Julian Cope’s Album of the Month
The Sunburned Hand of the ManJaybird
- Featherweight (7.18)
- The Jaybird (16.53)
- Soss, the Quilled Investigator (11.30)
- Eggshell Blues (18.31)
- Leaving the Nest (8.46)
- Too High to Fly No More (14.06)
Do not travel on the N6 to Galway unless you use your own fiscal year. In general, the roads of Western Ireland are so bad that no Irish drivers ever bother to pick up any real speed, for fear of giving themselves the kind of ‘modern’ expectations which would be instantly shattered by the gaggles of insistent biddies, for whom it is an offence to ever have their motor vehicle struggle beyond an unsteady 38 m.p.h. Keeping to a schedule on the N6 to Galway can only bring calamity. Indeed, so long ago did Galway drivers give up making demands of other road users, that nowadays, signs appear at junctions entreating drivers: “Please stop at the red light”.
Of course, this is all excellent practice for supposedly cool English, Welsh and Scottish holidaymakers, who (on the Emerald Isles for a limited period) soon find themselves goaded into displays of horrible Germania, nay proto-Jackbooted Nazism. And many’s the time I’ve attempted to drive a particularly impassive Galway driver off the road, using everything from shunting and headlight-flashing to post-New Age Mantras such as: “Pull-the-fuck-over-you-cunt, pull-the-fuck-over-you-cunt!” But it never works, and the brain cells lost on the journey have inevitably always been mine.
But travel just south of beautiful Galway town, down the N18 towards Gort, and you’ll find an entirely different reality taking over. For rising up to the west, just over the border into County Clare, is thee most magical and confounding landscape – a faerie-dusted and deserted uplands consisting of nothing more than mile upon desolate mile of blue grey karstic limestone. Once this land was host to woodlands and dense vegetation; and the fine megalithic monuments which still lie scattered around bear witness to its place as a former home of early humanity. But over-farming and deforestation eventually caused the vegetation to retreat, and nowadays at sundown it is only the odd ignorant tourist who can be seen standing outside the legendary Poulnabrone dolmen. For the locals well know that it would not right to upset the ancient spirits, and no-one but those on the quest wish to be seen here after dark … not at the Burren…
My swampy Massachussets home
The Wild Animal (2001)
Tonight, there’s at least twelve people onstage doing this thing that sounds like early Funkadelic’s “Music for my Mother” meets Dr. John the Night Tripper’s “I Walk on Gilded Splinters”, while Brian Donnelly, a “do nothing doodad” (as the locals like to call him) skanks around the tiny stage getting in the way. Sometimes, he’s want to blow a mean saxophone or even (at his most compassionless) parp his Aboriginal didge. But, just for tonight, Donnelly Do Nothing is a tiny Cajun bingo caller in reggae trousers and stovepipe hat, one gozzie eye staring directly up to the heavens.
There’s a horribly-more-ish analogue synthesizer astrally vamping somewhere in the mix, putting me in the mind of Roxy Music’s mighty ’73 groove “The Bogus Man”. Elsewhere in the smoky clutter of the Burren’s cramped stage, the audience can just make out the shadowy almost-mummified figure of Critter, as he shakes his pea-filled gourds and whacks his frame drums. He’s always been known as the ‘echo voice Spirit’ since the others found him alone in a dry river gorge, beating on a hollow rotting log and intoning wa-mouth mantras. Next to Critter, the dress-wearing and tattoo’d figure of Chad Cooper toasts reverb’d proto-Biblical messages into his mike and shakes his sticks and bones; occasionally lashing out at his skin drums. Behind Cooper and the Crit lurks Cousin Rich Thomas on baby rattles and shakers. Sometimes they’ll let him pound at his geetar because he’s everybody’s cousin and it would be pointless to try and stop him in any case (but they keep him turned down lower that Brian Jones on the BEGGARS BANQUEST session – just don’t ever tell him!).
Chad Cooper: Don’t let the KKK burkha outfit fool you. This punk’s a card-carrying headbanger, acid visionary and CIA agent.
