Wednesday, 23 July 2008

BARRY ANDREWS: Win A Night Out With A Well Known Paranoiac

It's easy to forget what a creepy, crypto-apocalyptic time 1980 was in Britain - the beer breath whispers, the conspiracies, the slumbering rightward lurch - indeed it's almost as easy to forget as the same factors occurring in Britain in 2008 (and probably every year in between - see Iain Sinclair's London Orbital for the post-nuclear, stick-throwing shutdown) - but this song captures the butterfly-knife stomach feeling of that age more effectively than most. Andrews was XTC's Eno (and it's therefore apt that he should have turned up on Eno's recent Another Day On Earth); he left the group at an early stage, worked on Robert Fripp's Exposure (and was a member of Fripp's shortlived League of Gentlemen group) and eventually co-founded Shriekback. "Win A Night Out..." was the B-side of his solitary solo single (and presumably the sales figures precluded progression to a full album). The A-side "Rossmore Road" is a curious, quavery tribute to a dull rat run street the wrong side of Marylebone, down which the 139 (from West Hampstead to Waterloo) bus now runs; a "dolls' house shop" (i.e. DHSS office) at the junction with Lissom Grove, sundry Belisha beacons and traffic lights, public buildings, quasi-threatening references to Regent's Park, Baker Street and Balcombe Street, with the anti-matter refrain of "All humming now."

But "Win A Night Out" is extraordinary. Across a fractured quasi-jazz background (both Fripp and Patti Palladin seem to have been involved, amongst many others) Andrews' craven narrowed wideboy Cockney narrative runs down the hinge of the rusted spine of real Britain; he meets up with her in a country pub ("where the landlord sports moustaches, just like Jimmy Edwards, and the crisps and pickled onions on the bar are numberless as the stars at night") but his reverie is interrupted by "two neckless men in blazers and cravats" who inform them, in about 200 words, that this is not the place for them (general summing up: you are inferior, bend your head "and furthermore, you worm, there is mud on your plimsolls"). He tries to convince them of his Cuban Royal Family ancestry but they intone "in this life, it's either U or non-U and if I were you I'd make myself BLOODY SCARCE!" Just as they are on the verge of duffing him up he swings into the damaged Dixieland of the song's chorus.

The next verse finds them in "an Iberian eatery in the West End." His stifled scream of "we could have so much fun" suggests imminent electric chair status. He talks about wanting to discuss Communism and chart positions but ends up telling a dodgy joke in a very loud voice; the child at the next table cries and her dad promises her that her crypto-Fascist Uncle Roger is on his way to "make quite sure he doesn't upset any little girls...little GIRLS?...any more..." and again it's back to the chorus.

Even the Sunday morning bed is no refuge; they are intruded upon by her mum and dad, who have been secretly taping their doings ("he's looking DAAAAAAAAAAANGEROUSLY pale!"), and moreover her mum is wielding an Army surplus bush knife ("All," observes Andrews soberly, "is not too groovy"). Then his partner starts laughing at him as her mum is about to "get stuck in...just below the navel." As the music hurtles dangerously towards freeform chaos it suddenly recedes..."I wake up...and was all a dream."

But he has woken up to something worse. "I'm really in a hospital bed...there is a smell of formaldehyde in the air..." Swastika-clad doctors fiddling with the brain of a sheep, and then he realises with obliterating dread that "I can't feel me legs! And the shape of the bed isn't my shape at all! And I wanna cry out but I can only bleat!" Which takes us into the final chorus and fadeout; a jolly romp (as with so much in this period, definitely post-Dury) about the unutterable. Its six minutes and 19 seconds seriously scared me at the time and still sound uncomfortably contemporary.