Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Pink Fairies—
What A Bunch Of Sweeties


Released 1972 on Polydor
The Seth Man, July 2002ce
“What A Bunch of Sweeties” is generally considered to be The Fairies’ weakest of their three main Polydor albums, but it’s an unfair comparison. Sure, the albums that chronologically flanked it fore and aft WERE better focused, maintained a consistently higher level of energy and direction throughout, etc. But The Pink Fairies were a casual proposition to begin with and based in all manner of freak flag flying in front of an anarchic musical backdrop of incorrigible racket making. Destined to be a group unrecognised for stability in any degree, the departure of Twink (their vocalist, drummer and songwriter) a year before the release of “Sweeties” left The Fairies as a trio comprised of Paul Rudolph (guitar and vocals), Sandy Sanderson (bass), Russell Hunter (drums) with occasional augmentation from ex-Move guitarist, Trevor Burton. This caused a songwriting void that fell to Rudolph to fill and gather the songwriting reins much as he did three years earlier on The Deviants’ third, self-titled album. First and foremost a musician, Rudolph rose to the lyrical challenge by inserting guitar solos all over, vocally directing the tracks just off-microphone throughout and unveiling his newly acquired Leslie speaker system, through which the majority of his playing would be fed.

“Sweeties” is a mystifying jumble of tracks as exuberant as they are shambolic, though resonating for most of the time with a simple clarity of feeling and passion. Despite Burton’s second guitar veering into down-market space boogie on two tracks and the appearance of two minor piss-takes, many moments of raw excellence makes “Sweeties” hang together in a crazy patchwork as much as the front cover of road manager Boss Goodman’s collection of underground paraphernalia. Furthermore, they both reflect accurately the state of the then-current flagging togetherness of the London underground which was already eroding under pressures both internal and external but still maintaining a presence, albeit wearily.

After the botched fake telephone skit of “Prologue” comes the boogie stomp anthem, “Right On, Fight On” as it cuts in after a false start. Relating the story of a police break-up at one of The Fairies’ free gigs with Hawkwind underneath the Westway overpass just off the Portobello Road, it’s rough and loose as hell. Russell Hunter stomps through the whole thing as Rudolph continues with hoarse exhortations of the title, to “come together” and to “keep a strong position” in a rallying cry over the loosest, blareing-est of street jams. “Portobello Shuffle” opens with a rollicking riff and another wake up call to “Roll out of your seats/Get out in the streets/There’s a new day a-comin’!” This and the previous community anthem feature Burton’s footstompin’, boogie-on rhythm guitar, but midway through he and everybody except Rudolph falls away as the door bursts down for no reason with a careening, massive guitar solo. It continues even as the band returns and when the Leslie speaker kicks in, Rudolph’s STILL soloing, as if to compensate for the lack of lyrics. Once they’ve regrouped at a far slower pace for the closing instrumental, Rudolph turns in a poignant solo both hopefully expressive yet sad as can be and speaks more than all the previous token lyrics before it ever could. “Marilyn” opens with a Leslie-gunked guitar intro, slowed into a molasses-dragging, mandied-out sensation and a blatant excuse to discharge even more mindless, directionless energy. Sanderson’s bass repeats the same line over and over as Hunter gets primed for the drum solo as everything gets chopped down by Rudolph’s side-winding solo, getting churned into a froth by the Leslie into a fucked up, sloppy, needless, heedless and stumbling, drug punk moment deluxe. Then a drum solo ensues for no real reason at all. And once that’s over, The Fairies bash out like their very lives depended on it. “The Pigs of Uranus” features lyrics taken from a Gilbert Shelton underground comic and set to a country/western send-up reminiscent of The Deviants’ “Let’s Drink To The People.” The last two thirds of the track sees Rudolph stick it into high gear with a stinging, gun-slinging solo, abandoning all attempts at lyrics and just going for it.

Side two is where the real heart of the matter lies on “What A Bunch of Sweeties,” unfolding with the opening thud of tom-toms and a single strum across the bridge of Rudolph’s guitar resounds like a tidal wave with a rudely loud BRAAAANNNNNGGGGG...! You can hear Rudolph bark vocal directives over the volume of his amps and Hunter’s bank of swishing cymbals. From nowhere, the loudly recorded series of fierce waves of rebounding guitar undertow get thrown up and against the studio walls, set upon by Hunter’s persistently swishing cymbal accenting. Rudolph’s vocals are grandly John Wetton-with-a-sore-throat, barking out:

“I went up to her room
She hit me with a broom
And then she said to me, ‘Baby,
Walk don’t run...’”

...for this is indeed a cover of the best-known instrumental track by The Ventures, “Walk Don’t Run.” Only you’d never guess it until the vocals vanish and the piece is kicked into high gear with a blistering, buzzsawing guitar blitz at ten times the speed of the original. Rudolph just goes for it with an incredible, run-on solo which trashes up “Walk Don’t Run” beyond recognition. Soon, there’s a lurch into “Middle Run,” an entire instrumental section fashioned by Rudolph that begins like “See Me, Feel Me” off “Live At Leeds” it’s its gentle mountain stream-iness: up and down the neck with the greatest of ease and without a thought for anything in the world except for letting it all go and letting it flow through his guitar and amplifier. And since “Walk Don’t Run” was a staple in The Fairies’ live set for years, Rudolph had already adopted a number of ways to go with his extended improvisations here. Dis-chord after dis-chord it builds, with Hunter just thrashing it all out for the fuck of it until he picks up speed and catches Rudolph’s blinding velocity with snare hits. Rudolph goes for it at top speed until he’s already nudged himself back into the flight path of the main “Walk Don’t Run” riff. A last wave of searing chords, notes and sheer noise with overall cymbal bashing and a final BBBWWWWMMMUMMMM and...it is done. Wow.

The far, far gentler strains of the elongated and beautifully hazed out ballad, “I Went Up, I Went Down” appear in the form of the most over-Leslie speaker-ed riffing of the album. The sound is completely liquid-like as the guitar intro builds, falls away and begins to blossom as the seed for a simple, phased melody. The bass and drums enter slowly, over the almost-babbling brook guitar as a ballad of the girl with the special pills unravels about as much as Rudolph himself: the unnamed little pill soon sees him floating on a cushion far over Notting Hill Gate and flying all over the place. Viewing colours never seen before, the title continually repeats as though yo-yo-ing back like an in AND out of body experience that never stays. “X-Ray” is almost blaxploitation-like in its wah-wah and chunky riffing counterpointing Hunter’s dazed, “Shaft”-type hi-hat pattern. It all gets skewered by a Leslie’d to death guitar riff as Rudolph proclaims he’s “ready/steady to rock and rave” and although it seems weary, it just pulls away from the threshold of collapse. Even though it’s a Merseybeat-era Beatle cover, their version of “I Saw Here Standing There” is given an almost New York Dolls treatment as Rudolph’s twin overdubbed guitar separation allows for the same two-prong blitz of “Human Being.” His riffing is so Thunders-like as it drives down the middle of the song, trashing it all up harshly it’s almost a parody; especially when his vocals get all hoarse on the Little Richard-inflected “woooo!”s. It ends the album on a quick flourish, and for all its inconsistencies, “Sweeties” just might be a more punk statement than one may have initially guessed...And at top volume it’s damn near undeniable.