And now, as the bass crawled up the sweaty walls of the Burren and the music dipped into a bizarre take on Captain Beefheart’s sublime “Mirror Man”, Moloney scanned the rest of the barely-lit stage and considered it all. Half of these dudes are playing African percussion and drums and shakers and whistles and Turkish vau-vaus, and all these suckers are unconsciously chuntering a mean love-grunt like Oscar Peterson when he’s in full flow - only this is all drifting across the PA like inbred unschooled versions of the Wild Tchoupitoulas. Meanwhile, the ascendant groove is now screaming around the PA like flyagaric in a liquidiser – as though Joe Gibbs has left Retirement Crescent to join Rosko Gee and Reebop for some late-Can on-the-Wan of stellar proportions. Forget the percussion credits, who’s taking the blame for the stink of creosote and the digital distortion?
Ah yes, being in the Burren, it’s the geological fault of some other guys we ain’t even bothered mentioning yet. How could I be so crass? There’s Bo Hill picking on Stratocaster wa-guitars through glassy Fender amps, or brittle-sounding Telecasters though glassy Fender amps; and there’s Silk Pontius fuzzing everything up with his ‘down low phase guitar’. And how about the immaculately named Mark Orleans, who spends most of his time busking at the entrance to the club, only occasionally deigning to whip it out for some furious and astral skywriter solo.
Of course, this ain’t a band so much as it’s a scene of people coming and going. I could name a whole other bunch of protagonists down at the Burren, but the stupified reader would only become weary of too much information. So I’ll close this descriptive passage with the simple comment that the Sunburned anchor is provided by this mighty bass wielder called Bobby Thomas, who has co-produced all of the Sunburned oeuvre with Rev. Moloney.
2-track Recordings direct to CD-R
Reverend John Moloney: So weird that the lower half of his face is actually the mask.
Of course, there has to be a down side to all this immediacy, and it manifests here in the lack of regard to detail in the finish of Sunburned Hand’s ‘product’. Peculiarly, I don’t mean that their albums are not nicely finished – they are actually quite exquisite for hand-mades, exhibiting ‘proper’ printing and good quality labels. No, Sunburned’s problem is that almost every one of these major league grooves finishes as abruptly as the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy”. Just as you’re drifting quietly in some super-consciousness, another clunk of instant silence springs you back into life and yet another hefty 16-wheeler funkathon fires itself up, and idles briefly before leaving the warehouse. But, of course, this is all by-the-by in the great quest for contemporary shamanic thang, and Sunburned Hand is surely that. And, just maybe, these punks intend to keep us on our psychic toes.
Why JAYBIRD is Album of the Month
From the off, we should be in no doubt that JAYBIRD is one motherfucker of a psychedelic trip. Its grooves run rings around Saturn and its bass penetrates Uranus; its songs have no let up and listeners never know which ones they’re listening to – indeed, it’s the confusion and timelessness of this record which makes it such an achievement. Also, the mix of JAYBIRD is thoughtlessly daft enough to challenge 70-71 period Funkadelic, or the best mid-70s dub.
Unlike the road warrior abandon of Comets on Fire (whose power is their seemingly unstoppable celebration of rootless travel), Sunburned Hand of the Man is a sedentary thing made by people in one place.1 Like The Wailers’ Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, these guys come over confident enough to celebrate their sense of settlement. Indeed, in the case of Comets on Fire versus The Sunburned Hand of the Man, it’s definitely a Hunter/Nomad versus the Settler/Farmer thing. To sum it up, Sunburned would build bridges that their children’s children would use forever so long as the children of Comets on Fire had not long ago laid waste to those bridges and all the land around them.2
So anyway, JAYBIRD opens with a 7-minute bugger of a bassline with the same tone as Yarborough & Peebles “Don’t Stop the Music”. “Featherweight” is the name of the song, and it features a fine fine circling guitar motif most reminiscent of Funkadelic’s “I’ll Bet You”. An underachieving but hugely-catchy sub-Philly flute keeps it just this side of African Head Charge, as they replace Grady Thomas, Fuzzy Haskins, Ray ‘Stingray’ Davis and Calvin Simon with crowds of chanting percussionists; each one on an entirely different trip (and all of mixed ability). Like all Sunburned’s stuff, “Featherweight” stops abruptly and shakes your concentration before the biggie kicks in:
Mind of a Brother (1997)
Next, “Soss, the Quilled Investigator” is a latter day “Danse Kalinda Da Boom”; eleven minutes of gris-gris more in the righteous zone than any Tom Waits Beefheart-fixation could ever hope for. Over-recorded and fuzzed out, we’re talking more like Karuna Khyal and Brast Burn here, as the unbalanced Ry Cooder slide geetar rises out of the swamp and nabs the babby right out of the mother’s arms. Then, a lone organ builds and builds this funereal dirge as the haunted and distracted figure of Groa begins to hover over her burial mound. Then out of the blue… clunk! Sack that fucking editor, boys.
