Pigbag Volume One / Volume Two Review

Compilation. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Welcome reissues showcasing a group to whom there was always more than met the ear.

David Stubbs 2010

Pigbag are overwhelmingly renowned for one single alone – 1982's top ten smash Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag, which recently suffered the indignity of a Vuvuzelas Remix. It's become a little ruined by over-familiarity, its original, delirious exuberance mined for football chants, TV themes and wedding disco setlists.

Sometimes, in order to be taken seriously be posterity, it's better to have no hits than one hit – it's forgotten by students of post-punk that Pigbag were originally bracketed with serious white funksters of the day, including The Pop Group (of whom Pigbag guitarist Simon Underwood had previously been a member), 23 Skidoo and A Certain Ratio among others. Formed by ex-fashion student Chris Hamlin and Roger Freeman in 1980, they were in keeping with a strain of dance delirium that took feverish hold in the post-punk era and the early years of Thatcherism, a riotous, hedonistic mirror of the unleashed frustration that was prompting actual riots across inner cities in that era.

Pigbag created a petrol cocktail of punk, avant jazz, soul and ska, laced with the occasional steel drums and unnervingly atmospheric passages. However, their fondness for punning or jocular titles undermines their more avant-garde tendencies. On Dr Heckle & Mr Jive (Volume One, disc 1), one track sounds like an old open-air ragtime ball morphing across the ages, dissolving in an echo chamber into some modern day collective rhythmic madness. Contemporaries 23 Skidoo entitled a similar piece of their own The Culling Is Coming. In Pigbag's case, the track is called Brian the Snail.

Much of Dr Heckle features variations on Papa’s…, tracks like Sunny Day in which brass threatens briefly to supplant the guitar as the lead rock and pop instrument, whose important but subordinate role is to provide choppy, fast-cut funk backbeat. However, there is also Dozo Don and its sunset, safari vibe, and As It Will Be, whose opening, exploratory minutes are as extreme as the more academic likes of Ligeti or AMM before settling into a groove. The B side disc includes the (again) self-deprecatingly titled The Backside, whose Steve Reich-ish brass shows further tendencies to experi-mentalism.

Their follow-up album, Lend an Ear (Volume Two, disc 1), is disappointing by albeit unfair comparison. Vocalist Angela Jaeger is now part of a musical-line up tending towards a more rationalised approach, shier of the lateral leaps of thinking present on the debut album. However, the live disc does feature Jaeger and company delivering a sinuous version of The Tamlins' Smiling Faces, while elsewhere the group show just how satisfyingly tight and loose they were as a live proposition. Already a touchstone for the likes of !!! and Radio 4, this is a welcome reissue showcasing a group to whom there was always more than initially met the ear.

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