Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

‘Guitar’ George Borowski - Check Out Guitar George...

‘Guitar’ George Borowski
Check Out Guitar George...


Released 2003 on Ozit Morpheus
Reviewed by Valve, 19/11/2004ce


I wasn’t going to do this. I’ve read the rules and they’re good rules. To be “unsung” a record needs to have rattled around your head for a number of years and been ignored by everybody else for the same period. It’s just... Well, it was Julian’s Tractor review in the wake of the immense loss to our world of John Peel that made me think this a suitable case for treatment. (That and the fact I’ve packed 25 years worth of listening to this disc into the one year of owning it, and even the cover puff describes George as “Mister Unsung personified” and if that’s gonna have any chance of being rectified we need to act NOW). The Tractor connection? Comes in the not inconsiderable shape of Chris Hewitt - a sort of Rochdale mish-mash of Bill Graham, Timothy Leary and Wavy Gravy - who roadmanaged the Tractor boys back in the early 70’s, beadled about in the latter half of that decade with the Deeply Vale festivals, the 1978 line-up featuring fest faves Misty in Roots, The Ruts, Here and Now, Nik Turner and Steve Hillage along with new kids - The Fall, Durutti Column, Frantic Elevators AND ‘The Out’ (George’s band), and in the last few years has been promoting little package tours under a slightly cheeky ‘Greasy Truckers Party’ banner with Spaceritual.net, Tractor, Pie and the George Borowski Band, as well as releasing recordings new and old by a selection of the above and others on his Ozit record label (named in homage to those now toppled twin towers of the Underground press, Oz magazine and International Times). I went to a couple of Chris’s “Greasy Truckers” gigs in 2003. Spaceritual.net (Hawkwind in all but name, ie: Dave Brock wasn’t playing and had taken the name with him) space-rocked with a vengeance - Nik Turner, Mick Slattery, Thomas Crimble and Dave Anderson powered along by the thundering drums of Terry Ollis and son Sam. Hell, even Del Dettmar turned up and twiddled some knobs... Tractor did their big man strumming ’n’ singing and little fella dervishing around the stand up drums thing (The dynamics of this partnership are kinda Soft Cell in reverse)... Pie provided us with the sight and sound of a man playing pedal steel on a cast iron Singer sewing machine... and George...?

Look, let’s get this out of the way - George Borowski is the man who inspired the Dire Straits lyric, “Check out Guitar George, He knows all the chords...” blah blah, yeah yeah, we know, IRRELEVANT! IRRELEVANT! So frigging what... except that this pre-knowledge doubled the stun effect George had on me ’cos I was expecting some smelly old jazzer and what I got was chugga chugga guitar propelled pop song heaven of the Heartbreakers / Pretenders / Cars / La’s / Elvis (Costello when he was good), variety. Some of the more psychotic psychedeliacs amongst you whose mantra is “The riff, the noise, the riff, the noise, the weird lighting” will probably want to leave at this point and that’s cool. Wait! What if I said Big Star? Put it this way, if George had been doing this in ’76 Jake Riviera and co. would have been falling over themselves trying to sign him.

So... George ambles on stage - long, grey, split-ended hair, centre parted to reveal a leer that stays just this side of the “What a nice man / Children! Come away” divide - and starts quietly strumming his old guitar. Chinga ching chinga ching chi chi (That’s the guitar, the top strings buzzing on the fret a little), “She finds me...” (That’s the vocal, the Borowski burr playing up the lovelorn reprobate), cha chinga cha chinga cha chi chi, “...slumped behind the door... She finds me... Rolling round a motor home... She finds me... About seven shillings short... of a train ride home” and with winks from George the band file on one by one to join him and fill out the sound - rimshot drums, a lovely melodic bass, cello sound organ and, get this, a trio of brassy northern luvlies, one of whom could be Chrissie Hynde’s sexy, younger (just) sister, to sashay and fingerpop the while but primed for Ladybirds/Thunderthighs action later. “...She finds me... In a state of some distress and it makes her cry”, and SHE FINDS ME enters the pantheon of great three word titled SHE songs: ‘She Loves You’, ‘She moves me’, ‘There she goes’, ‘She’s not there’. It should by rights be the opener on this album. It’s not. It’s track three and it’s a beautiful thing. George’s team obviously like to get going from the get go, no fannying about with a slow build up, so they kick off instead with the punkpop rush of CALL ME, a song that could follow on neatly from The Undertones ‘You’ve got my number (Why don’t you use it?)’. Contact has at least been made here, the frustration now is with the quality of the lines of communication - “And if you ask if I love you, I want to shout out 'YES I DO', But you can never hear a word”.

