Honk If You're Gay, Dad

Is the UK's Gay Dad a nurturing rock patriarch or the Pop that embarrasses you in front of your friends?

Back in the late '80s and early '90s, it was easy, no, make that compulsory, to laugh at the British music scene. The American indie explosion had given rock the bitch slap of life it desperately needed while England was still determined to construct the next New Kids on the Block -- Take That, Boyzone, Bros. Christ, those UK charlatans never gave it up, churning out careerist dancing boy units that made the materialistic whims of Wham! seem modest in comparison. Then the Commonwealth hit upon the Spice Girls, an export that would've forever cemented its laughingstock status had there not been a Portishead, Radiohead, PJ Harvey or Oasis to sway votes the other way.

As it turned out, England was a good 10 years ahead of the curve, at least where the cause of championing mediocrity was concerned. Last month's Rolling Stone Reader's Poll issue confirmed the Yanks' descent into the banal. I put it to you that it wasn't the Backstreet Boys who were caught with their pants down on its cover, it was America.

Fellow Vespuccians, just look at our charts and suck in all that shame. 'N Sync. 98 Degrees. Lou Bega. Ricky Martin. Britney Spears. Some conjecture that all this pop swill is a sign that things are gonna kick into high gear again, that this cycle is reminiscent of the pre-Beatles teen-idol boom. But that's an insult to Annette Funicello, whose torpedoes were God's design, and to Frankie Avalon, whose comedic abilities didn't hinge entirely on mugging to "Mambo Number 5." Even Fabian, who had less talent than a stationary toothbrush, at least had a genuine rock 'n' roll attitude. So when the U.S. rock press establishment starts drawing doo-wop analogies to the Backstreet Boys, it's time to cut the umbilical cord, call what they're doing "shite and roll" and just leave the poor Del Satins out of it.

That's what I say. But I say a lot of things. So does Gay Dad. Things like "Gay Dad's plan for the next year is total global domination." Although I cannot speak for Africa and Asia Minor, I've got a feeling America will be one tough sell. It's not because the group has a strange name -- although it's no big stretch to predict meager Gay Dad tee-shirt sales at their upcoming Valley show. If Gay Dad is serious about conquering the Colonies, its battle plan is all wrong. First off, Gay Dad doesn't dance in place, wear matching leisure wear and kiss peace signs out to the audience after every number. Its members don't even sound remotely Latin (they've got names like Nigel and "Baz"). And worst of all, they play a strange punk-and-prog-rock hybrid that American radio will not likely air unless program directors are taken as hostages and double-barrel demands are made.

If Gay Dad is the next big UK hope, it follows that it will be labeled the next big UK hype as well. Not since the Clash first employed a professional car service has such a worthwhile British band been so mercilessly derided by its own music weeklies. Because lead singer Cliff Jones was once a music critic for The Face and Mojo, as well as an Internet technology reporter for London's Financial Times, people look upon his media savvy with the same disdain Wall Street reserves for inside traders. Even now, the suspicions that the whole Gay Dad experience was merely an elaborate front for some music-industry exposé have never entirely been dispelled. A few disastrous early live shows only added fuel to the fire that the band was manufactured, and haphazardly at that.

Subsequently, Gay Dad's become the whipping boy of choice for the cynical New Musical Express, whose brief items on the band run with the obligatory mocking headline ("Gay Dad -- Rad or Sad?" "Future of Rock and Roll or Third Rate Industry Hype") footnoted with readers' poll questions like "Are Gay Dad just mediocre? Does anybody care? Tell us what you think." Yet the band's debut album, Leisure Noise, garnered near unanimous raves and even managed to wrest a complimentary notice from its chief detractor. No doubt that NME contributor was given a severe reprimand and sent home with a spider in his pay packet.

"The NME has a bit of a hate-hate relationship with us," admits Gay Dad bassist Nigel Hoyle in a transatlantic phone conversation just a week before the group's first stateside appearances. The group is trying to cram every available free moment in the recording studio before touring with another former British-rock-critic-led band, the Pretenders.

"The NME don't know whether to despise us or merely think we're mediocre. There's no love lost between us, really. I can't take it seriously. The British music press is this weird pendulum thing where it doesn't matter what your record sounds like. It's not necessarily even about being factual. It's more about finding a way of putting things cleverly. That's part of the UK press's charm, that it's so insane. In Britain, the actual press is king and it's the press has the power. There's much more of a fascination in the UK media with itself, to the point that the news material is almost incidental to the opinion. It's actually quite fascinating."

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