Saturday, January 27, 2007

Harsh sharks floating dead in the sea

Campag Velocet - Drencom Velocet Synthemesc
Campag Velocet - A'int No Funki Tangerine

Campag Velocet – the Marmite of music. Me? I’m a lover. What it boils down to is Pete Voss. You either think he’s a genius, or he’s not your cup of tea. Me? I’m in the former camp. Voss was a frightening amalgam of Liam Gallagher and Ian Brown, with John Lydon’s bratty sneer and Mark E. Smith’s brash, often unintelligible delivery. If, as Anthony H. Wilson once proclaimed, Shaun Ryder was W.B. Yeats, then Voss is Edward Lear by way of William Burroughs. There’s no denying he took his cue from Anthony Burgess’s Nadsat, but he created a language and way of looking at the world that belonged solely to him. Nonsense that makes sense, his lyrics were painstakingly pieced together. It meant everything to him, and it could to you too if you took the time. On stage he cut a menacing, thuggish figure; wielding his tambourine like a lethal weapon. But you couldn’t take your eyes off him. You didn’t dare. A snarling, wayward outcast, who once raced BMX’s and formed the band with his mate Ian ‘Arge’ Cater over a shared love of Schoolly D and Public Enemy. I’m in.

Campag Velocet are one of few bands to have had the triumph of an NME cover (back when it meant something) used as a stick to beat them with, when certain factions of the press felt the music wasn’t living up to the hype. I never bothered with the hype; I was too busy listening to the music, which, if you’ve never heard them before, is what you should be concentrating on. Start with Arge’s guitar – one minute he’s constructing sonic cathedrals Slowdive would gawp in wonder at, the next he’s firing out tight, Stoogey punk riffs. Then there’s Lascelles, the human drum machine, thumping out the locked grooves with robotic precision. And Barney on bass; vibed-up, fluid, groovy. To hear the three of them at their best, check ‘Drencom Velocet Synthemesc’, the debut single, the one that marked them out as ones to watch. Even if you’re not in the Voss fan club, it’s worth holding out for the vast psychedelic soundscape with which the song concludes, as Arge comes over all Nick McCabe and Lascelles and Barney give Reni and Mani a run for their money.

The second album ‘It’s Beyond Our Control’ came out in 2004, a full ‘Second Coming’-esque five years after the debut LP, ‘Bon Chic Bon Genre’ appeared. Pete Voss swaggered back to settle a few scores, proclaiming, "I’ve been around, knocked down, Now I’m back again…” . There’s anger and vitriol by the bucket load, at its most prominent on the disturbing album closer ‘Ain’t No Funki Tangerine’, as a seemingly schizophrenic Voss veers from violent threats and rage to sweetly singing, “…everybody’s got some love inside of them”, over a sparse yet funky backbeat of drums and throbbing synths. After the song fades, an ambient reprise flows in, almost as if the band didn’t want to let the album end on such a brutal note.

You can’t talk Campag without a nod to the fans, the Harsh Sharks - the living embodiment of fanaticism - a fiercely loyal gang, whose unwavering love kept the band going during the wilderness years between the first and second albums. I went to a mate’s club night in New Cross a couple of years ago, and he introduced me to his friend and said, “This is Joe, he’s into Campag too.” In a flash, I was embraced in a hug that was more like a headlock, and dragged to the bar, with my new mate shouting, “He’s a Shark, he’s a fucking Shark!” Instant acceptance. You like Campag, therefore I like you. We’re the same. If there’d been any bother that night, he’d have been on my side. There are many far more successful bands than Campag who will never know what it feels like to be adored in this way. Campag Velocet split last year so what happened to all the Sharks? Even the website has gone. Pete Voss has got a new band though, The Count. They’re sounding fierce, so I guess that’s where the truly loyal are pinning their hopes. KICK OFF!!!

Buy Campag Velocet from Norman Records
Campag Velocet at My Space
Campag Velocet page at Pointy Records
Pete Voss’s new band The Count at My Space