Distressed Gentlefolk

Jan 9, 2002 at 12:00 am

The eclectic British songwriter known as the Jazz Butcher (Pat Fish) is one of the great lost musicians of our time. Unlike his countryman Robyn Hitchcock, who earned a modicum of international renown by sticking to a strict diet of surreal folk-rock and pop, Fish has charted a serpentine musical course that resembles one of those twisty “Family Circus” maps showing where Jeffy has been today.

The Butcher’s logic-defying, satirical sprints through classic rock, folk, lounge blues, punk and more ephemeral genres have unfortunately consigned him to obscurity, and the sales of his records have recently been solely the province of eBay entrepreneurs. Luckily, Fish has finally found a decent benefactor in Vinyl Japan, which just inaugurated its Butcher rerelease campaign with two of his mid-’80s LPs.

Fish’s yen for genre-splicing is best exemplified on 1984’s A Scandal in Bohemia. He fashions a rockabilly number out of the uneasy intro to “These Boots Are Made for Walking” in “I Need Meat.” He pays oblique tribute to the Fall’s front man on “Southern Mark Smith” even as he rips off the band on the wonderful mess of “Caroline Wheeler’s Birthday Present.” The hilarious condemnation of beer commercial-style machismo in “Real Men” earned some brief U.K. airplay, but the entire album is a similar triumph of smirky rebellion.

1986’s Distressed Gentlefolk is less consistent. There’s no denying the Monty Python-esque charms of “Hungarian Love Song” and “Big Bad Thing” and Fish’s cynicism effectively plays against the generic bar-band lounge rock that the album relies on, but it’s still comparatively bland. You might as well buy it, though, if only to fund rereleases of superior albums such as 1988’s Fishcotheque. Think of it as an investment in your record collection’s future.

E-mail Chris Willie Williams at [email protected].