Roly Poly Bus Loady
The first words on the first track recorded by of one of my very favourite bands, Fu Manchu. I’m trying to work out if I had heard their debut single Kept Between Trees, way back in 1990 would have persevered with them, the same way I did after swooping in 9 years later and hoovering up their back catalogue*, or would I be left standing on the beach bellowing at an uncaring, uncomprehending sky,
‘Where are all the good time songs about vans and chicks in vans wearing Vans? tell us Fu Manchu?!’
Way back in the mists of 2015 Kept Between Trees got a 25th anniversary re-release and upgrade from Fu’s own At The Dojo record label, moving on up to a gold vinyl 10″ with a lyric sheet and a bonus track. This is the sort of thing I live for and I pounced on it like a particularly lithe sex panther one lunchtime, carting it back to my lair before marking it with my own distinctive man musk. True story.
Formed from the ashes of punkers Virulence, Fu Manchu featured Ruben Romano and Greg McCaughey as the rhythm section, Glenn Chivens on vocals and the omnipresent, omnistonernipotent Scott Hill on guitar. Don’t bother getting too attached to McCaughney and Chivens folks, they won’t be around too much longer in this story.
‘Kept Between trees’ has a slightly sickly, Sabbath quality to it – not metal, but something else … something unwell. A similar feel to Tad, actually. This is definitely a sound that has a lot more in common with the rainy Northwest than Cali, which was a real surprise to me.
‘Bouillabaisse’ is a bit of a fishy stew of a track, it has a flatter sound, a slower pace and just makes me feel a bit uneasy – Scott Hill weighing in with some eerie-dreary moaning and some distinctly angular guitars. I’m starting to get into this more, especially with the similar, but more persistent ‘Jr High School Ring (7 Karat)’. Bonus track ‘Blowtorch’ is, surprisingly, very similar but noisier and has the first mention of driving on the EP and the line ‘flash platinum pulchritude’ which I like.
The download card comes with yet another unreleased track, called ‘Flashin” (not on the vinyl) from sessions late in ’90, which is a bit more developed and enlivened by the ace ‘A kid who tells on another kid is a dead kid’ quote from Over The Edge.
Between the Trees was an interesting one for me, a little like following a river up to source. Fu Manchu sound quite callow and much more linear to me, history shows they needed to ditch some of the angst and let the rhythm section drive the music, harder. I think Romano is a very good drummer too, his later band Nebula were great stoner rockers, but he didn’t have it down yet.
So, an interesting stepping stone on the road to brilliance, Between The Trees is a very pleasing object to own but maybe one for completists only.
PS: thanks to the Shamen for gifting me the post title in a weird moment of cognitive dissonance, via the iPod shuffle.
*it’s an interesting game to play with your favourites. Some bands are born fully formed and others have to work at it. For example the Beatles first couple of LPs are quaint, but strictly yawnsville for me, if I’d forked out for them at the time I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Ditto the first two Stones LPs**
**although the sleevenotes urging you to hit a blind man over the head for the money to buy one of them, would have got my vote.