33. The Honeymooners – … and there they were

/Another fit of laughter, Mr Ridiculous, 1987

When – as from time to time is the case – weariness takes hold and it seems that all discovering is done, that there is nothing new under the sun, the past can come to the rescue.  It’s time to dig out that crate of 7 inch vinyl in the loft; their worn and dusty grooves are guaranteed to present the stylus with more of a challenge than it has had of late.  Or perhaps more deeply buried treasure from that box of tapes in the cellar, the ones which as often as not leave deposits of rust on the tape heads of the otherwise pristine and now seldom-used cassette deck.  A conversation with an old friend in a pub will perhaps have prompted the excavation – weren’t they great, whatever became of them? – and not for the last time you face the bittersweet feeling that music was never so exciting as when the discoveries were among the first you made, and that even the laudable new cannot compete with the archeological remnants of demos by a group you barely knew existed until they were gone.

Rediscovery was a constant theme behind the writing on Tangents in its ten or eleven years on the web; it’s a theme which necessarily continues here at B/w.  The home of unpopular culture?  Perhaps forgotten or obscure culture, because so much of what was written about there might have had a chance if it surfaced now rather than ten, fifteen, or twenty years previously.  If the Jasmine Minks time-travelled from 1985 to release ‘What’s happening’ in 2009, would its crackling garage energy and giddy air of melodic and lyrical celebration divert attention from the Last Shadow Puppets, or this year’s equivalent model?  Perhaps, if they’d been as carefully handled and liberally nurtured as the Arctic Monkeys have by Domino.  But back then the beacon of Alan McGee’s Creation progressed from collectable label to major player more by luck than judgement.  It seems to me that Alan didn’t have a clue about how to get the best of out any of his groups, certainly not the Jasmine Minks or Emily; whatever you think of Oasis, they hardly needed Mr McGee to steer them in the right direction.  Contrast this with 21st century Domino, where Laurence Bell seems to give all his groups their head and the time to find their way.

With so much of the cultural press on the one hand and as ever attempting to consolidate the new into an immediate canon (typified by the barely credible homogeneity of album of the year charts) and on the other hyping up a two-dimensional duo’s debut album into a saleable commodity that serves as an attempt to ensure not only the artists’ future but that of the site or magazine (the kind of mutual back-scratching that tends to deliver little of substance on either side) it’s no wonder that old lags such as myself turn our attention to what has been lost, what has slipped off the cultural map.  Or what was never on it in the first place.

So it is with Scotland’s Honeymooners, whose ‘Another fit of Laughter’ was as far as I know their only single, released in 1987.

Of all the many contenders for the greatest group that entered some particle of a small atom of the public’s consciousness but never made any subsequent impression on it, the Honeymooners are perhaps the least legendary.  Of course, twenty odd years later, that is part of their appeal.  It allows me to bring to light their enigmatic remains from the sediment in which they have been encased all that time, and I would not be bothering to chisel away at the rock if there were no thrill in that moment of rediscovery, in that first glimpse of a long-buried artefact, in its delicate removal from the spot in which it has lain undisturbed for so long; in its careful dusting down and, finally, in giving over the time to reflect on both the meaning of what has been found, and the context in which it meant something.

Because this was once a living thing, its mystery derived from life rather than burial.  And naturally enough, a group called the Honeymooners turned their faces to the sun, admittedly with shades of sunset melancholy at their recently surrendered single lives.  The Honeymooners’ points of departure were perhaps ‘Dying day’ by Orange Juice and ‘Flowers’ by Hurrah!, but they also looked further afield, blending a Bacharach & David sensibility with jazz guitar, fretless bass, and brush-stroke drumming.  They even cast a saxophonist, well out of indie fashion by the second half of the eighties.

While the ‘Another fit of laughter’ single garnered some recognition, it was evidently too little too late, with the core of the Honeymooners having been together since 1984. Three sets of demos recorded previous to the single reveal the makings of a great lost LP.  In his contemporaneous fanzine Searching for the young soul rebels, Pete Williams described those demos as being ‘like listening to a (selective) history of popular music all compressed into ten original songs’.  At twenty years distance I’m sure Pete would recognise this as good old-fashioned fanzine rhetoric, but there is still even after all this time something in what he said.  Inevitably the songs are rough-cut, but the variety and invention shines through, as does exuberance, the attention to detail and an unwillingness to repeat themselves even within the confines of the voice-guitar-bass-drums model.  ‘Apple of my eye’ threatens to lose control, its loopy looping guitar on a precipice.  ‘Pulsebeat’ delivers the statutory number of ‘ba ba ba’s required by fanzine editors in the mid-eighties; the song’s burbling joy also courses through the guitar lines and its overall pacing.  The finesse, range and oomph of ‘What pleasure’ demonstrate what a drummer the group possessed in founding member Stewart Reid, while ‘What she says’ show a group confident enough to play three notes where one might have done.  There are minor frustrations, such as the fact that one of their best songs is ‘Untitled’; though it owes a debt to Orange Juice and it’s the song on which Jean sounds more like Clare Grogan than is typically the case, there’s still something in it which back then I had not heard before, nor have heard since.

And so we come to ‘Another fit of laughter’, which manages to be both raw and musically inventive, teetering on the edge of chaotic collapse yet giving off an overriding sense of confidence.  You can hear beatific amusement at this (im)balance in singer Jean’s voice.  There’s something of the guardian angel in the way she sings ‘Everything is crystal clear / Take heart from this this coming year’.  ‘… and there they were’ is its A side’s equal.  If it has less composure, it compensates for this with edge.  The ringing guitars and pounding beat are favoured over the saxophone in the mix, leaving Jean to ice the song with a little trumpet and as fine a set of ‘na na na’s as you’ll ever have the pleasure of hearing.  That so few were warmed by this single’s heart is yet another instance of shame to be laid at the door of pop.

So how wonderful to hear Jean’s voice again, courtesy of her MySpace space, where the available tracks set it against contemporary rhythms in what seems a fitting and inevitable match given the Honeymooners’ relative adventurousness when compared with the majority of their peers.

Would the Honeymooners stand a chance in the first decade of the twenty-first century?  Probably not.  They would however have the advantage of sounding distinctly unlike anything else, a sound born of a conjunction of eighties influences and seventies upbringing which makes its coalescence today in youngster form difficult to imagine.  But stranger things have happened.


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