We’ve been fans of Sergeant Buzfuz for such a long time that I can’t quite put my finger on exactly when their wonderful indie folk musings first crossed our paths, though there’s a good chance that it involved the ever ace Blang Records, which is run by Buzfuz frontman Joe Murphy and is responsible for releases from a slew of Joyzine faves including Thomas Truax, David Cronenberg’s Wife, Sterling Roswell and Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences.
Their latest LP, which if we’ve counted correctly is their seventh, Fox Pop, continues the fine form of its predecessors, wrapping a fiery political core inside layers of charming, playful, psychedelic folk-pop. We asked Joe to take us on a tour of the album, track by track.
1 There’s Idiots, Then There’s Idiots With Money
I was imagining being at one of those Mansion House dinners when the Chancellor gets summoned to report to the City. The first title was “Murders And Acquisitions” until Stu (slide guitar) said that’s from American Psycho. I thought this was a B side but it started to come alive in rehearsal. This is the first Buzfuz album with Ian (drums) and Joss (bass) in the engine room, they work really well together and this is a great example. Then in the studio I suggested a 12345 backing vocal on the chorus and Joss came up with a fantastic harmony which really lifted the chorus. William (mandolin/guitar) transformed the track further with his electric guitar. He left a gap in the instrumental section and I wanted some flute there, partly because it’s the last thing you expect. We’re lucky to have Eilish (piano/organ/violin/flute/whistle) in the band colouring different songs in different shades. Beth and La from the Blang label, having never made a video before, stepped up to the challenge and made a great kick-ass film. Everything just seemed to fall into place with this track, transforming what I thought a B side into the lead track and first single.
2 Theresa McKee
“Any questions?” I asked after we ran through it in one rehearsal. “Yeah” said Ian, “what the Hell is it about?” I explained why TM needs new clothes. I then wondered if the words were too oblique but Joss has since said he likes the subtlety of them. Ian used to say this was like a Postcard Records B side. Which of course is a huge compliment. In the studio Jon (Clayton, our producer) thought I should sing it in a higher key so we tried it four keys higher. “It’s pop” said Jon and Ian. I just about managed it. Then everyone had to re-learn it.
3 The Tongues They Wag Away
One of those that went through a lot of changes and took me years to finish. There were four or five previous choruses, none of which were quite right. Eventually this one arrived which reminded me a bit of the Go-Betweens. A good example of the seven of us using space as the eighth instrument.
4 Who Art In Seven Hills / Rare & Racy
The first part is my rewrite of Ian Dury’s ‘The Bus Driver’s Prayer’ reinterpreted for Sheffield. Some people have said I mention two football grounds, which confuses me. I only know Hillsborough as an area famous for its park and barracks.
Rare & Racy was a second-hand record and book shop in Sheffield which closed its doors a few years ago when its lease ended and the council approved developers’ plans to turn it into flats . It’s where I bought all my early albums as a schoolkid. Duodecimo Tome refers to a size of book and was the legend beneath the shop’s name on the stamp printed on your inner sleeve. I thought of a saxophone intro in homage to the shop’s soundtrack, always some kind of atmospheric jazz record. But once Eilish had played the piano part it sounded complete. As William observed when he said he didn’t need to play on this one. In recent years I’ve experimented with alt tunings, this is written in DADGAD.
5 Clouds In Your Eyes
We first tried this at a rehearsal only me, Ian and Stu were able to make. So Ian didn’t bother hiring cymbals, which prompted him to play the rolling tom tom pattern which fitted the mood perfectly, along with Stu’s slide seagull noises, which went with the song imagery. Jon bought a second-hand 12 string acoustic guitar for the studio on eBay and William picked it up and tried it on this, adding some lovely evocative parts. We then used that 12 string on a bunch of other tracks and he’s since bought one. The band’s sound is always progressing and the latest move is William moving from his ‘ice cream van’ mandolin sound to 12 string. From ice cream van to caravan. A good sparse arrangement. Also in DADGAD.
6 Rear View Mirror
Another I thought would be a B side. But it turned out well. I love the organ. We had a song years ago, ‘Kay Malone’, about a bratty actor who thinks she’s edgy and anti-establishment but she’s just into drink and drugs. The guy in this is kind of a male equivalent, but a musician.
7 Fill In The Blanks
I had fun writing this. It ended up with seventeen verses, which is quite a lot. When Joss first heard me sing it live solo he thought it was too long but it’s now one of his favourites. We had to think about structuring it. The organ is great and links it with the previous track. If we ever have the money to make this album on vinyl this is the start of side two. I’ve just realised both sides would start with songs about bankers. The fantastic bass went on last in the studio and really propels it.
8 Your Time Is Tomorrow
We never rehearsed this before recording it. Had I at least tried it out live solo I might have noticed it was a bit high for my voice and transposed it down. After I’d done my vocal I thought Polly (bvs) should sing it. I liked the way The Pogues, The Triffids and The Velvet Underground would sometimes switch to female voice. Because we’d already recorded it Polly had no choice of key and she feels it’s too low for her but everyone else thinks she sounds great, her voice adds mystery. Before lockdown there was an idea to re-record it as a single with the key moved up from C to D and brass taking the violin/mandolin parts, which was how it sounded in my head originally. Not sure if that’ll happen now…. Me, Ian and Joss recorded the main parts first and left a big gap in the middle. I have great faith in these musicians to come up with ideas on the hoof in the studio and William came up with an inspired 12 string part. I think this is William’s favourite from the album. I want to do more like this with Polly singing the main vocal and me doing a Chris Difford-style low octave.
9 The Years Dressed In Gold
I think this is my favourite chord sequence of anything I’ve done. It’s a personal song and I can’t remember writing it. I wanted an Irish flavour and Eilish added a great whistle line. This album has a lot of variety, especially side two. I kind of wish side two was the first side now. Side one has the obvious ones which grab you on first hearing but side two has more of the growers I think.
10 In The Folds Of Her Robe
In early rehearsals this had a light Byrdsy feel, emphasised by some of the high chords I was pealing out in DADGAD, then it got heavier and had an improv section which got Doorsy. In search of a middle 8 me and Joss added a new chord sequence one night in his kitchen. We liked the direction chords took it into but it still needed something on top. In the studio we initially left that section empty (yet again). Polly had the idea of backing vocals and she, Joss and I layered the choir section. Sometimes explaining a lyric amplifies meaning and sometimes it narrows it.
11 Back To The Willow
Without intention this came out with a country feel. Another in my catalogue of songs about guys from Ireland coming to try their luck over here. More great 12 string twang. This is in another tuning entirely, which is a pain onstage. People have really liked this the few times we’ve played it live. The Willow is a fictional area somewhere on the Irish coast.
Fox Pop is out now on Blang Records
Introduction by Paul Maps