Sick On You – Andrew Matheson (Ebury Press)
Louder Than War’s Steve John reviews one of 2015’s best music books
Hearing the song “Sick On You” on compilation I was struck by the snottiness of the lyrics but remember wondering that if the Hollywood Brats were Britain’s answer to the New York Dolls then the question had got lost in translation. If however you need evidence that there is no correlation between the quality of music and books about it then the lead singer of the Brats Andrew Matheson’s “Sick On You” magnificently silly memoir is all that’s required.
Chronicling the Brats fall and keep on digging approach from 1971 to 75 “Sick On You” is the most entertaining music book in many a year. Originally they were called The Queen because of how good piano player Casino Steel thought it would look in headlines. After Matheson punched Freddie Mercury in a dispute over the name something like “The Queen punches Freddie Mercury” I imagine. If only anybody had been famous. In one of the many run from the locals chase scenes the reader has to consider the difficulty Matheson had in making his escape in a top hat and lime green clogs combo.
Even topping this in the ridiculous names and two worlds collide stakes is the Hollywood Brats meet Cliff Richard. After a film premiere one of their many ‘managers’ gets them invited to Matheson rechristens Sir Cliff “Bongo” after one of his early efforts. Whether this is to make him feel more at home in an anecdote which involves a Slats Silverstein, James Swackhammer and a cast of god botherers is unlikely.
Now while the last thing I suspect Matheson would want or deserve is an award for political correctness the sex in the book is less Motley Crue’s “Dirt” than “Confessions Of a Pop Performer” period sauciness. The animal rights lobby may be less impressed with the hilarious case of starvation which led to the abduction of a box of eels or Matheson holding back the rats in the Brats squat by pouring scalding water down the chimney on them. It is indeed this commitment to the rock ‘n’ roll cause which I find most heart warming with large swathes of the book feeling like it should be accompanied by the music to “Rising Damp”.
By now your rooting for Matheson and the gang so our heroes finally getting their rewards by making an album for record label Worldwide Artists is more of a “Monty Python” moment. Except this is the Hollywood Brats so Worlwide Artists not only turns out to be a publishing company but is actually run from prison by the Krays. Unimpressed with their sound and unable to sell the tapes to an actual record label their henchmen then proceed to get nearly as unpleasant as you might imagine. Three years after arriving in London from Canada and contracting crabs after a T. Rex concert Matheson really was a dandy in the underworld now.
Eventually the album was released on Mercury in Norway and sold a grand total of 563 copies. Nevertheless in a way reminiscent of the the Velvet Underground many of the people who heard it went onto form bands. Cue walking through Soho with an awe struck Mick Jones and Tony James on the way to a meeting with Malcolm McLaren. In a building down Denmark Street now due to be demolished for the Crossrail ‘outernet’ shopping experience McLaren tried to convince Matheson and Steel that he could turn the Brats into the spearhead of a musical revolution. On their way down from his office they side stepped the rehearsing Sex Pistols. One more meeting with Vivienne Westwood drawing clothes on a pub table and Matheson committed career suicide but accumulated some more splendidly dismissive put downs for this book.
Indeed with his warnings about the perils of beards in music as pertinent as ever and ability to conjure up a particular time I would sentence this self styled gentleman to a place on the punk rock after dinner speaking circuit for all eternity. As the Hollywood Brats had so many bassists they decided it would be easier to name them all after Batman’s mansion so for services to rock ‘n’ roll arise the Lord of Wayne Manor.
All words by Steve John. More from Steve can be found at his Louder Than War Author’s Archive.