18 October 2020

The Igloos - Wolf/ Octopus


Cuddly Toys keyboard player tampers with Syd Barrett single

Label: Fresh
Year of Release: 1980

While one of the missions of punk rock appeared to be to wipe the slate clean and dismiss all your previous rock idols, plenty of artists were given a free pass. The Who, for example, were so appreciated by The Sex Pistols that Pete Townshend actually had to demand that they move on (his aggravation seemingly caused by the glaring inconsistencies behind their stance rather than any desire not to be saddled with the burden of their love and appreciation). Syd Barrett, on the other hand, was clearly appreciated by many punks as an eccentric who walked away from rock stardom, even if this is a heavily over-simplified take on his life. The Damned wanted him to produce their first LP, and apparently Malcom McLaren also wanted him to work with The Pistols.

The Cuddly Toys were a glam inspired New Wave band from London who had evolved from the glam punk outfit Raped (*wince, sharp intake of breath*) who put out the "Pretty Paedophiles" EP (what a bunch of proto-Super Hans characters they were). The change of name to something twee and considerably less controversial didn't really change their fortunes significantly, however; they hovered around the edges of the scene never quite making any significant inroads, though as is often the case, found an appreciative cult audience in Japan.

The Igloos were really just a side-project of the group's keyboard player Billy Surgeoner, and were seemingly never created with any long-term prospects in mind. The A-side "Wolf" is a considerably more poptastic take on the track of the same name from the Cuddly Toys' debut "Guillotine Theatre" LP, with a squeaky clean but addictive hook, and the jerky, quirky stylings which were fashionable at the time. 

The flipside is, of course, a cover of Syd Barrett's "Octopus" and while it doesn't trump the original, it certainly sands it down and polishes it into an interesting enough new jewel. It's clear that Surgeoner heard the unusual time signatures and immediately suspected that the song could be fashioned into something much more contemporary sounding, and he pulls the task off very well indeed. Drum machines hiss mechanically and synths hum, and the song is translated into the kind of thing you'd hear seeping out of a strange futuristic self-playing organ at a fair. It won't replace the original on your playlist but it's one of the more interesting interpretations I've heard. You get the impression Syd might have nodded his head appreciatively at it. 

The Cuddly Toys continued in one form or another until 1987. Surgeoner left them long before that to form the group Temporary Title in 1981, and also become a member of the post-punk group Brian Brain. He could later be found sessioning for Wolfgang Press and as late as 2001 was in the jazz rock ensemble Victims of Death. Recent activities of his are harder to trace, though. If you know more, please do drop me a line.

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1 comment:

Arthur Nibble said...

It took me three looks to realise the eyes on the cover sleeve are actually igloos. Clever!