The Jazz Butcher began life as a fellow named Pat Fish. As a young man, Fish found himself writing peculiar songs in the English countryside and eventually put together a loose collection of blokes to help him perform them. That evolved into a band, which was also dubbed THE JAZZ BUTCHER, and they soon managed to record some of their nascent musical scrapings and have them released by a fledgling indie label, Glass Records. A handful of albums and singles followed, and the long players have now been compiled into a 4CD “box set” they call The Wasted Years.
Spanning 1983 to 1986, The Jazz Butcher’s four initial albums (their entire Glass LP discography) make up four discs in a book configuration, with a short 20 page booklet that includes Pat Fish’s recounting of his band’s early history. Released by Fire Records, it’s a nice overview of a band that mixed humorous lyrics about oddball subjects to “new wave” music with compelling results. Bath of Bacon was their 1983 debut, a time when (according to Fish) “none of us really had a clue as to what we were at.” As he also notes about the band’s primal beginnings, some songs from the album have stood the test of time, such as “Partytime” and “Zombie Love.” Bath of Bacon was definitely a rookie recording, with its lo-fi sound and skeletal arrangements. That was to be improved upon tenfold with A Scandal in Bohemia, The Jazz Butcher’s second full length and quite the stunner.
Only a year later the group had gelled with Fish, guitarist Max Eider, bassist David J – who had been in Bauhaus and later Love And Rockets – and drummer Owen Jones. The Scandal lineup committed numerous JB classics, such as “Southern Mark Smith (Big Return),” which was a remake of a single track in a more stately arrangement with new lyrics, and “Caroline Wheeler’s Birthday Present”, a rocker about a peculiar episode of a woman getting stuck in an elevator with a gift “made entirely of the skins of dead Jim Morrisons – that’s why it smelled so bad.” We never learn what the present actually was, though it was biodegradable so that elevator must’ve really stunk! From hard rocking rave-ups like that to the introspective (if slightly skewed) “My Desert” and “Real Men”’s anti-racist/fascist/sexist rant, Fish’s lyrics, the band’s arrangements and John A. Rivers’ production are compelling and warrant repeated listening even today, some thirty plus years later.
The followup to Scandal, Sex and Travel, is a bit less amazing but almost as good. This time we learn pretty much nothing about “President Reagan’s Birthday Present,” which features the chant “red Russians shot my rocket down” over and over, but we do get the sober and almost beautiful opener “Big Saturday” and another thought provoker, “Walk with the Devil.” Sex and Travel, with only eight songs, was sort of like a mini Scandal Part 2.
1986’s Distressed Gentlefolk gets short shrift in Fish’s notes, and it did with many of The Jazz Butcher’s fans at the time, too. The album lacked a lot of the humor and oddball situations that made the previous albums and singles so fun, and the band – though more seasoned – play it too seriously and sober. Humor and anarchy, hallmarks of the band, took a backseat on Gentlefolk. That being said, one of Fish’s most gorgeous songs, “Angels,” closes the album (and this box set) on a hauntingly beautiful note.
The Wasted Years gives us those four albums, and those four albums only. None of The Jazz Butcher’s great singles tracks are here. Not “The Human Jungle,” not “Death Dentist,” not even “Water” or “Grooving in the Bus Lane.” I know there’s more than a full CD worth of stray songs the band did circa 1983-1986 that warrant compilation, and they would have been very welcome as bonus tracks on each of these four discs or as a fifth disc to sort of wrap up the proceedings. Perhaps that compilation is in the offing. Whatever, The Jazz Butcher’s first era set up a great foundation for the next one, when they moved on to Creation Records and put out more brilliant LPs, such as Fishcotheque and (my favorite) Cult of the Basement.
Anyway, I’m not sure about the title of this set. Does Fish feel that ’83-’86 were wasted years? Wasted in the sense of not worth it? Or in the sense (I suspect) that the band spent much of its time wasted? Either way, if you don’t own these albums, or are missing the very hard to find debut, The Wasted Years is certainly worth the price and no waste of your time or money.
3.5/5 (Fire Records FIRECD 460, 2017)