Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The Larks UK - The Larks (1984)


  

I literally last heard this group in 1982, when they played in Canterbury, where they and I studied. They started out as a four piece with singer Tommy Barlow also playing the saxophone. I remember watching them play in front of about twenty people one night at Canterbury Art College. They started off doing punk covers, like "Blitzkreig Bop", "I Fought The Law", "Jimmy Jazz" and (I think), "Armagideon Time". I hadn't realised that they had carried on for several years after leaving Canterbury, (with all their own songs by then). I found them by doing a search on them as one of their songs had been in my head for 36 years (no joke). More of that later.

On to the music - "But You" is very influenced by Stiff Little Fingers, particularly a track of theirs called "The Only One" in that white reggae fashion, while "Bring Me His Head On A Plate" has a mysterious, almost post punk brooding atmosphere to it and Barlow singing in his best haughty New Romantic style. Actually, I really like it. "Selling Programmes" is a very late seventies instrumental, with some excellent saxophone from Barlow. "Marine Boy" is a bit ropey, and "It's Hard" is a typical new wave-ish number with that distinctive drum sound. Sort of like The Buzzcocks with saxophone. "I'm Still Mad About Rex" is sort of Department S-ish. "I Don't Know, What About You" is Ramones-esque but with some Stranglers vocals and X-Ray Spex saxophones.

No, on to the song that has been in my head all those years. It is "At The Takeaway" and that introductory "da-da, da/da/da - dah" bass and sax riff. I have often found myself singing it to myself in the showers, even now, particularly the line about being kicked out of the "Lok Yin" Chinese Restaurant and "Fisher Tower" (which was an all girls hall of residence that brings back particularly good memories for me). Great memories. I never thought there was a way of getting that track. I didn't think it had been recorded. I just remember seeing them play it live.

  

This review is for this EP of studio recordings, but there are also several Larks live recordings now available, these are excellent. "Live in Leicester" is excellent. They actually went on to expand their line up and brought in a brass section so they sounded like Dexy's Midnight Runners meets The Specials meets Bruce Foxton's solo work. They had a single called, bizarrely, "Billy Graham's Going To Heaven" (about late sixties US evangelist - why??). It has a killer brass riff that you can't help but singalong. It is derived from a classical piece but I can't place what. Another highlight from "Live In Leicester" (check it out, it is listed) is the brass/white reggae of "All Or Nothing Girl". The funky "Do I Dare?" is impressive too. "Ends And Means" is a "Magnificent Seven" Clash style rap number. "Where Do They Go From Here?" has them going all Joy Division, would you believe.

I love the punchy, horn-driven "Innocent Man" too. "Oh Jane" is sort of Style Council meets Level 42. Great stuff. "Just Like You" is a clear Ramones steal, though.

While singer Tommy Barlow did not have the greatest voice around (that's an understatement), the guy could play sax and he had a lot of charisma. Guitarist Mark Bannister was a Ramones fan and he had the look, while drummer Dave Eastgate was surprisingly dextrous and rhythmic at times. Listening to their 84-86 recordings I was seriously impressed how much his drumming had come on since the early days when I remember seeing them. Overall, these live albums demonstrate what a good live act they became for a while. I wish I had got to see them live again in those later years, but I hadn't realised they had carried on. They never got a recording contract which was a pity as they deserved one by the sound of it, particularly in comparison with some of the dross that did put stuff out back then. Great memories. Thanks lads.

C+


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