Records. Cat. No. 221984/4. B-Side features guest vocals by Eve Libertine. This scintillating item alerted a whole new swathe of people to the existence of the group and is also responsible for them being looked over as ‘just another anarcho-punk band’. As if there is such a thing.
The Colossal Tunes Out
12″ LP. Released 1983. Corpus Christi Records. Cat. No. Christits 8. A compilation of single and Peel Session tracks, including a superior (in my opinion) mix of Off The Beach. Also came with a 7″ flexi-disc Laboratory Series 1 which was a mission statement / Dada Audio cut-up from DadaCravatLaboratories.
In The Land of The Giants
12″ EP. Released 1985. Reflex Records. Cat. No. 12RE10. Contains In The Land of The Giants, The Shroud of New York Parts 1&2 and Execute His Will. Contains no saxophone at all as it’s basically The Very Things line-up.
In The Land of The Giants
2-CD set. Released November 2006. Overground Records. Cat. No. OVER 112VP. Compilation of album and single tracks, plus Séance and some (well low-fi) bonus live tracks. Copies still available. Hint, and indeed hint.
CD single. Released February 2007. Caroline True Records. Cat. No. CTRUE4. Credited to ‘The Cravats with Paul Hartnoll’. Contains, Séance, Séance (Paul Hartnoll remix), Séance (Demo) and In Your Eyes 06. The final Cravats/DcL project to feature Robin Dallaway (Guitar/Vocals).
The Very Things
The Gong Man / The Colours Are Speaking To Me
7″ Single. Released November 1983. Corpus Christi Records. Cat. No. Christits 2. The Cravats had just lost Richard London aka Svorr Nan (Saxophone) to the band Pig Bros and Dave Bennet (Drums) to Poison Girls. So, The Shend and Robin Dallaway recruited drummer Robin Holland aka Disneytime to form The Very Things. This is an odd release as it’s very proto-TVT and that classic ‘Psychedelic Rockabilly’ sound isn’t quite there yet.
The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes / Shearing Machine
7″ Single. Released May 1984. Reflex Records. Cat. No. RE5. Some copies (well, mine) had the ‘Bushes’ label on the B-side so I had to write to the band to find out what it was called.
The Bushes Scream While my Daddy Prunes
12″ LP. Released August 1984. Reflex Records. Cat. No. LEX 3. Came with 7” flexi-disc ‘Laboratory Series 2’, which has a marvellously caustic bit about Disneyland. Re-released on CD in September 1993 by Fire Records (Cat. No. REFIRECD12). Pay no more than 300 quid indeed.
Mummy You’re A Wreck / When Father Papered The Parlour / The Light Pours Out Of Mummy’s House
12″ Single. Released Summer 1985. Reflex Records. Cat. No. 12RE9. Track 3 is an incredibly creepy instrumental version of the title track.
This Is Motortown
7″ Single (Cat. No. DCL1) / 12″ Single (cat. No. 12DCL1). Released October 1986. DCL Electric Recordings. Contains the excellent This is Motortown (and a number of remixes depending on the inch-size) and the track Epilogue. A fittingly slick promo video can be found on You Tube.
Let’s Go Out!
7″ Single (7TP 8) /12” Single Limited Edition (O12TP 8) / 12″ Single Regular Edition (12TP 8). Released 1987. One Little Indian Records. By now TVT had dropped the whole DCL umbrella and were trying to make it as “a proper band”. And releasing various mixes of the same song on different formats is always a giveaway that you are. The Limited edition has a ‘Instrumental Dance Mix’ of the title track if you want to know.
12″ LP. Released 1987. One Little Indian records. Cat. No. TPLP6. The final gasp of TVT. By now even Mick Mercer had turned on them, giving this a below-par review in Melody Maker (“I don’t like Soul”). Re-released on CD by Fire Records in September 1993 (cat.no. REFIRECD14). Contains all the mixes of Let’s Go Out! that you’ll ever need. Or want.
It’s A Drug, It’s A Drug, It’s A Ha, Ha, Ha, It’s A Trojan Horse Coming Out of the Wall (American Gothic)
12″ LP (cat. No. REFIRELP 13) / CD LP (cat. No. REFIRECD 13). Released September 1993. Fire Records. So, not quite the last gasp then? However, this is a construct of what was originally going to be the second album before a halt was called and a new direction followed.
King Midas In Reverse
12″ EP. Released 1985. Reflex Records. Cat. No. 12RE4. Contains a cover of The Hollies’ King Midas in Reverse, The King’s Broadcast, The Last Black Tile and KMIR Test Five. A phenomenally brilliant record that single-handedly invented the sub-genre ‘Electro-Skiffle’. Apparently a big underground hit in the Chicago Gay / Dance/ Electro Club scene at the time.
For King Willy
12″ EP. Released Autumn 1986. One Little Indian records. Cat. No. 12TP 3. Contains The Legend of The Babymen, For King Willy, March of The Babymen and Think of Honour and of Wealth. Oddest thing the DCL ever released. Marvellous stuff that’s built around a schoolboy humour chant of “For King Willy” (now do that out loud). You have bugger all chance of laying your hands on a copy of this.
Phil Hedgehog Tonge
- This is of course just mentioning the DcL’s music work. There were also a series of Dada-inspired pranks, japes and “happenings”.
- Unless of course you count the Séance single. Oh you do. Fair enough.
- Bass/Vocals/Actor etc. and founder member of The Cravats.
The Cravats – Jingo Bells – new single
Released on 11 March 2016, is The Cravats’ first new material for 31 years. A limited release (475 copies only; each with a hand-numbered insert), Jingo Bells is available to buy from Overground Records.
Anyone who has had even a vague love of punk music over the last 35 years will know The Cravats or, at least, be aware of their existence.
Championed by John Peel with four sessions, releases on Small Wonder and Crass; the sax-riddled, bass-laden weirdness, the humour, the love of Dada and the infamous Redditch ‘Dustbin of Sound’.
Never mainstream, never hugely popular but always utterly unique they ploughed their own musical furrow in the peripheral vision of the music biz since forming in 1977, which was fine by them.
Those that loved them, loved them to death, those that didn’t, didn’t.
They stopped in the mid-eighties for a cup of tea and it wasn’t until the 2006 release of ‘The Land of The Giants’ double CD compilation on Overground Records that many folk realised what they’d missed.
Co-founder The Shend and original sax-riddler Svor Naan, along with fellow Redditcharian Rampton Garstang on drums, resurrected a live version of the band in 2009 at the bequest of admirers old and new.
Steve Albini’s curated ATP, the final Feeding of The 5000 Crass show, a host of European festivals including 4 years at Rebellion Festival, a Marc Riley BBC6 session and a bunch of selective UK gigs followed to much critical acclaim.
But it is only since the addition, of Viscount Biscuits on guitar and Joe 91 on bass that they have finally decided the ingredients are right for new material and the Jingo Bells / Batter House single is the first offering of this burst of productivity. With a second 7″ already recorded and an LP due for release by the end of 2016, plus a host of upcoming gigs The Cravats are well and truly back.
Still drenched in sax, obliquely angry, raucous and sounding like no other band in existence they have remained faithful to the sound that made them unique. Eccentrically frantic on stage, odd but on the ball on record and definitely not normal, the world needs bands like The Cravats.
For now though, it’ll have to settle for just the one.
PS: Who poshed the driver?