When I bring up the name Rex Smith, many people – usually over 40 years of age – instantly remember him as a teen idol, soap actor, balladeer, hard rocker, TV host or stage actor. Oddly enough, they are all absolutely correct! While he may never have achieved ‘household name’ status all over the world, he is still fondly remembered for quite a few things. For the time being, I’m going to set aside his TV, film and stage work (Street Hawk, Grease, Solid Gold, As The World Turns, Pirates Of Penzance, etc) and focus on his Rock/Pop music career in the ‘70s and ‘80s, all of which is included in the six CD box set ROCK AND ROLL DREAM: 1976-1983.
The Adventures rose like a phoenix from the ashes of Irish Punk/New Wave band Starjets. Vocalist Terry Sharpe and latter-day guitarist Pat Gribben formed the Pop-oriented outfit (along with Pat’s wife Eileen, Spud Murphy, Tony Ayre and Paul Crowder) and released their debut album in 1985. Depending on which country you were in, the album was called THEODORE AND FRIENDS (in the UK and Europe) or THE ADVENTURES (in the U.S.). While essentially the same album, each version featured different mixes of the core tracks (“Send My Heart,” “Another Silent Day”, etc.) and different artwork. The album’s shimmering, glossy production accented Gribben’s melodic flair and Sharpe’s vocals. The addition of Eileen’s vocals added a nice depth to the harmonies, of which there were plenty on display. While the album received good reviews and they earned significant airplay on both sides of the pond, The Adventures didn’t achieve the success they so richly deserved.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST(WORLD):
As the leader of British outfit The Pack, singer, songwriter and guitarist Kirk Brandon’s unique musical vision was far too adventurous to be constrained by the limits of Punk Rock so he folded that band and moved forward with new ideas. By 1980, he had formed Theatre Of Hate, which included bassist Stan Stammers, saxophonist John Lennard, guitarist Steve Guthrie and drummer Luke Rendle. During their first two years of existence, the band released a few studio singles as well as a live album, HE WHO DARES WINS. By the time the band entered the studio to work on their debut full length, Guthrie had departed and Brandon took over all guitar duties. With The Clash’s Mick Jones in the producer’s chair, TOH began work on what would become a milestone in Post Punk history – WESTWORLD! With a mix of tribal rhythms, Spaghetti Western riffs, Post Punk guitar slashing and Brandon’s passionate wailing, Theatre Of Hate was a band unlike any other. While the band was known for their live performances, they took on a different form in the studio. Pre-dating his Big Audio Dynamite recordings, Mick Jones brought a lot of his experimental ideas to the sessions, which worked extremely well with Brandon’s vision. The end result is still being talked about today…
While TOH folded in 1983 – making way for Kirk’s next project, Spear Of Destiny – their musical legacy lives on. The band has reformed with various line-ups over the years and are now making waves again with both a new album (KINSHI) and a deluxe three CD edition of WESTWORLD. This excellent reissue on Cherry Red includes a remastered version of the album alongside non-album singles, Peel Sessions, alternate mixes and a live concert taped during the WESTWORLD tour. Still sounding fresh and invigorating, this expanded edition is the definitive version of an album that helped pioneer Post Punk in the UK.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee sent off a few questions to Kirk Brandon, who was gracious enough to take the time to respond…
HAIRCUT 100 Revisited
Haircut 100’s debut album Pelican West remains one of the truly great albums of the ‘80s. Inspired by everything from Jazz and Latin music to ‘60s Pop and Post-Punk, the 1982 album was a breath of fresh air at a time when pretentious ‘Popstar’ posing was more important than making music. From Bob Sargent’s warm and crisp production and singer/guitarist Nick Heyward’s Pop smarts, to the inventive horn arrangements, Pelican West was an album inspired by many styles embedded in the past, yet sounded modern and fresh. The band’s ability to embrace their influences while also creating their own unique sound is what makes Pelican West a timeless album. It is not rooted to a particular time period, so you can still play it thirty four years later without feeling that the album has dated itself. You can’t say that about other career-defining albums from this time period including The Human League’s Dare, Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers, Duran Duran’s Rio or any number of so-called New Wave classics.
Initially lumped in with the British Jazz Funk movement, Haircut 100 were a true musical phenomenon formed by Heyward and bassist Les Nemes. Guitarist Graham Jones completed the original trio. The band grew into a sextet with the addition of percussionist Marc Fox, drummer Blair Cunningham and horn player Phil Smith. The band’s first three singles – “Favorite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl),” “Love Plus One,” and “Fantastic Day” – became radio hits all over the world, and even earned airplay on the then-still-fresh MTV. To many, this fresh and seemingly wholesome band came out of nowhere and became a sensation. They may have been treated like teen idols in the UK, but other countries – including the U.S. – focused on the music. The album itself was filled to the brim with great songs, many of which could have easily been a hit had they been released as singles (I’m looking at you in particular, “Lemon Firebrigade”!). When the band released the Pop-tastic post-album single “Nobody’s Fool,” it was obvious that Heyward’s songwriting skills were still top notch.
However, the band’s massive success proved to be their downfall. Faced with the enormous pressure of writing a follow-up album, Heyward quit the band in the midst of recording sessions. Nick pursued a solo career (the lushly-produced North Of A Miracle contained a few of the songs the band had been working on prior to his departure) while the rest of the band soldiered on. By the time the sorely overlooked and quite wonderful second Haircut 100 album Paint And Paint was released, the band was down to a quartet (Cunningham had also left the band). The band quietly broke up a short time later. Though they have reunited in some form or another over the last decade for live shows, no new recordings have emerged.
Now, with the release of the Deluxe 2CD Edition of Pelican West – featuring additional non-album tracks and remixes – being reissued on Cherry Pop, Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with H100 guitarist Graham Jones and send him off a few questions in hopes of discovering more about this classic album…