~ 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 proud. 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' collaboration. "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.