THE £20 CHALLENGE (Week Nine)


S-WC writes…..

I’ve edited this at the start to issue an apology. I’ve been really busy in the last couple of weeks – so apologies if you have been (for some strange reason) eagerly awaiting (or even just mildly looking forward to it) this. It was beyond my control. Sometimes work gets in the way of fun. That obviously sucks, but, its pays my bills and keeps me in fluffy socks and allows me to fuel my Jaffa Cake addiction. Now on with the charity shop stuff.

“You know that I hate Mercury Rev why have you bought me a Mercury Rev CD?”

Badger smiles and says that it was time for me to put aside my hatred for Mercury Rev, because it wasn’t based on music but personality. He is right and this is why…Welcome to the (long drawn out) story of the night that the singer from Mercury Rev punched me in the face…Which to this day is the sole reason why I refuse to like Mercury Rev.

It is March 1992, I am sixteen an in the last year or so I have discovered music, live gigs, girls, Newcastle Brown Ale, Doc Martins Boots and cigarettes. I have abandoned a burgeoning career on the running track (at the time I am the two time Kent Under 16 Cross Country Champion), and thrown away my slippers with Scooby Doo on them. I think I am cool because I own ‘Come Home’ on 12” and a Carter T-shirt which has a swear word on the back.

By now I am a gig veteran (or I think I am), last summer I went to the Reading Festival and the much forgotten about Slough Festival and already this year I have seen about five bands live. Today I am in Folkestone to see Ride they are supported by Mercury Rev. Ride are touring in support of their second album ‘Going Blank Again’ and are at the height of their powers, the album has just gone Top 5 in the charts and ‘Leave Them All Behind’ has been pretty much glued to my stereo since its release – this is probably because its so long that it hasn’t quite finished yet.

mp3 : Ride – Leave Them All Behind

There are six of us, me, Graham (posh kid, doesn’t like Ride, but has come because he fancies one of the girls here), Martin (now in the band Thee Faction), Nick (thinks he is cooler than everyone because he has a girlfriend who is older than him), and two girls, Michelle (the one that Graham fancies I think) and Catherine (later starts going out with my best mate Richard). I at the time have been sniffing around Our Price Girl, I have yet to succeed (succeed? Probably not the right word) in that quest but I am at least on speaking terms with her. Oh, she is here at this gig, did I mention that? She is sitting in a café (looking divine in a Cure T Shirt and flowery skirt) drinking Pepsi, on the walkway up to the concert venue, which is why I am trying to convince everyone to go to that café instead of queuing up to get in like 700 other sadsacks.

Our Price Girl is with Jane one of her best friends, a chap called Dave who I sort of know and another guy, who is much older than them all (later revealed as Dave’s dad, Eric). In the end Michelle, me, and Graham (inevitably because where Michelle goes, he goes) go to the café and the others go and queue up. I pretend not to notice Our Price Girl and then act surprised when I see her at a table. It sort of works as her group and my group spend the rest of evening as one group.

We are wondering back to the queue, I think there are six of us (Dave’s Dad has gone somewhere else), when we spot Mark Gardener from Ride, just walking down the street. He is carrying a plate of sandwiches, which I have to say to this day remains the single most bizarre thing I have seen a rock star carrying (apart from the time I saw Billy Corgan carrying a goat into his hotel room and locking the door. That’s made up by the way, just in case he’s reading). That is important, remember the sandwiches. Seeing Mark pretty much sends the girls into some form of mental breakdown, they start fixing their hair, getting little mirrors out of their bags that sort of thing. We dash over and immediately Our Price Girl tells me to say hello to him. “Why me?” I say. She doesn’t answer but just stands that looking cross, so I shut up and wander over. Now for some reason, I have no idea why, I say to Mark Gardener, probably the coolest bloke on the planet at the time (well I thought so anyway), “Got any cheese and tomato in there?” He looks at me and smiles and says “I don’t know, they are for Mercury Rev”. Then I ask him if he would mind signing some stuff for me and my mates, which of course he agrees to. We then all chat some more and eventually we are outside the back of the venue – he then says he has to run off and do ‘shit interviews’ with the local papers but told us to enjoy the gig and he is gone. The girls sigh, and we all decide that he is a really nice guy. It is then that Graham realises that he is holding Mercury Rev’s sandwiches.

We knock on the back door until a security guy opens it and tells us politely to fuck off. I say that we have some sandwiches for Mercury Rev and he laughs and says ‘nice try’. We push Graham to the front and show him, he tells us to stay where we are. A strange thing happens then, the singer from Mercury Rev turns up and starts chatting to us, whilst opening the plate of sandwiches up and eating them. There are probably fifteen sandwiches on that plate. Now, I should say here, that this is the old singer from Mercury Rev, a large chap named, David Baker, not the current singer. I was pretty unaware of Mercury Rev and their music and when the singer asked us if we were fans instead of saying yes I said ‘I’ve never heard of you…’ and Graham and Dave both laughed. Our Price Girl shot me a look at this point.

