Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Serpent Beguiled Me

Despite the unofficialness of this album, this is, in my very 'umble, without doubt the greatest of Snakefinger's catalogue.
Peaking ain't the word; this performance is magnificent and mindblowing; captured superbly on one of the best quality boots you'll ever hear.

Snakefinger, probably more widely known through surreal visual imagery than his music, was a London lad known to his mum and dad as Philip. And after a few years during the 1970s playing in Pub Rock bands (mainly Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers), Snakey (as I shall now affectionately refer to him) found himself in San Francisco.

Something had obviously happened to Snakey on his journey from London to the West Coast of America; something that radically changed his attitude to music, as once he was settled in San Francisco he soon teamed up with The Residents and began touring and recording with the ever-so-experimental eyeball fixated surrealists.

Ralph Records became his artistic home, and his brilliant debut Chewing Hides the Sound was released by Ralph in 1979.

This boot was recorded in Melbourne in 1980, and captures Snakefinger promoting new material from his second album Greener Postures and performing the best of the bunch from Chewing.

He states during the recording that this is the "first gig" [on the Australian tour], but you really wouldn't know unless he'd told you.
The band are incredibly tight; just check out the spacing during 'Living in Vain'; and the bass playing on 'Don't Lie' is simply phenomenal; not to mention Snakey's vocal delivery; it really does sound like he's experiencing some kind of epiphany as he belts out the words.
No mean feat, sincerity.
James Brown: eat your heart out!

You also get the sense on this recording as to just how English Snakey was; not just because you hear him speak (although I just love his preamble to the sinisterly strange 'Picnic in the Jungle':

"Afterwards it's like a dream.
You can't remember but it seems to stay alive inside your mind
and prey upon your leisure time."

Makes a very strange song seem even stranger) but there's something else; something about his structuring; something about his lyrics:

"I used to have a Grandma
She always called me dear
Never knew her purpose
Only knew her atmosphere"

I really don't know why, but those lyrics could only come from an English writer.

But of course Snakey is really all about the guitar (although his violin skills were also considered to be of the level of a virtuoso), and his playing on this recording is blistering.
Whether it's wigging out in a Paul Leary-like manner; noodling like Lol Creme; chugging along like Fred Sonic Smith; or playing some mean Kingston-stylee reggae licks: Snakey's hot; there's not a bum note here; and as a consequence every track matters.

For me, mainly because I love Chewing Hides the Sound so much, the tracks he performs from that album are the true highlights.
'I Love Mary' sounds even more bizarre played live; and you would have thought Snakey had nailed it on his studio album, but here the magnificent Asian styled psychedelic surf number (I know... you've got to hear it) sounds so good you just want it to go on and on. And as for 'Jesus Was a Leprechaun', well, words can't do it.

But Snakey's true masterpiece is definitely his pseudo-Jamaican styled 'Kill the Great Raven', a song of great poetry; an anthem of a song celebrating the defeat and destruction of darkness by light.
And I really like the way he shouts "I and I kill the mighty raven" before he launches into his cracking solo.

Despite the similes I used to describe his playing earlier, Snakefinger was unique.
Not only as guitarist but as a composer and performer as well.

He 'was' unique; and that's a great shame.
Snakefinger left us in 1987.
He was thirty-eight years old.

And that's the one sour note about this recording, for it was on this tour that he suffered a massive heart attack, one that was to put him out of action for nearly two years.

He did go on to make more music, forming the Vestal Virgins and releasing several albums with them, but he never bettered his earlier work.

And it was on tour once again, in 1987, this time in Austria, that he suffered another heart attack; this time fatal.

What Snakefinger left was a gift.
And if he craved what motivates so many artists, that being immortality, well, I think he deserves it.
So let's give it to him.
Snakefinger is dead: Long Live Snakefinger!

Snakefinger - Melbourne University 1980

Trashing All Loves of History
Don't Lie
Living in Vain
Magic and Ecstacy
I Love Mary
The Golden Goat
Picnic in the Jungle
Kill the Great Raven
Corrupted Man
Man in the Dark Sedan
Who is the Culprit and Who is the Victim
Jesus Was a Leprechaun
What Wilbur
The Spot
Everybody Needs Somebody to Love

CD rip to mp3s
Beguile yourself here


Mona said...

Whoo-Hoo...I did manage to catch Snakefinger in Melbourne (with The Residents) a couple of months after I got out here in 86...the t shirt is still in one piece too!

-d said...

is there a track missing on this? the first track 'Trashing All Loves Of History' is labeled 2 of 16? just curious. I'm excited to listen to this on the bus tomorrow. as always, thanks....

roy rocket said...

Mona, you lucky devil.
You have been about a bit, have you not?

On the original source, track one consisted of some crowd noise and a kind of disco hit playing in the background, followed by tuning.
This isn't credited as a track on the cover which merely refers to track one 'Trashing All Loves of History' as being what is track 2 on the CD.
I'm not sure why this track appears separately; it's like a bonus track - but of the worst kind - but at the beginning of the album rather than the end - maybe it's conceptual [man!].
Anyway, when I copied from the original source I decided not to bother with what came up as track one because it was a lot of nothing.
I realise that may be sacrilegious to completists; but no music is lost or missing.
And after all that. I hope you enjoy it...

Shanti, roy

Mona said...

Not really as I haven't moved from here in Melbourne since 1986 LOL!

roy rocket said...

Fair nuff.
Or should I say: fair dinkum...

infinite fool said...

So I was listening to Chewing Hides the Sound and I began to wonder what this guy sounds like live.

Captain Crawl was down, so I figured I'd check here.

"Roy Rocket might have something," I sez to myself.

It's not often I'm right, so thanks for making me feel good about myself... and for the music, of course. Can't wait to hear it.

roy rocket said...

I hope you're not disappointed... What!
You won't be!

roy rocket said...

Link Fixed!