The Jazz Butcher
The Jazz Butcher
For nearly 20 years, the Jazz Butcher—alternately known as the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy and the Jazz Butcher and His Sikkorskis from Hell—has served as the expressive vehicle for singer, songwriter, and guitarist Pat Fish, the creator and mainstay member of the group’s various manifestations. By Fish’s own definition, the Jazz Butcher is a loose aggregation of musicians trying to avoid the “Jethro Tull school of pop music posturing” as best it can, as quoted by Laura Smith and Randy Bookasta of Contrast, thus switching names, instruments, and band members on a regular basis. And while the Jazz Butcher has maintained a basic pop/rock lineup over the years consisting of guitars, bass, and drums, Fish has been known to substitute on flute, bass, and saxophone from time to time.
In spite of such uncertainties, Fish, a humorous, educated man and a brilliant conversationalist who acknowledges the Velvet Underground as his greatest influence, has consistently recorded clever, genre-bouncing pop songs filled with intelligent and witty lyrics. Listening to the Jazz Butcher, “You’ll never be really certain what you’re dealing with,” concluded Non*Stop Banter. “They like to keep their audiences thinking; the melodies may be snappy little sing-a-longs, soulful ballads or jazzy lounge tunes, but their lyrics are about anything from Red Russians or the Devil to the skins of dead Jim Morrisons or heads of state. You won’t get away with just dancing with this stuff. You may be smiling and your feet may be moving but your brain will be wondering, ‘What the hell is happening here!?’”
Along with the likes of Julian Cope and Robyn Hitchcock, Fish is regarded as one of England’s rustic eccentrics, his charming, jazz-influenced guitar sound unique to the common notions of rock and pop music. Thus Fish, surrounded by a music press more interested in the “next big thing,” never received the level of attention he may have rightfully deserved. According to critics, Fish his displayed a great deal more depth and breadth during his career than he has been given credit for. Continuing to mine his craft well into the 1990s and beyond, the musician will probably never tire of the Jazz Butcher because, as he explained to Abstract magazine, “The Jazz Butcher is me.”
Born in London in 1957, Fish—real name Patrick Huntrods—was raised mostly in Northampton, England, and started playing music while studying philosophy at Oxford University. There in the late-1970s, he fronted two bands called Nightshirt and the Institution. The merging of these groups resulted in the Sonic Tonix, the future nucleus of the first Jazz Butcher lineup. After graduating from Oxford, Fish, feeling that his current musical pursuits were leading nowhere, retreated to his parents home in the country near Northampton. Completely broke and alone, without nearby friends to play with, Fish for his own amusement started writing, playing all the various instruments, and recording songs alone on a two-track cassette player. To his surprise, these experimentations worked.
In 1982, Fish devised the Jazz Butcher persona and met David “Elvis” Barker, the head of Glass Records. That same year, he signed a deal with Glass, recruited Oxford colleague/guitarist Max Eider and others, and recorded Bath of Bacon. Released in 1983, it featured Fish playing an array of instruments and singing offbeat, catchy songs like “Poisoned By Food” and “Love Zombie,” and introduced the songwriter’s knack for biting social observations. In 1984, the Jazz Butcher returned with A Scandal in Bohemia, a set ranging from classic guitar pop and blues to darker, more innovative material. “Southern Mark Smith,” the opening track,” was a true gem,” wrote Nick Edwards in Rock: The Rough Guide, “a wry piece that somehow made the ephemeral seem timeless.” This time, Fish and Eider were joined by a rhythm section consisting of drummer Owen Jones, a third Oxford cohort, and former Bauhaus bassist David J, also from Northampton.
Over the next year, the foursome toured Great Britain and Europe in support of the album, which stayed for weeks on the independent charts. That same year the Jazz Butcher released another album, Sex and Travel,
For the Record…
Mainstay member is Pat Fish (aka the Jazz Butcher or the Butcher; born Patrick Huntrods in 1957 in London, England), guitar, vocals, various other instruments. Education: Graduated with a degree in philosophy from Oxford University.
