Early-Gallon Drunk Reissued

In this digital age, where nothing can supposedly ever be truly deleted from existence, it’s still a strange scenario to find key musical works of historical importance and influence no longer officially available to experience. For all the gargantuan momentum behind vintage albums being endlessly resurrected, remastered, reissued and reshuffled, there’s still an infinite amount of music to be rediscovered for archival posterity. Quite how the likes of Neil Young’s Times Fades Away, Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue, Grant Hart’s Intolerance, John Cale’s Fragments of a Rainy Season, American Music Club’s California, Madder Rose’s Panic On and countless others remain unavailable is still largely a mystery.

Until recently, the early-works of Gallon Drunk were also filed next to such misplaced artefacts. A situation that has grown increasing galling with the band’s lukewarm latter-day long-players – namely 1999’s ponderous Black Milk and 2002’s somewhat forgettable Fire Music – being the only things still floating around to represent a dwindled-legacy. Furthermore, with Gallon Drunk’s sonic templates – as well as penchant for loud Hawaiian shirts and razor-sharp quiffs – having been endlessly leached on by the likes of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Clinic, Rocket From The Crypt and Morphine, the continued absence of Gallon Drunk’s original career-defining opening-salvos has been a travesty. Until now that is, as Gallon Drunk’s first three full-length releases have belatedly been given the long-deserved ‘deluxe’ reissue treatment, courtesy of Sartorial Records, the London label run by on/off/on band member Terry Edwards.

With such a momentous rebirth on the cards, it only seemed polite to cross-examine Tonite… The Singles Bar, You, The Night… And The Music and From The Heart of Town with the assistance of chief Drunkard James Johnston. So here goes…

Tonite… The Singles Bar (1992)

Although not technically a ‘proper’ album, this collection of Gallon Drunk’s early-singles and b-sides from 1988 to 1991, is/was certainly the best and only means to encapsulate the fiery formative line-up of James Johnston (vocals/guitar/keyboards), Mike Delanian (bass/percussion), Nick Coombes (drums) and Joe Byfield (maracas), that exploded gorily out from the underbelly of late-‘80s/early-‘90s British indie-malaise. Like a Molotov cocktail tossed into the crowd at a Slowdive concert, these London-dwellers certainly didn’t appeal to music-lovers of an overly-sensitive and fashion-driven disposition, but then that was probably part of the foursome’s bloody-minded battle plan anyway. Whilst drawing the ugly duckling straw of these three reissues, there’s still some truly tremendous stuff here to shred your speakers. The brutal Birthday Party-indebted snarling ‘n’ grinding of the “The Last Gasp (Safty)” and “Draggin’ Along” still possesses potent alcohol-sodden psychosis. The grave-robbing from primitive rock ‘n’ roll has lost none of its power, as testified on a brutally sluggish cover of Dick Dale’s signature-surf-tune “Miserlou” and by a rabid ravaging of the obscure rockabilly gem, “Please Give Me Something”. Throughout it all, a shared love of electro-punk pioneers Suicide is seeped into almost every available groove, most notably on two totally demented live tracks; one being a coruscating reinterpretation of The Silver Apples’ “Ruby” and the other being a swampy version of the eponymous “Gallon Drunk”. Some of the remaining material, like the murky dirge of “The Whirpool” and the utterly messy screech of “Snakepit”, hasn’t gained much extra in terms of listenability though, so this compendium is undoubtedly the third-priority (re)purchase, especially for the uninitiated.

James Johnston:
There was always a certain amount of friction in the original line-up, added to the fact that we wanted it to be as loose as possible anyway. If it ended up being a big mess – that was absolutely fine. We almost knew each other too well. It’s not that we didn’t take the music seriously; we just didn’t take each other seriously. I’d known Mike since school. Super-8 film-maker Nick Coombes I’d met through Mike when I was living in an adjacent bed-sit in Earl’s Court, having moved up from Guildford and then dropped out of a philosophy course, and Joe and I had been in a ridiculous band called Cow as teenagers. Everyone, except Mike, ended up living in a house in Turnpike Lane [in North London], where we eventually wound up using the living-room as a rehearsal space. Everyone fell into their roles in the band according to what instruments they happened to have available…regardless of whether they could actually play them particularly well or not. Song structure was very low down on our list of priorities at that point.

Reissue Extras:
The bonus material is a little disappointing on this new edition it’s a little sad to say. Whilst appending eight lo-fidelity live tracks from a 1993 US tour supporting PJ Harvey may have brought back good, albeit chaotic, memories for Johnston, it would have been far better to have snaffled-up a few missing compilation tracks and a previously released Peel session, to tell the full unabridged early-Gallon Drunk studio story.

