January 30, 2022

Duo is not only an excellent compilation of mid-‘90s Pink Fairies, but also an excellent introduction to the band for those unfamiliar with them.

Ah, the Pink Fairies. A group with a curious status in the history of rock. Everybody knows the name but not everyone could name an album by them, and some might struggle to even remember one of their songs, and if you could just remember one it would probably be City Kids thanks to that one having been given visibility by Motorhead. And yet the Pink Fairies were an enormously influential part of the alternative scene in Ladbroke Grove along with friends and future heavyweights Hawkwind. Their most significant influence was probably on John Lydon who was inspired by a Pink Fairies gig to set up a band – that was the Sex Pistols. The three albums the band released in the early ‘70s are a bit of a mixed bunch, both musically and quality wise, but if you listen to the proto-punk of Do It or City Kids then you can certainly see the energy and rawness of the sound that much have influenced Lydon and the movement that eventually became punk.

The band split after that initial run of three albums but have been around on and off since then with various line-ups. The short period that interests us here is the mid ‘90s when two of the founding members – guitarist Paul Rudolph and drummer Twink – got together in Canada and put down two albums which had a limited release at the time via Twink’s own label. Thanks to Cherry Red, we can now hear remastered versions of those two albums, plus a single disc of highlights from them supplemented by two previously unreleased tracks. That compilation is called Duo, neatly reflecting both the two-album period in question and the two-man band that put them together. So, did the Pink Fairies of the mid ‘90s sound like the Pink Fairies of the early ‘70s? Well, yes and no. At heart they were still a garage band playing raw rock’n’roll spiced with some more experimental elements. On the other hand, a lot of the psychedelic drug-induced chaos of the ‘70s material had been shed – and that’s no bad thing.

Lady pirate with phallic symbol gracing the cover of Pleasure Island

1996’s Pleasure Island is divided into two parts. Part One, corresponding to one full side of a vinyl disc, is entitled Matey Ho (The Pleasure), and consists of four tracks. In Pink Fairies tradition, they come out of the gates with a stormer. As Above So Below is classic Pink Fairies. A simple sounding guitar riff drives it along relentlessly and it really is as good as anything the band have ever done. We Run We Hide is excellent too with its ‘60s feel in the guitar sound and its warm vocal delivery which Rudolph says (in the informative booklet that accompanies Duo) was a deliberate recreation of the ‘60s sounds he heard while growing up as a kid in a small West Coast pulp mill town. The Matey Ho section is completed by Eccleston Chambers, a song that sounds modern but was actually written by Twink in the ‘60s when he was part of a short-lived project called The Aquarian Age, and The Man With The Golden Gun (yes, the man is James Bond; it’s a musical variation on the film theme).

Part Two of Pleasure Island goes under the title of Jim Lad (The Island) and consists of Jungle Drums, which is exactly what it says on the tin and thankfully lasts for less than two minutes, and the almost thirty-two-minute Cargoe In Jamaica. This behemoth will divide opinions, I suspect. Basically, it is Paul Rudolph having a very long jam. There are odd spoken words but no vocals as such. Obviously with such a long piece you would expect some variety in the material or some changes of pace to freshen things up. But no, the band are not interested in such subtleties, and we get the same rhythm pounded out for thirty-two minutes and Rudolph weaving his guitar line over the top of that. It shouldn’t work but somehow it does and is surprisingly infectious. At the end one feels it could happily go on for another ten or twenty minutes without becoming tedious! Fans of the band will know that the Fairies were notorious for this sort of lengthy jam in their early live sets but this I believe is the first time they have tried to transpose that to the studio setting. It certainly left me thinking ‘I wish I’d seen these guys live!’  

The bizarre cover of No Picture

With Pleasure Island getting a good reception, Rudolph and Twink came back a year later with No Picture. Musically it is a good album but to these ears slightly inferior to Pleasure Island, possibly because the upbeat tracks sound a little routine and less vibrant. One of the highlights though is ’67 which could be considered a short version of Cargoe in Jamaica at a mere ten minutes! It’s a little more restrained than its lengthier cousin but has the same hypnotic effect. Going Down To The City is the standout track for me – a great example of how the band can put down an irresistible groove, this time also accompanied by a memorable melody (not something the band is famous for). People Helping People and the title track add a bit of humour to proceedings, reflecting another Fairies tradition of not taking themselves or their music too seriously. Speaking about seriousness, the album cover is a bit of a classic too, but I won’t spoil the fun by explaining its genesis here; read the Duo album notes to find out what the horse is up to!

Both albums will be musts for Pink Fairies fans, and they will be equally keen to get their hands on Duo too so that they can hear the two previously unreleased tracks from that period. The first of these is Bugman, a curious piece characterised by a thumping rhythm, harsh chords, and very weird lyrics (‘I wanna be a bugman, baby. You got bugs in your wall. You got bugs in your hall. Do the bug’. See what I mean?). The second newly found track is Do You Remember, a short nostalgic trip back to the early times of the band. Neither of these bonus tracks will set the world alight but fans will certainly lap them up. The selection of the other tracks for Duo is spot on. The standout tracks from each album – As Above So Below and Going Down To The City – are both present, and I couldn’t fault any of the other choices. As such, Duo is not only an excellent compilation of mid-‘90s Pink Fairies, but also an excellent introduction to the band for those unfamiliar with them.

The albums can be bought here:

“Pleasure Island” on CD: https://geni.us/ExM017cd

“No Picture” on CD: https://geni.us/ExM018cd

“Duo” compilation on CD: https://geni.us/DuoCD

The Pink Fairies are also on Spotify (https://geni.us/PFspo) and Apple Music (https://geni.us/PFam).