"Un, deux, trois, it's tractor love!"
51 BREAKS / WHEN BEARS ATTACK / THE GRAHAM PARSNIP LIQUIDISER TORTURE THINK-TANK (PROJECT), 11TH OCTOBER 2005, BIRMINGHAM FLAPPER & FIRKIN
So, The Graham Parsnip Liquidiser Torture Think-Tank (Project), a band who have been labelled "the thinking man's Chas and Dave". As you might have surmised, they're not entirely serious - part Cardiacs, part I, Ludicrous and part 'Monty Python'.
'Blackadder'-inspired opener 'The Baby-Eating Bishop Of Bath & Wells' sets the tone for a set heavy on material from their Bordering On Pretentious LP. We're treated to songs about the Rowley Regis earthquake ("3.2 on the Richter scale!"), eating fruit to raise one's sperm count, and "the dark art of Scrabble", the latter culminating in the repetition of the line "Let me put 'quizzical' on a triple word score" to the tune of Olivia Newton John's 'Let's Get Physical'.* The undoubted highlight, though, is 'Tractor Love', a tale of agricultural-based lust which, in its references to erections, suggests that the penile problems alluded to in other songs can be overcome given the right stimulus.
But who exactly IS the mysterious Graham Parsnip? Is it the pony-tailed shirtless drummer? Is it the guitarist who laughs his way through the set? Is it the vocalist, dressed as though fresh from a hard day at the bank and leaping around in the crowd pretending to be a trout? Is it the bassist / keyboardist, clad only in grey socks, Phil Collins T-shirt and enormous green underpants? Or is it none of them? And does it matter?
Another question to ponder: is it foolhardy to take potshots at a band called When Bears Attack, one of whose songs, er, bears the title 'Rock Critic In A Pool Of Blood'? Oh well... They're really not very good. In fact, they're an unmitigated mess, veering wildly from straightforward punk into ska and indie, swerving from the lugubriously personal to Graham Parsnip-esque daftness, without any semblance of individual identity. Redeeming features? Well, there are some neat horn touches, and the bespectacled vocalist gives it absolutely everything, channeling attention away from his mostly static band members and coming across like Nicholas Lyndhurst on PCP. Now there's an image for you.
I've been rueing the fact that (Hooker), Manchester's answer to Sleater-Kinney, had to pull out of their headlining slot, and unfortunately their replacements 51 Breaks offer precious little in the way of consolation. If I had to pinpoint three things that immediately inspire me to take a dislike to them, it would be the bassist's Kasabian T-shirt, the guitarist's John Squireisms and, most significantly, the vocalist / keyboardist's gratingly Americanised James Blunt impersonation. The set is bookended by uptempo Stone Roses style indie, but it's the tracks which occupy the middle portion that suggest they know which way the money lies - ponderous piano-led power ballads that Keane wouldn't kick out of bed. Fair play to them, though - they do it very effectively, and who am I to stick the boot in? I'm not really paying much attention anyway, being mostly preoccupied with thoughts of passionate trysts with farmyard machinery.
* Call me pedantic, but being a bit of a Scrabble buff myself I thought I should point out that the word 'quizzical' contains two 'z's, and therefore cannot be played in a game featuring only one 'z' tile...
Other reviews: Parallax View, Andy Pryke