You, The Night… And The Music (1992)

With drummer Nick Coombes replaced by the more dexterous Max Décharné, the quartet took a quantum leap forwards for this first complete studio set. Some fifteen or so years after its original release, You, The Night… And The Music continues to sound utterly transcendental, thrilling and borderline unique. And it remains one of the few records this writer can turn to when over-listening to music has bred contemptuous boredom. Its bubbling acid-bath of savage deconstructionist brilliance still exudes utter aural liberation. The nine original tracks maintain the feeling that the four group members had masterfully melted-down their collective record collections into a hot molten ‘anti-music’; with a blatant disregard for conventional song arrangements, only a cursory respect for understandable vocals/lyrics and broad dark self-destructive streak. From the sanguine scorned-lover garage-racket of “Some Fool’s Mess”, through the hard-Latin majesty of “Two Wings Mambo” and “Just One More”, via the mangled Mingus jazz of the vocal-less title-track and on to the closing Morricone mutations of “The Tornado”, this is an album of highlights, interrupted only by highlights. A red hot classic in short; both then and now.

James Johnston:
I’m happy for it to be listened to in any way whatsoever; we were simply making what we wanted to hear. We’d done so many singles so quickly that we’d run out of songs, so we started doing longer, more instrumental tracks like “Two Wings Mambo”, and more Latin and jazz-based noise. Our ‘difficult’ second album was our first one.

Reissue Extras:
Much better bonus material on this one; the definitive studio rendition of “Ruby”, a great unreleased instrumental entitled “All Mouth, No Trousers”, a delightfully disorientating remix of “Draggin’ Along” and four higher-grade live recordings from shows taped in Berlin and London.

From The Heart of Town (1993)

Essentially Gallon Drunk’s foreboding and cinematic story-teller album, From The Heart of Town charted Johnston’s temporary transformation into a vigorous and vivid lyricist, fixated with nefarious London underworld characters (“Jake On The Make”, “Arlington Road”), doomed urban romance (“Keep Moving On” and “Loving Alone”), blistering violence (“Not Before Time”) and booze-induced reverie (“Push The Boat Out”). Musically, the group matched Johnston’s sneered-out filmic narratives with a wider-screen musical accompaniment. Increasing the membership roll-call also helped to expand the Gallon Drunk palette. Well-selected new recruit Terry Edwards brought fantastic free-noise brass to the mix, as best exemplified on the aptly-named “Bedlam”, a glorious Funhouse-era Stooges homage. On the dolefully alluring “You Should Be Ashamed” Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier and Johnston’s ‘other-half’ Geraldine Swayne also dropped-in, to add luscious backing vocals. However, it’s Johnston’s mercurial guitar, organ and piano-playing that really drove the whole album along; embedding serrated hooks into “End of The Line”, scratching out scolding blues licks on “Jake On The Make”, attaching atypically pretty Hawaiian shimmers to “Loving Alone” and heightening the eerie ambience of the wordless “Paying For Pleasure”. With its near-perfect collision of savagery and sophistication as well as rawness and ambition, From The Heart of Town was rightly lauded upon on its original appearance, with a Mercury Music Prize nomination and intense critical acclaim. It’s just a tragedy that this incarnation of the band imploded with the departure of Décharné, following the never-ending touring before and after the LP’s launch – depriving us of a genuinely superior sequel ever since. But all in all, this is another masterpiece well-deserving of its no-longer ‘lost’ status.

James Johnston:
I wanted to do something related to London, more epic. Ultimately, the title and the cover is what really held it all together. The songs came first, and the title seemed to give the feeling of concept. We were living in London, and consequently writing about it. Most of the lyrics were written on a Dictaphone, wandering through town at night. I really wanted to do a London record, something that would really define the band… we all did, and it really helped with coming up with ideas. The studio, Elephant was fantastic. There was a huge 20ft plate reverb in there, a Hammond, pianos, a massive live room, all completely unkempt and held together with tape. The room sound was so incredible, really huge. If you stepped out of the door you were in Victorian London, Wapping still looked like something out of the Elephant Man at that point. There was an ancient stairway down to the bank of the Thames just next to studio, and the cobbled street outside was lined with empty warehouses. The atmosphere round there was incredible.

Reissue Extras:
Probably the best and more intriguing bonus material of the three re-releases; with highpoints including a wonderful acoustic take on Lee Hazlewood’s “Look At That Woman” (sung by brother Ian Johnston), the sublime instrumental glide of “The Amsterdam Run” and four truly awesome live cuts from the group’s hilariously high-profile 1992 US tour supporting Morrissey.

Visit: www.gallondrunk.com