27 August 2017

Tony - Jumping On/ The Purchase/ The Club

Label: Garcia
Year of Release: 1996

I spent most of 1993-99 living in Portsmouth, for various reasons I will not trouble you good readers with. During that time, I stuck my amateur journalistic beak into the local music scene, and tried to champion local bands as much as I could.

Portsmouth was at that time a rather poorly served local music scene lacking in credibility among most record labels. Some of this was down to the usual incuriosity of A&R representatives about any group not based in a major city (and especially London) but another factor was also the slight "islander's mentality" that tended to dominate Portsea Island at the time. The so-called "island" may well have had two major roads running on to it, one of which crosses a narrow creek of water you could probably wade through on a good day, but most of the bands seemed not to be very thorough at arranging gigs for themselves even as far afield as Southampton, and usually hadn't networked much outside their home town. Long-established and polished bands would play endless gigs around a tight circle of venues such as the Wedgewood Rooms, The Air Balloon and other assorted pub backrooms while never forging any associations across the tiny divide.

Some made it beyond Portsdown Hills to moderate success. Cranes are probably the most obvious example, and in addition, Pete Voss of NME cover stars Campag Velocet got around the whole problem by seemingly barely ever gigging in Portsmouth at all and basing his musical career in London. Similarly, Luke Haines of The Auteurs had associations, but disowned the place as quickly as he could.

Beyond those folk, a whole brace of local heroes popped up on limited run local compilations and sampler CDs and tapes, and Tony (who frequently adopted a bastardised Sony logo for their gig posters) made a strong impression on me when I heard their track "Mule" on the local "Elastic Fiction" cassette. Simple yet angsty, mournful and powerfully performed, it sounded like the work of a band who were accomplished and on the cusp of greater things. A fellow local band watcher tipped them to be Portsmouth's next major label signing, "if they actually get their shit together".

It's not for me to say whether their shit was got together or not, but this is Tony's solitary single, a limited 500 run pressing on the obscure indie Garcia Records. It gives a flavour of what they were capable of. The title track "Jumping On" is a high-powered bitchfest about The Beatles "anthology" project of the time, and the "Free Is A Bird" and "Real Love" debacle in particular. The group stab accusing fingers in the direction of McCartney, essentially accusing him of grave robbery. "It takes a stick to break the stones/ so let's go jumping on his bones" they sneer, later adding "Call in the expertise/ of the Traveling Wilburys" in an attempt to wound his pride.

Of course, it's doubtful Macca ever heard the record, but it's particularly salty single with an abrasive edge, and a sound akin to the harder edges of Britpop. Over on the flip, "The Purchase" appears to be a regretful chugging lullaby to the joys of hiring prostitutes. All this points towards the fact that Tony weren't common-or-garden indie chancers, who were ten a penny by this point, and had some slightly unusual and bitter world views in their arsenal.

It all amounted to nothing, of course, and this is the only official product we have to remember them by. It's possible that by 1996, record labels were cooling to the idea of anything vaguely Britpop in its sound, and Tony did tend to fit that bill at this point. They may also not have had sturdy enough management or external support, but that's pure speculation on my part based on the fact that most Portsmouth bands didn't. Whatever the reasons, we've been left with a rather obscure mid-nineties indie single which fell between the cracks at a point where just about any noise of this nature was guaranteed at least some publicity. It's a peculiar situation indeed.


Arthur Nibble said...

There was one famous singer / songwriter, born in Burton-Upon-Trent but raised in Portsmouth, who was very keen to let people know his love for and association to the place... Joe Jackson.

23 Daves said...

Prior to the nineties there were a few candidates - Joe Jackson (as you mentioned), Simon Dupree and the Big Sound (who were based there), Roger Hodgson out of Supertramp. My mind is going a bit blank now, but I'm sure there are others!