The Smiths soundtracked my mid 1980s. At the time, I lived with a Smiths fanatic who discovered them having seen them support The Fall at the Rock Garden, London in 1983. He corresponded with Morrissey during their early years, and diligently recorded each radio Session, therefore my indoctrination into the wonderful world of The Smiths was complete before they’d even released a record. The Smiths were, of course, completely wonderful. At the time they were a breath of fresh air and, in common with an extremely short list of artists, didn’t put a foot wrong during their far-too-short lifespan. Needless to say, I bought every album and every single on the day of release, and saw them live on many occasions. So, as you’ll realise, I am very familiar with these songs, love each and every one of them, and regard them as old friends.
That said, until yesterday - when my copy of this box set arrived - I only ever owned these recordings on vinyl. Each album has been remastered by Johnny Marr. I am not much of an audiophile, but the sound is great. The original production on the first album was a let down - and the new mix is the revelation here. It has been transformed. The bass and drums are now to the fore and it’s a much more satisfying listen and a big improvement. Hatful Of Hollow, the collection of BBC radio sessions, also sounds better - more vital and slightly beefier. I cannot discern any great difference on the other albums - suffice it to say, and you probably won’t need me to tell you this, they all still sound splendid. A wonderful, wonderful pop group the like of which only comes once in a generation.
The packaging was always important to the band and was another of the many factors that contributed to their excellence. I’m delighted to say that the each of the albums looks great - presented in a cardboard reproduction of the original release. The inner sleeves of the vinyl releases have been reproduced too which adds to the loveliness of the package. The free poster that came with Rank is even included.
This is the best £30.47 I’ve spent all year. That’s £3.81 per album. Whether you consider that good value may depend on whether you’ve already bought these albums on CD, but for this long-time fan it’s the bargain of the year. Come back to the old house. You’ll thank me.
The link above is to a review I wrote earlier of the new Half Man Half Biscuit album that was released on Monday 26 September 2011.
As I mention my favourite track is the final song that’s called “Rock And Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools”. I’d never come across the term Bad Wools before and wondered where it had come from. Thanks to the power of the internet and in particular this page, I was able to read about the strange and wonderful derivation of the term. And for what it’s worth, I’ve never watched Soccer AM.
OK then, because it does seem that “bad wools” needs some explanation.
First a bit about the Scouse term itself, and then the way (I am reliably informed) it is applied in this new song.
The internet and even some published books are full of crap about the origins of the Scouse term “woollyback” to refer to clueless outsiders. The term is not exclusive to Liverpool, incidentally, and has also been used in a very similar way in the North East. It is likely to originate from some or a combination or even all of the following: people from wool-producing areas; people bringing wool into the ports; people who wore sheepskin jackets; people with unkempt hair; people seen as “sheepshaggers”, hairy half-sheep, wide-eyed incomers there to be ‘fleeced’ as they passed through the port seeking work , or often on their way to a new life in the colonies or new world. Indeed, the term like a lot of Scouse-isms, like the word “Scouse” itself in fact, may well have originated at sea. Its first use may have been to refer to clueless, unkempt yokels amongst the crew and/or passengers.
The word has been around for a long, long time and does _not_ originate in any of the dock strikes, as some websites have it. Just because that’s the first time it came to wider attention, because it was “woollyback” labour from South Lancashire that was used to try to break the strikes, doesn’t mean that was its origin. Nor does it refer to wool left on dockers’ backs after carrying bales of wool. That would make the dockers themselves the woollybacks, which they weren’t.
In Liverpool it can refer geographically to people from Lancashire, people from the Wirral, Cheshire, Wales, etc. In Liverpool & Everton football circles it naturally came to refer to all non-Scouse supporters, even those like me who were born within a few miles of the ground.
“Woollyback” was abbreviated to “Woolly” and then just “Wool”.
These abbreviations became especially common in the aforementioned football circles. Wools were always objects of scorn for their fashion sense, which became symbolic of their general cluelessness about football. As the late 70s terrace song, still being sung today on the coaches to away matches, puts it:
“There’s a woolly over there (over there)
And he’s wearing brown Airwear (brown Airwear)
With a 3-star jumper halfway up his back,
He’s a f*ckin’ woollyback (woollyback)”
It was in the late 70s and early 80s that huge numbers of “Wools” from outside really started to jump on the LFC and EFC bandwagons, engendering hostility in some circles. But of course the reasonable view was that it was about “attitude not accent”, a phrase coined by one of the fanzine writers in one of the classic fanzines like The End or Everton’s When Skies Are Grey (WSAG) I think. Thus we gradually acquired the coinages “good wools” (people from outside town who get the culture of the club they claim to support) and “bad wools” (people who don’t, and who are an embarrassment).
