Year of Release: 1989
When it comes to multimedia artists, a blog entry of a mere few paragraphs doesn't do their careers any great justice. You can't really summarise Billy Childish's career with a few tart observations on his novels, poetry, art and music, purely because there's just far too damn much going on - and on a similar level, I've held off from writing about Mancunian artist, poet and musician Edward Barton for some time now for a very similar set of reasons.
Unlike Childish, however, whose work is comparatively gritty and earthy, Barton has frequently taken the experimental and awkward route with his material in whatever form it's taken. A weather-beaten looking character with his scruffy beard and faintly disappointed eyes, he has nonetheless been responsible for some of the more delicate recordings in music. His most famous (and arguably most mainstream) piece of writing is the track "It's A Fine Day", which in its acapella form remains the most successful unaccompanied poem in the charts, reaching a none-too-shoddy number 87 in 1983. When it was later adopted by candy ravers Opus III nine years later, it reached the top five and apparently set Barton up with enough royalties to do as he damn pleased for awhile.
Alongside the delicate parts of his canon, however, sit songs so ridiculous, jarring and uncomfortable that even a solo period Stephen Jones out of Babybird would have balked at releasing them. The lo-fi and hilarious (if borderline terrifying) "I've Got No Chicken But I've Got Five Wooden Chairs" is a prime example of something which would make less tolerant folk ask "does he consider that music?", and even the more accessible "Not A River" would be rather funky were it not for its lo-fi awkwardness.
As marginal as his behaviour may be, Barton has nonetheless wormed his way into popular culture on a number of unlikely occasions, miming along to Tears for Fears "Sowing the Seeds of Love" on Wogan for no apparent reason, and having his work sampled by Norman Cook in his Fatboy Slim guise. His Channel Four appearances in the eighties met with numerous complaints, despite the fact that he didn't swear or make any references to sexual activity - he was just something the viewing public seemed to find naturally objectionable. The music press gave him plenty of coverage too, and whilst its strange to find one's self remembering the eighties with fondness, it does seem like the last period where somebody genuinely marginal could peak their head over the parapet into the glossy world of popular culture now and then. Barton is still active now, but if you don't read art journals or left-leaning publications, you wouldn't necessarily realise this.
So then, "Edward not Edward" is an Edward Barton tribute album, albeit one issued on his own label - such conflicts of interest seemed not to trouble the man. Some of the artists contained within the grooves seem to understand his unique charm, others seem more puzzled than anything else. The Fatima Mansions work wonders around "Dear Dad", turning it into a track which bounces by with odd off-beats thrown in willy-nilly along with Cathal Coughlan's savage screams. Hats must surely go off to 808 State as well for asking two small girls to sing the childish "Sorry Dog", a ditty focussing on the everyday problem of whether to blame the family dog or not once you've defecated on the floor. Stump also seem closest to Barton's vision in spirit, contributing songs which ultimately sound very Stump-ish without betraying the man's ideas one iota.
It's not a perfect piece of work. Bits of it are downright irritating, in fact - but it's never anything less than interesting.
Oh, and... back in "the day", most music journalists couldn't write about Barton without mentioning his large collection of children's shoes and toys he'd found discarded around Manchester ("it seemed to me that everyone threw their childhood away in the eighties") and his odd ways. He was frequently labelled an eccentric, to which he responded thus: "To not be an eccentric these days, you have to study very hard. The rules of non-eccentricity are multitudinous and hidebound - a whole lifetime's study is necessary to understand and accede to them. I'm just lazy - I want to write good songs and make good pictures." Not a quote you're likely to see in italic font at the foot of the pages of a corporate diary anytime soon, but a damn good one nonetheless.
1. Inspiral Carpets: Two Cows
2. Robert McKahey and Kevin Hopper (of Stump): King of a Flat Country
3. Fatima Mansions: Dear Dad
4. Mick Lynch and Chris Salmon (of Stump): Knob Gob
5. Dub Sex: Barber Barber
6. Patrick Mooney: Me and My Mini
7. Louis Philippe: Telephone Box
8. Ted Chippington: Z Bend
9. Jane: I Slap My Belly
10. Ruthless Rap Assassins: Z Bend
11. 808 State (with Donna and Emma): Sorry Dog
12. A Guy Called Gerald: Barber Barber
13. Chapter and the Verse: I am a Mother
14. Kiss AMC: Smother
15. Fossil: On A Hot Day