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Paul Rooney – Lucy Over Lancashire (SueMi)

Paul Rooney is an obsessive auto-didact of a certain age, weaned on a back-street pop culture he’s upended, rummaged through the fag butts of at length, then rolled around in on his own doorstep before spinning the acquired wisdom and experience into shaggy-dog stories down at his defiantly red-brick northern English local. Or at least, that’s how it appears from this magnificently chewy and utterly surreal 12” single, released on delicious raspberry ripple, joke-shop blood coloured vinyl through Berlin’s SueMi Records.

Anyone who witnessed Pass The Time Of Day, the exhibition this Liverpool born, Edinburgh College Of Art trained chancer curated on tour in London, Edinburgh’s Collective Gallery, Nottingham and Manchester throughout 2004/5 will get the idea. Via a series of installations, Rooney and fellow travellers including Arab Strap, Stephen Sutcliffe and Mark Leckey explored primarily pop music as a distraction from the everyday, a way of getting ‘out of it.’

There’s previous form too, playing in the eponymous Rooney, a bona-fide John Peel championed band, whose single, ‘Went To Town,’ was voted number 44 in the Radio 1 icon’s 1998 Festive Fifty, and who recorded a session for the programme the following year. By hub-capping the title of his first release in seven years from The Fall’s 1986 B-side, ‘Lucifer Over Lancashire,’ a fact acknowledged within the record’s gothic absurdist narrative, Rooney sets his store for what follows from the off.

Over six segued cut-ups, we’re introduced to Lucy, a lonesome sprite locked into the record’s grooves like some jabber-mouthed ghost in the machine who’s the intangible equivalent of the sort of girls who hang out on street-corners during school hours. Under the spell of the mysterious Alan (possibly former Lancashire station Red Rose Radio’s 1980s shock-jock, Allan Beswick, who makes a brief, bile-fuelled appearance), Lucy regales her captive audience with selected hand-me-down local mythology passed on by Alan as gospel. In this way, ‘Lucy Over Lancashire’s hex-strewn subject matter draws from the same well as some of the Moors-set contemporary and ancient folk song field trips by Daniel Patrick Quinn.

Here, though, the effect is not unlike Caroline Aherne’s schoolgirl single mum character from ‘The Fast Show,’ ‘Our’ Janine Carr, a precursor to ‘Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard, bending your ear with some old wives tale picked up off some superstitious relic of a relative. One thinks too of the wide-eyed ingénues played by Rita Tushingham in the films ‘Smashing Time’ and ‘A Taste Of Honey,’ the latter of which featuring dialogue by Shelagh Delaney so evocative that Morrissey appropriated much of it for the first Smiths album.

As much as Lucy is a ‘Shameless-friendly ASBO in waiting, she’s also a creature of naïve but considerable supernatural force. Outside her stories, this manifests itself through a spindly, sampled Country N’ North-Western guitar backing that’s bent out of shape by some primitive white indie Dub drum and bass alchemy possibly conjured up by Lucy herself. Together, the words and music become a cheeky, increasingly overwhelming litany of folk yarns old and new, in which Manchester United’s nickname of The Red Devils is imbued with dark significance. In a part of the country where real life witch trials took place, red really is the colour, however symbolic.

Somehow the babbled splurge of a Samuel Beckett monologue is possessed by the sort of hidden Satanic messages found in backwards-speaking Beatles records. Also in there are fellow northern souls John Cooper-Clarke, red-haired Mick Hucknall and his band Imply Red (sic), who founded Blood And Fire Records to put out Dub reggae records to appropriate Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry for what Lucy calls the “Dark Forces, capital D, capital F.”

‘Lucy Over Lancashire’s closest relatives are Big Hard Excellent Fish’s piece of mid-1980s Scouse ambient melancholy, ‘The Imperfect List,’ on which Pete Wylie of Wah!’s then paramour Josie Jones painstakingly spits out a role-call of ills inflicted, either on her or the world at large. ‘The Imperfect List’ was used by Morrissey as his intro music on his 2004 tour, and there’s the same sense of sad, trapped, Sisyphean resignation found in Lucy’s final words before she vanishes into the run-off groove after 16 and a half minutes of woozily incessant clatter.

Lucy might feel less lonely if she ever heard ‘Clowntown,’ an even spookier piece of subverted post-punk music by Pink Military Stand Alone. Even more Scousers, Pink Military were led by Jayne Casey, who’d previously fronted Big In Japan with Bill Drummond, often wearing a lampshade on her head. ‘Clowntown’ was even more primitive than ‘Lucy Over Lancashire,’ a far scarier melodramatic shriek of a record, extended by lo-fi studio techniques so it sat perfectly next to the late-night Dub played by John Peel. By coincidence, the first and only Pink Military album, ‘Do Animals Believe In God?, was produced by early Simply Red bassist Tony Bowers.

‘Lucy Over Lancashire’ cries out like a D-stream banshee to be heard full-blast in a club. As it is, it fulfilled its own prophecy in November 2006 when it was played on BBC Radio Lancashire’s avant-rock and roots reggae show, ‘On The Wire.’ If that sounds like a happy ending, for Lucy it’s a curse.
www.suemi.de

MAP issue 10, April 2007

ends

Comments

rolffan said…
best thing i've heard in ten years
Anonymous said…
April 2014 - I just 'rediscovered' this excellent record on a recording of Dandelion Radio's 2007 Festive Fifty. Thanks for the comprehensive notes and pointers to similar recordings.

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