31 March 2010

The Farmer's Boys - Whatever Is He Like?

Farmer's Boys - Whatever is He Like?

Label: BACKS
Year of Release: 1982

C86, tweepop, shambling, indiepop, call it what you will... but the truth is that revisionism is rife on the topic in the mainstream press. Plenty of journalists would kid you that ton of bands parachuted into the scene taking everyone by surprise at some point in 1986, were spotted instantly by eagle-eyed scribes, then launched by the NME into the cruel world via the C86 compilation tape.

The reality isn't so straightforward. The roots of the sound, if you really want to create a controversial argument, could probably be traced back to the more childlike whimsy apparent in the underground of the British psychedelic movement. When Jeff Lynne was in the Idle Race and stuck pictures of Rupert the Bear to his guitar and wrote "I Like My Toys" and "The Birthday", he was predating Stephen Pastel's "return to the garden" mentality and obsession with pre-pubescent playthings by a fair two decades. If you want to leave bearded future members of ELO to one side for a second (and I see no reason why you should, but have no doubt that some of you will) then the slightly ramshackle, pie-eyed explorations of Mr Syd Barrett also predate the movement, as does "Buffalo Billy Can" by The Apple, and if I could actually be bothered to plough through my iTunes folder to dredge up other examples, I'm sure I easily could (and all this is without even mentioning The Velvet Underground, obviously).

Even before the 1986 date was rubber stamped on the sound, however, and Edwyn Collins and Orange Juice were named as the only natural precursors to the noise (a fact I suspect he actually resents to this day) there were jangly noises coming from low-rent recording studios all around the UK. Norwich scenesters The Farmer's Boys are by far one of the most overlooked travellers into the brave new jingle-jangle morning, despite having a few minor Top 75 hits when they eventually signed to EMI. "Whatever Is He Like?" is an early example on the Norwich based BACKS label which showcases their ability to return to the ethics of sixties pop whilst utilising the kind of quavering, hesitant vocals which sound definitively eighties. They weren't really pioneers - there were other people out there at the same time doing the same thing too - but they came so close to mainstream success that their subsequent erasure from music history is rather perplexing. Indeed, music journalist Simon Price states that "Muck It Out" is his ultimate "song I love that nobody has heard of". Yet "Muck It Out" only missed the Top 40 by eight places in 1983, selling quite a few copies in the process, and even being marketed with its own special shaped picture disc - I don't dispute that it has fallen by the wayside somewhat, but the fact that more people at indie discos are likely to recognise an uncharted Pastels A-side is a rather perverse state of affairs.

The Farmer's Boys eventually split in 1985 after their sound became more heavily produced and their work matured a little, but a website has now been constructed in praise of their work here. And not before time, I'd say.

Listen out for the hoover solo on the B-side "I Lack Concentration", by the way.


M said...

Wow, this is a band I should have heard before. More than a little reminiscent of Orange Juice/Josef K/Fire Engines et al. Thanks!

Maria said...

Happy to stumble across this post, loved this song as a teen in the mid-90s, when I found the album in Oxfam!

Anonymous said...

Magic. Takes me back to UEA, mid 80s

Daren said...

I heard of the Farmer's Boys after a friend bought their "More Than A Dream" single, loved it and aimed to get hold of all their releases. I've still got them and am looking to sell (as I don't play vinyl any more): if you're interested in any, contact me for details (daren@allder.co.uk). I have various singles in various formats, and their 2 albums.
Failing that, there's an FB's compilation CD that was released fairly recently which you might be able to hunt down.

Craigy said...

They "Built The World"