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The Zutons

While most post-Britpop combos were referencing the homegrown class of ’77 or C-86 indie times, this Scouse quintet clearly had their heads and shoulders buried in the outer limits of cosmic West Coast psychedelia, patenting a sound haunted by the echoes of SPIRIT, LOVE and early STEVE MILLER BAND. The very fact that their moniker was inspired by former CAPTAIN BEEFHEART/MAGIC BAND member Zoot Horn Rollo, suggested The ZUTONS were coming from a freakier place than their peers. One song in particular, `Valerie’, proved to be both a catalyst and a proverbial albatross around their necks when adopted and propelled to No.2 in 2007 by uptown funk/pop stirrer MARK RONSON and his ill-feted guest accomplice AMY WINEHOUSE.
Founded 2001 in Liverpool, England, ex-Tramp Attack member Dave McCabe (vocals/guitar) befriended Boyan Chowdhury (lead guitar), Russell Pritchard (bass) and former Big Kids ally Sean Payne (drums), and were soon playing at venues all around the city. To add to their originality and nuance, the latter’s girlfriend Abi Harding played saxophone during a couple of early shows, and soon became an integral fifth-member cog in all their stage and studio sessions.
Sharing a label at Alan Wills’ Deltasonic and a retro sensibility with fellow Liverpudlians The CORAL, The ZUTONS’ career got off to a fairly humble beginning via exclusive singles, `Devil’s Deal’, `Creepin’ An’ A Crawlin’’ and freebie download, `Haunts Me’.
Then in early 2004, the northern space cadets zapped their way into the mainstream with the stress-heavy, feisty funk of `Pressure Point’ making a serious dent in the Top 20. The “Dropout Boogie”-esque `You Will You Won’t’ hurtled into a similar position and paved the milky way for Mercury-nominated debut chart album, WHO KILLED…… THE ZUTONS {*9}. Produced by indie veteran Ian Broudie and opening with the sax-psychotic `Zuton Fever’ (worth playing riff-to-riff with ELECTRIC SIX’s inimitable `Gay Bar’), the set crammed in the hits and generating subsequent singles, `Remember Me’, `Don’t Ever Think (Too Much)’ – available as an addendum on the hasty re-issued version – and `Confusion’, the readjusted album was picked up by Epic Records over in the US. The superb set also got a chart boost from TV ad licensing, with both `Pressure Point’ and the ozone lullaby of `Confusion’ soundtracking Levi jeans and Peugeot cars respectively.
Taking a breath of fresh air in 2005, The ZUTONS returned the following spring with the Stephen Street-produced sophomore set, TIRED OF HANGING AROUND (2006) {*7}. Less paranoid and more contemporary friendly, the mod-meets-garage-esque Top 3 record carried its usual quota of hits, kicking off with `Why Won’t You Give Me Your Love?’; signature tune, `Valerie’, also dented the Top 10, though the response for `Oh Stacey (Look What You’ve Done!)’ and `It’s The Little Things You Do’ was a little more subdued.
Bypassing the suggestion that Boyan Chowdbury’s guitar on `Valerie’ borrowed heavily from the intro of TEARS FOR FEARS’ `Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ (forgiven possibly when RONSON and WINEHOUSE usurped the Scousers version), The ZUTONS returned to Top 10 form by way of the George Drakouilas-produced YOU CAN DO ANYTHING (2008) {*6}. Absent of Boyan, whose berth was filled by Paul Molloy (ex-Skylarks, ex-STANDS), mixed reviews for the band’s further slide into rock/pop terrain left a bitter taste for McCabe and Co to comprehend. And whilst the glam-friendly `Always Right Behind You’ reached Top 30 status, the AMEN CORNER-esque `What’s Your Problem’ was a total flop.
When Sony/BMG did not renew their contract in the midst of a world recession, The ZUTONS took an unannounced sabbatical thereafter. First to feel the pinch, Pritchard subsequently left to join NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS, whilst Molloy joined solo act Candie Payne (Sean’s sister), prior to forming Serpent Power, with The CORAL’s Ian Skelly; Sean Payne, meanwhile, augmented MILES KANE.
Controversy then surrounded main man McCabe, when in September 2012, he was found guilty of assault by headbutting a 23 year-old student; his penance was by way of a community order and a hefty fine plus costs. As Dave McCabe & The Ramifications, 2015 saw the dispatch of his electro-rock set, `Church Of Miami’ (2015). Meanwhile, Abi joined LIGHTNING SEEDS.
The ZUTONS finally re-formed in 2018 after a brief reunion gig a few years earlier…
© MC Strong 2004-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2019

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