These terms are more often that not still used geographically, but “bad wool behaviour” is something that is independent of geography. A surprising number of Scousers still have crap trainers, despite all the advantages of the local education system and some fine retail outlets offering reasonable prices; some Scousers can sometimes wear the latest horrible shiny football shirts over jumpers; a few Scousers have even been heard to get carried away and chant the dismal, generic Soccer AM “Who are Ya?” chant; one or two have perhaps got carried away and let their kids wear face-paint at cup finals; some of them get very excited about international football tournaments and do embarrassing things with national paraphernalia. There are even a few Scousers who adopt Woolly habits and refer to certain opposition teams as “The Scum”. Equally there many out-of-town supporters who would not do any such embarrassing things and are a credit to the fanbase. The famous “Norwegian Wools” flag you see at all Liverpool’s European away matches is welcomed because of its self-deprecating humour, whereas if a flag went up with let’s say “Chesterfield Reds on Tour”, it would soon meet a sticky end. Bad wool behaviour to make an embarrassing flag like that. Incidentally Liverpool supporters consider it very bad wool behaviour to write your club’s name on a national flag.
Clearly Nigel Blackwell is not using the term geographically. For a start, in a geographical sense, he is to many Scousers a “wool” himself, and his beloved Tranmere Rovers would be seen by many Scousers as a “woollyback” club (though I have also heard some of Tranmere’s finest and hardest use it ironically against Wrexham or Chester supporters). And if that wasn’t clear, well he told me last week that “as you know, our generation’s idea of a ‘wool’ is not a geographical notion in any way” and that “the biggest baddest wool I know is from [he specified a well-known area of central] Liverpool”. He also referred to “bad Wools who’ve just discovered Johnny Cash”, spreading the theme to another track off the new album.
So in his new song it refers to people like up-and-coming rock and pop stars who jump on the football bandwagon without a clue. They appear, for example, on the Soccer AM sofa and spout shite about “footy” to show how cool they are. In one live version of ‘A Country Practice’ a couple of years back, Nigel summed up his feelings on the matter as he screwed up his eyes and ranted as follows:
“Pop groups on the Saturday morning couch, yawning. Bad wools in the Luther Blissett Stand*. Bands on Soccer AM being asked “Well, you come from Southend do you ever get down to Roots Hall much ?” and they just look to the side to the TV chef, and they look at Razor Ruddock, but Razor Ruddock ain’t gonna help you now boys.
BAND: Yeah well there’s four of us in the band and one doesn’t like football. They support Manchester and Liverpool, and I errm, support Arsenal and Chelsea. Here’s our latest single.
This scenario is remarkably similar to the one described in the sample verse of the new song. Bad wools in this context = clueless fools, largely but not exclusively from the places like the home counties, largely middle class, with no idea of how to disguise their ignorance of real, traditional football culture at all gracefully.
* I hasten to add that I myself have only ever caught a couple of editions of the execrable excuse for a TV show ‘Soccer AM’, but for those unaware: ‘The Luther Blissett Stand’ is a particularly attention-seeking section of the audience of that particular Saturday morning show called on to represent ‘their’ club, all clad in their horrible shiny overpriced replica shirts of course. They have to take part in certain embarrassing challenges, especially embarrassing to other supporters of their own club, obviously. I am told that Nigel’s new song is not necessarily to be seen as an attack on Soccer AM itself, so much as the clueless fools who go on it, and especially those kinds of rock groups. The song then goes on to broaden the scope of its satire about clueless behaviour in rock circles.
What is really sad is that the Sky generation of kids are taking their example from these people and generally following the creeping shiny Americanisation of our game.
Your humble servant,
PS – See also the similar Scouse word ‘beauts’, meaning clueless idiots, whether they are local or not. Sometimes used for posh idiots, fresh-faced bosses who haven’t got a clue, etc. A word Nigel Blackwell has also used on stage recently. About Sebastian Coe, I believe.
Yes, the new HMHB album is out today. Let joy be unconfined.
As The Quietus has it: “For insight, wit and imagination, Half Man Half Biscuit are currently peerless. Sharp as The Fall, cackling through fag-smoke at earnest 80s positivity; jarring as The Kinks’ sardonic kitchen-sink palaver in the middle of a Swinging London youth-and-beauty cult. Over the past 20 years they’ve written fifty or sixty songs as smart, as clear-sighted and articulate as pretty much any pop music, ever (‘Tommy Walsh’s Eco House’, a rumbling squib from the new LP 90 Bisodol (Crimond), is a panic of fast-cut imagery which can hold its own with ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ for wordplay, and for paranoia at the pitch of farce). These songs may not be profound - as though more than a fistful of songs ever were - but the best of them say so much about what Britain has become, about frustrations and disappointments, and about life on the losing side of the endless war against intelligence, they’re as close to “important” as pop music gets, now it too has been subsumed into the mulch of modern living.”
Get yourself down to your nearest Woolwo… Our Pri… Virg… HM… ah never mind….
I wrote a a few thoughts in March. Here’s my latest thoughts on how 2011 is shaping up new music-wise. I can’t pretend to listen to that much new music, there’s just far too much, but I have come across some rather wonderful stuff, so - in no particular order - here’s what I’m enjoying….
Luke Haines 'Nine And A Half Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s And Early '80s'
I cannot wait for this album. A Luke Haines album is always cause for celebration. Even better that he is continuing his exploration of all things 70s. Not sure if the reference about Grandstand came from the lips of Luke hisself, however he should know better than most that the Wrestling was screened over on ITV’s World Of Sport and not Grandstand. Grapple fans that recall those Saturday afternoon bouts with Kent Walton should read Simon Garfield’s seminal book…