The first few minutes of “Eggshell Blues” are just stereo shakers and people ordering bar food. Settle down, now, settle down. But we got 18 minutes to fire this sucker up, so lose your city dweller expectations and understand that smoky bar-room chitter-chat can be a meditation toooo! And meditate they do… bringing the mix to a slow slow simmer, then ever-so-slowly stirring in the very delicious sweet’n’sour Cajun sauce. Apparently, at the end of this track, they dished up the distillation of the rhythms and served it out to the audience.
“Leaving the Nest” takes its unlikely rhythm from Kim Fowley’s Napoleon 14th hit “They’re coming To Take Me Away” and adds distant drone mouth, which wheels around The Burren like an unmanned 1/73 scale model spy plane in the dome of some medieval cathedral. Slowly, the congas and funky knuckle skins begin to belt out a welting crack-a-crack as Chad Cooper consults his charts and intones deeply into the inhale-o-tron, Critter sighing like an analogue synthesizer from his rudimentary dugout round the back. These two shamen act in vocal tandem to reinforce the trip, but beware of the Critter, for (as the good Doctor John Creaux the Night Tripper famously reported), he “will act as a second guardian angel unless you overwork him.” Close to nine minutes of this shake appeal carries us into the massively bass-heavy and epic quarter of an hour closing track, “Too High to Fly No More”. A big old cyclindrical bass line up-ends the track and we’re approaching Meters territory. What’s that portentous post-spiel that Cooper’s bellowing out? Could be calling the drunks in the front row a ‘coupla Nazis’, but just as likely asking the waiter for a ‘coupla nachos’. Sounds important enough, just play on, brothers.
And so Cooper of the congas, and Critters of the shakers, and Cousin Rich of the rattles and Franklin of the traps and the Reverend of the rhythm, all pound beat their meat for one last champagne handshake, as Messrs. Orleans, Bo Hill and Pontius of the wires scrub their ‘lectrick washboards cleaner than clean. Ah, but unknown to them all, Cousin Bobby of the bass has had one funky butt cheek on the fader all along, and it’s tipped the scales in his low low favour. Our unbalanced Album of the Month grinds to a halt without so much as an inch of flab, and the audience sinks down in their seats exhausted and spent.
But don’t forget about WILD ANIMAL
If JAYBIRD is the Man’s 100% real deal and you dig the holy shit out of it, brothers and sisters, then I should clue you into its 90% sibling which comes in the form of WILD ANIMAL (or THE WILD ANIMAL as it’s called on some copies). It may be flawed and pock-marked by seething enthusiasm and the worship of one-too-many-deities-at-once, but WILD ANIMAL is nevertheless a total orgy of thang. If they’d put this and JAYBIRD out as a sumptuous 2CD set, we’d have the first genuinely erotic Cum-a-thon of the 21st Century.
