Wednesday 21 May 2014

Carter USM

Carter USM were a band formed by accident.  Jim Bob Morrison and Leslie Carter were members of indie band Jamie Wednesday who'd released a couple of singles to little acclaim.
The band were scheduled to perform at a Charity gig at The Astoria in 1987, and no-one else turned up, so they went on stage anyway and performed to backing tapes and a drum machine.

They signed to small indie label Big Cat and released their first single "Sheltered Life" in October 1988.  The second single ("Sheriff Fatman") was released to wider recognition and marginally increased sales in November 1989.  The debut album '101 Damnations' was also released in 1989, and a third single ("Rubbish") was released in June 1990.

A change of label to Rough Trade in late 1990 resulted in the single "Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere", and another single "Bloodsport For All" followed in January 1991, and the parent album '30 Something' followed soon after.

Recorded in less than a month and costing less than £5000, the album went straight into the Top 10 upon release.  The associated Long Sleeve T-Shirt bearing the album cover was rapidly becoming the most seen clothing item adorning students and indie fans.

The album is a collection of snarling (in places) direct Powerpop, replete with South London folk tales about alcohol and domestic abuse, bullying and institutional racism, bedsit culture, the Gulf War and the homogenised shopping experience.
Admittedly, not the happiest or most appealing subject matter for a pop song, but its all in the delivery.  And this album delivers healthy doses of black humour, wit, cynicism, puns and energy.  The album is stuffed full of guitars, drum machines, sequenced bass lines, and dialogue lifted from a variety of sources including Alfie, Red Dwarf and David Bowie.

For me personally, this was one of the last defining albums of my rapidly disappearing youth (in terms of chronology, perhaps not attitude or maturity), and remains their definitive work.

The first track is the instrumental "Surfin USM" which follows dialogue lifted from Red Dwarf about the perils of ageing (relatively speaking, of course):
"When you're younger you can eat what you like, drink what you like, and still climb into your 26" waist trousers and zip them closed. Then you reach that age, 24-25, your muscles give up, they wave a little white flag, and without any warning at all you're suddenly a fat bastard"

Thing is, I was 21 when '30 Something' was released - being 24 or 25 seemed ages away.  And as for 30 ...

Off the back of the success of '30 Something', the previous single "Sheriff Fatman" was re-released, gaining wide airplay and a Top30 chart placing.
1991 was turning into Carter USMs year, with tours of Japan and the USA, and a second-on-the-bill appearance at the Reading Festival.
In October, they made their first appearance on Top Of The Pops with new single "After The Watershed (Early Learning The Hard Way)" - a song that rose quickly, thanks to their popularity at the time, a disappeared almost as fast thanks to the litigiousness of Allan Klein (the crime? including the phrase "Goodbye Ruby Tuesday" in the chorus).
They were invited on to the live TV transmission of the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party, and earned front page headlines when a (possibly?) slightly tipsy Fruitbat dived on stage and rugby tackled Phillip Schofield.

By this stage, Rough Trade had collapsed, and Carter USM were now under contract to the major label Chrysalis.

1992 opened with a re-issue of another early single "Rubbish" before a taster for the new album was released in April.
"The Only Living Boy In New Cross" bore all the hallmarks of Carter USM - the wordplay, the South London location and the relentless drum machine rhythm.

Signed to a major label, front page headlines, Top 10 singles - what could possibly go wrong?
Well, the rampant rise of Nirvana and Grunge really didn't help matters.  When the new album was released in May 1992, initial sales to the core audience were enough to deliver a Number 1, but the wider audience sales were missed out on because they didn't wear lumberjack shirts or come from Seattle.
'1992 - The Love Album' is a good album, if a little more knowing in places, and does suffer at times from "trying to be too clever".  It is definitely not a bad album, it just isn't '30 Something'.

