Burning Badgers Vinyl – The Lost EPs #4
The Secret Vampire Soundtrack – Bis (1996, Chemikal Underground)
Believe it or not I first heard this record whilst standing in a telephone kiosk in a country lane in Devon whilst Mrs SWC smoked a Marlboro cigarette on the lane outside with her brother. It remains one of the most bizarre ways I have ever reviewed a record. It was the summer of 1996 and it starts with me making a phone call to a lady called Nicky, who at the time was the Reviews Editor of Select Magazine….
Every Thursday morning I phone Nicky on the off chance that there is some random pieces of writing that can be done or if I am very lucky a gig that needs reviewing. I got free tickets to a secret warmup Wu Tang Clan gig a couple of weeks ago at a place in Ladbroke Grove in London so my technique works every now and again. I’ve been told by a guy called Ian, who is one of the few writers to actually have a contract with Select (or the parent company at least) that there are Reading Festival Passes on offer so I thought I’d chance my arm. It wasn’t going well though.
“Have you done that review of the new Bis single?” she says to me with a sniff.
“What Bis single? Actually come to think of it, who are Bis?” I say jovially, hiding my disappointment that she wasn’t going to give me free tickets to the Reading Festivals and not a single by a band I have never heard of…
There is a sigh…
“We sent you the CD and a note attached to it on Friday, should have arrived by now, what with it being Thursday…” there is a pause, probably a pregnant one.
“Ah….” I say doing some quick thinking…”Oh yes…that Bis single, I think it’s at the bottom of the pile underneath the new U2 remix that I got sent….you’ll have it by the end of today, couple of hundred words ok…?”
“4 o’clock no later, there are plenty of other people who can review this shit you know, if its any good we may have some Reading Passes available, we need a team on the New Band Stage and Ian recommended you…so lets see what you can do…don’t fuck it up”. Another sniff, Charlie must have visited the offices that morning.
I put the phone down and punch the air. Reading here I come I think, all I have to do is review this record by Bis, which will be a piece of piss. Or at least it would be if I actually had the record by Bis.
You see one thing that I failed to mention to Nicky was that I am in Devon, at the house of Mrs SWC’s mother. I am on holiday, sort of, Mrs SWC has been poorly and we hot footed it down to Devon at the weekend to allow her to recuperate by the sea instead of in a grotty student house in Guildford, which I am going to guess is where the Bis record is currently sitting unopened and unloved.
I make another quick call, this time to my student house, the phone rings and rings, and no one answers. I curse my luck. Two minutes later Mrs SWC comes into the lounge and tells me that we are going for a walk, fresh air is good for the soul apparently. I try in vain to argue that this is not a good time, but I quickly realise that I won’t win that argument.
On the walk I tell Mrs SWC about the Bis record and about the Reading Festival Tickets, she tells me that Reading is a shit festival held in a shit town full of shit people and not to worry about it. She adds that Bis sound rubbish as well. I laugh but I also can’t afford to turn down the 200 word review.
Which is why fifteen minutes later I am standing next to a public telephone in a country lane waiting for Johnny my housemate to phone.
“Shall I put the phone next to the player, mate?”.
“Yeah go ahead”
mp3: bis – Kandy Pop
And with that the tinny strains of ‘Kandy Pop’ by Bis are made even tinnier by being played down a landline phone in Guildford to a public phone box in a lane three miles from the nearest record shop. I stand there, phone welded between my shoulder and ear, whilst I write notes about it. I definitely write the words, ‘yelping’, ‘cartoon’, ‘childlike vocals’ and ‘DIY’.
An hour later, Bill, Mrs SWCs brother has dropped me off at Newton Abbot library and I file my review to the magazine. I recall likening Manda Rin’s vocals to the sort of noise you hear at a school disco near the girls toilets. I also recall hearing the song on Radio One about an hour after posting my email and thinking, “that sounds nothing like the record I have just reviewed’, which possibly explains why I never got any free Reading Festival Passes. I never once thought, I know I’ll switch on Radio One, if Bis are any good 1FM will be all over it like a rash.
I’ve just spent a good thirty minutes trying to find my piece from the clippings I have in the loft, with no luck. I definitely have a clipping somewhere it because it was (unsurprisingly) the last thing of mine that they ever published.
All of which technological masterclasses bring us to Badger’s version of ‘The Secret Vampire Soundtrack’ which serves as the fourth in our series of five of Lost EP’s, and is perhaps the second one of the four so far that could have stayed lost.
His copy appears to be a promo, the sleeve is plain red and the only thing to tell us that it is Bis is a cheap looking sticker hastily stuck about the cut out hole. The vinyl itself has an ‘A’ drawn on one side and amazingly a ‘B’ on the other. It looks like it has barely ever been played, which is perhaps understandable, its not a record that I think has aged very well.
Here are the other three tracks, none of them are particularly amazing, if I had to pick a standout track it would be ‘Secret Vampires’
For the record, I’m disagreeing with our esteemed author today, his first knowledge of which will be when he reads the post!!
I have a 7″ copy of The Secret Vampire Soundtrack (from which all of today’s mp3s have been taken), and love each of them for the DIY approach. It’s also to do with the fact that bis are great fun in the live setting…..we can’t all be as polished or as perfect as Muse…..
Here’s something I wrote back in September 2010, that I’ve been able to salvage from the wreckage of the old blog: (worth mentioning that bis have subsequently reformed since this posting, and further albums were released in 2014 and 2019)-
“This lot are famed for being, in March 1996, the first ‘unsigned’ band to appear on Top Of The Pops when they performed Kandy Pop, a track on their Secret Vampire Soundtrack EP.
The band comprised Manda Rin (vocals & keyboards), Sci-Fi Steven (vocals & synthesisers) and John Disko (guitars) – their real names were Amanda MacKinnon and bothers Steven & John Clark. At the time of the TOTP appearance they were were 18, 19 and 17 years of age respectively.
But the truth was that while technically unsigned, Bis had the comfort of knowing their records would be released by Chemikal Underground, the label formed by members of The Delgados. Furthermore, The Secret Vampire Soundtrack was in fact their third release, so its not as if they were total novices.
They soon signed to Grand Royal, a label run by the Beastie Boys, allegedly after turning down 50 other options. But the hype around Bis did create a huge backlash in the UK and while the EP did eventually reach #26 in the singles charts, it was the most success they would ever enjoy in their native land. But it was a totally different story in Japan where their 1997 debut LP The New Transistor Heroes shifted well in excess of 100,000 copies.
Subsequent singles and LPs didn’t do all that well and most folk dismissed the band as something of a one-trick pony capable only of nonsensical shouty lyrics over the top of seemingly out-of-tune synth tracks.
So it all turned very sour quickly for bis and it was no real surprise that they called it a day in 2003 – and not one of the band was close to being 30 years of age.
There have been a couple of efforts to reform since then, most notably in 2007 to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the release of the debut LP, but these were not met with any huge acclaim outside the cult following the band latterly cultivated.
But while there may have been some disappointing stuff released in the latter part of their recording career, there’s no escaping the fun and frolics of the hit EP. It’s kind of a cross between Altered Images and the post-punk sounds of bands such as Swell Maps”