Piff's Clicks (1998)
The incredible 10-minutes of “Gay From the Waist Up” which follows is more of that “Bogus Man”-type percussion-based Krautrock; all spindly Michael Karoli guitar and hugely reverb’d Promethean cries of who-knows-what. Then we’re off into yet more madness as “Intending to Spend 3 Months of the Winter on a Yacqui Reservation, Chad Cooper Overshoots and Gets Lost in Llandrindod Wells (Hey, who’s that guy with all the GG Allin tattoos on his neck, boyo?)” overwhelms yo’ speakers and you wanna simultaneously smack both the guitarists for their audacity, and take ‘em home for a good meal. More on-the-wan mayhem kicks in with the 8-minutes of “Austin Wiggins Junior Hayride”, which even includes a little audience response at the end. Fucking eh!
And then, we descend into the seven minutes of low-spark-of-high-heel-boys which is “Groove from a Hovel”. Imagine trying to smuggle Cheech & Chong over the Mexican border from insane Tijuana to ultra-straight San Diego. Only Cheech has been chewing on the amber cooking speed and won’t shut-the-fuck-up for a moment because he’s wearing headphones and singing along to the GREASE soundtrack. So the musicians have to groove louder and louder and louder, but all the while Cheech is more and more in-to-his-thang. He’s gittin’ dowwwn, momma: “I love you, we love you” he screams. The track finishes with the perfunctory applause of the police as they open the rear doors. “Thank you”, he says as they put on the cuffs.
The Book of Pressure (2002)
The rest of the Sunburned Hand’s oeuvre is a disparate bunch of releases, which is just as we should expect from characters whose project bands are described as ranging from ‘acid metal gospel’ to ‘skateboard/troublemaker’. Indeed, I’m only glad they don’t try and put every aspect of every offshoot band out under the Sunburned name. As it is, you got ‘new’ albums like THE AGORAPHOBIC CHRISTCYCLE being released under their name when this heavy heavy artefact is virtually a Chad Cooper solo album, being a venture into deep freakout synthesizer, over samples of street corner fighting and arguing, and (what sounds like) rat torture. The Coop made most of it himself on a ‘hot’ Korg Polysix, so where it fits into the overall canon of Sunburned Hand of the Man is anyone’s guess, though the rest of the band are quite happy to present it under their own name. The Rev. John Maloney has described it to me as “some heavy electronic Americana pulled from the archives”. Nuff said.
The Agoraphobic Christcycle (2002)
To my mind, the newly released 12” vinyl HEADDRESS also fails, but this is simply because of its vinyl format. You know how Timmy Thomas' “Why Can’t We Live Together” is 25 minutes too short on 7" vinyl? Well it's the same deal with this. Like a sampler that never allows them to get into their stone groove, each track comes over like an ‘excerpt’ then moves on before you can get on a grip on any track. The vocals become irritating because their insistence only pays off when yooz 10-minutes into the track. It ain't Sunburned’s fault musically, but, to my way of thinking, they shoulda made it a double-LP or even triple. And I’ll bet the original grooves were hugely more extended, so maybe there’s a double-CD version waiting to get chucked out.
Closure We Need Closure
So there you are, me babbies; The Sunburned Hand of the Man. They may release any old trouser tracks from time-to-time but they’z also truly capable of moving the firmaments when the Muses get to them – and get to them they have done over and over again. Believe me, IT WEREN’T NO FLUKE! My advice? Get JAYBIRD first and WILD ANIMAL next, and then read all and everything you can about this mob in case I got my head stuck temporarily up my ass while writing this thing.
- Nevertheless, the Reverend John Maloney has told me that both bands are currently recording material for a shared album.
- Okay, so this is just a metaphor you have to accept in order for me to make my point. I ain’t claiming Miller & Co. actually live in some shitty Hawkwind-type 1960s AEC Reliance with all the seats taken out (which I went on with Dave Balfe to sell them some acid in 1980 and believe me it was horrible).
1997 MIND OF A BROTHER (Manhand 001)
1998 PIFF’S CLICKS (Manhand 002)
2001 JAYBIRD (Manhand 003)
2001 WILD ANIMAL (Manhand 004)
2002 THE BOOK OF PRESSURE (Manhand 006)
2002 THE AGORAPHOBIC CHRISTCYCLE (Manhand 007)
2002 HEADDRESS (Record Records 6)