I love white vinyl, I like humour in music, I’m a patriotic Welshman, I like arty pranks and I absolutely, totally, utterly love power pop. Grabbing a copy of the Pooh Sticks The Great White Wonder (1991, re-released for RSD 2019) was really not a decision that exercised my orbitofrontal cortex much. Anyway who could ever resist an oblique intersection between A.A Milne and Charlie Manson’s Cali?
I am very smitten by the fact that the Pooh Sticks are largely fictitious, I always think that’s a good solid basis for a band. In fact when I think about it several of my favourite bands are utterly fictional, Gorillaz, Rutles, Wyld Stallyns and, 1537 faves, The Carrie Nations. Most of the less fictionally-challenged bands I like may as well be made up, Ramones, ZZ Top and AC/DC anyone? come on they’re all totally Hanna-Barbera!
The Pooh Sticks were in fact Steve Gregory (producer svengali type guy) and Hue Williams* (singer type guy) and the entirely made-up trio Alison, Trudi and Stephanie, with the very real** Amelia Fletcher on guest vocals. Strangely Trudi Tangerine, who was the only one of the three imagined ladies who grew a surname seems to have developed some kind of afterlife and her listing on Discogs says, ‘Trudi, despite what she still insists, was a fictitious member of The Pooh Sticks’.
The Great White Wonder is a fabulous, sparklingly irreverent trolley dash through rock history, paying particular attention to the 1970’s aisle. If you listen carefully enough you can hear the startled lowing of all manner of sacred cows as the band fizz past them, merrily appropriating anything that takes their eye. Christ what more do you want from an LP named after a revered Bob Dylan bootleg?
Pooh Sticks happily steal the titles ‘Desperado’, ‘Sweet Baby James’, ‘When Sunny Gets Blue’ and ‘Good Times’ without any remorse. There’s some outrageous pilfering of Lou Reed’s licks in here, as well as all manner of cool references to the likes of the Archies, Jonathan Richman, Stephen Stills and Peter Frampton. Neil Young, more of a touchstone than you might have thought for a pair of mischievious indie rockers from Swansea, gets his whole 70’s act pinched on the 14 minute ‘I’m In You’.
Add some rather awesome track-by-track sleevenotes penned by the delightfully fictional Trudi into the mix and it all starts to get a bit too much for me. My particular favourite is an ongoing jokey riff about Frampton Comes Alive and trying to bump into Bonnie Tyler down the shops in Swansea^. By Crom I love sleevenotes!
All very meta and amusing, no doubt but where it pays off big time, is that it all effervesces into a bright red strawberry-flavoured sugar-rush rocket of an LP. Quite simply The Great White Wonder is an absolute blast. Helped by the fact that the players here can really play.
Exhibit A for the defence is kick off track ‘Young People’, knowingly surfing pure corny optimism and a KISS beat. It’s all very Redd Kross. Gimme that power pop fix.
On the other end of the scale, LP closer ‘When Sunny Gets Blue’, a perfect vocal and piano only Dennis Wilson style kiss off to the whole affair and a track I interpret as being about a murder^*, maybe that’s just me. You can almost see the night on the water here.
The indie rock out ‘The Rhythm Of Love’ even starts by appropriating the melody from ‘Tears Of A Clown’, which is an audacious heist by anyone’s standards. It also features, out of nowhere, a rather gorgeous guitar solo that seems to have been choppered in from another song. It makes me smile.
Speaking of awesome guitar histrionics I would mention the quite fabulous ‘I’m In You’ that I mentioned before. Leaving the is-it-romantic/is-it-just-rude sentiment of the song title (repeated about 9000 times during the full 14:58 of the track!), the whole thing recorded as a band in the studio boasts a simply stunning guitar solo courtesy of Edu Hackenitz^^. It is a perfect pastiche of Mr Young on one level, but a real and vital little work all by itself on the other. And then it finishes with the much bootlegged Bob Dylan ‘Judas’ exchange – not officially available anywhere in 1991.
I will leave the whole track-by-track nonsense at the door here, after all a groom needs to retain some tricks and mystery to unveil to his bride on the wedding night. Look, it’s all good.
Beyond all the fun that is to be had here, the toe-tapping wit and energy. It strikes me that The Great White Wonder is a homage, a paean, a little tip of the hat to the mythical California that lives in the AM radio dial in all of our imaginary 1971 red Corvettes. I would rather live there in that moment than in early 90’s Swansea too.
Jump in. Enjoy. Get into it and if you can’t get into it, shine it on.
PS: Working title for this post was ‘Trudi, Madly, Deeply’.
*not the son of Terry Williams, ex-Man and Dire Straits drummer and Swansea blues club proprietor (when I met him) as it was claimed; or was he? things in Pooh land get hugely confusing.
**and now very eminent British economist.
^in the hopes of having her introduce them to Jim Steinman, so he can produce The Pooh Sticks’ next LP. ‘Obviously we don’t see Meatloaf around the shops very much to ask him about it’.
^*apropos of nothing related to this LP but a friend of mine once pointed out to me that if you sing ‘Manson baby’ to the tune of the Maz Monroe/Mariah Carey Christmas ditty things get very evil, very quickly.
^^largely lifted from ‘Powderfinger’.