~ The Lost Tapes ~
Every once in a while a band comes along that confounds all expectation,
breaches every category and spills over into some amorphous mess that is not
easily described and still less easily understood. Uncomfortable comparisons may
be made with The Fall, Polvo, The Stereolab et al, if only to lump The
Deckchairs in One Punch with the category labelled 'uncategorisable', the
peculiarly distinguished Valhalla of musical mulch.
Comprising two brothers known only as D and M, the Deckchairs in One Punch
recorded four or five tapes from 1990 to 1992 in the bedroom of an overcrowded
and tense house on a housing estate in Basingstoke, Hampshire that was, at that
time, made up of both aspirational working-class and lower to middle
middle-class families. The two had lived previously on a council estate and went
to school where they once lived, some three miles away. Since the early 90s
these estates have merged almost and now have a very similar mix of people.
Which is to say, they are all hopelessly dreary. Mediocrity is, as Tony Blair
fully proved, the great social leveller.
If Patrick Keiler's character, Robinson, in Keiler's film 'London' despaired at
the prospect of the re-election of the Conservatives in 1992, the Deckchairs
were, by that time, so accustomed to living in a one party state that the
election barely registers on their radar. Being bastard spawn of Thatcher the
The Deckchairs in One Punch were, ironically, and paradoxically, more
representative of the lost generation of the late '80s and early '90s than other
groups and artists of the time: The Wonderbus, Ned's Atomic Dustman, the The
Bevellers and the The Get Carter USM (all of whom, by the way, promptly ditched
their proletarian and anarchist masks as soon as doors opened to lucrative media
jobs in Soho, except the skinny bloke out of the The Get Carter who has been
trying to sell the original drum machine used in their recordings for years in
the Brighton Friday Ad to raise cash to fix his clapped out Ford Mondeo). The
backdrop from which The Deckchairs emerged, then, was, indeed, one of despair. A
despair so ingrained it was a way of life, and one that was perfectly suited to
the utilitarian town planning that constituted Basingstoke at that time; a town
so grey, so rigid, so mediocre that any Soviet Bloc dictator would have been
Some have said that the The Deckchairs in One Punch were nothing but two losers
who didn't even have the balls to get out of their bedroom and actually play
live. Their critics were less kind. But it is just this kind of criticism that
has clouded our view of them. The The Deckchairs were profoundly concerned and
troubled by the plight of modern Britain, modern times and indeed of modern man
as their anthem of compassion, "The Butterfly", amply demonstrated:
"I am a butterfly,
And I like to say "Hi!",
To the people passing by,
Who are in great need,
Of a bite to eat."
In contrast to the Oxford poetess, Elizabeth Garrett, and the American poet and
professional liar, James Dickey - both of whom used the image of the butterfly
as mere decoration - The Deckchairs are unique in actually giving voice to the
butterfly; a voice laden with tender feeling and empathy, greeting the hungry
multitudes of the town in fulsome and hearty friendship. Only in Can's 1968
'Butterfly' or in Mansun's 'Butterfly' can we find anything approaching such a
colourful depiction of this insect. Critics of this piece point to the ear
piercing microphone screech and howl over the delicate, rainbow-like guitar
playing as reason enough to dismiss it. However, the passion of the delivery of
the minimalist lyric is augmented by the feedback rather than diminished.
The Deckchair's social concerns can also be heard on the Rockabilly-like
'wig-out' "Little Yeller Fiesta", which was a celebration of the affordable
banger ubiquitous around Basingtoke's unhappy housing estates of the period. The
keen observation is patent:
"It's got rust on the door,
It's got no fucking floor,
It leaks like a sieve,
In the rain 'round where I live...".
The duo, yet again, show compassion for their fellows who must confront
monolithic government regulation in the form of the harsh legal requirement that
is the annual M.O.T. test.
The contrast between town and country is well considered in the untitled
aggressive punk track known as "I go swimming in the river". Bruise Springstein
famously dived into his river in order to cleanse the sins of the past, the old
Christian notion of baptism and rebirth through water. The Deckchairs, however,
went swimming in the river to declare themselves at one with the English
countryside, setting themselves up against the steady and inexorable
urbanisation and cosmopolitanism of Britain:
"I'm a country bumpkin,
I come from the fuckin' country!
I go swimmin' in the rivah!
I go swimmin' in the rivah!
I don't go swimmin' in theee cay-nawl!"
they scream in a decidedly London-Thames Valley accent of which the The
Godfathers would be proud. The track is a peculiar skewing of the usual
bumbling, country bumpkin stereotype and points to the curious reversal to the
Industrial Revolution that meddlesome British government town planners effected
from the 1950s onwards.
The The Morrissey was famous for dealing with gender issues in his work, both
with and without the The Smiths, perhaps most notably in "Half A Parsnip". But
while the The Morrissey resorts to the clumsy idea that his female voice is also
lesbian, thus blunting considerably the power of the lyric and its commentary
on, and criticism of contemporary society and received ideas of gender, there's
no such flip-flopping in "Pegbox", possibly the highlight of the The Deckchairs'
"Going to the washing line,
Got no worries, don't need to hide,
Got no troubles, don't need to hide,
With a pegbox by my side!"
Unlike the The Smiths' song, in "Pegbox" the gender is left open for the
listener. The unreformed early '90s mindset would automatically assume that it
was a woman due to the homely setting, but the singing voice is distinctly male,
which wittily usurps received ideas of domesticity. Men, as well as women, the
The Deckchairs tell us, are in need of dry clothing; a very clever post
post-modern reversal of gender roles.
The strange, plaintive and deeply melancholic "108" was a serious change of
direction for the pair. Played on a cheap Korean acoustic guitar, amplified with
a clip on pick-up (the most expensive piece of equipment with which the group
ever recorded) the strained clutch of chords and wistful singing said more about
the nostalgia of the future than any piece that post-past, mocking-rock funsters
the The Stereolab ever created. A curious contradiction? Nostalgia for the
future? Maybe. But this was Basingstoke. All future was circumvented by the
timeless banality of its planning. The future had already arrived in grey
utilitarian concrete, endless housing estates merging into one another and
rubbing shoulders with shopping centres, industrial estates and the open fields
of farm factories, replete with aggressive farmers and equally aggressive
animals. There was no escape, except to some nowhere called "108".
And here we are, now, arrived at the nowhere that is, indeed, 108. And it
stinks! The Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, Blair-Brown, Major, Thatcher legacy of
mediocrity leaves us not only in 108, but faced with the paradox of also longing
for 108. 108 is nowhere. And we are nowhere. The foolish hippy ideals of the 60s
and 70s in which everyone can get along and 'love one another' are crumbling
around our ears. In fact, we love to hate, as the death of Margaret Thatcher
this year clearly showed. We have become as banal as our political leaders and
we hate ourselves for it. We're spiteful and disrespectful to our fellow human
beings, we're shallow and we long for some time past, some future time, some
place, any place that's better than the nowhere that is here. Some place that
might be an escape from, and an escape to 108.
The greatest irony of all is that the finest work of the The Deckchairs in One
Punch's can never be heard. It was lost. Wiped. Turned to mere tape hiss. It's
dead. Just a memory, a strange nostalgia: File under 108.
Pop Bastard, April/September 2013.