10 August 2008
Huggy Bear - Taking the Rough With The Smooch
Label: Wiiija Records
Year of Release: 1993
Whilst the British music scene has generally been in rude health since the sixties (provided you know where to look), it has been bed-ridden with minor ailments at some brief points in history. 1993, for example, was not a good year - all eyes were looking across the pond towards the Grunge scene in Seattle, and the scene in this country appeared to consist of little more than bog-standard greasy haired indie bands chopping out three minute punk-inspired songs in pubs around Camden Town, and the odd above average dance track. I was only twenty years of age in 1993, but I can still remember feeling completely bored shitless and feeling absolutely desperate for something interesting to come along. The Stone Roses were AWOL, Suede's first album was patchier than people seemed to be claiming, and I'd watched (The) Verve live in a pub in North London before they got signed and found them tediously excessive.
An awful lot of hardcore indie kids hung all their hopes on to Huggy Bear, a Brighton based Riot Grrrl band who managed to get on The Word and hurl abuse at the moronic presenter Terry Christian, promoted female-only gigs, and refused to speak to the mainstream media (even when the NME begged them to). At any other time, it's likely they would have been left to their own devices, shouting out their manifestos in the appropriate fanzines - but at this point in the early nineties, a lot of journalists and gig goers were absolutely desperate for something to rise up out of the underground and threaten the stagnant state of British music.
Huggy Bear weren't it, obviously, and by the time the words "Britpop" were first coined, it was almost as if they'd never existed - but that shouldn't be so surprising. The British media and music industry have always traditionally loved bands who launch themselves by spouting off against its conservative nature, provided they don't actually mean it, or are content as soon as they are swallowed into its belly. Rebellion is expected of rock bands, but Huggy Bear's kicking against the sexual inequalities within the business probably felt far too close to home. The music industry remains one of the most sexist employers in the world, but it tends to get a little defensive and jumpy when it's reminded of the fact (and if you think I'm joking, try being in a band with any female members and dealing with A&R men and music journalists).
Far apart from the above, Huggy Bear were also obviously ramshackle, punk-influenced and messy, as this compilation of singles, EP tracks and B-sides proves. As I have always maintained, the rougher side of indie will never last in the mainstream for long, but in The Bear's case, that doesn't mean to say there aren't countless gems to enjoy. "Herjazz", to my mind, is still one of the best proper "indie" singles that's ever been released, combining something primitively funky to buzzing guitars and obsessive sloganeering. Unlike a great deal of the "smash the system" vinyl which swamped the market in 1993, it actually sounds spontaneous, edgy, and 100% genuine. "Pansy Twist" is also brilliant for much the same set of reasons.
Alongside those, however, is some questionable poetry, and some tracks which sound like a bog standard punk-garage band spouting (and indeed shouting) pretentious lyrics. To this day, I've never quite been able to work out what the hell "Sizzlemeet" is actually about - "in a gravy of envy they're descending", indeed. Still, in their brief career they managed to highlight the inequalities of both society and the music business, liven up the dull post-pub dumbfest "The Word", and leave a mark which probably still remains to an extent. I've met numerous female musicians since who argue they might not have picked up an instrument and got involved with rock music had it not been for Huggy Bear, and the slurry of women in rock bands which emerged through the nineties may well have been the result of life being easier for them in HB's wake. It's impossible to prove or quantify that statement, of course, but I'm happy to stand by it, even if much of the below compilation is admittedly patchy. As an historical document, however, I think it's worthy. Perhaps somebody might even attempt something similar soon - although it's harder to see how the mainstream media would give a band like this airtime or a voice in these cautious, conservative times.
1. Dissthentic Penetration
3. Shaved Pussy Poetry
4. Pansy Twist
5. Concrete Life
6. Pro No From Now
9. Teen Tighterns
11. No Sleep
12. Carn't Kiss
sixties seventies eighties nineties novelty second hand record dip psychedelia one hit wonders The Beatles comedy KLF noughties compilations library music glam rock Bill Drummond Microdisney animals that swim earl brutus garage romo/ new romantic cover versions Morgan Studios bob morgan eurovision Bam Caruso C86 Foreheads in a Fishtank KPM Inaura Marnie Medicine Head blessed ethel elton john the spectrum Birdie Dave Howard Singers Lieutenant Pigeon Peel Sessions Salad The Critters The Tages david mcwilliams peter cook skunk rock the lover speaks