Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rock And Roll Part Rocks Off Baby

Spitfire - Six Million Dollar Man
Spitfire - Firebird
Spitfire - Rubber Rosie

As we all know, it’s often the musical guilty pleasures that give real satisfaction when it comes to pure enjoyment of the form. Take 1990s indie rockers Spitfire. My love for them is not something I like to shout about, but I get far more happiness out of listening to their balls out rock‘n’roll geetar nonsense than I do from the majority of lauded acts from the same period. When they first burst onto the scene in 1991 they were inexplicably lumped into the shoegazing scene, despite the lead track (‘Dive’) from their debut release the ‘Translucent EP’ on Eve Recordings, being frazzled psych-rock. The EP also featured a brilliant cover version of the theme tune to the ‘Six Million Dollar Man’, with wakka-wakka guitars and a searing lead solo. They looked like acid casualties from the 1960s, all beads, round Lennon-specs and long hair, and singer Jeff Pitcher obviously fancied himself as a bit of a Jim Morrison-type, donning leather trousers and, by the second EP, penning songs with preposterous titles like ‘Wombchild’.

Around the release of the second EP (‘Superbaby’), they supported Blur in Cardiff and totally blew me away. The two girls clad all in leather bashing tambourines stage left helped, but they were an incendiary live band, packed with accomplished musicians. Their show climaxed with a cover of Rod Stewart’s ‘Hot Legs’ (the shoegazing classic), before an extended instrumental break in which each member of the band departed the stage one after another. First Jeff (arms around the two girls) strolled off, followed soon after by the two guitarists (leaving their guitars squalling feedback by the amps), until it was just the drummer (Justin Welch, who went onto join Elastica) and bass player Nick Pitcher (brother of Jeff) holding down a frenzied rhythm section attack. Blur were good, but Spitfire stole the show.

Another single, ‘Wild Sunshine’, followed on Eve, but it took until 1993 for Spitfire’s debut album to be released, on Paperhouse Records, an offshoot of Fire. ‘Sex Bomb’ was an album of retro garage rock and proper rock‘n’roll. Not blinding but good enough. They were way out on their own as the only band around making music like this - heavy riffs, samples of roaring motorbike engines, pretentious lyrics, fret wanking guitar solos and even a flute solo on standout track and slow burning live favourite ‘Firebird’.

The band released a couple more singles in 1994 and 1995 and it was around this time that I caught them live in Bristol. They appeared to have reinvented themselves as a Ramones / Rolling Stones tribute band; all raw rawk riffs and hot licks, coupled with Jeff Pitcher’s mildly suggestive panting, pouting and posturing on tracks like ‘Rubber Rosie’. Spitfire were cheesy in the same way that the Darkness were when they first arrived; brazenly retro despite the Britpop boom, and in a drunken stupor, I fell for them all over again. I hustled my way backstage after the show and exchanged some meaningless platitudes with them, at first exhilarated to be ‘hanging with the band’, before realising they were thoroughly depressed, poor, hungry and with nowhere to sleep that night. I considered offering to put them up, but before I could, my friend Tom did. I was secretly relieved as the illusion had been shattered enough without having them knocking about in my front room drinking tea. We got a lift back to Bath with them and they seemed like nice enough blokes, grateful that they didn’t have to sleep in the van again.

They released their second and final album, ‘Electric Colour Climax’ (recorded at Toerag Studios, eventually made famous by The White Stripes) in 1996 and despite one or two moments, it seemed that the band had reached the end of the road. The ironic misogynistic posturing that had always been misunderstood by the press as a reality rather than an act now seemed devoid of any irony. The cover featured a photo of a topless woman in fishnets and the title track was a messy mix of organs, guitars and drums, along with a sampled porn star grunting and groaning along to the music. The album sank without a trace, taking the band down with it. Despite dedicated searching, I couldn’t really find anything about Spitfire on the internet, which speaks volumes. It’s a real shame but if I can find the time, I might start a fan site - anonymously of course.

Info on Spitfire Peel Session here