The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy: Angels
The Jazz Butcher website says that the later Big Planet, Scarey Planet album reached the top of M.T.V.’s alternative chart in 1989, but on the whole the charts and the band have scarcely been on speaking terms. In the era on Glass Records, from the 1983 to 1987, the eclecticism of the music must have made them a difficult band to market, but the small-scale nature of Glass probably meant there wasn’t in any case much promotional muscle behind them. In a just world ‘Southern Mark Smith’ would have been a hit, ‘The Human Jungle’ would have been a hit, and ‘Hard’ would have been a hit. They even performed ‘Hard’ on Channel 4’s The Tube in February 1986, and, in a feat of astonishing neurological resilience, Pat claims to remember something of the experience.
One might argue that the British record buying public didn’t get the Jazz Butcher’s variety of irony and emotional reserve. That’s where ‘Angels’ comes in, recorded in May 1986 as part of the Distressed Gentlefolk album, their last for Glass Records. The whole sound and emotional attitude of the song is quite different, while still recognisably being The Jazz Butcher. There was even a video, reconstituted here by a fan from a wobbly VHS tape:
In sleeve notes for a later compilation, Pat says he wrote it on the day the USA bombed Tripoli (i.e., 15 April 1986.) If the lyrics seem a little abstract, his remarks on that compilation aren’t the place to go to for clarification: ‘I never make any sense when I start to talk about this tune. The lyrics just showed up, like automatic writing or something.’ It could easily be the sort of ‘life is hard when you’re on the road’ song that bands with a busy touring schedule end up writing, and 1985-86 were the busiest touring years for the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy. But this one largely avoids the specifics of musicianly suffering, and so becomes a more general song about distance, separation, and longing.
Fans have always loved it; I get the impression Pat has mixed feelings about its simplicity and directness. Someone called out for it once at a gig and he said words to the effect of ‘you don’t want to hear that stadium shit, do you?’ In the production that John A. Rivers brought to it, the sound is almost too big, shimmering in digital reverb and a big snare-drum sound, but the song itself is solid, and works when played by the band or played solo.