This frankly ancient tape (40 years old & counting) of Jonathan Richman & his original Modern Lovers, performing live at some thus far undetermined juncture in 1971, has been doing the 'rounds online for a couple of years now - I originally came across it c/o Aquarium Drunkard, I think? Most references to this show date it as 1970-71, but I'll stick my neck out & say it's the latter - Jerry Harrison didn't sign up as keyboard player until early 1971, & he's definitely audible hereon.
Though it's of typically desultory bootleg quality, it's no worse than Rounder Records' officially sanctioned Precise Modern Lovers Order live set. What makes this particular performance indispensable - other than the searing V.U.-infatuated guitar vs. organ duels Jonathan & Jerry frequently engage in (check that 10 minute version of "Old World") - is that it's complete (comprising 2 short sets in their entirety), & that it showcases several hitherto unrecorded numbers. "Such Loneliness", "I Grew Up in the Suburbs", & "Cambridge Clown" are all fine songs - it's a shame more of these embryonic Richman compositions weren't demoed during The Modern Lovers' pivotal 1972 Warner Brothers sessions with John Cale. Lyrically, the painful clarity of Jonathan's lonely ethos (an abstinent, nerdish disdain) is already well established - earnest, impassioned, heartbroken, phenomenal. Legendarily, Jonathan finds these erstwhile Modern Lovers recordings somewhat cringe-worthy - he's worried that the fearless conviction of his between-song banter makes him sound "obnoxious", I think? Mr. Richman, sir, with all due respect, you were 20 years old in 1971. We were all obnoxious when we were 20 years old, but not many of us were penning songs as breathtaking as these...
n.b. The Modern Lovers, at this point, were: Jonathan Richman (vocals, guitar), Ernie Brooks (bass), Jerry Harrison (organ), & David Robinson (drums). Stonehenge, incidentally, was a rock club (pub, actually) based in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Apologies if you were expecting to see Jonathan poised atop a Neolithic standing stone, or something.
Thought for the day: Did Jonathan Richamn inadvertently invent Straight Edge?
● Nobody ever called John Cale an asshole
According to Robyn's type-written "technical notes", the E.P. represented "a random selection of songs from various sessions over the past year. "Eaten By Her Own Dinner" was recorded in November '81 & represents my most recent attempt to work in a recording studio - my ideal sound would be on a cassette machine in Green Park underground. "Listening to the Higsons" was taped on a porta-studio in a barn in Surrey, not far from where Dennis Healey lives, on a full moon. Your stereo may need a new needle but the vocal sound is intentional. At the beginning of the song I play a wok (Chinese cooking utensil) ⅓ full of water, tipped through an angle of 40° to vary the pitching. Using my left forearm to cradle it against my my chest, I struck it repeatedly with a wooden spoon. "Dr. Sticky" was spontaneously recorded at Smithsound & hasn't been tampered with before or since. The song is not a dig at anybody; it is a celebration of fact, much like the Falklands victory parades."
The EP's title track was recorded at Alaska Studios, beside Waterloo Bridge, with stopgap backing band Motor Boys Motor - supplemented by ex-Soft Boy (& future Egyptian) Andy Metcalfe on accordion. Motor Boys Motor - whose guitarist, "boggy toasting" Bill Carter, subsequently founded The Screaming Blue Messiahs - would go on to share "a yellow van" with Robyn & his band on a chaotic tour of Norway the following summer. June '82's darkly comic "Listening to The Higsons" is, on some days (usually Wednesdays), one of my favourite Hitchcock songs ever, though it's admittedly far from Robyn's finest moment. While most rational folk would consider Robyn's immortalising them in song to be no mean accolade, The Higsons (aka Norwich's pound-shop Talking Heads) allegedly weren't too impressed with it - which is as good a reason as any for not buying any of those dire zombies-for-kids books that Charlie "Switch" Higson has been churning out for Puffin lately, ain't it? "Dr. Sticky" was recorded on a beggarly Revox in December '81 & has always sounded as if it might collapse in on itself at any given second, though such foolhardy spontaneity has always been the measure of an entertaining b-side as far as I'm concerned! Robyn obviously remains rather fond of this one as he's revisited it on several occasions since. Both b-side tracks remind me of The Fall, circa Room To Live (Undilutable Slang Truth), which was released only a couple of months earlier, curiously enough.
Originally issued as a Midnight Music 7" in late 1982, Eaten By His Own Dinner was repackaged - again on Midnight Music - on 12" in 1986, with the original b-sides replaced by several new surreal oddities, notably the highly amusing Mescalin whimsy of "Happy the Golden Prince", & the eerily melancholy "The Abandoned Brain". Though most of these later additions are still available (on the Yep Roc editions of Robyn's early '80s albums), all 3 songs from the original 7" edition are currently out of print, unless you can find a copy of the long deleted CD edition of the Invisible Hitchcock compilation. Hence...
● I prefer East Grinstead