/ Selective memory, Dishy, 1995
Before they decided they’d be better off making a fresh start as the Bitter Springs, Last Party recorded two final singles for the fledgling Dishy label, also home to the Hellfire Sermons. After the epic double A side of ‘UCIT’ / ‘Fax me wacko Jackseed’ (whose opening lines – ‘It’s a boy, Mrs Jackson; another boy…’ – confirm that yes, you-know-who is its subject) came ‘Selective memory’, typically Last Party with its meandering lead guitar cutting a scythe through an underlying bedrock of fuzz and in its constantly quizzical, fearless lyricism. Simon Rivers is after all the man who sang, ‘So now I have to work for my erections / but I know how everything’s changed / in the months leading up to an April May June July August surprise surprise election’.
He is often an undeniably angry songwriter. Occasionally it’s hard to work out what he’s livid about. Take ‘Fax me wacko Jackseed’ – even after all this time, I can’t work out if he’s angry with Mr and Mrs Jackson, or with the wacko their son became, or at his own songwriting insignificance when set against the mad enormity of mega-stardom and the potential for abuse of power that comes with it. Or all of those things, and more. ‘Have you ever met the Sandwich family?’ he says at the end of ‘Fax me’, apropos of apparently nothing. You’re never quite sure that it’s supposed to make sense; somewhere between Joycean stream of consciousness and Barney Sumner scribbling out a lyric five minutes before putting his vocal down on a tape which contains the otherwise perfected sounds of New Order, Simon Rivers lies.
Last Party’s music always suits Rivers’ moods, whether that’s the rage of ‘Fax me’, the reflections of ‘Selective memory’ or the tragicomic tone of ‘English road film’. There are always tunes a postie might whistle on his or her round, and as many hooks as jokes. ‘English road film’ opens with a gag: ‘I was addicted to Cola, so I switched to caffeine-free’ / ‘now I’m on eighty cans a week’. Of course, the concept of an English road film is in itself a joke – in whichever direction we go, the road runs out after a day’s driving at the very most, and then you’ve reached the sea. There are no endless space between towns, and our dereliction is of a different order to the tumbleweed romance found during a coast to coast trip across the States. The tone of melancholy Simon Rivers offers up ‘English road film’ reflects that feeling of being hemmed in by the boundaries of our small island, and of being at the mercy of the weather patterns that result when warm tropical winds meet cold polar air.
When I wrote about Last Party twenty years ago, I called Simon Rivers a ‘southern Martin Bramah’, the reference twice leading back to the Fall – Bramah was of course an original member before forming the Blue Orchids, while the Jazz Butcher song I also invoked was ‘Southern Mark Smith’. Would Simon Rivers have felt empowered to become the kind of lyricist he did without the guiding light and shade of Mark E.’s sarcasm and vitriol? If Mark E. hadn’t existed, would have been necessary to invent him in the form of Simon Rivers, and might it be Last Party who ended up recording a score of Peel sessions rather than the two they did? The second Peel session was as good as any recorded in 1989, but none of the songs – ‘Purple Hazel’, ‘Full English breakfast’, ‘Platforms and trains’, ‘Creature lake’ – made it onto the following year’s Love handles LP, and only the last of the four has appeared since.
Live, Last Party were a furiously comedic, comedically furious bunch, with Simon Rivers even more energetically engaged than he sounds on record. There were two great LPs, Porky’s range and Love handles, though the latter was contained within what must be ranked as a serious contender for the worst sleeve ever, and had a muffled and murky production which detracted from the excellence of the songs.
The download edition of Cacophony on Port Hampton: singles and rarities 1985-1995 is exceptionally good value – at £5.99 for 34 tracks, it’d be rude not to. Last Party never released a duff single, and the B sides are almost all up to scratch too. The rarities include a bunch of songs that might have formed the bulk of a decent third LP, but sadly neither of those Peel sessions.
Frustrated at how they were perceived, Last Party decided to reinvent themselves, and from 1996 set out their stall as the Bitter Springs. But that’s another story, though one not so different as a name change might suggest.