Published on 27th January 2021
Edgar Broughton Band – Speak Down The Wires: The Recordings 1975 to 1982
For many years, the one and only Edgar Broughton Band album I owned was Sing Brother Sing. Like a lot of first albums by bands bought in the dim distant days of one’s youth, it retains top spot in the Edgar Broughton canon pour moi. Released in 1970, and as I later realised, showcasing the group at their most unhinged, I had it on pre-recorded cassette (remember them?) from two or three years later. When I went through a manic compulsive record collecting phase from the mid-nineties for about a decade or so, one of the bands I avidly snapped up original vinyls (as da kidz say) by was this troupe of famously dishevelled hippies. I ended up buying every LP up to In Side Out, the last one I had heard previously up to that point. When this collection came up on the reviews list, featuring as it does all but one album (Oora – 1973) from the stop where I originally I got off the bus, it was, as they say, a no-brainer. I had to pick it up.
The Edgar Broughton Blues Band were originally from Warwick, and in 1968 they moved down to London and the hippy hub of Notting Hill Gate, took loads of drugs, dropped the indefinite article and “Blues” from their name, and became heavily influenced by early Captain Beefheart and current psychedelia. They were darlings of the counter culture, fitting in neatly into the scene with fellow anarcho-hippies Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies, playing countless free festivals, and their anarchic spirit shines through the music they made like a vein of gold in a coal seam.
First up is Bandages from 1975. The band are now the core trio of brother Rob and Steve Broughton, and Arthur Grant, with a returning Victor Unitt from the band’s early days making up a quartet who knew each other inside out (heheh… ). Partly recorded in Oslo of all places, possibly to escape heavy management back home, the album is a sophisticated collection of lightly psychedelic if somewhat introspective, but very good songs. The Whale, Lady Life, the energised Signal Injector, and a very strong side two in general are highlights, and some nice guitar work from new boy John Thomas throughout makes for an involving listen.
The album was the first and last by the band to come out on NEMS, who had connections with the aforementioned “heavy” management. Feeling like they wanted to quit, the group wanted to go out on a high with a big farewell tour. As a result a lot of that tour was recorded and ended up on Live Hits Harder!, which took a further three years to see the light of day, in 1979. The record transmits the bonhomie and excitement of the band’s live act well, with bluesy freakouts a-plenty. Occasionally they dig down into a repetitive riff and mesmerise the heads in fine fashion. Edgar’s declamations during Love In The Rain, and the hypnotic nature of the riffing makes me think that a young Mark E. Smith must have been a fan. Also, in a perverse manner that Smith would have approved of, THE “hit” is missing from this live compilation. It has to be said that the Edgar Broughton Band were punk in spirit way before the birth of that particular monster.
Whether or not seeing the somewhat basic social commentary of punk exploding all around them inspired the band to reconvene is moot, but reconvene they did, with an expanded line-up and a zeitgeist-friendly name shortening to simply “The Broughtons”. This resulted in Parlez-vous English? (1979), a truly unique and beguiling album with some poignant lyrics showing the younger generation how to make a point without copious swearing, the biting Anthem being a case in point. Musically, this is a nicely strange affair, and a long, long way from their blues origins.
Somewhere along the way our heroes discovered a synthesiser in the bus shelter, took it home, gave it a bong, and made a very weird pop album that veers between the ridiculous and sublime, sometimes within the same song. The exaggerated thick Brummie accents on opener Little One are a hoot. “I loike it, I loike it, yeah, yeah, yeah” indeed! The album gets odder and better as it progresses.
A prime example of the sheer strangeness of Parlez-vous English? is the juxtaposition of April In England, a nostalgic folksy paean to the homeland featuring a children’s choir, a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jethro Tull album, contrasted with the following Revelations One, a jerky version of the dream that sounds like Devo’s dads in a shed. Marvellous stuff!
The story ends here with Superchip: The Final Silicon Solution? from 1982, which continues where Parlez-vous English? left off, with the band’s English surreality to the fore. The faux-Queen harmonies in opener Metal Sunday made me smile, and that was just a taster for some bizarre shenanigans to follow. The title track, with its Zappa-esque commentary is a real head-scratcher!
Documenting the rise of the computer, the album is a curio and definitely of its time, but possesses a charm of its own. The keyboards and synth are more to the fore, and the lyrical focus on the expendability of the human in favour of the machine is a long-recurrent theme in all art that shows no signs of going away anytime soon. Superchip comes over as John Foxx’s Ultravox! with a sense of humour, and is worth a listen just for that.
The bonus track, from the group’s brief reformation at the end of the noughties, is a synth and sequencer wigout in a rave stylee, featuring Edgar’s son on keyboards and a vocal track depicting the propagation of a plague. Err… I’ll leave it there.
The Edgar Broughton Band are often overlooked when the anarcho-hippy days are recalled, but were every bit as imaginative as the more well-known band one gets misty-eyed about. Their later work is a lot more on the money than I was expecting to be honest, and good fun, to boot!
Edgar Broughton is still gigging (or he would be…), and is worth catching if you ever get the chance.
CD 1: Bandages
01. Get A Rise
02. Speak Down The Wires
03. John Wayne
04. The Whale
06. Love Gang
07. One To Seven
08. Lady Life
09. Signal Injector
10. Fruhling Flowers (For Claudia)
11. I Want To Lie
CD 2: Live Hits Harder!
01. Side By Side (Live)
02. Love In The Rain (Live)
03. One To Seven (Live)
04. Hotel Room (Live)
05. Evening Over Rooftops (Live)
06. Freedom (Live)
07. Poppy (Live)
08. Signal Injector (Live)
09. Smokestack Lightning (Live)
CD 3: Parlez-vous English?
01. Little One
02. Waiting For You
03. Drivin’ To Nowhere
06. April In England
07. Revelations One
09. Down In The Jungle
11. Young Boys
12. All I Want To Be
CD 4: Superchip: The Last Silicon Solution?
01. Metal Sunday
02. Superchip – The Final Silicon Solution
03. Who Only Fade Away
05. Outrageous Behaviour
06. Not So Funny Farm
08. Innocent Bystanders (Damian And Soola)
10. O.D. 47600/1162/111800
11. Do You Wanna Be Immortal?
12. Subway Information
13. The Last Electioneer
14. Goodbye Ancient Homeland
~ Bonus track
15. The Virus
Edgar Broughton – Lead vocals, Guitar, Bass, Banjo, Harmonica, Acoustic Guitars, Mandolin, Moog
Arthur Grant – Vocals, Bass, Acoustic Guitars, Organ, Bowed Bass Guitar, Bass Moog
Steve Broughton – Vocals, Drums, Piano, Tambourine, Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Harpsichord, Bells, Maracas, Timbales, Jawbone, Marimba
John Thomas – Vocals, Guitar (CD 1), Guitar (CD 2)
Terry Cottam: Guitar, Vocals (CD 2)
Richard De Bastion – Keyboards, Backing Vocals (CD 3)
Pete Tolson – Guitars (CD 3)
Tom Nordon – Slide Guitar, Guitars, Backing Vocals (CD 3)
Duncan Bridgeman – Keyboards (CD 4)
Dennis Haines – Keyboards, Piano, Vocals (CD 4)
Tom Nordon – Guitar, Vocals (CD 4)
Luke Broughton – Keyboards (bonus track) (CD 4)