Luke Haines, Cathal Coughlan and Andrew Mueller: The North Sea Scrolls (Fantastic Plastic)
A flawed work of genius says Ged Babey of this bizarre collaboration released at the end of 2012
I never thought Iâd be reviewing a concept album (“A conceptual album and academic lecture by Luke Haines and Cathal Coughlan. With narrations by Andrew Mueller.”). But this is a pretty much as unique a concept as you can get, as far as I am aware, creating a kind of psychedelia using just words and ideas (rather than trippy music enhanced by ingesting hallucinogens) and by rewriting the history of the UKâs recent past using key figures from the history of popular culture, politics and infamy and relocating them into bizarre inappropriate roles and situations. And then to write songs about the resulting imagined history to create a satire about the â…rarely spoken-of Suffering of the Englishâ. Confused? You will be.
âThe excitable Secretary of State for Death, Enoch Powellâ is first made Poet Laureate and later joins Hawkwind offshoot Gong and enters a team in Itâs A Knockout facing the cast of On The Buses!
The Broadmoor patient, Ian Ball, who tried to kidnap Princess Anne in the Seventies takes on the persona of his namesake (Ian Ball, the guitarist with 90âs indie-blues-band Gomez) and meets the Devil (a goblin with blonde-thatched hair and a shell-suit muttering “Now thenâ¦”) at a level crossing near Basingstoke and invents the Broadmoor Delta Blues!
Michael Barrymore is the Royal Surgeon, Chris Evans is burnt at the stake, Morris Men are really murderous vigilantes…get the picture?
In the words of the albums press release: “Headphones on. Trip. The. Fuck. Out. Brothers and sisters, it’s the Scrolls, and the Scrolls have the answer. Listen…they speak.”
In my experience, people either think that Luke Haines is one of the greatest living Englishmen and a songwriting genius or, they think that Lenny Valentino was OK, when they are reminded that Haines lead (or rather was) the Auteurs.
Co-conspirators Andrew Mueller (former Melody Maker critic) and Cathal Coughlan, I am afraid, I know little about, having always had something of a blindspot for both Microdisney and Fatima Mansions and being a former NME reader. They obviously have very similar senses of humour and a shared appreciation of the absurd, as Haines so they must be alright. Muellers pompous-sounding lectures (explanations of each song-concept) are extremely funny, wordy and clever but nothing is gained really by them being recited. Personally Iâd have preferred to read them in an accompanying booklet perhaps. The songs are â…performed on guitar and piano, and accompanied by the cello stylings of Audrey Riley,â and the track listing below tells you much about the strange world you enter on sitting down to listen to this bizarre opus.
‘Preamble – Intro’
‘Broadmoor Blues Delta’
‘I’m Not the Man You Think I am Karen, I’m the Actor Tony Allen’
‘Witches in the Water’
‘I am Falconetti’
‘The Papal Pagan’
‘The Morris Man Cometh’
‘Tim Hardin MP’
‘Enoch Powell – Space Poet
‘The Australian IRA Show’
‘My Mother My Dead Mother’
‘Anthem of the Scrolls’
The main problem with the album is that Haines and Coughlan take turns singing alternate tracks so that you get six songs that seem to be written by Luke and six by Cathal. Each seems to concentrate on their own obsessions and petty-hates. Consequently Haines 70’s England fixation is explored whilst Coughlan’s are more about Catholicism, Ireland and politics. As a Haines fan I much prefer his, which are Laugh Out Loud funny, whilst Coughlan’s are just baffling and a bit straight-faced. A Fatima Mansions fan would no double think that the opposite applies.
Despite my reservations though, this is a flawed work of genius and one day Luke Haines will be recognised as the JG Ballad of Pop â a songwriter whose imagination knows no bounds.
The North Sea Scrolls have a Facebook page of sorts. You can visit Luke Haines on his official website. Cathal Coughlan has a site as well. Oh, and, while we are at it, here is Andrew Mueller’s websiteÂ too.
Words by Ged Babey. More writing by Ged on Louder Than War can be found here.