He looked pretty pissed off with me at this point and he starts to wander off back into the venue, muttering something about having to get back. Now, at this point, the events are slightly blurred, but someone says something. I swear it wasn’t me, I think it was Graham, but I might be wrong. Anyway, the singer from Mercury Rev turns around and punched me in the face. It didn’t hurt to be honest, it was more of a slap than a punch it left a red mark rather than a bruise. With that he was gone and the security guard told us to do one again. By the way, David Baker had eaten nine sandwiches in around five minutes and not once did he offer us one or even say ‘Thank You’.

I turned to my friends and said “I bet Mercury Rev are shit”. I was right, that night they were awful, meandering, and pretentious. I vowed that from that day I would never like them, it was because the singer had slapped me, rather than their actual music, because there was one song about ‘Bees’ that was actually pretty good.

So that is why I have never really liked Mercury Rev. And by the way the only other musician to have punched me is the guitarist from long lost Pearl Jam wannabes (only from Guildford, not Seattle) Redwood, he punched me because I said their album was as interesting as reading the Chester City Bus Timetable. That one hurt though.

“The problem with this album”, Badger says as he hands me the copy of ‘All Is Dream’ “is that its not ‘Deserters Songs”. That album folk is in Badger’s Top Twenty Albums Ever. He loves it and every now and again forces me to listen to it on car journeys or something. I don’t mind it to be honest, but its not the masterpiece that everyone says it is.

However, I listen to ‘All is Dream’ the next day on the way to Torquay, and you know what, I enjoyed it. It’s a lovely album. Its intelligent, graceful and in parts emotional. The lead track from it ‘The Dark Is Rising’ is beautiful as is ‘Tides of the Moon’ and the ending of ‘Lincoln’s Eyes’ has one of best endings of a song I’ve heard in ages. It also has this piano led ballad on it called ‘Spider and Flies’ which is probably the finest song on the album, as the piano tinkles away, the singer (Jonathon Donahue) quietly goes mental, confessing all his fears about death and such like. You realise then that the whole album is a kind of ode to a love or lover I suppose. It’s a lovely thing.

Ok, Mercury Rev, I forgive you. Now let’s listen to ‘Deserter’s Songs’ again.

mp3 : Mercury Rev – The Dark Is Rising
mp3 : Mercury Rev – Tides of The Moon
mp3 : Mercury Rev – Lincoln’s Eyes
mp3 : Mercury Rev – Spiders and Flies

The Skinny

‘All is Dream’ bought from PDSA Exeter

Price £2.99

Left £3.50


Mercury Rev
were, for quite a long time throughout the 90s, one of those bands who got a fair bit of critical acclaim in the music papers and magazines but who were often quite difficult to track down on radio. They were, to all intent and purposes, the perfect definition of a cult band.

Between 1991 and 1997, they churned out 3 LPs and 9 EPs/singles, none of which sold all that well in the UK. Back home in the USofA, they were even more unheralded, with the soft and high-pitched vocal style of Jonathan Donahue often being cited as the thing that most held them back at a time when rock with a slightly harder edge was in vogue.

But in 1998, the release of the LP Deserter’s Songs very briefly put the band firmly in the spotlight. It was a record seemingly not all that different in sound, mood and tone from 1995 work See You On The Other Side, but it just seemed to capture the hearts and minds of many music fans, including the staff at the NME who made it #1 LP of 1998.

I hadn’t paid any attention to the band until then but when I finally did it wasn’t down to the things being written about them. Instead, it was the power of television…..

This was the time when I first got satellite TV, and one of its initial attractions was the ability to surf across the music channels trying to find new and edgy music or videos that I would like, and for a while a lovely promo for a song called Goddess On A Hiway was on heavy rotation.

Come Xmas 1998, and it was the usual requests from friends and relatives about what was on my list to Santa in terms of music and books, and given the critical acclaim afforded to the album, I did add Deserter’s Songs and it subsequently was wrapped in glittery paper come 25th December.

It was, and remains, an LP that I don’t quite get what all the fuss was about, albeit it was pleasant enough in a non-offensive way. My favourite track on it was subsequently released as a single in January 1999 and in reaching #26, became the band’s first bona fide hit:-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp

What is most interesting however from the CD single that I picked up for 99p a few weeks later after it had disappeared out of the charts is that the band and/or their label persuaded The Chemical Brothers to make a remix of the song which is near unrecognisable :-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp (Chemical Brothers remix)

The CD single also contained a really rootsy track which was in fact a live version of a Neil Young song that had originally been recorded for an XFM session in November 1998:-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Vampire Blues (live)

Mercury Rev, The Chemical Brothers and Neil Young.  Three acts that you wouldn’t expect in one blog post far less on a CD single in the bargain bin.