I’ve just opened the doors on my advent calendars for the sixth of December. “Tobacco” beard oil, a jasmine green tea light ale, and a piece of chocolate bearing the countenance of an appropriately sceptical elf, since you ask.
I swear, I’m not making this up!
After the disaster of the Broken Mirror sessions which collapsed in 1993, there were various attempts by well-meaning record industry types to resuscitate the band’s brief flare of popularity in the summer of 1991. They were booked to appear on BBC’s Saturday morning kids’ show, Going Live, but that collapsed when the band demanded they be allowed to, well, go live. A Beeb still smarting from The Matt Bianco Incident some ten years earlier flatly refused.
A guerilla show on the Blackpool promenade timed to coincide with John Major’s launch of the “Back to Basics” campaign at the Conservative Party conference ended with Pete Wythe receiving a broken arm that put the band out of commission for another four months. Ronnie Babbs’ subsequent “dirty protest” in Preston jail failed to bring any publicity to the band’s plight. The self-styled working class hero was no John Lennon.
In the aftermath of the incident, Susanne Whyte apparently had the good sense to use her numerous degrees to go into teaching.
But at around this time last year, I read an account of the closest the band ever came to being able to make enough money to keep making music. It all started in 1995, when an enthusiastic young record company executive who had been 17 at the time of the Kaleidoscope EP sat the band down for a serious chat about where the band were going.
“I’ve got a plan,” he said, “for you guys to pick up royalties for the longest amount of time with the least amount of work.”
The plan was to record an EP of Christmas covers that were just different enough from the originals to count as co-compositions. Anyone who remembers the glory days of Birds Fate will know this would appeal to the trio of feckless slackers. It looked like they were ready to get back to work. Then the exec tried a little too hard to force the point home.
Pete Wythe later recalled that he came up with the title Birds Fate Ruins Christmas to screw with the record label. One night, the multi-instrumentalist and production genius turned up six months late for dinner and explained to his wife where he’d been – perfecting the piccolo sound on a cover of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ I Love Rock’n’Roll.*
I was her favourite song, and Pete thought that a perfect Birds Fate cover would make up for the number of times that the band had crashed on the verge of finally justifying the support of their friends and families. Her response?
So once again, Birds Fate once again holed themselves up in the Brecon Beacons with a huge bale of weed. The plan was to quickly knock out four covers in time to get the EP into the stores for the last Monday of November.
When they submitted Birds Fate Ruins Xmas to the label in June 1996, the girlfriend of the by-now-fired enthusiastic executive smiled gratefully and insisted that it was so good that it must be rush-released. The record failed to chart on 14th July 1996, and the label destroyed all remaining copies.
People who were present at the recording sessions have compared Birds Fate Ruins Xmas to “the very best of Sonic Youth”. The previous year, Geffen’s attempt to sell Sonic Youth on the back of the grunge movement failed when Dirty was described as unforgettable, undeniably moving, and among their best work, and charted in the U.S. Billboard 200 at #84.
So that sounds about right.
It all sounds pretty great, and just the thing for Christmas in 2016. But try as I might, I just can’t find a copy of Birds Fate Ruins Christmas. I’ve been all over the Web and scoured Edinburgh’s underground car boot sales, all to no avail.
The second rule of Edinburgh’s underground car boot sales – Nae sandshoes.
So if any readers happen to know where I can go to hear these tracks, I’d love to hear about it. Till next week…
*Today, Pete and Jess Wythe live as crofters on the isle of Eigg with their young daughter – who is tipped for musical stardom. It turns out, when she heard the piccolo sound on I Love Rock’n’Roll, Jess Wythe thought it was, indeed, perfect.