Take The Only Ones’ guitarist John Perry, vocalist/guitarist JC Carroll and drummer Nick cash, both from The Members, and you’re possibly expecting either some home studio some post-punk knock-off with hopefully a few spliff-friendly tunes. Okay, now throw in a bloke I reckon to be 80-years young.
That said gent, is Mr Tony Reeves, who’s filled roles in house at several leading UK record companies and music technology companies since the early sixties, but more warmly known for his work as bass player for the likes of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, jazz rock pioneers Colosseum and progressive rock acts Greenslade and Curved Air, plus session work for acts as diverse as Jon Martyn and Chris DeBurgh, and maybe you’re thinking that psychedelic leanings would prove more apt for such a strange quartet.
Cavemen TV are not quite. Well, not at all really, and the fact one can’t define the music on offer but to describe it as uniquely English, implies, as it should, something culturally non-profound, an acceptance of the daft and the inspirational in equal measure, and that while the chips may be down at least the glass is half-full. Now, define what genres you’re talking about, I can hear you screaming as you read this. I’ll try… This is what early Gong might’ve sounded like if they were founded in the east end of London, and ditched the free form jazz bits for musical hall.
There are tunes distinctly sculptured in the tradition of British folk, mixed in with the eclectic new wave rock leanings of the younger members, a double bass that’s as equally inspired by Bach as it is skiffle and refuses to take a backseat to either, the odd hippy flashback but also moments of movie theme sophistication. Not everything works, but the patient just might themselves delightfully rewarded. Much of the idea for this amalgamation of sound, or cohesive mish-mash, might be a result of Carroll’s work composing music for film, but it takes four to tango here, as noted on the very first tune on offer, ‘Caveman TV’ itself.
Contemplatively, an acoustic guitar accompanies vocals that recall the changing times, from technology to people, and of leaving the modern world behind. Nostalgically, the listener recalls sundry 80s indy-pop bands’ singles charts hits and accompanying deep meaningful b/w videos. There’s a sense of wanderlust with electric guitars turning from evoking the distant sound of wind on northern landscapes to Hawaiian guitar solos, not ignoring a couple of brief bass ones too. Coherent even as it swaps musical genres, you inexplicably feel a loss for something you probably never had while wanting to slow dance with a partner through the night to this one.
‘Anarchy In The UK Uillean Pipes Version’ is exactly what it reads on the tin. The punk anthem is given a spin round in manner akin to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Fun enough in its own way once, maybe twice, but it’s the Uillean pipes playing that bewitch you regardless. ‘Dartmoor For 21 Years’ sounds familiar. The unfaithful internet reveals a traditional number with certain similar lyrics. It is, as the title implies, a song recounting the downfall of life in prison, losing loved ones, liberty et al. Maybe it’s Carroll’s dialect or just his delivery but one’s distinctly reminded of classic Ealing comedy Two-Way Stretch, and by extension those comedy records Peter Sellers and Bernard Cribbins did with Sir George Martin. Offsetting the humour (intended or otherwise) the music itself is melancholy, with what sounds like a bouzouki playing the main melody. Further songs in this sadder vein follow.
Over Lennon-like piano ‘Please Stay (Don’t Go)’ is a plea not just for the love of your life not to leave you, but for them not to do it for a second time, and how you’ll always be a glutton for such punishment. Again, and if not a bouzouki, or mandolin, it’s an electric guitar at work crafting Mediterranean melodies here. ‘I Will Walk With U’ goes beyond being a song of romance; touching on existentialism, grief for those dead, and being at one with nature – Not unlike The Proclaimers, folky but also poppy and churchlike too. Something apt to listen to while walking through a wood after the rain has passed.
Reeves’ bass distorts with intention over what could be some early Kevin Ayers/Soft Machine ditty, the lyrics to ‘Painting With Sound’ initially coming across as naïve then more an exploration of composition, diving into sexual passions and the ennui of life, before escalating to an alternative James Bond theme with guitars soloing away. Perry is again to the forefront, tenderly inlaying notes as solo intro and throughout, for ‘If Trouble Was Money’, a blues number that could easily fit in Snowy White’s back catalogue. – This one’s about as straight-on genre as things get with Caveman TV. Gorgeous, good, and emotional, though one is now plaintively aware that the number of broken-hearted tunes are racking up.
By contrast, ‘The Golborne Variations 2023’ appears to be a new take on a number by The Members. A soundscape beggars prog opera narrating the lives and daily routines of North Kensington – A little under ten minutes in length, it opens musically like a Spaghetti western but soon reflects Jewish culture and latterly Asiatic ones too. Lyrically, images are cast of jewellers and gold merchants, fruit and veg deliveries to market stalls and the happenstances of those involved. Then, with the beat of a drum things change, the pace quickens, rocks up, the east Mediterranean touches still there in the background but the words sung bringing us up to date, many a reference to the nouveau riche and name dropping the likes of Stella McCartney along the way, the pull of the old and new, cultures and fashion trends, all given lip service or inference. The music itself evolves, one side of grandeur and film composition, guitars writhing their way through it all, one great melting pot, that around six minutes ends, giving way to more classically bent esoterisms, a treated-bass leading the way with winding sunburning guitars and string sounds all circling until somehow satisfied, they reach conclusion.
Ending this strange affair musically is ‘Zombie Jamboree’ with doo wop, calypso, East End knees-up and Hank Marvin-goes-psychedelic guitars all referenced. Much as you may think that’s it, there’s then a ‘Tony Reeves Interview’ by Carroll lasting just under 40 minutes – Old farts like me will find this of immense historical interest, even if we think we know much of the story. The fact that by comparison to the music of Caveman TV it’s so traditional, and for the most part straight-faced (albeit with amusing anecdotes) in its approach it still actually escalates the English absurdity of this record by its very inclusion.
It’s true there’s much oddball eccentricity present across these recordings, but so too a hard-grafting and diverse muso work ethic and some deeper emotional concepts. It’s joss sticks and jellied eels wrapped up in a deceptive wrapper of what might be progressive rock.
Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
Cavemen TV is released via Anglocentric on 5th May 2023.
- Caveman TV
- Anarchy In The UK Uillean Pipes Version
- Dartmoor For 21 Years
- Please Stat (Don’t Go)
- I Will Walk With U
- Painting With Sound
- If Trouble Was Money
- The Golborne Variations 2023
- Zombie Jamboree
- Tony Reeves Interview