“Sleepers Wake” is a cantata written in 1731 by Johann Sebastian Bach. If you’re roughly my age, you might associate it with Maurice Mimer, one of Kenny Everett’s least funny characters, whose sketches were accompanied by an easy listening Moog version. It pops up here on the track “Teutonic” played on the keys by frontman Colin Howard alongside snippets of other Germanic hits “Ride of the Valkyries” and “Deutschland Uber Alles.” All of that is accompanied by mucho mucho surf guitar and repeated shouts of the song’s title. This is what “Tequila” would’ve sounded like had it been recorded by The Cramps rather than The Champs.
It’s also an appropriate title for the album because it’s been a while since we’ve heard from Yorkshire Super Heroes Percy. I first stumbled across them on a boozy pub crawl round Camden with a couple of mates. Late in the evening our attention was grabbed by the glorious racket from the 3 piece band in the corner. Closer inspection led to a Fred Titmus moment as we all simultaneously realised who was on drums. Fucking hell, it’s Hugh Whitaker!
A drunken conversation with the band after the gig led to them subsequently supporting one of the bands I was playing in. Hugh even drummed for us at a gig in Sheffield when our drummer was laid up in a hospital bed. The brilliant singles “Donny Rednecks” and “Caravan” got a few radio plays from John Peel / Steve Lamacq and that was the last I heard of them.
But now, like Rip Van Winkle waking from a 20 year snooze, they’re back, back, Bach!
The album kicks off in furious style with Howard posing the question “Why Are You Still Here?” to some irritating political twerp on his TV screen. Someone “ministerial” with a “wayward nob” who’s “peddling lies” and “full of it.” Can’t you narrow it down a bit?
Bit of a Buzzcocks vibe here with Howard’s Devoto-like vocals. A different track “Going Off On One” somehow reminds me of “Something’s Gone Wrong Again” while simultaneously sounding nothing like it.
Another great Mancunian band are more directly referenced on “Hep!” In the aftermath of the great Mark E. Smith’s death, Howard rails against “people trying to reclaim [him] for their individual ends” and “freeloading bastards” who “last bought an album in 1985.”
Parts of “Gut of The Quantifier” are thrown in, along with the famous Beatles opening line (from a song The Fall covered) “I heard the news today” but with the “oh boy” appropriately changed to “oh brother.”
The spirit of MES lives on with rockabilly feel of “Exploding Head” which sounds a bit like “Container Drivers” played by Dr Feelgood. The brilliant verses tell of the mind-numbing tedium of being stuck in traffic or in a pointless desk job followed by a catchy chorus of “why am I living a lie?”
The rhythm section of ever-present Andy Wiles on bass and relative new boy Jason Wilson on drums play a blinder throughout, but particularly on some of the wilder tracks. Throw The Stooges and “Trompe Le Monde” era Pixies into a stew, mix in some of Future Of The Left’s cynical humour and you’re somewhere near. The vocals even get a bit Jello Biafra in some of their more unhinged moments, the repeated “fear of a thousand arseholes” on “Streets of 1000” being a good example.
An even more menacing mood is created on “Alice Stone” where we hear a sinister and sneeringly delivered tale of “an ordinary girl” who “met a guy in corporate finance” and became a “stay at home mum.” Her fragile mental state is conveyed brilliantly through the woozy proto-reggae accompaniment which starts and ends fairly calmly but builds and almost collapses in on itself in the middle section. The Wobble-y bassline adds to the ominous mood and Paula Duck’s creepy chromatic Farfisa organ calls to mind masterpieces like “Friday Night and Saturday Morning”, “Grey Day” and “Watching The Detectives.”
Things get a bit more Half Man Half Biscuit with the brilliant and hilarious “Off The Meds” which starts off as a joyful celebration of being, well, off the meds. The second verse sees our protagonist walking to the market square and exposing himself (another use of the word “nob” here, very impressive.) By the end of the song he is SPOILER ALERT: somewhat unsurprisingly back on the meds.
Another song proclaims “Oh Lord forgive me for I know not what I am about to ingest” over a church organ backing. There’s some kind of unholy communion going on here. Two OAPs (and possibly their dog too?) neck some hallucinogens that broaden their minds and make them feel and appear younger. Suddenly it’s “no more Fray Bentos, Gala Bingo, Skegness in the rain” as they visualise each other as Liz Taylor and John Major. All of this over a jolly galloping beat making “Enlightened” my favourite song on the album, just ahead of “Exploding Head” and “Off The Meds.”
“Sleepers Wake” is released on Amazon, Google Play, Spotify and Itunes later this week on but you can buy it on CD or download from Bandcamp below.
- Hugh may not be in the band anymore but I’ll take any excuse to re-post one of my all-time favourite videos.
- J.S. Bach wasn’t averse to a bit of a rumble you know. If you’ve never heard the story about him nearly stabbing a bloke after accusing him of playing the bassoon like a goat then get a load of this.
[…] Sleepers Wake by Percy [read our review] […]