bIG*fLAME
bIG*fLAME

The most attention grabbing music of the 20th century was the stuff that strove for the unattainable, that tried its damnedest to express something, and could receive nothing less than full marks for effort. From delta blues to The Slits, from Rite Of Spring to the Gang Of Four, they were all examples of fervent passion, forcibly pushed out into the world through a constipated communication channel, often sounding confused but always vivacious, urgent and beautifully complete. There’s no better example of this than bIG*fLAME.

On the back cover of their 1986 10″ singles compilation “Two Kan Guru“, there’s a faux biography claiming that they were originally the backing band for George Michael’s 80s duo, Wham. It mentions in passing the wiry, wide-eyed guitarist, Greg Keeffe. “Greg couldn’t play. He still can’t, as a matter of fact.” And how Greg couldn’t play. He couldn’t hold a steady rhythm if you’d doubled up his dole cheque, but bIG*fLAME quickly realised that this was their best asset. The records were slathered with layers of fat, discordant, burbling guitar chords that often left Dil Green’s stunningly executed drum breaks sounding like the tapping of knitting needles, and Alan Brown’s slithering basslines and honeyed nasal vocals almost an irrelevancy. Their 3rd Peel Session was produced by a rather pissed and distinctly pissed off Dale Griffin, who capitulated to the band’s request for “more guitar” by shoving the fader up as far as it would go, leaving everything else virtually inaudible. It remains one of the most extraordinary Peel Sessions ever recorded.

But how Greg COULD play. He knew that a fraction of a second of air before a downswing on his battered Telecaster could create a gigantic musical springboard, off which the whole band could leap into the next section of previously uncharted musical territory. He wound up tightly coiled springs of sound, allowing them to ping back in the faces of his band mates, who fought back admirably with a series of jagged, syncopated but insistently groovy replies. These ferocious arguments formed themselves into songs, which in turn formed themselves into a series of essential 7″EPs. On first listen each one of them was horribly rough around the edges, but by the end of the day, 10-15 spins later, they seemed like beautifully polished gems. Over the top, Alan sang his and Dil’s lyrics about Cold War standoffs, home taping and the excesses of the fashion industry, all sounding like militant but strangely tuneful calls to action. The sleeves were riots of angular slabs of colour and a plethora of exclamation marks; theirs wasn’t a world where slouching morosely with ones fringe gently dabbing at the side of ones face was even an option.

They simply became my favourite band ever. I never saw them play, thanks to their fantastically anti-rockist decision to split up after barely 3 years. But a few months ago someone sent me a video of them performing in Glasgow in 1986. They all looked mightily annoyed, Dil’s face contorted into indescribable shapes, Greg bouncing off his amp, the walls, the crowd, anything that would keep him located on the stage, and Alan holding everything together with twangs of his Stonehenge-sized bass, and guttural pleas to the sound engineer to get his shit together. Then at the end of the songs, swigs from cans of bitter, a brief smile between the three of them, and on to the next song: “Let’s Rewrite The American Consitution“. They knew they were head and shoulders above everyone else. And in many ways they still are. They were just perfect.

[Rhodri Marsden, 22/4/2004]

Big Flame’s website is here, and their MySpace page is here.