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The Cravats - The Cravats in Toytown: Double Volume

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Artist: The Cravats

Album: The Cravats in Toytown: Double Volume

Label: Overground

Review date: Aug. 1, 2012

“Gordon,” the Cravats’ first 1978 single, is a ferociously uneasy thing, brought into being by a feral, bassline, ornamented in a mad, half-cocked way by two-toned saxophone and scrabbly guitar and narrated in a staccato, psychotic deadpan by Robin Dallaway. It’s as if the raw threat of the Pop Group ran into a ska-happy dance party, disturbing, dissonant and, in its way, unstoppable.

The Cravats, who came from Redditch (about 15 miles south of Birmingham), formed in 1977 around the nucleus of guitar player Dallaway, singer and bassist The Shend, and saxophone player Svor Naan. (John Yapp played drums on the first single, but the main drummer was Dave Bennett.) John Peel was an early fan, inviting the band in for the first of four Peel Sessions in July of 1979 and again in 1980, 1981 and 1982. In a 1982 interview with Smash Hits, Peel observed, “I hate Toyah records and they all go whizzing into the charts, and I love The Cravats and play all their records and nobody buys them. Whenever I start to feel important I think, ‘Well, I never did much for The Cravats and I didn’t stop Toyah’.” Cravats broke up in 1982, and members went on to other outfits like the Very Things, DCL Locomotive and the Babymen.

“Gordon” was originally self-released, but was picked up in 1978 by Peter Stennett’s Small Wonder label, an imprint perhaps best known for issuing the Cure’s first single “Killing an Arab.” The Cravats in Toytown: Double Volume collects all of the Small Wonder Recordings, five singles and the full-length Cravats in Toytown, all remastered by Hyped2Death’s Chuck Williams. A second disc includes Crass drummer Penny Rimbaud’s reworking of the Cravats in Toytown album, also known as Alice in Toytown.

Double Volume is not quite in chronological order, since it starts with the 1981 full-length, Cravats in Toytown, then winds through the singles – “Gordon” b/w “Situations Vacant” from 1978, “The End” from 1979 (including “Burning Bridges,” and “I Hate the Universe”), “Precinct” b/w “Who’s In Here With Me” from 1980 and the two 1981 Small Wonder singles “You’re Driving Me”/”I Am the Dreg” and “Off the Beach”/”And the Sun Shone.” It’s not all-inclusive. In addition to this material, there was another album, Colossus Tunes Out and a handful of non-Small Wonder singles. It does, however, offer insight into the band’s early career, showing, even over its short span, a development from raging, menacing anarcho-punk to a subtler, artier form of madness.

Cravats in Toytown was recorded on 8-track in the basement of a hotel in Torquay, with very limited resources, so it’s surprisingly how sophisticated the album is. The Toytown version of “Gordon,” for instance, is a much crisper take on middle-class desperation than the single, the speed ramped up considerably but with a far greater degree of control. The single version lurches around sharp corners and barely makes the turns. The album’s “Gordon” rattles on faster and more confidently; there’s less sense of risk and menace. Cravats in Toytown also includes some of the band’s best non-single material, the saw-toothed anthem “One in a Thousand,” the crazily offkilter (like a metronome tipped on its side) “Ceasing to Be,” the bizarre, psychedelic-punk overload of “All on Standby.”

The album always included field recorded interludes between songs, but in this remastered version, these intervals are separated into separate tracks, and some of them have been enhanced with additional material from Crass’ Penny Rimbaud. Rimbaud, who recorded the band’s fourth “You’re Driving Me”/”I Am a Dreg” single, also contributes a remixed/reimagination of Cravats in Toytown on the second disc. There are lots more field recordings and one fairly annoying young female voice integrated into these tracks. It’s interesting, but I’m not sure how much it adds to the whole project.

The packaging is fairly minimal, without any of the commentaries or essays that usually accompany this type of reissue. There’s some additional information at the Cravats website, mostly of a non-linear, hard to parse variety (an extremely long interview with Shend and Robin, partially conducted in a bathroom stall, sheds some light on the band’s Noddy fixation, but is otherwise almost unreadable). Mostly what you get is the music, bracing, volatile, full of menace and psychosis, honking and stuttering and clattering through a dank landscape of late 1970s/early 1980s post-punk. It’s utterly original, confrontational stuff, and the fact that it dropped with hardly a ripple into the post-punk gene pool seems like a loss. You can imagine a parallel universe where Cravats were as influential as Pere Ubu or X-Ray Specs or Gang of Four…potentially a far more interesting world than the one we live in.

By Jennifer Kelly

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