The other thing against Carter USM at this time was the criticism "all their songs sound the same".
Well, how many different sounds can you create with two guitars and a drum machine?  there is bound to be some similarity in sound.  I think the problem was that Carter's defined sound was so up front, it was difficult to break away from.  Two songs on '1992 - The Love Album' support this thought: both "Skywest and Crooked" and the cover of "The Impossible Dream" are valid entries in the catalogue, but perhaps a change too far.

Ordinarily, a move to a major label will signal a rise in a bands output, popularity and presense - unfortunately for Carter USM, the opposite seemed to apply.  Two further albums followed ("Post Historic Monsers" and "Worry Bomb"), but the audience had diminished and whilst still selling in adequate numbers, they never achieved the same impact or longevity heights as previous releases.

A move to the Cooking Vinyl label in 1996, spawned the EP/Mini-Album "A World Without Dave", but again the audience was absent.  Following a long UK tour, the band announced their split in 1998.

Almost 10 years later, the band re-convened as part of a benefit/celebration gig for Mega City Four frontman Darren Brown.  The response prompted the band to organise two "farewell" gigs at the end of the year, playing for nearly two hours at each show.  Again, the audience response was overwhelming.  So much so, they repeated the one-off farewell performances in 2008 and 2009.
They didn't repeat the event in 2010, but returned for a Festival appearance in 2011, followed by two more re-union shows in Manchester and Brixton in November.
2012 brought two more re-union concerts, coinciding with the re-release of booth '30 Something' and '1992 - The Love Album'.

In what is believed to be finality, Carter will be playing The Bearded Theory Festival in May 2014, followed by "The Last Tango In Brixton", their final ever shows in November 2014.

So there you go, a band formed out of necessity because no-one else turned up, a rapid rise, an influence on popular culture and clothing choice, a sign to a major label, loss of audience, splitting up, getting back together and refusing to stop.

If I was asked (and I have been once!) to recommend an entry point to Carter USM which isn't '30 Something' (my default choice), I would suggest this early track:

"Re-Educating Rita":

 ... and Cover Versions.
Carter USM, on the B-Side of their singles, often did a tasty line in re-interpreting other peoples songs.  Choices include: "Rent", "Everybody's Happy Nowadays", "Bedsitter", "Panic" and "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight".
This particular cover was on the B-Side of Allan Kleins favourite Carter USM single - "This Is How It Feels":

Monday 5 May 2014


My computer (the very thing that I'm sitting in front of, and typing this drivel) has seen better days.
It is now about 5 years old, and whilst not exactly had a hard life, it is basically dying on its arse.
The disk is nowhere near full, I try and keep the crud and rubbish that accumulates down to a minimum, yet it still takes 20 odd minutes to start up properly, and even then has a habit of flashing up a 'Not Responding' message or just spending ages thinking about starting a simple task.
Considering most technologies are supposedly redundant the day they leave the factory, 5 years is a pretty good life by modern standards.  But it is now too damn slow, too annoying, and I'm to lazy to do things like upgrade the hard disk or add peripheral memory (it was cheap when I bought it, and is effectively disposable/replaceable anyway, why would I invest my valuable lazing-about time in making it work any better, when I may as well just buy a new box.
(This is my way with most things of comparatively low value.  Although, I am informed that this principle is NOT ALLOWED to be applied to marriage)

So, off I go with the help of Google to find a replacement.
First consideration: Laptop or Desktop - well, according to Mrs D I'm having a laptop, so decision made (I would argue, but I value my kidneys (and other things) in the place they're supposed to be.
I did ask "why?"
"So you don't spend all your time sitting in that crap-hole upstairs, and we can get rid of that stupid oversized desk and get a bit of space in that room" was the succinct reply *

* OK, I admit it - the desk in this room is about the size of a Science Laboratory work bench (minus the gas outlet for a bunsen burner, and what am I going to do with the mass of accumulated dross in the drawers?

