3 August 2008

Foreheads in a Fishtank - I Want to Masturbate at Castle Donnington

Foreheads in a Fishtank

Label: Stuf Records
Year of Release: 1991

I was, and remain, completely unaware of what it was that actually drove Southend band Foreheads in a Fishtank through the early nineties. Despite managing to get themselves signed to Some Bizarre shortly after this single was issued, there can be fewer bands in the UK who were greeted with more confusion or bewilderment at the time.

Formed in the late eighties as a slightly rockist band (who one local man insists sounded rather like early Genesis) they gradually turned their attention to skewed, wobbly bass riffs, industrial rhythms, and perverse sloganeering. "I Want To Masturbate at Castle Donnington" is probably one of the better examples of their work, combining looped eastern wailing with threatening vocals, which are then frequently punctuated by "Psycho" referencing instrumental effects. It's actually not at all funny, despite the title, and sounds more like the work of obsessive stalkers who would give Barry George a run for his money. If somebody followed you down the street playing this on a ghetto blaster whilst singing "Give me pleasure" along with it, you'd run as hard as you could.

The B-side "Happy Shopper" was the A-side of their previous single, which was withdrawn after the cut-price food chain objected to its content. A prolonged, jerky rant against domestic bliss, the singer Jeff regularly screams "Who bought these tea bags?" in fury, whilst the verses are punctuated with the line "She grabs a plastic fish fork and she buggers me". There's a certain Stump-iness to the rhythm section on this track, but both sides remind me much, much more of Australian pranksters TISM. FIAFT could easily have been their Home Counties brothers.

Their debut album "Buttocks" was a very samey affair, but not unworthy - John Peel loved it, and offered them two sessions, and it certainly had its fans elsewhere too (if enough people respond positively to this post, I may even upload it). For the most part, though, nobody knew quite how to deal with the band. They were mentioned in the same breath as The Swell Maps and Stump in reviews, but their crudeness combined with art-school song structures alienated the frat-boy audience just as much as it did the intelligent fringe crowd. Fans of both bands were not known for their love of vulgarity.

It's probably also worth mentioning as a footnote that the band had some peculiar and unorthodox ways of getting press attention without hiring a Press Officer or even being signed to a label. They once got into Kings Reach Towers and plastered their posters all over the walls of the NME's toilets - one review the magazine subsequently published largely consisted of a request asking them to come back and clean up. They also sent out packets of lard to music critics (which melted all over their records, causing a lot of anger and resentment), and on one occasion publicised a bunch of gigs in the NME's gig guide in places that didn't even exist (which were published completely unchecked). It may have got them press, but one has to wonder how much long-term ill feeling it all generated. One thing's for sure, though, they livened up Southend at a point in time where there really wasn't a hell of a lot going on there... I certainly enjoyed having my own set of renegades-about-town for a while.

(FIAFT's material is shortly to be remastered and reissued, and the band have requested that any downloads should be removed from this site.)


Northern Bob said...

I saw FIAF at the Leeds Duchess of York. Great venue with some great bands e.g. The Hair and Skin Trading Company. Fantastic show and band. Pity they collapsed. and probably Due to the precious London based NME journos not supporting them. Some idiot in MOJO put them as "best to avoid" in their How to Buy... Some Bizzarre section

evilzenscientist said...

I saw Foreheads in A Fishtank at the Old Angel in Nottingham with my friend Andy.

We were the only people there. We ended up buying the band a beer and they played Mr Whippy and Waikiki for us.

Yeah Baby Wow still sounds heavy and slightly insane.

Anonymous said...

I saw them at Esquires in Bedford,
felt a bit sorry for them really , played to around 15 people including barstaff, they must've made one hell of a loss.

Very memorable gig though, the all round sound was well mixed but every now and again they'd chuck out bizarre samples 40dB louder than everthing else, interesting stuff.
Luxurious seems to be a universal track, most people i've played Buttocks to find the whole thing mildly distressing, but Luxurious seems quite appealing.

Anonymous said...

Please, please, please post up "Buttocks". I am a geniune Southend lad and saw these guys a couple of times at the Esplanade along Southend seafront. Loved the fact that they sang about Southend sluts, Happy Shopper cynicism and crazy samples.

Me and a friend where brassic students at the time so we bought the album between us at one of their shows but i let him keep hold of it.
Foolishly as it goes because I'm 100% certain he would never listen to the thing again - so if you could post it up on here you would be an absolute star.

23 Daves said...

Right... I really wasn't expecting this flurry of interest, so I suppose I'd better put ripping "Buttocks" (if you'll excuse the expression) on my To Do list for this blog!

The mixes for "masturbate" and "Happy Shopper" on the album are slightly different as well. Don't hold your breath, because I'll need to find the album as well as actually get around to copying it, but I'll look into this and hopefully get it done at some point in the next few months.

Johann K said...

Thanks for sharing those tracks..I was searching for stuff about the group. I never managed to get hold of copies back then. I was amused by the comment about them sounding like early Genesis...actually, they did slightly...in their earlier and promising incarnation. They made an enormous shift in sound and concept when they became FHIAF. I remember playing gigs with them when I was in a band called Erick. It's a shame that this band and others on the Essex scene got largely ignored by the music press...while Blur cherry-picked the sounds and walked off with the kudos! Only Peel would read a review of a "local" gig and give those bands support! Hearing these tracks now only compounds the injustice felt really...very well recorded, and sound brilliant now, hardly dated at all. Even those samples sound as fresh and ear-catching as the day the technology was born.

mat said...

Saw them in small back room of a pub ni ashton under lynn near manchester. a good 10 people there. still think fiaf were great. insane stuff.

Anonymous said...

Genesis! Come hear and say that and I'll bite your bloody leg off!!

Have you actually listened to any of these albums?

I hope you guys are paying your PRS bill?

Yours Jeff Forehead

23 Daves said...

My friend said it, not me! I never saw you lot live in the early days, so I've no idea how truthful his observations are.

I can give you his name and address if it helps.

one forehead said...

That would be cool I havn't had 'super yet' 'its not ready' x

Anonymous said...

Let m make this clear. Foreheads in a Fishtank were an anti establishment band ten years before the invention of the Internet. They had nothing to do with ‘Genesis’ though they may have agreed with ‘keep those mowing blades sharp’

In the late eighties some bands experimented with deconstruction of ‘melody’ into noise. Site: ‘My Bloody Valentine’. Which is why we hated soft bellied ‘NME’. Foreheads were clearly a part of the ‘Melody Maker scene’.

We sort to connect those sounds with down to earth lyrics. Those of day-to-day pointlessness and banality.

We looked to create three to four minute pop songs de-constructed from Melody into ‘NOISE’.

So we had more in common with ABBA than Genesis.

We hated all forms commerciality. And had the last laugh at the commercial record industry by finally understanding the inevitable pointless destruction of everything and the universe.

Everything is fleeting and passing. We choose to make a large wall of sound before our own inevitable death.


Anonymous said...

I like early Genesis and Foreheads In A Fishtank.