Monday, April 30, 2012

Think Primitive, Act Local: Hotlegs: "Neanderthal Man"

It is, by now, late summer 1970; the new decade still beckons, but the 60s still hang over the year in certain ways that in two months will (sadly) be over. The bubblegum overlords Kasenetz & Katz have struck a deal with some Mancunians earlier this year that have seen their modest studio in Stockport, Strawberry Studios, fitted with some state-of-the-art equipment, all the better so that they may record there for the production team (instead of going to NYC to do the recording there). The bubblegum contingent are especially interested in one of them, ex-Mindbender Graham Gouldman, as he has been writing catchy and successful songs for others for years, and K & K want to make themselves more credible by having him on board. This doesn’t really work out that well, but as Gouldman is away on business, the other three – Eric Stewart (also an ex-Mindbender), Lol Creme and Kevin Godley (who were in The Mockingbirds together and knew Gouldman from school days) are at Strawberry Studios, eager to mess around and see what they come up with.  The 70s, at least in Mancunian terms, is about to get started.

The song starts with the drums and goes from there, though not too far – it is a drumtastic song with guitars, recorders and voices, the voices secondary to the beat. The beat is a slow shuffle*, not really funky as such but it catches the whole ‘back to basics’ movement of the time, only with one little caveat; it is impossible (especially knowing what is going to come from these musicians) just how much of this song is plain old songwriting in the ‘give the label/people what they want’ and how much of it is some kind of oblique commentary on the HRS man’s man’s mans world hooey that definitely still existed at this time, in Stockport and elsewhere. (The women in the video all look as if they are extras from The Flintstones, had it been a live-action tv series and not a cartoon.) Look at their faces (Eric Stewart going so far as to wear sunglasses indoors, that’s how nonchalant he is) and you can just see them veer from serious to kind of amused to near blank, and the song itself gives no real hint as such as to how seriously you (can) take it.

That the studio was partly owned by Stewart and Gouldman meant that these musicians – currently known as Hotlegs, but their more famous name will be 10cc – had the chance to work and experiment and mess around; there are some bands who enjoy doing this, and this is one of them. (They don’t really get going as a group as such for a while, running the studio and being the in-house band for whoever wants to use it, Neil Sedaka being the most famous guest in the early 70s.) This freedom is vital to understanding how music evolves, from this rather primitive song to things far more complex, away from any pressures from managers or labels; this is, in a way, the first step towards the kind of autonomy musicians have today**. Owning part of the means of production may have been a headache at times (due to a bad deal they didn’t make that much from this huge hit) but they kept on going, finding out that they worked well together, a joy in and of itself.  Whether this was a send-up or just a happy result of experimentation is hard to say, but under the auspices of bubblegum, a new band is about to be born; one that is bound to its surroundings and own inspirations and ideas far more than any producer or label.  Neanderthals?  Hardly.

*Speed this up a little and hey presto, there’s “Loaded” by Primal Scream, more or less.

**The Rolling Stones had a studio but it was mobile, theirs, and not part of a community (besides other rock groups); Strawberry Studios was open for anyone, from aunties to orchestras, to come by and use for a nominal fee. Tony Wilson admired them for keeping things local when they could have gone elsewhere; Joy Division would work there in the future, under the guidance of Martin Hannett.

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