Thing is, I've never got on with laptops - I find them uncomfortable to use, the keyboard is cramped, I can't get on with the mouse pad thing, and the sound is always lacking any depth, definition and is horribly tinny.
So a compromise has been reached.  Yes it will be a laptop that replaces this large, ailing box, but I will supplement the purchase with a docking station, hence retaining the larger screen a decent set of speakers and a proper mouse.

So I'm searching for "laptop" - not an obviously problematic search string, but it did give me information regarding some potentially interesting pubs and clubs involving dancing.
Once I managed to tear myself away from this revelation, I was consumed by the options available and the number of companies that would help my part with my cash.
To be honest, they are all much of a muchness.  As long as I can connect to the internet, send e-mails, maintain my CD databsase, and continue to compose meandering missives such as this, I'll be happy (maybe with the addition of the odd picture of a nudie lady and the opening times for a newly discovered 'Gentlemans Entertainment' members club in the local area).

Great, I now have a variety of options, different manufacturers, various specifications, even different colours - but they are all just pictures.
Being the old school, curmudgeonly dullard that I am, I want to experience the physicality and tactility of the product.  I would like to go in a shop and fiddle with the thing, before I invest.  Check out the actual size, the weight, the available add-ons and peripherals.  (Vaguely) knowledgeable staff to assist in the purchase would be helpful too (although this is not always a guarantee in many shops).
So off I trundled to PC World, and then trundled back feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the whole experience.
With many retailers falling away from the High Street, it seems the only other obvious physical shopping option I may have is John Lewis (which can sometimes feel overpriced and minimally stocked), Argos (where you are not allowed to see the product until you have actually bought it or a Tecomorrisonsasdasainsbury Enormo-Market.  Everything you want under one roof.  But how can you take confidence from a store with a product range that includes dog food, toys, birthday cards and Home Insurance.  Call me a moaning old git, but that range just seems too diverse to me.  Where's the specialism, the knowledge, the trust?
"Pile it high, and sell it cheap" - that is the business strategy at play here - why would a consumer be interested in anything else but price?
I'm not a complete naysayer - on-line shopping is a fine method.  But it should not be, as it is fast becoming, the only method.  Certainly not for big ticket items.

However, I think I'm left with little choice here - more research, perhaps a reliance on know retailers and manufacturers (always the best advice, rather than passing your Credit Card Details to Ripemovski Retail in Uzbekastan), and an on-line purchase it will have to be.

The obvious track to go with this mild rant about shopping experiences would by "Why Can't I Touch It" by Buzzcocks (note: no definitive article).  But instead, a song about the glories (or otherwise) of shopping for everything under one roof.
Ground floor Shoppers Paradise
Haberdashery, needles, spoons and knives
Knuckle-dusters, glass jaws and wooden hearts

Spend your money girls on sprays and lipsticks
Tested on bunnies, girls, strays and misfits
Ozone friendly rape alarms
For those blinding dates
Another summer of hate

It's the top shop for the tired and rundown
Going up for the final comedown
First and second floors, third and fourth world wars
We've got a free pair of flares
With every hip replacement
Just take the stairs to the bargain basement
Babies bottles full of the milk of human kindness

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls
The big shop is open it's a wonderful world

Top floor Shoppers Paradise
We've got a drunk Father Christmas and the Antichrist
There's nothing of value, so there's no VAT
We're going S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G
We take Visa, Access, American Excess
Patched-up, hand-me-down, second to next best
Clothes for all ages, mothers and babies

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls
The big shop is open it's a wonderful world

Going down for all the things you missed
All the love. peace and happiness that don't exist
We've got enpsychopaedias we've got pic 'n' fix
A government freezer full of benefits
A childrens assortment, we're bigger than Hamleys
We've got Cabbage Patch orphans from Sylvanian Famlies
Carpets, Iinoleum, holy petroleum,
Chemi-kaze killers, little Hitlers and Napoleans
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls
The big shop is open and the world
Is wonderful

Written by: Carter/Morrisson
From: Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine - 30 Something (1991)