Every Mistake Imaginable – The Complete Frilly Pink Years 1987-1988
1991. The Berlin Wall has fallen only a few weeks ago. The Iron Curtain has given way, the shackles on the Eastern Bloc have been wrenched asunder, and the world watched agog as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics dissolved. Meanwhile, cloaked by the curtain of night, I am on a coach, somewhere near the Dutch border, heading towards the ex-West Germany.
“On a clear day…”
The laughter has mostly stopped and has given way to tears, gasping for breath and uncontrollable shoulder shaking. The lad in the year above me has paused the tape and tucked away his cassette player as well as you could secrete something the size of a small laptop. Mr Sharpe, the fusty history teacher prone to inadvertently whistling between his teeth, demands the boys near the back, “Stop being silly as everyone was trying to sleep”. Of course, this only caused more convulsions. The whirr of Kingy’s tape rewinding was just about audible above the noise of us trying to contain ourselves. By dawn, we had possibly moved onto the next track. We’d been listening to Bad News, our generation’s equivalent of Derek and Clive and something which spoke to us far more than Cheech and Chong or even Spinal Tap.
At school – or at least at my school – there was nothing which defined your social circle more than which comedy you found funniest on television. Not even your music taste could influence your circle of friends as much as your ability to quote lines from ‘Blackadder’ or ‘Fry & Laurie’. Nearly everything said with a stern face in school assembly or barked ferociously by a teacher administering a dressing-down could be related to something we’d seen or heard and memorised.
“…and a bit more foul language”
It meant that any occasion in which we had to remain straight-faced became a simply impossible proposition and even looking at one of your mates would start us off.
“…every time I sing, “Eat my brain,” I sing it so hard that my rectum seems to prolapse”
We listened to that cassette countless times over the course of the trip – a trip at a monumental time in the history of Europe, one in which we were shown bullet holes in the Reichstag, saw East Berliners selling barbed wire and chunks of Berliner Mauer wrenched-off with their bare hands, and became some of the last people passing through the soon to be redundant Checkpoint Charlie. My memories of these are sketchy. On listening to this two-disc set of Bad News’ EMI output, I found I remembered every single word…and it’s still riotously funny.
Bad News, originally a one-off episode from ‘The Comic Strip Presents’, the anarchic ensemble comedy troupe, was a distinctly British heavy metal band whose exploits were being documented by a film crew. I’m sure that the initial response to this from the uneducated is to decry it as a rip-off of the significantly more famous (and successful) ‘This is Spinal Tap’, but be assured, Bad News got there first – a whole year earlier. Broadcast in 1983, we were introduced to the band members: Vim Fuego (vocals and lead guitar – played by Ade Edmondson); rhythm guitarist Den Dennis (Nigel Planer); Colin Grigson on bass (Rik Mayall); and Spider “Eight-Legs” Webb on drums (Peter Richardson). The band is Bad News, a British rock band very much in the mould of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal Bands which were springing up in unremarkable towns across the country. The concept is almost certainly based on the infamous 1976 TV film, ‘So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star?’, a fly-on-the-wall documentary charting the exploits of pub rockers, Kursaal Flyers (if you haven’t seen it, you must!). Melvyn Bragg‘s dour warning before the broadcast, that some swearing is featured, is certainly something Bad News took note of.
Only half an hour long, the Bad News episode is packed with inter-band arguments (influenced no doubt, by not just the BBC documentary, but also the notorious ‘Troggs Tapes’ in which singer, Reg Presley, employs some award-swearing swearing into a disagreement about nothing whatsoever. You either watched The Comic Strip on Channel 4, or you didn’t – as it happened, I didn’t but the discovery via a D90 made it even more fantastic. The appearance of a Bad News album was some time after the TV programme, and was a result of the ‘band’ being invited to play at Monsters of Rock, the annual denim and leather piss fight at Castle Donington. They were the inevitable victims of a wall of urine-filled receptacles, many thrown with unerring accuracy, though they were still game enough to play a gig at the Marquee on London’s Wardour Street (with Brian May and Jeff Beck guesting), a support slot with Iron Maiden, and a show with an appearance by Jimmy Page. With Kerrang! and the rest of the rock press poised, they unveiled their self-titled album.
Unlike Spinal Tap’s first album, ‘Bad News’ (released in 1987) does not operate as a straight-ahead music experience as such, interspersed as it is with plenty of arguments and swearing. Neither are all the songs featured on the original TV show here (not even as bonus tracks, oddly) but this at least keeps everything exactly and you fondly remembered it, enhanced by some pleasingly snazzy packaging. The tracks that are included are incredibly catchy, not just due to the actor’s understandably limited ability (and the band’s portrayed haplessness) but because several established guitar riffs crop up throughout (Led Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’; Queen‘s ‘Liar’ and ‘Brighton Rock’). The Queen influence is hardly surprising, with guitarist Brian May in on the joke from the beginning and producing the whole album. It was with little surprise that their cover of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was chosen as a single (number 44 with a rocket, nestled just behind W.A.S.P., Def Leppard and Bruce Willis).
A second single, ‘Cashing in on Christmas’, was released the same year but sank without a trace. Both musically tame and, unforgivably, not funny, this isn’t surprising, though its lack of radio play at least meant that the second instalment of the band’s story (‘More Bad News’), broadcast in early 1988, wasn’t tarnished in advance. Nearly twice as long as the original episode, the band have split up, only to reform when they are finally given the opportunity to record one of their songs (‘Warriors of Ghengis Khan’) and somehow end up playing at Monsters of Rock. The cast remains the same and has been canny enough to record footage from their Donington appearance and other performances to give the impression that they have genuinely put together archive footage. It’s still very funny and the passing of time allows the band members to be revealed as hopeless in life as they have been playing their instruments. It’s put together well and doesn’t sanitise itself for a wider audience. Album number two – ‘Bootleg’ – gives fans more aggro and naughty words but little in the way of new music, leaving it as something nice to have though not something you’d revisit often.
The recorded history of Bad News is surprisingly significant – as well as ‘Bad News’ and ‘Bootleg’, which comprise this new, shiny, double-disc set, there were live albums, compilations and rarities released to satiate what could only have been ‘actual’ demand (surely?). Would less have been more? Possibly. Though funnier, it’s musically leagues away from Spinal Tap (the album) and the passage of time makes its appeal more down to nostalgia than timelessness. Still, a great way to while away a couple of silly hours.
You can buy Bad News -Every Mistake Imaginable – The Complete Frilly Pink Years 1987-1988 here