The book describes itself as ‘bonkers’ and that’s a good word. Ridiculous is another, but I like a world that is full of those things. This is the last in a series of books dealing with real letters sent to musicians based usually on misconstrued lyrics, along with all the hilarious replies. Whereas in the past the bands tended to be more your household name types, this time the Philpott’s have shone a light into the darkest recesses of the indie scene, and, perusing the list at the top of the book, show up a plethora of half-forgotten names that rode the landscape like outlaws, avoiding the indie landfill of Britpop (TM). Bands like The Pooh Sticks and Thousand Yard Stare appear here, along with my own band Ultrasound.
The idea is simple, write a letter to a band or artist taking umbrage over some misheard lyric, getting the wrong end of the stick and beating them around the head with it, then sit back and wait for the reply. Obviously most bands have got wise to the joke and play along with it, with hilarious results. Here we have Flowered Up moaning about the gentrification of Camden for example, and Spacemen 3 explaining the practical difficulties associated with space travel.
The Philpott’s take great pains in their missives to try and reference as many songs/lyrics/titles as possible, and bands like Catherine Wheel throw just as many back at them, like a cultural slanging match, while Salad get into a pun fest with their own name, spinning salad based puns and tossing them around eggs-austingly!
If there’s one thing that I hope for this book, once you have been thoroughly entertained that is and gone out and bought all the others, is that you might want to research the bands more. I mean I’ve heard of most of these bands and have a real fondness for the likes of David Devant & His Spirit Wife (whose reply is an eye opening history lesson about the origins of Sienna), but after reading the hilariously confused ramblings of The Cravats, which for some reason brings to mind a crazed H.G Wells character, and hearing The Orchids‘ Edwardian ramblings about taking their cat for a stroll in the park in a pram, really makes me want to hear more of their strange worlds, and I for one am glad to know they are all out there somewhere. The Wolfhounds reply is a masterpiece of modern prose, and The Jasmine Minks provide an essay on their own obscurity.
One question that springs to my mind though is why do say many of these replies sound as if they have been dashed off by well to do Victorian gentlemen using pen and ink in between heavy bouts of laudanum use? I mean Monsoon Bassoon, Boo Hewerdine, The Sea Urchins…the list goes on. Do these people all still live as if they were Lord Byron himself? Curious
I also very much enjoy the use of synonyms of band names, like when they change The Brilliant Corners into The Remarkable Right Angles, The Cracking Crannies, and The Top Notch Nooks all in the space of one letter, changing Monsoon Bassoon into the Cyclone Saxophone or The Cloudburst Clarinet and The Sea Urchins into The Briny Beggars, all perfectly acceptable names in their own right of course and, in the changing of The Longpigs into Pulled Pork, bordering on genius.
I didn’t expect poignant from a book that is mostly tongue in cheek but the reply from The Woodentops just blew me away with its honest depiction of the rise of the band from humble beginnings to even more humble heights, but the description of some of their more remembered songs being ‘older than any dog could live’ really spoke to me.
There’s a lot to love here and it’s so good to have the little man (and woman) represented so well, and, if like me, you haven’t heard these bands, then there’s always Bandcamp/Spotify/Youtube/Discogs and who knows you might discover a new world. It’s a shame this is the last in the series as I’d like to see them delving even deeper into obscurity perhaps. Maybe a Prog special, or even better just a whole book of letters to The Woodentops!
Do yourself a favour and buy the book here