Monday, August 17, 2009

Great forgotten bands of the 80s: The Godfathers

Courtesy of Mr Impostume’s magnanimity, while I was down in London I received a CD copy of an album I hadn’t heard in a very long time, the mighty Hit By Hit, the Godfathers’ debut. The title itself is a nicely bold, arrogant statement of intent and given the band’s name and image a neat, if not wildly adventurous play on words, and though in reality no tune on the album came anywhere near to being a hit there’s not a single track on it that didn’t deserve to be.

Even back then the Godfathers were unashamedly retro, combining the look of the Kray Twins with no-nonsense, punky rock n roll. Emerging in the mid to late 80s, they came at a difficult time. The early 80s post-punk and synth-pop boom had petered out and the charts were almost without exception full of abysmal shit, whilst outside of the mainstream the artier of the goths could, with a little effort, cross over to the avant-garde rock of Sonic Youth, Big Black and the hip grungy and/or industrial bands that came in their wake, and fans of jangly indie pop could, with a little effort and heaps of drugs, cross over via the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays into the rave scene. Where did the Godfathers fit in? They didn’t. With their hard rock stance they could perhaps have appealed to the more yobbish end of the goth scene, but in their sharp gangster suits they made even that difficult, vaunting their withering scorn for the black-clad herd.

Hit By Hit and their second album Birth School Work Death were packed with blinding punk-pop songs overlain with muscular, heavily Steve Jones-inspired riffing and raucous terrace chanting to underline their tough, very British image, years before Britpop or before Guy Ritchie got in on the mockney villain act. It’s surely of no small significance that they were produced by Vic Maile, the man who produced the legendary Ace of Spades (which is not only possibly the greatest rock n roll album of all time but also, tellingly, head and shoulders above Motorhead’s previous recorded output). The result was that at their peak they sounded tight as fuck, so tight in fact that they seemed close to snapping. Their desperation is worn on their sleeve throughout, the lyrical content a calamitous mixture of stress, for example in This Damn Nation, painfully uncontrollable lust (“I Want You, “Cant Leave Her Alone), and on the title track of the second album bitter resignation in the glorious line “Ive been abused and Ive been confused and Ive kissed Margaret Fatchers shoes, whilst the transparency of their wiseguy fronting on the thuggish Cause I Said So is tragically exposed by the beautiful “It’s So Hard”, which leaves little doubt that they’re not half as hard as they wish they were (although the ill-considered “Just Like You” is just plain soppy).

A large part of the thrill lies in their contradictions: A blatantly retro band who were in some ways ahead of their time, brutalised Thatcher-haters who glorified the starkest, deadliest form of capitalism (80s Britain’s counterpart to gangsta rap?), East End hardmen on the verge of tears. The Strangest Boys indeed. The revival is nigh!


Blogger TONA said...

I remember when i got myself Birth School Work Death, i was like 14 or
something and it fuckin blew me away...
i was like "this is sooo much better than The Mission" :)
But they went downhill extremely fast
in next year or so.

11:42 AM  
Blogger ASHDAV said...

True enough, I deliberately didn't mention their crap third album. But if you haven't got it already I'll burn you a "deluxe edition" of the first album, which is absolutely storming.

Funny to remember how, for a while in the late 80s, the dreadful Mission managed to completely eclipse far better alternative rock bands in terms of popularity. Who listens to them these days, I wonder?

7:37 PM  
Blogger TONA said...

I have Hit by hit, of course, dont know about deluxe though, just an mp3.
Nobody remembers them, let alnog listen anymore...I think they are really up there, at the top, with Poison and MC Hammer.

11:36 PM  
Blogger TONA said...

The Mission, not The Godfathers :)

11:37 PM  
Blogger TONA said...

Oh, and i was 13 :)

11:39 PM  

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