Good times: on 29 october 1990, totally intoxicated by the fact that I lived in a city that bands actually played in* I bullied a couple of my, brand new, friends from university into going to see Thee Hypnotics at Leeds Duchess of York**. It was exciting, a bit urban for a farm boy like me. The music didn’t disappoint either, support band Filipinos were muddy-sounding and pleasantly noisy and trashy (‘unhindered by talent’, I patronisingly wrote in my gig review*^) and then Thee Hypnotics came on and just swamped us with hugely noisy, insanely heavy and bluesy rock. A year, or so later people would have called their sound ‘grungey’, in fact their debut LP, Come Down Heavy had just been picked up for US distribution by a little-known regional record label called Sub Pop. I described them as ‘brilliantly subterranean’ 26 years ago and I’m struggling to beat that now.
Interesting gig fact – due to their drummer breaking his back^ they had drafted in punk mad man and The Damned mainstay, Rat Scabies in to play with them.
But that’s not what I’m here for. Inspired by seeing them I picked up a copy of their debut LP Come Down Heavy a couple of years later. This is a heavy, bluesy, distorted LP by anyone’s definition. The band undoubtedly borrowed from the likes of Blue Cheer and the Stooges, but as an excited 18 year-old provincial I’d never heard a note of either band at the time and so it was all new and exciting to me^^.
I like the basic sound of Come Down Heavy, they have that great Neanderthal vibe, that I’m a real sucker for, that you get when you get a band ham-fistedly playing the blues, making up their lack of finesse with brute volume – I’m guessing this is at least partly a pose, because the musicianship is damn good in places. Phil May and Dick Taylor of thuggish Brit legends The Pretty Things make a couple of appearances hither and thither on the LP too. Where the band fall down a bit is in taking their template elsewhere, giving the listener some more interesting hooks, songwriting in a word.
My favourite track and one I can remember them playing live even 26 years later, is the second side opener ‘(Let It) Come Down Heavy’. They get the mix of dynamics and heft just right on this one and as a result the track hits you like a severely hung over Hendrix outtake, just swampy enough, just clear enough to hurt. It’s great, especially the gang vocals near the end. I’m also pretty fond of the next track ‘What To Do’ which is considerably more spritely and has some great harp on it courtesy of Phil May. The only other real stand-out for me is ‘Unearthed’ which is 2:28 of cosmic subterranean-homesick blues, which is like stepping into a wormhole in the space-time continuum which simultaneously catapults you into 1964 and 2064.
I am sorry to say though that those goodies aside Come Down Heavy doesn’t really deliver, for me. Interestingly enough though Thee Hypnotics made some high-profile friends, the Black Crowes who championed them – I saw them support the Crowes a year later and Chris Robinson produced their third LP. It didn’t save them though. Eventually singer James Jones, became Jim Jones and founded 1537-faves The Jim Jones Revue, channelling his inner Little Richard to great effect.
But for now I’m just gonna let them come down heavy.
646 (come) Down.
*as opposed to having to drive 40-60 miles to see anything, frequently much more to see a bigger band.
**wonderful old music pub/venue, now sadly deceased. Christ, the gigs I saw there!
*^in my diary, so at least I didn’t share the opinion with the whole internet, or anything. I also failed to mention that when I said hello to the guitarist afterwards, wisely I can’t help feeling in retrospect.
^I’m guessing that must sting a bit.
^^jaded old fuck that I am now.