Thursday 19 March 2020

Last Week's Trend is Now Passé (part 6): Dan "Can you dig it?" Ep, 1986

What a time to be alive. The Insane used to sing that "the whole world is going insane" but can you really trust a band wearing their dubious mental health on their sleeve when it comes to matters of sanity? Maybe you first have to think of yourself as insane in order to regain some semblance of rationality and truly seize the insanity of the masses. Why have we, collectively as a society, suddenly become obsessed with the cleanliness of our arseholes? So much so that, to keep our own bottoms clean, we are happy to raid supermarkets in our quest for bog rolls and if it takes a bit of wrestling to get the last pack, then so be it. The impression that we are literally turning into selfish arseholes is a little nauseating and when I see so many of my fellow human beings shamelessly carrying a bog roll jenga on their trolleys, with that infuriatingly smug look of entitlement on their fat face, well let me tell you that, were I not such a wimp, I would probably consider the possibility to beg them to share and collectivise toilet papers because after all aren't we one big loving family? But of course, I do nothing of the sort and, so far, the only way I have found to quench the rapidly rising fury in my tiny chest, is to listen to Dan because is here to make you feel better about a world plagues by arseholes-obsessed arseholes. 

I would not want the previous paragraph to lead to think that I mingle with illiterate commoners on a regular basis but my personal shopper has been ill since the start of the outbreak - I did send flowers, just to make it clear - and as a result I now have to run my own errands until, I suppose, he dies and I have to hire yet another prole glad to toil for me for the minimum wage. But anyway, when hard times bang on your door and you find yourself locked inside the family castle like myself, you need to turn to good-natured, vibrant bands for spiritual comfort and Dan belong to that rare category. First, let's kick the elephant out of the room: yes, the band is called Dan and no, it is not just one banjo-playing geezer or something, and yes, the puns you can do with Dan are endless. I have been really into Dan since I acquired the Boss Tuneage double-cd Danthology upon its release in 2005. I had never heard them before that and I must admit that the perspective of a lengthy discography from a band that, not only chose to be called Dan, but also had a cat doing a peace symbol on the cover, was rather equivocal. The narrow-minded punk I was at the time should have scoffed haughtily, discarded Dan as "hippie pop shite" and proceeded to blast Hellshock at full volume. But Dan were referred to as a melodic female-fronted political punk band and since I unexpectedly liked the other Boss Tuneage discography I owned, Graveyard of Dreams by Terminus, I went for it. As for the band's moniker, bass player Ian justified it in the liner notes as follow: "Dan were named after "a male whore with a big whang" in the porn film, "Babyface." The Black Widow wrapped him from head to foot in clingfilm and then tried to cut his dick off, it was funnier than it sounds." I am still unsure whether the explanation actually makes the name worse or not. 

Dan were based in Darlington (County Durham) and existed between 1983 and 1988. They played 107 gigs and shared the stage with many of the best bands of the era like their "gigography" shows. From mid-80's anarchopunk bands like Anti-System, Hagar the Womb, Blyth Power or The Instigators, to pioneer hardcore acts like Electro Hippies or Generic, metallic crust founders Antisect, Hellbastard or Sacrilege, and even touring foreign hardcore acts like Wretched and Anti-Cimex. Not bad, right? Dan were both poppy enough to play with tuneful bands and fast enough to play with hardcore ones. However, despite a strong discography of three albums, one live Lp and one Ep (without mentioning one live tape and one BBP tape) and some serious gigging, Dan's legacy remains difficult to assess probably because of their versatility (they claimed to play "fraggle rock" whatever that means...). Most of the music has the potential to appeal to an anarcho crowd but the humorousness, cheeriness and the unconventional colourful artwork can repel those who worry about instagrammability or think that anarchopunk must look and sound like The Mob. Dan could win a pop-punk audience's heart but then, they could also play fast and hard and sound just too bloody punk and serious at times. And I suppose an old-school hardcore crew could enjoy some Dan but would eventually find them too poppy and well, it sadly often takes a bloke on vocals to be qualified as "hardcore legends". The band can be liked by everyone who is into punk (whatever the altar you kneel at), which should be positive and did allow them to play with all kinds of bands, from Eat Shit to Famous Imposters. However such a quality does not really fit in our strict modern music compartments and I have the feeling that it is why Dan, in parts, do not really get much credit today. But then, I suppose I should not be surprised in a world where the number of views on youtube has become the gauge of a band's relevance.

As the Meantime insert included with the Ep claims, by 1986, Dan had had 20 members (!) since their first gig with Conflict in 1983 but the lineup stabilised afterwards (a common case of the Oi Polloi Syndrome). Can you dig it? was recorded on two separate occasions in 1986, two songs (one one) were taken in York's Clifton Studios and the two others (side two) at the Terrace in Darlington. I suppose it is only honest to point out that this first Ep is not Dan's best venture into rock'n'roll stardom and that the first Lp, 1987's Where have all the children gone? is, while very much building on the same core material, a superior effort. But debuts are often quite revealing and eloquent of a band's intentions so I decided to pick Dan's only Ep. Apparently, Dan were supposed to do a split with Hagar the Womb (it would have been a very relevant pairing) on Children of Revolution Records but it did not happen and Ian decided to found Meantime Records in order to release Dan's material. The rest is punkstory and Meantime would become one of the major DIY punk labels in Britain at the time releasing records from Hellbastard, Sore Throat, HDQ or Leatherface. So what about Can you dig it? then? I have been prevaricating for ages so let's get to the point. At that time Dan still had two female vocalists, Julie and Georgie, which I am a huge sucker for as it always gives extra depth and dynamics to a tuneful punk-rock song. The production on the Ep is pretty raw and it really has that "first record" punky enthusiastic feel which makes one forget about the tiny mistakes, momentary lapses of concentration and sloppy singing. The first side has a clearer sound while the other is groovier but more unrefined. It is undeniably a flawed recording meant to be seen as a preparation for the Lp, but there is a freshness, an energy, a buoyancy that makes these four songs sound just honest and lovable. Beside, the four songs do not sound alike as the band use several paces, from the fast punky beat to the mid-tempo one, and moods which always made the band quite unpredictable. Not unlike Hagar the Womb or Rubella Ballet, Dan had that childlike exuberance and sparkly liveliness which, associated with their dynamic take on punk music and their pop melodies, made them quite endearing (and their cat logo was visionary). Sonically, comparisons to the two aforementioned anarchopunk greats as well as late Lost Cherrees or A-Heads are relevant, but there is also a manifest mid/late 80's melodic hardcore vibe to Dan's songwriting and other British bands like Hex, HDQ, Depraved and, obviously, Joyce McKinney Experience also come to mind.  

If Dan's music was quite cheery for the most part, although they were also able to pull out some moodier melancholy songs as well, the lyrics were definitely serious and were political from a personal point of view. The issues of low self-esteem, difficult self-expression, dysfunctional families and toxic relationships are tackled so that Dan's open merriness, while not misleading, must be seen in the light of words that give a bittersweet dimension to the whole. Clever band, to be sure. According to the foldout cover, Can you dig it? was not actually Dan's very first release since a tape including a live recording, entitled Human Beings the Size of Amoebas, had been put out previously on 69 Tapes, Sean Wat Tyler's label who also contributed sleeve notes to the discography. The artwork is humorous and silly with a lot of inside jokes, childish puns and cheesy drawings in pure cheeky punk tradition (somewhere between Hagar the Womb and Disorder). 

A top band that you should seriously pay more attention to. I <3 you Dan.


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