Label (on release): Rockin' Horse/ Arista
Year of Release: 1986
Acquiring studio acetates of an artist's work is a peculiar but flawed pleasure. You open the sleeve to the pungent whiff of metal and vinyl lacquer, then there's the buzz of excitement as the needle hits the groove. You're never quite sure if what you've bought is unique or not, an abandoned earlier version of a known song, or even a long lost demo or out-take. But then often the fragility of the medium becomes apparent as the scratches and scuffs interfere with the occasionally agreeable music. And that's what we have here - a worn copy of an obscure single I've tried to tidy up as best I could.
"Town" - or "Town of Forgotten Talent" as it was eventually known - is a reminder that aggressive, snarling political pop (as opposed to rock) was a more common presence in the eighties than we've given it credit for since. For every Billy Bragg wannabe, there were dozens of acts with synths and sardonic vocals making their discontentment with Thatcherism known. Even Depeche Mode, widely regarded in the UK as millionaire stadium pop stars these days, released "Construction Time Again" in 1983, an album espousing democratic Socialism accompanied by interviews fiercely defending the welfare state and NHS. "Everything Counts" was a hit twice over and nobody batted an eyelid.
Let's not get tempted to bandy around comparisons carelessly, though. "Town" is less subdued and a lot more furious than that. Focussing its anger on the unemployment statistics of the time, there's a grit-teethed, almost Lydon-esque delivery to the lyrics, while underneath tumbling piano lines clash with aggressive fiddle playing and agitated electronic bass lines and beats. It's a fantastically busy record which could easily have been favoured by Janice Long on Radio One in the early evening (I have no information to suggest it was, mind you) and in terms of both its sound and subject matter sums up a period of time beautifully - a time we seem to have accidentally transported ourselves back to in recent years. Regrettably, not a single word of this record seems dated or any less true now than it did in 1986.
From the little I have managed to find out about Foster Pilkington, he appears to have been a multi-instrumentalist from Scarborough who played all the studio parts to his songs himself - a well-worn idea now, but a bit more of a novelty in 1986. He had two singles out (this and the follow-up "Listening Land") before Arista Records lost interest in him with no LP being released. According to a couple of vague sources he is still musically active and living in Essex, but only one self-released effort in 2011 ("Empty", about homelessness) is apparent.
As for the acetate, it's hard to say whether it differs to the officially released 7" version, but it's certainly wildly different to the 12" version on YouTube. If anyone can resolve this riddle, I'd be grateful for further information.