13. Butthole Surfers, Shamen, AR Kane. Clarendon, 6th August 1987.
Me and Wal were spending our hard earned at Record and Tape Exchange in Camden one sunny day when they started playing this insane freaky noise over the stereo at ear splitting volume. It was all screaming and deranged swamp funk guitars and mad samples and a whole bunch of other stuff that we didn’t even know what it was. It was ace.
Wal was considerably braver than me, so went up and asked the notoriously bullish staff what it was. He came back a few minutes later, looking chuffed. “It’s the Butthole Surfers! But they haven’t got anything by them for sale here!” Wal got his copy of “Locust Abortion Technician” as soon as was humanly possible (I suspect we scoured London for it that same day) and taped it for me. He gradually amassed a little stack of similarly wackily named albums like “Cream Corn From The Socket of Davis” (click that link for my man over at expletive undeleted and his take on all this).
We spent a short time trying to figure out what the hell it was all about before our earnestness dissolved in fits of giggles. The Buttholes were fucking mental and they rocked. Even saying their name out loud was fucking brilliant – annoying parents and rugby playing twats in equal measure. Only freaks liked the Butthole Surfers – and that was fine by us.
Inevitably Peter Rehberg had got there before us and played me the Buttholes video “Blind Eye Sees All”. From what I can remember it featured chaotic live performances mashed up with certifiably insane dialogue. “They’re playing soon – do you fancy going?”
AR Kane I can’t remember anything about. We were more excited at the prospect of having seen both John Peel and Coil lurking about the venue. With hindsight I should have payed more attention.
My cassette version of The Shamen‘s debut LP “Drop” (official release, not TDK business!) hasn’t aged well, so I can only check out the first two tracks on each side before terminal tape wobble sets in. But tunes like “Something About You” have aged remarkably well – partly I suppose because of the debt they owe to “timeless” influences like Syd Barrett. Most of their songs were either about drugs or women or both, but there is a good one tearing into Thatcher and the tabloids also.
Between songs The Shamen berated us soft southerners for re-electing Maggie a few months previously when their native Scotlandhad rejected her. The group were still in pre-dance indie psychedelia mode. It’s easy to forget this incarnation in the face of their later chart success, but as Paul Meme says in the comments below – 1987 was something of a crucible for alternative UK music. In retrospect it is clear that some people were yearning for acid house before it was invented, almost willing it into being.
My regular readers will recall that the NME’s “Steal It” issue had appeared about a month before this gig. Copyright-violating anthem “Pump Up The Volume” by MARRS was released a few days before the Clarendon bash. MARRS included members of Colourbox and… AR Kane! The tune would be a seminal point in the pre-history of UK acid house. “Pump…” is also rumoured to be a key influence on The Shamen’s evolution. Backstage chats that night may have been interesting…
Whilst writing this I also dragged out their 1989 indie/acid crossover album “In Gorbachev We Trust”. It’s a weird hybrid with guitars sharing space with 808 bleeps. “Rasberry Infundibulum” could be off “Drop”, but the sampledelic single “Jesus Loves America (But I Don’t Love Either)” points to the way forward, controversial lyrics with biting pop backing. I’d forgotten how great they were pre-“Ebeneezer Goode”.
The Butthole Surfers did not disappoint. They were properly deranged. Sweat, strobes, smoke and a slideshow featuring all manner of strangeness. An emaciated woman dancing about naked. Surreal banter. Walls of whacked out psychedelic noise. Much weirder than Big Black, and the condensed sweat rained down off the Clarendon ceiling just as hard. Cathartic.
A few months later Wal and I were in the Virgin Megastore. The in-house DJ was having a charity-thon in which he’d do requests. We scratched around in our pockets for some loose change for a donation. Then Wal (still the braver half of our intrepid duo) took him the shop’s copy of “Locust Abortion Technician”. We could barely conceal our glee when the announcement rang out over the Megastore’s PA: “This is dedicated to the young man with red hair who just popped in and didn’t give his name. He’s assured me there’s no bad language in it…”
Around this time I also found out that I had completely fucked up my ‘A’ levels. Partly because I’d spent too much time sitting in my room listening to music and reading books out of the library, and partly because I’d ended up on an academic treadmill of hard science and just couldn’t hack it.
My mates generally did a load better and were flush with the excitement of heading off to Universities in big cities while I lurked in suburbia. Uncertainty had been injected into my life in large doses. With the prospect of an indefinite period of time in the parental home stretching in front of me, some things started to snap.
I began to have a lot more arguments. I got more politicised. The increasingly strange array of post I was getting was also a source of concern. The shelf of records got longer, the pile of fanzines got higher. Walls I built up around myself. I wasn’t going anywhere.
Recollections of a Butthole Surfers gig in New Jersey, 1987. (link courtesy of Agent Bauer).