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?

For a guy who quit producing the Stones during the Satanic Majesties sessions because they just kept playing chaotic jams until he'd leave the studio, Oldham must've heard history repeat itself, if the murmurs about the band's horrid first demos are to be believed.

"A few tapes from that time escaped," says Hoyle quietly. "We had a few different people at the beginning of Gay Dad, and it was only when James Riseboro, our keyboardist, joined up that we sorted it up and became a real creative band. Before that we were just playing free-form psychedelic folk. As with most bands, it took us about three or four years just fucking about doing all sorts of jamming and being basically semi-retarded and then all of the sudden you get a focus, a chemistry going."

The band rethought its "semi-retarded" sound, going slightly glam and full-bore psychedelic during the recording of a second demo in 1997. That collection of songs contained the future UK hit singles "Oh Jim," "To Earth With Love" and the B-side of "Joy" called "Desire." It also started an almighty record label bidding war for the band that lasted six months, before Gay Dad inked a deal with London Records. While the balance of the first album was produced by Chris Hughes (Adam and the Ants), the band tapped Tony Visconti to help shape its first single "To Earth With Love." Hoyle says they made the choice because "we were big fans of the vocal stuff he's done. Not just the Bowie and T. Rex stuff, but some excellent psychedelic records that he cut his teeth on, these incredibly obscure one-shot singles."

Music press whipping boy Gay Dad: Would you let your daughter marry one of them?
courtesy of London Records
Music press whipping boy Gay Dad: Would you let your daughter marry one of them?

Oddly enough, it escaped Gay Dad's attention when its first single was rush-released without the proper songwriting and production credits. When "To Earth With Love" first appeared in the chart listings with an ominous "information withheld by label" underneath, it touched off a minor furor that some sort of scam was afoot. Moreover, the only listing of personnel in Leisure Noise's booklet is the "Jones, Hoyle, Riseboro and Crowe" writing credits. The scant data reflect the constant state of flux that the group's lineup has witnessed since the beginning. At last report, the core of Jones, Hoyle, Riseboro and drummer Nicholas "Baz" Crowe are still in the band, though representatives of Sire/London Records in the States have no idea who the new lead guitarist is or even if there is one. Not to worry, up to now, mystery seems to be working in Gay Dad's favor.

But mystery doesn't open up the airwaves. Thus far, the only Gay Dad song to grace American radio isn't even one of the group's UK singles. It's an album track, "Black Ghost," that the syndicated Rock Over London show played last May, when the album was released in Britain. Reflecting the best elements of Pink Floyd, the song is at once somber and yet quietly comforting. "A personal favorite of mine," agrees Hoyle. "The thing I like about it is there's a very organic feel to it. It really feels like the track blossoms and grows, there's a real sense of honesty to it, which is what you strive for in songwriting.

"We're in the process of making an album at the moment," he continues, "and quite a lot of stuff on the new album is in the vein of 'Black Ghost.' We're going to call it Keep It Heavy. We've still got this nature beauty vibe. What we're doing is working on an economy of expression, we're trying to make beautiful sounds without layering tons of stuff on the tracks. 'Black Ghost' reminds me of my favorite Nick Drake songs, which I adore."

Nobody ever mentions Nick Drake unless they mean to reference a pretty, desolate and riveting depression. Maybe that's the logic behind Volkswagen using Drake's suicide anthem "Pink Moon" for a car commercial. Everyone's aimed their subliminal ad campaigns at people struggling to seem well-balanced, why not appeal to manic-depressives? They've gotta drive, too, and what better car for people who feel the weight of the world closing in on them than a Cabriolet? Even Yugos might become a hot import if they had a song like "Black Ghost" shilling for it.

Unlike many British groups, Gay Dad has reason to be cheerful these days -- it still has a record deal, for now, anyway. "There's a lot of long-faced longhairs around here at the moment, I can tell you," says Hoyle, a scant two days before the Time Warner/EMI merger was announced. "It comes with the territory. We've just got to keep making tunes up and keeping our fingers crossed."

"But," he reminds himself, "we don't have to worry, because we're going to conquer the world."

Just then singer Cliff Jones bounds within earshot of the phone and screams, "That's a lie, he's winding you up." Spoken just like a man who's seen the future of rock 'n' roll and found it's located somewhere up Backstreet butt cracks.

Gay Dad is scheduled to open for the Pretenders on Thursday, February 10, at Union Hall. Showtime is 8 p.m.

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