A work of art about the ordinary person’s ability to reinvent themselves.
Garry Mulholland 2011
On YouTube you’ll still find footage of the ceremonial unmasking of Kendo Nagasaki. A relic from the days when British wrestling formed a Saturday afternoon working-class ritual through ITV’s World of Sport, it involves a legendary wrestler who never spoke in public, his manager Gorgeous George, a pair of spooky contact lenses and the warm admiration of the crowd at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall. It all has a surrealist slapstick quality that sticks with you. So much so that Luke Haines, a proud child of the 1970s, has made an entire long-playing record based around its strange magic.
Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and Early ‘80s is exactly what it says on the tin, and so much more. Namechecking virtually every wrestler familiar from those grainy broadcasts, it then takes wild imaginings about the lives and characters of the likes of Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Mark ‘Rollerball’ Rocco and Les Kellett on a mystical trip through a West Midlands where plumbers, Miss World, arcane sacraments and liver sausage sandwiches conjure a parallel universe based around the forearm smash and the transport caff. Those who have followed National Treasure Haines through his 20 years of barbed indie-glam baroque-pop with The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder, Baader-Meinhof and as a solo artist will know that he is a practiced excavator of a 1970s made of glitter-rock, unsolved child murders and terrorist groups. And fans won’t be at all surprised that his most ridiculous choice of subject matter yet has somehow produced, arguably, the best album he has ever made.
Picking a best song is somewhat self-defeating here; this is a perfect, 30-minute, 10-song album that demands to be treated as one long symphonic pop masterpiece. But some idea of the imagination and mischief at work is conveyed by Big Daddy Got a Casio VL-Tone, in which Haines proceeds to craft a synth-pop-meets-chamber-rock classic out of said primitive keyboard and a blackly comic contemplation of what might go through the mind of the corpulent wrestler (real name: Shirley Crabtree) if he had, indeed, made music with a Casio VL-Tone.
The album ends with its cast of heroes and their followers enjoying an eternal feast of grapple in the big Wolverhampton Civic Hall in the sky. For this listener, Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations… is, perhaps, a work of art about the ordinary person’s ability to reinvent themselves, and the sad fact that that achievement doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t spend most of their lives eating bad egg and chips in grim Midlands towns and being screamed at by psychopathic old ladies.
But Luke Haines is as slippery a customer as Kendo Nagasaki, and just as hard to unmask, so maybe it really is the result of watching wrestling on acid.