The Shend – Rub Me Out – book review
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The Shend – Rub Me OutThe Shend – Rub Me Out – book review

Published by Advance Records

Released 1 June 2021

A new book which brings together The Shend’s lyrics for The Cravats, The Very Things, Grimetime, The Babymen and Anzahlung in one handy tome, with insights from the man himself and also the likes of Stewart Lee, Jello Biafra, Penny Rimbaud, John Robb and Mick Mercer among others…Ian Canty takes an all-expenses paid break in The Shend’s own personal Hoorahland…

Rub Me Out, named after The Cravats’ near-hit single from 1982, is simple enough in concept. It compiles the various lyrics that The Shend has written for that band, along with his songwriting efforts for The Very Things, The Babymen, 1990s era biker rock ensemble Grimetime and the “doom disco” beat of Anzahlung. The latter named act and The Cravats exist today concurrently. The Cravats’ return in the 21st century has been nothing short of astounding and the words to the tunes were enigmatically intriguing to my ear in concert and studio settings, so the chance to examine them in detail here was too good to resist.

Now it has been said many times that song lyrics, when seen without the musical accompaniment on the written page, often don’t stand the test of scrutiny. However what comes over in this book is how many of The Shend’s words are brilliantly put together snapshots of real life given a uniquely bizarre slant. He’s a dab hand at supplying vivid mental images to the listener, or in this case reader’s, mind. For instance, in early song Precinct, let us consider the security guard who “with his shades he wonders if he looks like Peter Fonda”. Automatically I knew that kind of person, somebody who tries to project an image of authority and power, but is totally undermined by his own wish to hide behind the persona of someone out of the movies.

The format is that after Henry Rollins’ scene-setting forward, we get the lyrics of The Shend’s songs and then his various explanations and riffs on the theme of what we have just read. He fleshes out the subject matter in a typically self-effacing and engaging manner. Which is a posh way for saying that he tells what the songs are about (well, mostly) and throws in some asides from the febrile workings of his extraordinary mind.

These observations may or may not be relevant to the lyrics themselves, but are symptomatic of the richness which is imbued into all The Cravats have ever done. There was always a lot more going on in their works than in a lot of other bands, a tight package of music and ideas, whether they were played out in odd instrumental touches, offbeat lyrical notions or the sleeve graphics. The Shend holds forth in an always entertaining fashion, adding a lot in terms of breezy humour and there’s a complete lack of pretension – if one of his songs was really a series of unconnected images, he comes ruddy clean (ruddy being one of the man’s favourite words). His world is one where being called the dregs of society is turned around into a badge of honour, where you “You eat your stodgy goo and your teeth go bad” and “Pressure sellers sell us lies”. A lot like the world we currently live in really and the songs operate with their own internal logic given added colour by The Shend and the surreal cartoon setting of his brain.

Along the way we learn about a variety different things, for example what the punk explosion was really like in small-town Britain, what light entertainers think about nonsense song words, the joy of terrible 1970s cars and what a cheese and tomato sandwich tastes like when bread is replaced by Farley’s rusks. Something that works well is that writer Mick Mercer, who seems to have misinterpreted The Shend’s request for a comment on one of his songs, does a short piece on each of them. Mercer often seems the necessary voice of reason after The Shend’s flights of fancy and having these dual viewpoints adds to the enjoyment.

The early years of The Cravats are profiled from Situations Vacant, the flipside to the 1978 single Gordon, to The Shround Of New York (“Awe in our eyes, we drew spiritual breath, framed by the chrome trim, was the picture of death) from The Land Of The Giants EP. It is only The Shend songs, so hopefully Robin Dallaway will fill in the gaps with his great writings one day.

XMP is still as good a put down for useless politicians as it ever was (“What now little man?”) and for marketing executives Pressure Sellers does the same (“Twist the facts, make more money”). Rub Me Out itself was beautifully put together by Penny Rimbaud in the recording studio, so it is only right that he provides his own observations on the song and Simon Gilbert (of Suede) provides a short but sweet snapshot of the band and his time as a teenage Cravats roadie.

The Very Things section is necessarily slender, because as he readily admits he only wrote the one song for the band and came up with the title of The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes. Robin Dallaway composing most everything else they recorded, apart from the odd cover. Nevertheless The Colours Are Speaking To Me is a fascinating piece and a good example of a key element in the Shend’s songs – they can seems like a series of bizarre statements until one snaps the focus on tight – like here with “Red crosses over nations’ blood of the young and green”.

The story of The Babymen’s For King Willy is hilarious and then we’re into Grimetime, The Shend’s 1990s band with Jules Webb (ex-English Subtitles). Though John Peel deemed them not as good as the previous bands of The Shend, some of the songs were recycled for The Cravats’ second coming. Cathi Unsworth also provides a touching tribute to the man from her meetings with him at the time and “I was nothing but only for a little while, now I’m the business the front end of a crocodile” from Big Fish shows the gift of the gab had not deserted him.

The Cravats 21st century phase is covered in detail. The two albums the band have released in this phase, Dustbin Of Sound and Hoorahland are, in my opinion, as good as any released in the same time period. They’re stuffed with great songs that only enhance the band’s status. The Shend is of course at the helm and a quick look at say Jingo Bells or King Of Walking Away prove that he’s on top form. Hoorahland is equally festooned with good stuff, from Goody Goody Gum Drops (“Salvador Dali, I’m the yeast and the hops and the barley”) to the meaningless buzzword pile up of March Of The Business Acumen (“Bespoke solutions reinvent the wheel, hit the ground running while you spiel”) to the Stewart Lee-endorsed Morris Marina (“I’m more Austin Allegro than Batmobile”).

One can appreciate the depth of the recent Anzahlung album (reviewed here) more with the lyrics presented here. Sometimes they are a little more minimalist, but no less satisfying, like on Bolts Through My Bones. But The Shend’s insights are still well worth reading, like declaring “lounging around is tops” when commenting on Busy Always Ends In Why? or realising that he already used an Oscar Wilde quote then swiftly backtracking. I’ve Lost My Footing In The World is a tale of everyday paranoia that I could relate to, but enough of the spoilers – time spent in the company of this book is time well spent and after finishing it I felt like a friend had suddenly left me behind. So I read it again to stop being a silly old sad sausage.

I suppose the irony is that in pretty much sending up the concept of the lyric book tome, The Shend has only gone and produced an excellent example of the format. It’s brilliant illustrated with some great rare pictures too. Anyone who a little bit partial to The Cravats, or anyone who enjoys delving into one of the strangest, most original and outright hilarious brains in music today, is going to want to peruse this thoroughly entertaining read. Highly recommended Hooray, I mean Hoorah for The Shend!

The book is available for pre-order here

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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