BOX OF FISH INVENTED GRUNGE IN 1984 - Box Of Fish (Fish Records)
A brief disclaimer before we start on this. My denim jacket carries four badges across the top pockets- one of them is the Box of Fish badge given to me by bass player Carol Fish during the band’s Melbourne tour of 1984. When I tell you that the other three bands are the Cramps, the Germs and the Scientists, you should get an idea of the regard I have for these guys (and gal). I’ve been waiting for this collection for quite a while.
Anyway, to business. This is a 19-track, 72-minute long collection of demos, album tracks & a few live bits and pieces by a Sydney quartet who emerged from the art rock slums of Redfern in 1981 and carried on for nearly five years. Their rackety, arty, sometimes chemically enhanced approach to performance gained them a solid following all over town, until they sputtered to a stop in September’ 85 for reasons left unexplained here. The title is a reference to a 1984 interview during which they became the first band ever to go on the record describing themselves as grunge. Yes, the first band ever.
As a document in itself, it’s interesting as a counterpoint to those who would still try and argue that all early 80s Sydney bands were in thrall to the Birdman legacy. While BoF played with bands such as the Wet Taxis, Died Pretty, and the Hoodoo Gurus, they were never part of anything that could be considered a “scene”. They never recorded for Citadel or Waterfront, and Rob Younger never produced any of their music. Despite this degree of outsider status, they toured interstate, released a single, an album and several compilation tracks, and even got their name on the front page of Juke twice.
The other great myth that gets nailed here is their alleged Birthday Party fixation- that gets laughed out of the room two or three songs in. While the nucleus of the band may have met at a BP show in 1981, they were no kind of copyists.
So, what’s it like? While there are several highs over the course of the CD, there are a couple of lows, too. The material is drawn from across their whole life span, and includes a couple of rarities that will delight completists but perhaps don’t hold up as well as they could when set in this context. It’s the live tracks, particularly those recorded onto cassette at the Trade Union Club, that are the culprits here. Though I’d guess they’ve been cleaned up as much as possible, there is still a difference in sound quality that sets them apart.
For the rest, there are seven tracks from the “Slap ‘Em Round The Gills” LP, including the pummeling “Abo Joe” clocking in at just over five minutes. Two early tunes are taken from the 1983 Aberrant Records compilation “Why March When You Can Riot” (just when is that Aberrant Records stuff getting a proper CD reissue, anyway?). “S ex Cat Killer”, still an incredible song and my personal fave, is here in the original 7” version, along with its flipside, “Erosion”, which also deserves a wider airing. I could go on, but that should be enough to get your mouth watering.
The sound is distinctive, scratchy distorted guitar and thick bass with the vocals mixed well to the front. The rattling snare beats seem to be a legacy of the early 80s UK hardcore punk some of the band were fond of. Lyrically, these guys were ploughing a very personal furrow. Most of the songs are based on a few lines of scattered imagery of a fairly morbid nature, with choruses heavy on repetition. If they don’t often get their groove on, well maybe that goes with the idiosyncratic territory, though the bass in particular gets close but not too close to unleashing some dirty early Stooges style riffs.
They played a reformation show in Sydney recently, and I understand there is a chance of more to come. And there’s also a slim possibility of a return trip to Melbourne hanging tantalizingly in the breeze, perhaps early next year. I’ll be down the front for that if it comes to pass, until then this will do nicely. - TJ Honeysuckle
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