A Heart Needs A Home
Shop Around 9
I believe firmly that our children in schools should be taught to recite the entire Rough Trade discography. The independent labelís discography, that is, up to say the late Ď80s at least. Take the LPs for starters: Stiff Little Fingers, Swell Maps, Raincoats, Cabaret Voltaire, Essential Logic, Dr Mix and the Remix, Young Marble Giants, Pop Group, The Fall. And thatís just the first ten. Howís that for starters?

Hereís a question for you. Which artist was responsible for the most LPs released on Rough Trade in those days? I canít say Iíve done any real analysis, but I would put my money on David Thomas. Surprised? Well, Pere Ubu did a couple of LPs for the label, then there were reissues of earlier sets, compilations, live collections. And then an astonishing series of five solo sets between 1981 and 1987-ish. So, yup, heís a strong contender.

Cooking Vinyl last year collected those five solo sets on four CDs in a box set that retails for roughly the price of a normal CD release. Terrific value. Iíve been playing the salvaged sets all week. They seem to suit a week that has been maddeningly absurd, absurdly mad, nonsensical and completely disorientating.

I donít know how revered Pere Ubu are nowadays. Didnít Tangents feature them at some stage? It rings a bell. But if people are tracing back links from Franz Ferdinand and the like back to the early Ď80s underground sounds then a logical next step is to Pere Ubu who influenced many from Josef K to Julian Cope. Their singer and leading light was David Thomas, an Orson Welles type figure who could be as sinister and difficult to understand as Harry Lime peering out from the shadows, laughing. At what? Us?

I am inclined to argue that David Thomas has made the most unique or singular contribution to pop. He ought to be revered in the way say David Byrne or Tom Waits are. But being somewhere between Sydney Greenstreet and Burl Ives probably doesnít help his cause.

These five solo sets are absolute gems though. Take the first one released in 1981. The backing group Thomas put together was Richard Thompson, Phil Moxham (of Young Marble Giants), and Anton Fier (of the Feelies). Nowadays thatís the stuff of fantasies. Future sets would feature former members of Henry Cow. Real Rough Trade heritage joining-of-the-dots.

And all five of the LPs sound exactly like David Thomas records. Strange polyrhythms, rolling sea shanties, rollicking rockabilly, beefed-up Beefheart licks, oompah knees-ups, diverting slapstick, a touch of the highlife, a taste of lowlife. All the while David sounding as though Sun Ra has been watching too many Abbott and Costello films, or Laurel and Hardy, or the Three Stooges.

The humour in these great records is not to be underestimated. I would always argue the same about Sun Ra too. Check out the DVD of Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Solar Arkestra in Space Is The Place. Itís pure entertainment. What more could you want from a film? Ra and his people playing their hearts out, black power politics, homages to old scienc fiction b-movies and the blaxploitation films of the day (this is 1974). If you need your heart lifted, indulge yourself. And itís all been done through the people at Plexifilm who gave us the Galaxie 500 DVD.

In the sleevenotes to the DVD Thurston Moore writes rightly: ďRa was an authentic outsider always speaking in gentle, cryptic terms. He and his coterie walked the streets living hand-to-mouth and wearing space robes and glitter. They were completely and utterly hip.Ē

And so is David Thomas I guess. I mean he was so far ahead of us all in getting Richard Thompson in to play with him. I love Richard Thompson now, and he has undoubtedly created some of the great British music. I am sitting here listening to Hokey Pokey. Linda singing: ďA Heart Needs A HomeĒ:

ďI know the way that I feel about you. Iím never going to run away. Never knew the way when I lived without you. Iím never going to run away. I came to you when no one could hear me. Iím sick and weary of being alone. Empty streets and hungry faces. The worldís no place when youíre on your own. A heart needs a home.Ē

So incredibly beautiful. And brave. We need more people to be brave.

© 2005 John Carney