A student stops me in the corridor and asks if I remember some vaguely familiar name. As I nod in a distracted manner I’m informed that aforementioned name is this child’s mother. On parent’s evening a father who also seems oddly familiar appears in front of me and as I somewhat unkindly think of how the years have not treated him so well I wonder what on earth he’s thinking about me, still stuck here twenty years after he left. As teachers we accept that such moments are the inevitable reminders that we are Getting Old, but what kinds of triggers perform this function for everyone else? Policemen looking like they are twelve is undoubtedly one of them, closely followed by the now regular occurrence of 30 and 40 year reissues of records we bought when we were a mere slip of a thing. Ouch. So, thirty years since ‘Boomy Tella’ by The Claim was first released? Surely some mistake officer. And are you quite certain you are old enough to be carrying that side arm?
Christian reminds us that the past is a foreign country we wouldn’t much want to be reminded of, let alone visit, and yet like him this record by The Claim is one blip of history I’m quite happy to welcome back into my life. Not so much for memories of this, that or the other (though there are a few of those) but for the realisation that, when all those explicitly personal meanings and connections are removed from the frame (or as much as that is possible), it really does sound like a terrific record; a record that I like to think, had it been made in 2019 by a bunch of stringy kids from the suburbs, would be making me itch and dance inside like a fevered wraith.
I have resisted looking back in old fanzines to see what kinds of words and phrases I used to describe The Claim and ‘Boomy Tella’ at the time of its release. I have resisted the temptation to see what reference points I threw in. That said, I am certain I would have made more than passing reference to The Kinks and yes, the need to do so again is strong for the sounds of The Claim are certainly very much in line with the noise made by those Muswell Hillbillies, particularly on those ‘Kontroversy’ recordings where they simultaneously snarled, sneered and strangely soothed. And to go off an a tangent, remember how Sleater Kinney neatly nodded to the cover of the ‘Kink Kontroversy’ for their ‘Dig Me Out’ set? Well I’m going to be cheeky and suggest that there is something of The Claim in The Kinney; something in the way noises they create(d) are sweet sensations of controlled aggression tempered by a deeply held concern for humanity. Well what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding after all? Yeah, yeah yeah. Which is to say too that there’s something of Brinsley Shwartz and that energised pub-rock pre-punk tension in ‘Boomy Tella’ too and if I did not spot that on first release then it says more about my less-than-complete musical/cultural knowledge than anything else. If I’d told me that then of course I’d have laughed in my face and said something fatuous about Missing The Point Entirely. I’d have been wrong and I’d have been right. And vice-versa.
Christian is certainly right when he says that ‘Boomy Tella’ is up there with the best when it comes to the perfect way to open a record. I am sure I’d have said the same in those shrouded mists of history, probably throwing in some connection to ‘Waterloo Sunset’. It’s not just that perfectly pitched opening line about being wayward and cynical (I’ve lost track of the number of times I have thrown that reference into words I’ve written about any number of topics down these past thirty years) but it’s also in the way the song seems to snap you instantly to attention, secure in it’s self-assurance yet never aggrandising. No, never that.
Didn’t we talk in the past about lineage from The Kinks through Vic Godard to The Claim? As I say, many things from the/my past are intentionally obscured like Rauschenberg’s erased De Kooning drawing but that concept is one that refuses to drop. The Godard point is particularly pertinent, for there is certainly something of Godard’s eloquent use of the English language in the context of Pop within lines like “When the leaves of hope are looking sombre, don’t brush them aside, they’re needing gathering up and nurtured for a rainy day”. Chasing this chimera of content, indeed. There’s certainly too a Subway Sect current to much of the noise of ‘Boomy Tella’, which strangely now sounds more angular and sharply grazed than I remember. I even listened again to my original Esurient record to make sure it wasn’t something in re-mastering or pressing (things which I would never in a million years understand) but no, there it is: evidence that it’s my mis-remembered perceptions of the past clouding up the moment. Which is fine. As is the nudge of reminder to dig out and delight in those Godard discs from the past thirty years. It is tempting in idle moments to wonder what records The Claim might have gone on to make in those same thirty years had ‘Boomy Tella’ not slipped almost immediately into semi-obscurity (a perfect storm of failures in distribution service colliding with changes in cultural fashions within music) and certainly one strongly suspects they would have made records as equally terrific as, say, ‘The End Of The Surrey People’ or ‘Sansend’.
Thankfully all is not lost, and whilst recent experiments in quantum physics might suggest that the past has not in fact passed, the re-emergence of ‘Boomy Tella’ alongside the first new recordings by The Claim in nearly three decades appear to bear this out. Certainly the early indications are that ‘The New Industrial Ballads’ set (out on the re-ignited A Turntable Friend label in May) will be one that inevitably nods backwards to the glorious jambalaya of references held within ‘Boomy Tella’ whilst acknowledging present and potential futures. Edges may have been gently rounded, but The Claim still sound sharp and angry yet yes, with that same deeply rooted concern and love for humanity intact (if inevitably somewhat bruised). In what feels like a time of limited positives in the world, that’s got to be worth something.