I find myself listening to this record last thing at night when everyone’s tucked up in bed, just meaning to play a couple of tracks but I’m still there hours later, bleary eyed, unable to take the damn thing off. As as one song ends - ba da da blannggg... BLAM! the next one begins, catchier, hookier than the previous. There’s barely a split second between tracks - You can’t escape. JUST SURVIVING takes seven lines, 20 seconds, to get to its massive exhilarating hook. Incidentally the “Toast Rack of Dreams” mentioned in line four is a campus building of Manchester’s Metropolitan University down the Wilmslow Road. The building looks like a giant toast rack. It sits next to another that resembles a huge poached egg. And a stones throw away? The red bricked back to back, face to face “reality” of Manchester southside. As Kurt Vonnegut or indeed Nick Lowe would say...So it goes. So George’s preoccupations, the albums parallel themes, are established two songs in: LOVE - A love that has to survive in the face of distance, disappointment, bad choices, inadequate communication, domestic violence, etc; and SURVIVAL - or at least keeping your head above the low life fussin’ and fightin’ duck and dive that is life as we urbanites know it. George has obviously had a bit of experience in both, he’s as old as rock ‘n’ roll itself (‘Rocket 88’ released 1951?) and he still cares! See I could have said LOVE and HATE - Songs of Love and Hate? But George doesn’t hate. He’s a lover not a fighter. BY YOUR SIDE (“Everyone’s been watching you, From Bolton to Le Lavandou”), BEATS HIMSELF (“Beats himself again, With every cigarette, Each new glass of wine, Stops him falling down, Won’t admit defeat, She's never coming back, Beats himself again”) and THIS IS NOT LOVE (“If this is love, Why are you here? You should be out there dancing, Not tear after tear after tear”) are all Love songs... obviously, the latter a McCartney Beatley thrang that replaces thumbs-up chirpy scouse with down in the mouth sarky Manc. Stylistically ‘Check out Guitar George’ runs the gamut of pop emotion, from the amphetamine anger of Costello’s “Welcome to the Working Week” (TRUE INDIVIDUAL) to the grand semi-operatic hurtin’ of Abba’s “The Winner Takes it all” (the magnificent SAY YOUR PRAYERS), these last two firmly in the SURVIVAL camp upon which George is handing out paternalist advice to wasted youths - “All he/she’s gotta learn, is how to think and feel... instead of drink and steal”, and the backing singers attacking the end of each line like those girls going “Sha-la-la-la Push Push” on Mott’s ‘Roll away the Stone’ - “Y’a! troooo individ-U-AL! Why can’t you be? Y’a! troooo individ-U-AL!”. SAY YOUR PRAYERS is a further kicking against the pricks, the drugged up hit-and-runners who “just laugh and take another” and whilst you might properly expect a real rock ‘n’ roller to be DRIVING the stolen car, (Springsteen made it sound SO romantic) George puts himself in the position of innocent bystander: “...‘Cos you’ve got nothing upstairs, You’re a bungalow man, You take the beans from my mouth, Cut my throat with the can, You steal from the rich, And spit on the poor, You put stones through my window, And you beat on my door, You are the president’s mistress, And the cardinal’s what for, You’re the worst I ever saw...” and don’t confuse this with idle reactionary red top rant, George is offering redemption, or is it retribution? “...And when they say your mother’s gone, You'd better say your prayers, And when they ask ‘Is this your son?’, You’d better say, You’d better say your prayers”.

The ‘guitar’ moniker is a misnomer really? There’s some poignant licks on here sure enough, a searing bottleneck on the rousing STRAIGHT TO THE MIDDLE, the big americana jangle and Hammond organ you knew were coming finally arrive on the ALL AMERICA anthem and there’s all manner of riffage and strummery in between, but a guitar’s just an instrument at the end of the day, what defines George is the SONG and how he tells it. To be fair I’m not sure the title was George’s idea. This package was originally mooted for release at the back end of 2001 on Townsend records and called ‘12 Cecil Road’ after the song of the same name (one of those lives behind the closed doors / hopes and dreams songs, a darker version of something that might bring Ray Davies to mind). A number of copies must have escaped before the aforementioned Mr. Hewitt got hold of it, had it remixed - bringing George’s voice to the fore, added four more tracks (one a refreshed version of WHO IS INNOCENT? a Peel fave from ‘The Out’ days). and peppered the sleeve with glowing testimonials from the likes of Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake, Doves’ Jimi Goodwin, who celebrates Borowski’s “righteous howl” and the Pixies’ Frank Black who says: “I have never seen a rock and roll performer so completely connected with what he was doing on stage”, and that’s FRANK BLACK FRANCIS saying THAT for fucksake! With the ‘Check out Guitar George’ retitling, Chris (promoters hat on) was probably hoping to shift a few copies to followers of Knopflers Expanding Headband and fair enough, but this is worth a whole lot more than some Q magazine urban myth trivia throwaway. George is this very month plying his trade doing Sunday lunchtime half hour solo slots in Stockport market place, and not for a moment that I’m knocking that - Keep music LIVE (or EVIL as my old Fatima Mansions T-shirt used to say) and all that - but if there was any justice a major label would be flying George and his pals, at great expense, to some plush studio on the Californian coast with Basher Lowe along as producer, chucking out a couple of stray ditties to whoever’s being Diana Ross and Curtis Stigers this season, to record the next Borowski opus. This is pure pop for NOW, people! Or is it just me? In which case this is a personal crusade, “Once more, dear friends... ENGLAND and SAINT GEORGE!!!”


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