Despite copious amount of nicotine, alcohol and fried food I have somehow managed to defy the fertility gods and sire three beautiful children. I now have responsibilities like a mortgage and trying to teach my kids how to avoid becoming social reprobates.
I have also managed to pick up lots of strange habits like insisting my tea tastes better from a particular mug, never being able to sleep unless I have ‘my pillow’, being confused to the point of distraction over my eldest child’s fashion sense, insisting on buying physical format music and moaning about all manner of trivialities and minutiae in life.
I like to explain it all by saying I have matured intellectually enough to know what is right and wrong and to know what I like. This, of course, is merely a euphemism for the reality of the situation…i.e. I am rapidly getting old.
One of my current ‘old man grumbles’ is that the internet music scene is helping to kill off the brilliance of a ‘regional sound’. Now I know deep down that the internet is the best thing that has ever happened to music as it allows me to discover music I would never have found. However this does always satiate ‘grumpy old man’ who misses the times when Liverpool went through the Merseybeat era, Manchester bands started playing music on an 18th century church organ in the Baggy scene and places like Seattle hurled numerous grunge bands onto the world on the back of Mother Love Bone Mudhoney and Nirvana.
One of the regional sounds was called the Medway scene and was pioneered in the previously sleepy British County of Kent was pioneered in the late 70’s by various Billy Childish bands playing in unfashionable musical outposts such as Rochester, Gillingham, Chatham and Strood. The Dentists were undoubtedly the poster boys of the scene garnering both limited commercial success and massive critical acclaim on both sides of the atlantic.
The indicative sound of the scene was of pounding drums married to a kind of jangle that was vitally different than anything that came before or after inasmuch that it has an almost jittery sort of quality to it. Think the Fire Engines suddenly becoming unconvinced by their chiming guitar work as the nearest, if somewhat bizarre reference point.
This album presents their first and ultimately best work. Strawberries are Growing in my Garden (In Winter Time) which is available below became something of a cultural idiom at the time. I am not quite sure what the playful lyrics mean or what cultural significance it had for the youngsters but I just remember everyone knowing the words and jumping to the dance floor when even the very first spidery chiming guitar notes were released from the speakers.
Maybe the popularity was because the band were so quintessentially English that there sound just sunk into the hearts of the youth thus making the band their own.
Certainly a track like John Noakes and Tony Bastable may well be completely lost to people from outside the borders of the UK as they were two well know TV presenters from the era’s most popular kids shows Magpie and its competitor on the other channel,Blue Peter. Such playfulness perhaps enabled them to tap into the British psyche by employing the same technique of tapping into popular culture that a band like Half Man Half Biscuit also used to gain cult status.
However it is in the tracks where they just concentrated on the deep bellow and boom of the Medway sound rather than any other frivolous intentions that truly matter. Therefore tracks such as I’m not the Devil (see below), Kinder Still and One of Our Psychedelic Beakers Is Missing are the truly defining tracks that conjure up my memories of the Medway aesthetic.
It always makes me laugh when music snobs mock the 80’s as The Dentists are one of 100’s of bands from the era that either helped define todays indie-music scene or would sit very easily in the upper echelons of acclaimed bands if they were around today in their pomp and I will be forever grateful that my grumpy old stage had not engulfed me at that point and I still had enough energy to stomp around the dance floor to ‘Strawberries…’