LIFE’S A GAS: The Bevis Frond

bevis 1992 b_ CARLA VAN DER MAREL CREDIT

Indie rock’s Lord Plentiful of ‘90s psychedelia may have had his regrets, but the rest of us are fortunate he has persevered. Our official Nick Saloman correspondent examines Frond classic Any Gas Faster, and finds that Saloman himself remains pretty chuffed about the record, as well as the current Fire Records reissue series.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Any Gas Faster, for me, was the moment where Nick Saloman and his music arrived on a much larger stage, and felt like it was set to take on the world. With this album, originally released by Reckless in 1990, he managed to forge all of his disparate influences together into a record punctuated with scorching guitar licks and moments of immense solace, and tempered throughout with jaded Anglo introspection.

Take opener “Lord Plentiful Reflects”: The guitar rips and roars, and then in wonderful Bevis Frond fashion, becomes this wonderful slice of classically informed psychedelia. Here, Nick sings, “Well I hate the person that I’ve become whether in your pocket or beneath your thumb” and “Until I face reality you’ll take as much as you can from me.” The scathing lyrics are a kick in the teeth and cut a unique contrast with the melody, which is both hummable and full of the “guitar heroics” Nick speaks of in a later track.

“This Corner of England” is the other equally important side of Bevis Frond. Here we have a heartbreakingly beautiful, acoustic number that captures both unrequited longing and the stinging dissolution of a relationship. Nick sings, “I bury my pain in this pillow that burns up my head with smell of her vanishing cream, look over the rooftops above beyond the distant horizon and there through mists of confusion she dances till morning with never a though for this corner of England.”  The words are poignant and rendered with a painterly grace.

“Olde Worlde” closed out the original album with Nick’s double tracked guitar wizardry which slashes and burns all the way to the end. It’s a raucous sendoff for an album brimming with more poetic heart than anything that came out at the time. With the new Fire Records label reissue (due July 29), they’ve tacked on the Ear Song EP that was released on Reckless Records back in the day. Here you get an incredibly raucous live versions of Inner Marshland tracks “I’ve Got Eyes in the Back of My Head” and “Mediaeval Sienese Acid Blues.” The live version of “Olde Worlde” takes on a punk rock aggressiveness that moves into Husker Du territory.

Any Gas Faster is definitely one of The Bevis Frond’s most engaging and musically inspiring albums. Borne into a period where grunge was beginning to take hold, it never truly got the listening it deserved, so do yourself a favor and don’t let it pass you by this time.

Nick Saloman has graciously answered a few questions about the album for BLURT readers.

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Bevis 2

BLURT: What does Any Gas Faster mean?

NICK SALOMAN: When I left school I became a trainee copywriter in an advertising agency for a while. ‘Any Gas Faster’ was the headline of the only ad I ever got into print. It was for industrial propane and the like. So it meant exactly what it said. You want propane? You want it now…

 

How long did it take to record the album?

Not long, probably about 4 or 5 days.

 

Did you demo the songs on your own or with the full band?

That album only features really me plus Martin Crowley on drums. Plus Mick Wills makes a brief appearance on acoustic guitar. I did all the demos alone.

 

Why is Fire now doing the reissues when Cherry Red was slated to do most of your back catalogue?

Because Cherry Red decided they didn’t want to continue with the project. Apparently the sales of the first few reissues weren’t as good as they’d hoped, so they just stopped doing them. Fire stepped in and did a deal with Cherry Red (with my approval), and now they’re continuing the reissue programme.

 

You seemed to have been on a tear releasing 6 albums in short order over the course of the proceeding three years, what was different stylistically about Any Gas Faster than the previous records?

I suppose the main differences were that Martin was playing drums, and that it was recorded in a proper studio instead of my bedroom. So in both cases the recording values had been raised somewhat. Other than that, it was just the next batch of songs I’d written.

 

The Psyche Bancroft cover art is as always really striking. How closely did you work with him on that? Do you have the original piece of art at home?

It’s ‘Cyke’ actually, and he was such a brilliant artist that I just left it entirely up to him. I’d give him the track listing and all the text that was needed, and then it was up to him. No, I don’t have the original. In fact, I have no idea what happened to it. Maybe Reckless have it, maybe Cyke still has it, I have no clue.

