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The Cravats

+ {The Very Things} + {DCL Locomotive} + {The Baby Men}

A demented musical cocktail of choppy, post-punk guitar, strange bleating sax and Vyvyan-of-“Young Ones”-style vocal exhortations, The CRAVATS were one of the era’s more out-there but interesting propositions. Described as jazz-punk colossals, or Britain’s answer to PERE UBU (bassist and later vocalist The Shend was remarkably similar to DAVID THOMAS or, indeed, Eraserhead!), the group were championed by John Peel, comedian Stewart Lee and ORBITAL’s Paul Hartnoll. And then there was off-shoot, The VERY THINGS – in a word… a… scream!
From Redditch in Worcestershire, STRANGLERS fans Nibbs (born Robin Dallaway) on vocals and guitar, and the aforementioned The Shend (born Chris Harz), roped in saxophonist Rick/Richard London (aka Svor Mann) – a replacement for Martin LeSey – and drummer Ethos Yapp (born John Yapp). As 1976 and ‘77 passed without much ado, The CRAVATS finally stepped up to plate the following July when self-financing (with £400 borrowed from Chris’s mum!) the glorious debut 7-inch, `Gordon’. Irony indeed… A tale about a criminally insane geezer who hatchets his domineering mother to death was made for night-time listening and, with The Shend’s idea of passing a copy on to John Peel (while he was in Stratford Upon Avon), was an inspired one. With subsequent airplay, a distribution deal was set up with Pete Stennett at his fledgling Small Wonder Records.
Not nearly as zany and manic as its predecessor, the Small Wonder-sanctioned `Burning Bridges’ had found another personnel change, with Dave Bennett filling the berth of Yapp, while the group’s pseudonymous fixation continued as Svor now adopted the brief moniker, Yehudi Storageheater. A hard group to pigeonhole, or to take as serious contenders to making something of themselves on the withering punk scene, third single `Precinct’ was nowhere to be seen on The CRAVATS’ near-accompanying debut LP, IN TOYTOWN (1980) {*8}.
Bolstered by their succeeding Peel Session (two would follow in August ’81 and November ’82), the album was greeted with healthy reviews, whilst listed in the indie Top 20. Side one tracks such as `Still’, `Welcome’, `Pressure Sellers’, the CRASS-like `X.M.P.’ and `All Around The Corner’, were as chaotic and disjointedly avant-garde as, say: Alexei Sayle interrupting their session.
Recorded at Bob Sargent’s Outlaw Studios in nearby Birmingham, liner notes were provided by long-time acolyte Mick Mercer (then scribe of the Panache Fanzine), but the inclusion of a faster edited version of `Gordon’ was a tad unnecessary. The remainder of side two (highlights `Tears On My Machine’, `All On Standby’ and `Triplex Zone’) were gloriously psycho-punk – words and phrases emphasized to the nth degree.
Whether a pastiche in the wake of JOY DIVISION or not, `You’re Driving Me’ was next off the Small Wonder chopping block, although many pundits could choose to flip the single over to the buzzing and fertile `I Am The Dreg’. 1981 came to a close with the head-bopping and howling `Off The Beach’ (b/w `And The Sun Shone’), but no further albums arose from Small Wonder; instead there were two 45s: `Terminus’ (for Dave Barker’s Glass Records) and the near-6-minute `Rub Me Out’ (for the CRASS team). The CRAVATS were subsumed under the wider banner of the mysterious Dada-Cravat Laboratory organisation. Svor had formed The PIG BROS prior to their final hatchet job, while Bennett had taken up with label mates, POISON GIRLS. The compilation of singles and odds-and-ends, THE COLOSSAL TUNES OUT (1983) {*7} signed off The CRAVATS in fine fettle – not quite!
Operating under a Dadaist criterion (influential 1920s French art movement), via various musical endeavours – including DCL LOCOMOTIVE (who covered The HOLLIES’ `King Midas In Reverse’), The CRAVATS DCL and The BABYMEN – the project’s most successful venture was The VERY THINGS. Comprising The Shend (now on lead vox), Sir Robin Raymond (aka Rev Arthur Asquith Asquith) and drummer Robin “Gordon Disney Time” Holland as the main core, this outfit debuted with a single, `The Gong Man’ (on the Corpus Christi label), before recording a John Peel session and signing to Reflex Records for the suitably bizarre debut album, THE BUSHES SCREAM WHILE MY DADDY PRUNES (1984) {*7}.
The group even secured a slot on legendary Channel 4 music show, The Tube, for the LP’s most comically horrific title track. Very reminiscent of Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s `Monster Mash’, with a side-serving of Dave Vanian/Lux Interior gardening with “Prince of Darkness” actor Boris Karloff on secateurs, the novelty piece was a John Peel Festive 50 fave and surely a one-that-got-away gem, waiting to be dug up by a fresher generation. Also embedded within this garden of unearthly delights, other hoots and howlers were the quickfire `The Conqueror’, the adrenalin-pumping `Down The Final Flight’ and the ghost-surf instrumental, `Information’. Sonic bass overriding The Shend’s dramatic monotone, `World Of Difference’ was another “Bushes Scream” cut off, or cut above the rest, whilst the Pickett fences of avant-garde came courtesy of `Message From Disney Time’.
Rolling back the “psycho”-billy mood of `Gordon’, VT’s 1985’s `Mummy, You’re A Wreck’ single played it strictly for the novelty value once again. Excavating the one-off CRAVATS DCL moniker for `The Land Of The Giants’ 12-inch EP jazz-punk outing, in 1986, The VERY THINGS duly re-emerged for a taste of the groovy `This Is Motortown’.
No show for The Shend , but room for Svor Naan, as The Baby Men ploughed through `For King Willy’, The VERY THINGS were dealt a setback when their cover of R. DEAN TAYLOR’s `There’s A Ghost In My House’ was shelved in May ’87, due to The FALL’s re-vamp being released into the charts almost simultaneously. The rpm’s of the disco-fied `Let’s Go Out!’ (the VT’s inaugural release on One Little Indian Records), was hardly compensation for their lack of output, although that was rectified for the underwhelming mini-set, MOTORTOWN (1988) {*5}, by which time the band had folded. The Shend subsequently shifted gear, formed Grimetime, and went into acting (Eastenders, The Bill, Red Dwarf, etc.).
Having earlier collaborated with Paul HARTNOLL on the `Séance’ single in 2007, The CRAVATS – The Shend and RR Dallaway – wiped away the cobwebs to appear at the Rebellion Punk Festival, in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and were caught off-guard when, a year on, healthy sales of their re-mastered debut set reached their pockets; the deluxe double-CD contained a bonus Penny Rimbaud (CRASS) re-working. Sadly, the news that former CRAVATS drummer Dave Bennett had died in 2012, only inspired the band further to keep going.
Back in the studio for the first time in over 30 years, and now with guitarist Viscount Biscuits (born Paul Simmons), bassist Joe 91 (born Joe Davin) and drummer Rampton Garstang (born Malcolm Rees) (ex-JOYCE McKINNEY EXPERIENCE, ex-IDENTITY), eccentric singer The Shend and saxophonist Svor Naan put together a bus-top video in March 2016 for their anti-government rant, `Jingo Bells’ (b/w `Batter House’).
© MC Strong 1999-2003/GRD series // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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