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P o s i t i v e V i b r a t i o n s

rout of the clones

By James Wirth

The Soft Boys were always fellow travellers in the British new-wave; they seemed to take the attitude towards the British punk movement that a young boy takes to a dead dog. Happy to poke the carcass with a stick but unwilling to embrace it whole-heartedly. The events of 1978 were to represent the failure of the new-wave; the Sex Pistols collapsed in disarray, the Clash were busy living out the conventional rock dream in the United States, and the revolution of the summer of 1977 was foundering at the bottom of major label rosters and in difficult second albums. Anarchy had been neatly packaged as product by the British music industry and was beginning to sound increasingly tired. The Soft Boys themselves had been picked up by Andrew Lauder's WEA-sponsored Radar for a one single deal with the option of an LP to follow which was politely refused (refer to Polarad's Day They Ate Brick album in order to understand why).

This "unofficial" CD follows the band through 1978 with excerpts from three concerts; two from Lady Mitchell Hall in Cambridge and one from Leicester University. The source of the tapes would seem to be the mixing desk as the sound quality remains respectably high throughout. The first two concerts featured took place within six days in November and would seem to be part of a larger tour to promote the still-born Radar album. At this stage, it seems that the songs that would surface on A Can Of Bees had already reached completion; there are few discrepancies in the lyrics and arrangements. (Incidentally, only three songs are featured from the Leicester show, although a full sixty-minute cassette has been circulating on the bootleg market for some years.) The third show is from Cambridge in March 1978, two months prior to the release of the Anglepoise Lamp single.

Rout Of The Clones is a neat little package; the attractive sleeve contains some unfamiliar photographs of the group playing live, a previously unseen cartoon and an excerpt of a 1985 interview with Robyn saying that "Live was better than the records because it was so bloody loud". On this evidence he is perhaps not entirely correct. What comes across is a band who are well rehearsed, musically gifted but lacking that indefinable spark to make them a great live act. That is not to say that there is a particular shortage of great moments on this collection; a breathless rush through Anglepoise Lamp from the March show and a radically different early version of Muriel's Hoof almost justify the price of admission. Also tacked on to the end is a previously unreleased rehearsal version of Richard Thompson's Poor Will & The Jolly Hangman. Hitchcock is no match for Thompson as a guitarist, but does manage to inject some nice touches of his own into what is already a fine song.

Perhaps I am being slightly harsh; I am not of the age to have witnessed the original Soft Boys first hand and am perhaps unreasonable in expecting to find anything truly exceptional from live recordings. This is a recording of a group attempting to promote records and is a window into an era of their development rather than a definitive collection; anyone who was disappointed by the Ryko retrospective can perhaps be safe in the knowledge that there isn't very much exciting extant Soft Boys live stuff (although, the discovery of a set from 77 or before could prove me wrong). Let us be in no doubt that there is plenty of decent material from rehearsals that is still worthy of being exhumed; investigate the Soft Boys' Sessions cassette (if you can get hold of one) for proof, but perhaps live recordings have been done to death. Stick by the old epithet of Caveat Emptores for Rout Of The Clones; it's as good as it gets but it won't change your life.

Aidan's interjection; whoever chose the tracks to cut out was particularly misguided; every song from the live performances which made it onto the CD is very similar to the version on the albums (except Muriel's Hoof, which, let's face it, isn't Robyn's high point). Songs from these shows which were omitted include Look Into Your Mirror, A Most Peculiar Voice, and radically different takes on Human Music, Heartbreak Hotel and Caroline Says, and the tape from which Poor Will is taken also includes half-a-dozen unreleased SBs songs. Whine, whine, whine.

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