George Nicholls of The Tubs on Ultravox – Ha! Ha! Ha!
Swapping gears from the last edition of Hidden Gems, in which forces finally aligned to get one of my longtime favorites into the feature, to an entry from one of my favorite new bands to grace the speakers. The Tubs have been letting out a spotless run of short-format releases since their inception as an offshoot of the critically-beloved Joanna Gruesome. With the band’s debut for Trouble In Mind just around the corner I reached out to the band to see if they had any gems hidden away on their shelves. The band’s George Nicholls scoured his collection and pondered the nature of what makes a hidden gem for one that fit the bill.
“It took me quite a long time to think about something I really considered a ‘hidden gem,’ admits George. “When thinking about writing this, I kept falling into the trap of choosing records that were in some way predictable. Predictable in the sense that their hidden gem status has since transcended their original success (or lack thereof) and, if anything, provided some sort of mask for their often-inconsistent quality. Records akin to that one on YouTube written for plants to grow. Jesus Christ.”
“I arrived at the conclusion that I wanted to choose a record that I genuinely loved as a priority. Then, I wanted to consider whether I thought it was appreciated to the same extent as my love for it, in order to navigate some kind of tokenistic and ultimately shite choice. I’ve chosen a record that I routinely find myself coming back to. Specifically at times when I get bored with records that I think on first impression are good or at least somewhat inspiring, but quickly leave me feeling completely indifferent to the initial honeymoon-phase of excitement that they once provided. I end up feeling resentful that I was duped into to thinking that they would provide me with any kind of long term joy, based on thinking nothing more than ‘this is pretty good’ upon the first listen or two.”
“This happens more than I would like it to and Ha! Ha! Ha!, Ultravox’s second album, is a record that I’ve noticed consistently soothes and reminds me that music can be genuinely exciting, affecting and long lasting, beyond any superficial pretense. To what extent it falls into the ‘hidden gem’ category I don’t really know. Given that it contained one minor hit, ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’, I thought it might be better to consider the album, treated as a whole work, hiding in plain sight more than anything else.”
“My dad gave me his copy of it when I was probably in my early teens with a completely sabotaged sleeve. I later found out that this was due to some escaped pet gerbils, hungry for cardboard, running riot in the barn that him and his friends lived in whilst at university in North Wales. I’ve since played it to a bunch of my friends who, every time, wonder why they haven’t encountered it before. Its position in history (1977) means the record presents itself sonically as a perfectly elegant highlight reel of Eno-era Roxy Music*, glam, and early punk. At the same time, it manages to slightly predate, yet contain a similarly concise retrospective of the best elements of Pere Ubu-style angular guitar and chaotic brass driven post-punk with ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ arguably being one of the first ‘true’ synthpop tunes.”
Lyrically, it covers Scientology, war, city boys, hopelessness, and fickle music-scene-one-upmanship. It does so in a simultaneously bawdy, sarcastic, camp and silver-tongued critique of life in London in the late 70s, equally as relevant then as it is now. A best-of list might include: ‘Rockwrock,’ ‘The Frozen Ones’ and ‘Artificial Life,’ with the latter’s chorus sounding disturbingly like something by the Kaiser Chiefs. Only really reflecting on it now, I would bet that the majority of records that I’ve contributed to have been either consciously or subconsciously influenced by some element of Ha! Ha! Ha!. I would also bet that I will continue to do be guided by it in some way. It’s very special.
Note – *He did produce their first record.
With this entry, George has hit on exactly the core tenet of the Hidden Gems column. Sometimes the entries aren’t hidden by obscurity or elusiveness, but by losing themselves in plain sight. A $5 bin record that once seemed ubiquitous, but now eludes the core of listeners fits right into this idea. The record feels like it should influence a half dozen bands, and in some trickled down way, it probably has, but its nice to go back to the source and strip back the feeling of experiencing this influence second hand. The album was repressed on LP in 2016, but isn’t super available on this side of the Atlantic, though other formats remain more easily accessible. I’d recommend getting familiar if it has eluded your ears all these years. The Tubs new album is out this week from Trouble in Mind and George also releases solo works under the name GN.
Support the artist. Buy it HERE.