The Cravats – In Toytown – album review

The Cravats – In Toytown (Overground Records)
2 CD set
Available now

We highly recommend this special two cd set re-issue from one of the UKs most underrated punk / post-punk bands.

A Stranglers show in Birmingham in 1977 proved to be the catalyst for The Cravats to form.

In July 1978 they self-released their debut 7” Gordon. Small Wonder liked the single so much that they picked up the remaining copies and booked the band into the studio with producer Bob Sargeant; the result was the Burning Bridges single followed soon after by another single Precinct.

For one week in 1980 the band relocated to Torquay, recording The Cravats In Toytown album on an 8-track in a hotel basement. Released by Small Wonder in October that year, the album gained healthy reviews and made it into the Top 20 in the independent charts.

Despite their collectability, these Small Wonder recordings remained un-reissued, until the recent discovery of the original master tapes. Aware of this breakthrough Penny Rimbaud of Crass (who produced the Rub Me Out single released on Crass Records in 82) procured the tapes to The Cravats In Toytown and in his own unique, eccentric style re-interpreted and remixed the album, re-titling it Alice’s Adventures In Toytown.

This double CD set compiles all the original Small Wonder recordings remastered – the In Toytown album and all four singles (including B Sides), plus a bonus disc of Penny’s masterpiece.

The Cravats were one of those weird and wonderful bands that John Peel would play. They were different, a bit odd. I was never quite sure whether I liked them or not. They weren’t straight-forward punk, they didn’t have the immediacy and catchiness of what fast became generic punk and they were not cool, enigmatic and arty but easily accessible, like say Magazine or Wire. They had that herky-jerky-ness most often associated with (early) XTC. There songs scuttled rather than flowed. The Cravats had a wilfully lack of commerciality and a playful adventurousness.

It wasn’t easy to get hold of singles by bands like the Cravats in provincial record shops in those days so consequently during the 1978-80 era I can’t really admit to being a ”˜fan’. They were a bit too weird-beard (probably Beefheart or Zappa influenced) for me despite having punk-energy ”¦. I should have persisted, listened harder, ditched the Sham, Lurkers and Eater singles, because in retrospect the Cravats were a unique proposition with as much individuality and uniqueness as you can have in the crazy world of punk rock’n’roll.

It’s probably because they weren’t just a rock’n’roll band at all. The up-front saxophone I guess meant that be-bop / jazz was an influence as well as rockabilly and all manner of avant-garde stuff. They really should’ve been Berliners or New Yorkers or from Cleveland instead of coming from Redditch in the Midlands.

Cravats in 1978

Then they’d have got the sort of reverential attention reserved for Pere Ubu and latterly the perennially over-rated Sonic Youth. James Chance and the Contortions perhaps had a bit of transatlantic kinship as they also featured an upfront sax, but then again maybe not.

The Cravats influences I guess were Dada and the surrealism of Dali and so on ”“ but perhaps more likely it was Spike Milligan, the Goons, Q8, Monty Python, all those off-the”“wall comedies on BBC2 in the mid Seventies. Just have a look at the similarities between these two photos of the Cravats in 1978 and the Goons in 1951.

When questioned about their ”˜experimental’ music bassist/singer and sometime actor and restaurant critic (he wrote an idiosyncratic column called a Meal With Peel for Offbeat magazine in the 80’s) The Shend said something along the lines of ”˜yes, but our experimentation is done before we go onstage or record’.

The Cravats were ultra-tight, disciplined and intense, with the social comment half-buried beneath their manic intensity and dada-ist approach. Svoor Naans’ extraordinary and varied saxophone playing making them stand out from their contemporaries, that and Shends gnawing, growling, grumbling bass playing (no surprise that they met at a Stranglers gig). Beefheart and the Bonzo’s must figure somewhere in the equation.

The Goons in 1951

Musically its far from basic formula pop or rock ”“ it has more in common with how John Zorn described his jazz-punk style as being influenced by the music in Tom and Jerry cartoons; loads of changes in pace to follow and score the action.

The Cravats were (I’m guessing here) inspired by music from Hammer Horror movies and other Sci-fi oddities as well as cartoon capers. The Shends vocals are at times more narrated rather than actually sung. Either that or ranted in peculiar theatrical voices. It was no surprise when he became an actor.

The second CD, Penny Rimbauds remix and reinterpretation is an astounding piece of work. Nightmarish psychedelia with loads of samples of dialogue from what seems to be an audio-book of Alice In Wonderland. Added to that a sharp production and bits of classical piano, fairground organ, breaking glass and snippets from public information films and it is some trip, maan, and unlike anything else you’ll hear.

A quality re-issue, wholeheartedly recommended, by one of the UK’s most bizarre and under-rated post-punk, punk bands.

The Cravats are on tour:

  • 11 Aug 2012 – The Cravats + Deadbeat Descendant. Prince Albert, 48 Trafalgar Street, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 4ED
  • 14 Sep 2012 – Zounds + The Cravats + Paranoid Visions. The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JB

All words by Ged Babey. You can read more from Ged on LTW here.  

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2 comments on “The Cravats – In Toytown – album review”

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  1. That is a good review and you’re absolutely right they do look like the Goons! Got this collection today and although I love the Cravats I only used to have the second Lp “Collosal Tunes Out” so its a boon to get this with all the single tracks and remix too. Another great release from Overground and I might even pop along to see the Cravats at those gigs too

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