Like all those with horniness for music, over years of finding encounters which spark extra love, lust, and addiction within the heart there are some moments which rise even above that in the passions. It is fair to say that from the moment punk rock erupted we have discovered a horde of such essential triggers to eternally drool over but of those that reign over the passions most a certain two remain to the fore. One is the single, Sex Cells by The Table and the other was provided by The Tea Set in the shape of their 7”, Parry Thomas. The first of the two only produced two singles before their shall we say chaotic and certainly uncompromising existence finally came apart but the latter over their three years left a host of further adventures which indelibly left their mark on ears and passions. So it was major excitement that we jumped on the opportunity, thanks to our friend Andy at Perfect pop Co Op, to check out Back In Time For Tea, an album bringing all of The Tea Set recordings together in one place with two new rich brews to sup on.
Hailing from Watford, born within its art college to be exact, The Tea Set emerged in 1978 out of punk band, The Bears. Initially called Screaming Ab Dabs until they realised that was an early name of Pink Floyd they renamed themselves The Tea Set, though weirdly the guys found out that Tea Set was another incantation from which the Floyd would rise. The name stuck this time and with a line-up of vocalist Nic Egan, bassist Ronny West, drummer Cally, and keyboardist Mark Wilkins, the band quickly released the Cups and Saucers EP, upon which Stewart Kinsey played guitar.
We discovered the EP and its glorious vinyl wrapping art work after being seduced by its successor, Parry Thomas and it is the quartet of tracks making up Cups and Saucers which opens up Back In Time For Tea. The four songs revel in the punk instincts which made The Bears a well-loved proposition but more so reveal the broader post punk meets art school sound the band were developing. On Them steps up first, from its first breath the song daring the listener to jump upon its ear nagging canter for a ride of unbridled enterprise and mischief. There is something akin to bands like Television Personalities and O’ Level to the song but already and across its companions you could hear something individual brewing and across following releases standing unique to The Tea Set.
The hectic punk ‘n’ roll of Sing Song is one of those songs which just sweeps you up in its swing and antics, revelling in the creative nagging which marks out all the band’s songs, that a persistent urging which only ever led to eager participation while Grey Starling revealed the experimentation which also grew and became ingrained in their sound over future songs. The Swell Maps meets Wire-esque B52G completed the EP and already it was easy to hear the inimitable character of the band’s sound and the defiant imagination which only blossomed by the release as evidenced by the perpetually irresistible Parry Thomas single.
Its two tracks are next on the album and a release which again came bound in just as imaginative and pleasing packing, the punk DIY ethic fuel to The Tea Set’s own independence in all things, and yes we still have the tea bag which was included in its body, unused of course. The single saw Ronny on guitar with Duncan Stringer now teasing and taunting with the bass, and Parry Thomas sparking one of the major addictions in music we have spawn. Written about John Godfrey Parry-Thomas, a Welsh engineer and motor-racing driver who at one time held the land speed record, a subsequent attempt taking his life, the track’s engine idles over initially with drama lining every shimmer of keys, suspense of guitar, and low rumble of rhythms that emerges. Eventually it sets off, Nic’s vocals narrating the disaster to happen with the fascination all moments, massive and small, like that seem to trigger in us all. The song is superb and has never lost its magnificence and slavery on ears for so many.
Tri X Pan which accompanied the track is just as addict forming, it’s developing shot of choice punk hooks and manipulative rhythms another trigger to eager participation, one only further strengthened by the beckoning tones of Nic.
Though Parry Thomas is suggested as the band’s biggest moment we suggest it is their next single which is the one those outside fan love might know them for. Certainly it is the one song that outside of John Peel, which seemed to get radio airplay of some sort most often. Keep on Running (Big Noise From The Jungle) is a song written by Jamaican ska and reggae singer/ songwriter Jackie Edwards and another one of the delicious moments when The Tea Set simply refuses to let go of your ears and attention. Produced by The Stranglers Hugh Cornwell, the song strolls in on a rhythmic swagger knowing that your body is going to instinctively bounce to its throb and voice sing to its infectiousness. As much pop punk as it is post punk devilry, the track just harasses and entices until you are hollering to its controlled yet wild endeavours and swinging with its virulence.
The single saw Ron back on bass with guitarist Nick Haeffner now part of the band, both just as tempting in their part of single B-side, Flaccid Pot, a psych pop instrumental seducing the senses around the first’s masterfully pulsating bass before it bursts into an inescapable sing-a-long inducing punk ‘n’ rocker.
The band’s next single was no stranger to certain radio shows either, the again wonderfully wrapped two song line-up of South Pacific and The Preacher simply one more memorable and again irresistible moment with The Tea Set. South Pacific is another track which just swings on the passions like a simian tease, the song a contagion of tantalising hooks and ravishing devilment getting under the skin as quick as a blink of the eye and an incitement even a bag of bones surely could not resist the urge to swing their inhibitions aside for.
The Preacher arrives on a cosmic mist of psych rock, a spatial missionary for the imagination and again nothing less than full pleasure as the band weaves another flight of originality and captivation.
Back In Time For Tea is completed by that couple of never heard before tracks, the first being Walk Small. It is a song recorded just before the band broke up sharing the same seeds as the previous track in many ways to blossom into a fascination of ethereal pop. There is a tinge of The Monochrome Set to it but so uniquely The Tea Set and so majestic you wonder if it had been released back in time theirs might just have become a name on the lips of so many more.
Pharaohs was recently recorded, a fan favourite which we can only feel blessed has found the light of day to light up speakers and ears alike and a song which sums up everything wicked, disobedient, and wonderful about The Tea Set and their idiosyncratic sound and indeed imagination.
So that is the recording history of The Tea Set, a band which has lit up stages alongside the likes of The Clash, U2, Iggy Pop, The Stranglers, and The Skids and been one big reason why music has been essential to so many, and that is Back In Time For Tea, the biggest treat for fans and newcomers alike.
Back In Time For Tea is out now via Cleopatra Records @ https://theteasetuk.bandcamp.com/album/back-in-time-for-tea and https://cleorecs.com/store/shop/the-tea-set-back-in-time-for-tea-cd/
Pete RingMaster 29/11/2019
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