I haven't done one of these for a while. By definition, it's getting harder and harder to think of songs that fit all the criteria - I have to think it's terrific but at the same time the chance of you being familiar with the song have to be low. A tough balancing act to get right but one I think, with today's offering, I've nailed. You haven't heard of The Panic Brothers, have you? Right, good. Let's press on then.
Not actually brothers, Reg Meuross and Richard Morton were, by the mid Eighties, a couple of ex-punks with a penchant for close, Everly-style harmonies and humourous lyrics. The humour was often, though not always, misleading, as these lyrics frequently dealt with the preoccupations of the poor in Thatcher's Britain: being on the dole, being in debt, struggling to pay the rent on a fleapit, dodging the repo man, that kind of thing. When I first saw The Panic Brothers, they had just released their 1987 album In The Red and were supporting Lenny Henry on his stand-up tour. As I recall, the other support act were the excellent Mint Juleps. On the strength of going to see Lenny live at Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre with a couple of mates, I asked for In The Red for my birthday. In those pre-Internet days, this would not have been an easy find, but my big brother duly delivered. He was heavily into Crass at the time, God help him, and apparently the guy behind the counter at Richard's Records (now extinct, sadly - the shop, not the guy) remarked to my brother that this wasn't his usual kind of thing. "It's for my little brother," enabled my bro to maintain his record-shop reputation.
Anyway, today's Classic. I could have chosen any of the tracks from In The Red, such is the uniformly high quality of the songs, the wit and guile of the lyrics, and of course the excellence of those post-punk Everly harmonies. It's a great album, short and sharp (most of the tracks are in the two to three minute range). But I've chosen the song that is most embedded in my memory, whose lyrics I can still sing in their entirety despite not having played In The Red for more years than I care to mention. It's Bivouac, an ode to living in a dump and barely being able to afford even that. Yes, it's funny but to dismiss the Panics as a novelty or comedy act is so far off the mark. This is as much a political song as it is humourous and, sadly, the themes that made this relevant in the Eighties still apply today.
Post-Panic, Reg went on to establish himself as a highly-regarded folk act, whilst Richard pursued comedy and was a founder member of the Comedy Store’s topical Cutting Edge show. For me though, they will always be better together, so imagine my delight on discovering The Panic Brothers reunited for a handful of gigs last year, and apparently have more dates planned this year. They're on Twitter too, if that's your bag. Best of all, they've re-released the tracks from In The Red, with a couple of bonus extras, on shiny CD. You can, and should, buy it here.
As for me, I'll hang on to my vinyl Panic, and leave you with Bivouac, courtesy of YouTube. Enjoy.
Footnote (1): Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, which is quite possible, I'm pretty sure that Richard Morton, post-Panic, appeared on the Royal Variety Performance and did a song entitled "Daddy Was A Sperm Bank, He Came On My Account." Possibly not his finest hour.
Footnote (2): Like Ant and Dec, Reg and Rich always (well, not quite always, but nearly) stand the same way around, Reg on the left, Rich on the right, as you look at them. A bit like me and The Man Of Cheese when we're playing a quiz or fruit machine... The exception, for Rich and Reg, is the sleeve art for In The Red.