 

What are the songs that you still play live from this record?

We still do ‘Olde Worlde’ and occasionally ‘This Corner Of England.’

 

 

What is your favorite song off the album?

Well, personally, I always liked ‘Legendary’ a lot.

 

Was this the first record you recorded at Gold Dust studios?

It was the first Bevis record I recorded there, but we did the Von Trap family EP at Gold Dust some years earlier. That’s how I knew it was a good place.

 

Were the recording sessions paid for by Reckless? What did Reckless Honcho, Charles Taylor think of the album when he heard it?

If I remember correctly, Reckless gave me an advance, and I spent some of it recording at Gold Dust. I guess Charles must have thought it was okay, or else he wouldn’t have wanted to put it out. He didn’t like ‘London Stone’ very much. I thought Reckless would put out, but in the end it ended up being on my own label, Woronzow.

 

How did the album sell?

I don’t really know. Once again I suppose it did okay, because Reckless put out the next album, New River Head.

 

The opening guitar lick for “Then You Wanted Me” what do you remember about how that came to you?

No, sorry. I have no recollection at all. It was probably just the result of have a play up in the bedroom studio and coming up with a nice sounding riff. That’s how it usually happened. Now it’s a basement studio.

 

“This Corner of England” is such a heartbreakingly beautiful song. What was the genesis of this song?

Well, I was just imagining some guy who moves to Cornwall (or some similarly remote place) with his girlfriend with dreams of an idyllic new life. However, she gets bored and leaves, and he’s left there on his own. That’s it really.

 

I was always fascinated by the Ear Song EP that Fire have included on this reissue. Who did the art? Who is that old guy reading on the front cover?

The image was from an antique book of French art nouveau prints.

 

The live songs, took on a punk muscularity and aggression to them, do you attribute some of that to Martin Crowley and his punk background?

I think Martin played a big part in giving the band a kind of punky edge, but I was pretty into punk anyway. Martin was a true young punk who lived up a tower block in Camden Town. He was several years younger than me, but somehow it worked really well. He was an absolutely wonderful, intuitive drummer, and also a decent guitarist. Sadly he died about 18 months ago, aged just 49. He certainly added a bit of blue-haired youth to the band, but anyway I think we’ve always sounded tougher and more aggressive when we’ve played live. And I think that’s still the case.

 

Was “Radio Bloodbeast” ever performed a second time?

I don’t think so, but I we usually did similar sounding improvisations, and it was more or less dependent on Rod’s improvised lyrics what we called it. Throughout the years of playing live, I’ve always liked to include a bit of jamming and improvisation just to keep everyone (including myself) on their toes. And because when it’s done well, it sounds great.

 

Did Rustic Rod Goodway join the band for touring during that period or was that just a one off live?

Rod & Martin both did a bunch of UK gigs and then one European tour with the band. After that Bari Watts joined on guitar and we changed drummers briefly to Twink, but that didn’t really work so Ric Gunther joined. Bari & Ric both left a couple of years later to concentrate on their own band The Outskirts Of Infinity, so we went down to a three piece and Andy Ward joined on drums. After Andy left the band 8 years later, we had the amazing Jules Fenton on drums. Then I had a 7 year hiatus, and when we started gigging again in 2011, the line-up was me on guitar and vocals, Adrian on bass and vocals, Paul Simmons on guitar and Dave Pearce on drums, and that’s how it is now.

 

The live stuff from Denmark on the “Ear Song EP” did you manage to record the entire show? Will it ever see the light of day?

I think those four tracks were all that ever got recorded.

 

Of all your Reckless releases where does this one rate for you?

I was very happy with the album, but I only had a brief sojourn with Reckless, so I never really considered the output in terms of relative merit. I suppose if I had to choose, I’d say that ‘New River Head’ was the best of the Reckless releases.

BF

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Photo Credits: B&W pic (circa ’92) by Carla Van der Marel; others courtesy Nick Saloman. Big salute to our old BLURT pal Phil McMullen of Ptolemaic Terrascope fame for helping to keep the Frond fires burning all these years. –Ed.

 

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