Fronted Nightshift, the Institution, and Sonic Tonix, late 1970s; devised Jazz Butcher persona in Northampton, England, signed with Glass Records, 1982; released debut album Bath of Bacon, 1983; compilation album Bloody Nonsense, released in the U.S. in 1986, peaked at number two on the Gavin and CMJ charts; signed with Creation Records, 1987; released Fishcotheque, the Jazz Butcher’s biggest-selling record, 1988; released Big Planet, Scarey Planet, an album that topped MTV’s alternative chart, 1989; released Cult of the Basement, which included radio hit “She’s On Drugs,” 1990; released Condition Blue, featuring standout track “Shirley MacLaine,” 1991; released Waiting for the Love Bus, 1993; released Illuminate, produced by David J, and briefly disbanded, 1995; original member/guitarist Max Eider reunited with Fish, signed with Vinyl Japan, 1999; released Rotten Soul, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Vinyl Japan, 98 Camden Rd., London, England, NW1 9EA, phone: (171) 284-0359, fax: (171) 267-5186, email: [email protected]. Website —The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy: http://www.jazzbutcher.com.
on which Fish’s mellow vocals and his ability to write romantic songs without sounding corny prevailed. Subsequently, David J left the Jazz Butcher to form Love and Rockets, while the others carried on. In the summer of 1986, the group released a compilation of early recordings in America entitled Bloody Nonsense, an album that peaked at number two on the Gavin and CMJ charts. That same year, the trio traveled across the Atlantic for the first time. In the United States and especially in Canada, the Jazz Butcher won over a broader fan base.
However, a period of instability followed with the release of a poorly received fourth studio album, 1986’s Distressed Gentlefolk, and another European tour. Subsequently, Eider went solo, releasing a swing and jazz album called The Best Kisser in the World in 1987. Jones, too, parted with the Jazz Butcher, settling in Hamburg, Germany, where he proved himself a competent singer and songwriter as well as the leader of Shakespeare and the Bible. Fish, the only remaining member, continued his career by signing with Creation Records in 1987. Creation kingpin Alan McGee happily allowed Fish a free reign on his forthcoming Jazz Butcher projects.
In 1988, the Jazz Butcher returned successfully with Fishcotheque, a laid-back pop album recorded by Fish and new guitarist Kizzy O’Callaghan prior to forming a relatively stable group with Alex Green on saxophone, Laurence O’Keefe on bass, and Paul Mulreany on drums. Favorable reviews in publications such as Rolling Stone and a sold-out summer tour of North America that year helped make Fishcotheque the Jazz Butcher’s biggest-selling record. Fish maintained the creative streak and critical success the following year with Big Planet, Scarey Planet, an album that climbed to the top of MTV’s alternative chart. Robin Gibson of Sounds wrote that Big Planet, Scarey Planet “could be the Butcher’s finest hour.” Meanwhile, O’Callaghan departed the Jazz Butcher; old friend Richard Formby stepped in as an emergency guitarist, then became a regular member.
Extensive touring followed, with the Jazz Butcher taking a brief break in order to record the confident and mature, yet fresh-sounding Cult of the Basement, released in 1990. It too earned rave reviews. Melody Maker deemed the album, “As languid and graceful a slice of slush as you could dare to dream,” as quoted on the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy website. Among the album’s highlights were the infectious radio hit “She’s On Drugs” and the heartfelt ballad “Girl-Go.”
Throughout the early-1990s, the Jazz Butcher continued to gain more and more fans in the United States and Canada with their popular tours, while indifference characterized their status back in England. The period also saw more transience in the band lineup. Nonetheless, the Jazz Butcher endured with more successes. 1991 gave rise to Condition Blue, an album spawning the radio hits “She’s a Yo-Yo” and the upbeat standout “Shirley MacLaine.” Waiting for the Love Bus, released in 1993, was described by Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock contributor Doug Broad as “Fish at his most seductive and romantic, and it makes for his greatest achievement.” In October of that year, Fish received one of his greatest personal honors when the Jazz Butcher opened for rock/classical musician John Cale at the Forum in London. In 1995, the Jazz Butcher released a tenth studio album, Illuminate, produced by former member David J.
