Friday, January 13, 2012

Caught in a musical timeweb

In 1977, I went a few times to concerts at the Roundhouse in Camden Town, London. In those days, the bill would feature three groups with hopefully some form of compatibility between them. One Sunday, the bill was headlined by Van der Graaf Generator supported by two punk/pubrock groups (the 101ers, including Joe Strummer, who went on to The Clash). I have never seen such an antagonistic audience (including myself shouting 'Get off!' at the support); someone made a mistake with that bill!

In June 1977 I saw Caravan play, supported by an otherwise unknown group called City Boy. Actually, I had heard the name before: in 1975, I started reviewing lps for my university's newspaper and received in the course of my duties records and information packs about upcoming acts, including the above mentioned City Boy. Their information sheet must not have been too attractive as I elected not to ask for their record.

Anyway, in my opinion, City Boy blew Caravan off the stage. A few days after the concert, I bought their current record (their second) called 'Dinner at the Ritz', and a few months later I bought their third album, called 'Young men gone west'. I dimly recall  finding their eponymous debut album at Swiss Cottage library and taping it.

Fast forward to the 2000s and the cd age: I managed to find a compilation cd by City Boy called 'Anthology' which contained a melange of tracks from all their albums, presented with no logical order. Finally in the past few days I managed to locate the original albums, after which I burned a copy of the eponymous album in order to listen to it in the car on the way to studies (It seems that most of their albums are now available on cd, which wasn't the case a few years ago).

The core of City Boy came from a semiprofessional folk group which played in the Birmingham area; some of the folk sound came through to the record, especially the opener ("Moonlight") and the closer ("Haymaking time"). Inbetween was a sound somewhere between pop and rock; they have been described as a mixture of 10cc and Queen.

The 10cc comparison comes mainly from the smart alec lyrics, written by singer Lol Mason (and funnily enough, 10cc had Lol Creme, LOL), whereas the Queen comparison probably comes from the amount of electric guitar liberally sprayed around the songs.

There are parts of the record which still hold up, 35 years after the event. I'm not one for screaming electric guitars, which makes listening to part of the record a bit difficult. But there are still some excellent songs which reward one. 'Dinner at the Ritz', as I recall, was even more guitar orientated (and featured the saxophone of David Jackson and voice of Peter Hammill on the eponymous track), whereas 'Young men gone west' was more laid-back and mellow. After these first three records, they aimed for a more pop/rock sound (hit single '5705') which I liked less and less.

I listened today to 10cc's 1976 record, "How dare you!"; whilst there might be grounds for comparing City Boy's lyrics to those of 10cc, 10cc leave City Boy in the dust from a musical point of view. City Boy had conventional and singable songs with conventional arrangements, whereas 10cc (in those days) were anything but. Unfortunately, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, who were the anarchistic half of the group left at the end of 1976, and 10cc went on to be much more conventional.

Their 1977 offering, "Deceptive Bends" was a mixture, with only one song reaching the heights of their previous offerings ("Honeymoon with B troop") and a few others which were reasonable ("Good morning Judge" and frequently played hit, "The things we do for love").

One of the more annoying tracks on "Deceptive Bends" was an uptempo song called "You've got a cold". It so happens that one of the best songs on City Boy's debut album was called "Doctor Doctor", which covers a similar lyrical topic (only better) and has a killer bass riff (as does "You've got a cold"). I wondered then (and now) whether 10cc even knew of the City Boy song when they recorded their song.

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