Monday, September 11, 2017

Classic Album Review: Barmy Army - The English Disease (1989)

This won’t fit the common definition of what a classic album is, but given that your blogger is a fully certifiable On-U Sound nutter, what passes for “classic” at everythingsgonegreen towers, and what counts as a “classic” elsewhere, is always likely to be two (or more) different things …

The English Disease is something of a novelty item for those familiar with the bass-heavy dub sounds of the On-U Sound posse, and it features several of the artists who produce output for Adrian Sherwood’s legendary label.

The Barmy Army was effectively the loose collective otherwise known as Tackhead and friends, and here they combine a couple of their shared passions – sampling and football – to create a body work unlike anything else heard before or since. It won’t appeal to all, but it does have some curiosity value, and will be well worth a listen for anyone who has previously enjoyed Tackhead, Little Axe, Dub Syndicate, Mark Stewart, or indeed fans of experimental dub or eclectic lightweight cut-and-paste style hip hop.

When this was initially released in the immediate aftermath of the Heysel, Bradford, and Hillsborough tragedies, English football was at its lowest ebb for several generations, and the game was awash with hooliganism, also labelled the “English disease” by those oblivious to its widespread international reach. Attendances were low, safety concerns high, and the family-friendly all-seater environment we see today was still some way off in the future. The Taylor Report of the early Nineties and the influx of cash generated by the subscription television boom of the mid-late Nineties changed the face of English football forever, but that’s not to say that the “product” offered today is any superior.

What it has become, in truth, is a far more sterile and palatable “entertainment” option for the masses. Something has been lost however, and here the Barmy Army unashamedly celebrate a little of what went before, throwing into the mix a splattering of politics, terrace-style humour, and a fairly transparent love of West Ham United.

It’s hard to define the sound in an orthodox sense, but file this one away under: dub, reggae, hip hop, or that extraordinary one-off category created especially for this album: Terrace and voiceover (commentary) samples with some heavy beats holding it all together. Or something.

Those familiar with the On-U compilation series Pay It All Back, will already know of the Barmy Army’s ‘Billy Bonds MBE’, and ‘Blue Moon’ … well, here is some more material of that nature.

Best tracks: ‘Sharp As A Needle’ (tribute to King Kenny Dalglish), ‘Devo’ (Alan Devonshire), ‘Leroy’s Boots’ (Leroy Rosenior), and ‘Brian Clout’ (Brian Clough).

Apparently all crowd samples were recorded by the editor of a West Ham fanzine, but check out the additional credits for this album – it’ll help you recognise just who you’re dealing with here: Doug Wimbish (ex-Sugarhill house band, Tackhead, and various), Skip McDonald aka Little Axe (ex-Sugarhill, Tackhead, and various), Al Jourgensen (Ministry), and Jah Wobble (PIL). Among many others.

All done under the watchful and somewhat critical eye of the UK’s foremost master dub producer himself, Adrian Sherwood.

Recommended for the open-minded, plus football fans of all clubs and creeds …

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