The Jazz Butcher split up in late 1995, with Fish officially ending his relationship with Creation at the beginning of 1996. He began working other music projects, namely Northampton-based Sumosonic. In the meantime, Fish and Eider unexpectedly began to perform together again at occasional live events. Eider had also shown up for some of the Jazz Butcher’s last few gigs before the breakup. Consequently, disbanding the Jazz Butcher was not to last long. In August of 1996, Fish and Eider accepted an offer to play a gig in Majorca, promising themselves this would indeed be the last show. But the following year, the two were asked by a couple to fly to America and play for their wedding in Seattle. The two graciously accepted, and played at another wedding in 1998.
Demands for the pair continued to escalate, and in 1999 they ended up playing approximately ten shows worldwide. Beginning in September of that year, Fish and Eider arrived in the United States to perform at sold-out shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and New York, where they were joined by old members Owens and David J, as well as David J’s younger brother, drummer Kevin Haskins, of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets fame.
As a result of such positive responses, Eider officially rejoined the Jazz Butcher. One of their performances from a 1999 show in Hamburg, Germany, was documented on the live album Glorious and Idiotic, released in February of 2000 by New York’s Reachout International Records (ROIR), and by December of 1999, the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy had signed on to record a new album for the Vinyl Japan label. More traveling followed in 2000, including spring dates in the United States, a summer tour of Europe, and then shows in both Japan and Australia. In between tours, the Jazz Butcher worked on their new studio album, Rotten Soul, released on August 14, 2000.
Bath of Bacon, Glass, 1983.
A Scandal in Bohemia, Glass, 1984.
Sex and Travel, Glass, 1985.
Hamburg (live album), Glass, 1985.
The Gift of Music (compilation), Glass, 1985.
Hard (EP), Glass, 1986.
Conspiracy (EP), Glass, 1986.
Distressed Gentlefolk, Glass/Big Time, 1986.
Bloody Nonsense (compilation), Glass, 1986.
Big Questions (compilation), Glass, 1987.
May I (EP), Glass, 1987.
Fishcotheque, Creation/Relativity, 1988.
Spooky (EP), Creation/Mercury, 1988.
Big Planet, Scarey Planet, Creation/Genius, 1989.
Cult of the Basement, Creation/Rough Trade, 1990.
Edward’s Closet (compilation), Creation, 1991.
Condition Blue, Creation/Sky, 1991.
Unconditional (compilation), Creation, 1992.
Western Family (live album), Creation, 1993.
Waiting for the Love Bus, Creation, 1993.
Illuminate, Creation, 1995.
Draining the Glass 1982-86 (compilation), Glass, 1996.
іExcellent! The Violent Years (compilation), Creation, 1997.
Glorious and Idiotic (live album), ROIR, 2000.
Rotten Soul, Vinyl Japan, 2000.
Buckley, Jonathan and others, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
Robbins, Ira A., editors, Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock, Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Abstract, Issue # 5, Spring 1985.
Contrast, Winter 1986.
Melody Maker, December 3, 1988.
Metro Times (Detroit, Ml), April 12, 2000.
Milwaukee Interview, November 19, 1989.
Music Express (Canada), January 1991.
Newsletter (Milwaukee, Wl), Vol. 1, #7, July 16, 1988.
Non*Stop Banter, 1986.
Option, May/June 1987; November/December 1990; May/June 1992; September/October 1994.
Rolling Stone, September 1994.
Select (U.K.), December 1991.
Sounds (U.K.), July 29, 1989.
Splatter Effect (New Brunswick, NJ), June 1994.
Stereo Review, July 1992.
ZigZag, April 1984.
The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy, http://www.jazzbutcher.com (July 17, 2000).
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