Monday, December 9, 2019

The Flys - Today Belongs to Me: The Complete Recordings 1977-1980 (Cherry Red, 2019) - A brief overview.

The liner notes to Cherry Red's thorough and well-assembled canonization of the late '70s not-so-chart-ascending punk-era rock act The Flys bemoans the myriad bands from their era (and otherwise) that had the chops and songs to grasp full fledged notoriety, only to have their collective fingers slapped away by the fickle and unpredictable hands of fate.  Despite two albums for EMI Records (Waikiki Beach Refugees in 1978, and Own a year later) and some startlingly smart and promising singles, the Coventry, UK act in question barely made any headway on their home turf, and weren't privileged enough to have their records released Stateside.  When the story is told however, chart positions and sales numbers are ultimately outweighed by what's left on studio reels and lacquer, and the Flys legacy is surprisingly robust.  The two disc Today Belongs to Me covers the band's entire recorded output, not only tacking on the singles found on the Captain Oi! Records reissues from 2001, but expands upon those with outtakes and demos from the band's personal archives, plus alternate single versions of several tracks.

Breaking out of the nest in 1974 under the guise of Midnight Circus, Flys frontman Neil O'Connor didn't have a "punk" ethos in mind for his fledgling four piece, rather the band's m.o. was inspired by the likes of the Pretty Things, or so it's been observed.  It wasn't until the initial wave of UK punk took hold, including O'Connor's first live encounter with the Damned in 1977, that Midnight Circus' trajectory shifted in a rather obvious direction - so much so that a new name was in order.  The Flys were born that year, and so was their debut EP, Bunch of Five, featuring the particularly incendiary blast, "Love and a Molotov Cocktail," a mid-tempo basher roughly on par with the Adverts "Looking Through Gary Gilmore Eyes" and the Buzzcocks "What Do I Get?"  No small feat that, and speaking of the Buzzcocks it was none other than Pete Shelley who invited the Flys to open for them - a move which the band would soon parlay into a record deal with EMI.

The misanthropically titled Waikiki Beach Refugees wasn't cut from hardcore or even three-chord punk cloth, rather the Flys maiden voyage was a casual and occasionally brash pastiche of pub rock, New York Dolls-y proto punk, not to mention some of the group's longtime inspirations like Bowie and the aforementioned Pretty Things.  The results were mixed, and unfortunately not wholly stimulating, but it delivered more than a few standouts - "We Don't Mind the Rave," "Looking for New Hearts" the spirited "Fun City" and the hedonistic title cut.  The single variation of that last one is even more stimulating the LP take, and the early EP ditty, "Just For Your Sex" beat a similarly themed George Michael song to the punch by a good ten years.  The bonus content portion of Waikiki also entails the previously unissued "Adrian (Don't Call Me Jimmy)" a nascent tune that was one of the band's fiercest punk volleys, just seeing the light of day now.  

Disc two of Today Belongs to Me, appropriately enough, contains the band's second long-player, Own, an improvement on all fronts stacked up against their debut.  Riding the crest of some serious creative momentum and a newfound raison d'être, Own found the Flys modernizing their forte without diminishing any of their initial charm.  Tauter, classier, and doubly more assured than just a year prior, the band actually sounded like a genuine product of their era here.  Bristling power pop stunners "16 Down" and "Energy Boy" deftly balance muscle and hooks, flirting with anthemic punk constructs.  There's plenty more where those came from, but Own impresses with a volley of relative anomalies to boot. "Fascinate Me" is a sleek, synth-laden new wave foray, the whimsical "Freezing" might have fit on one of the Kinks more theatrical indulgencies (say, Preservation Act), and "Night Creatures" offers a bouncy, mod-inflected gait so irresistible indie icons Superchunk went to the trouble of covering it for a 1990 single.  

Commercially, Own didn't garner the returns the band were hoping for, and it didn't help that EMI failed to issue a single upon it's '79 release, rather a quickee EP via a new label, Parlophone, a few months later, seemingly as an afterthought.  A new single, "What Will Mother Say?" arrived in early 1980, but not long after the Flys were grounded altogether - a crying shame given the strength of their sophomore album.  Today Belongs... winds down with more unreleased material, including the strikingly melodic "Come on Stupid" and "I Say."

Clocking in at roughly two and a half hours and featuring a generous 53 tracks, Today Belongs to Me is an essential investment not only for established customers, but fresh ears with a taste for late '70s punk and power-pop.  It's available now directly from Cherry Red or Amazon.


Jim H. said...

Saw this release online recently.......they have some GREAT forgotten songs like "Don't Moonlight On Me" and their second album is a gem, with songs like "Talking To The Wall and "Frenzy is 23" in particular......

spavid said...

Yeah, there were tons of gems I neglected to mention. Thanks Jim.

Charles Hodgson said...

Haven't picked this up yet (but I will). Just wondered if there is there any info in the booklet on the 7 previously unreleased tracks, ie recording dates / songwriting credits?

1-24 - Adrian (Don't Call Me Jimmy)
1-25 - I'll Survive

2-22 - Come On Stupid
2-23 - Program
2-24 - Down Your End Of The Phone
2-25 - Hang On
2-26 - I Say

Betto Skin said...

Any chance to post a link?

Charles Hodgson said...