Petroleum Spirit Daze
Petroleum Spirit Daze is the re-mastered version of Swervedriver’s début ep, Son of Mustang Ford, which was recorded by Tim Turan on the 9th-11th of April 1990. He is also the one who remastered it. I first got my hands on a bootlegged copy of Son of Mustang Ford later that year, as I began my final year of high school. I don’t remember where I got it from, only that it was a dubbed copy of a dubbed copy, so the sound wasn’t great, but it was one hell of an introduction to a new band.
Swervedriver were always categorized as part of the shoegazer scene, and hailed from Oxfordshire, also home to perhaps the greatest of the shoegazers, Ride. In fact, Mark Gardener, the frontman of Ride, was key in getting Swervedriver signed to Creation Records. As Swevedriver frontman Adam Franklin tells the story on the band’s Bandcamp page:
Creation was actually the last label to whom we had handed a tape of our demo – Blast First being the first because they had released Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr records; Glass Records second because they had put out Spacemen 3 – but we had one tape left over and thought ‘what the hell?’ and so Mark Gardener took it and he gave it to Alan McGee.
McGee was in Los Angeles in the back of a car with Guy Chadwick from the House of Love when he finally got round to listening to it and putting the tape into the vehicle’s tape machine and blasting it loud, he decided there and then to sign us and on the 21st March 1990 we found ourselves playing our first show with new drummer Graham Bonnar, surrounded by crib sheets, opening for the House of Love at Liverpool Royal Court – Liverpool Football Club were about to be crowned English Champions for a record 18th time.
I am a Liverpool fan. Passionately so, even if I hail from the colonies, and I have cheered for the Scousers since I was kid in the late 70s, when they were the dominant team in England and Europe. And Swervedriver played Liverpool just as the city’s primary football club (sorry, Everton, I know, you were dominant as well in the 80s and Liverpool dominated English football for much of that decade, but, well, you’ve fallen off some). Liverpool have just won their 19th championship, and first of the Premier League era, so I guess it made sense to re-master and re-release Son of Mustang Ford as Petroleum Spirit Daze now.
I remember back to my original copy of the original ep, and the first track, ‘Son of Mustang Ford’ was a hard-charging, brilliant track, and the rest of the ep showed their more melodic side.
But the re-mastered version doubly emphasizes this. ‘Son of…’ was also on their début album, Raise, from 1991. But the version is here is far superior. Vicious guitars, an assault, really, of guitars, bass, drums, and Franklin’s trademark laid back vocals, buried deep in the mix, sound vital and fresh, even three decades on. Swervedriver always had the ability to be heavy, hard, and nasty, as Franklin and lead guitarist Jimmy Hartridge trade licks. But this version of the song is also muddier than the album one, as original bassist Adi Vines also takes a starring role with Franklin and Hartridge. In fact, his bass gives this song a very low end, which allows the nastiness of the crunching of the guitars to be all the clearer. Graham Bonner’s drums are higher in the mix than usual, and with Vines’ bass, this song is given its proper due. Re-mastered, all of this becomes clearer, but more than that, what really hits me is how young Franklin sounds. But, thirty years ago, well, yeah, we were all young,
‘Volcano Trash’ is not as melodic as I remember it in this re-mastered version. And it’s not like I’m comparing this to my 30 year old memory, either. I was able, a few years ago, to scoop the CD version of the original ep on eBay. But here, the song is another assault by guitar, and this was always one of my favourite things about Swervedriver, just how heavy Franklin and Hartridge’s guitars were. Something happened to the band by the time they went into the studio to record Raise. That album, like their début ep (which was followed by three more across 1990-91 before the album dropped) was self-produced. But, I guess they got more used to the studio, gained more polish. ‘Volcano Trash,’ which is a classic b-side and has not appeared on any other release is raw.
‘Juggernaut Rides’ also benefits from Thuram’s re-master. Unlike much of Swervedriver’s catalogue, this one sees Franklin’s vocals featured more, with the classic opening line of youthful defiance, ‘I don’t care what you say/I’m gonna do it anyway.’ The song is a bit calmer, but once more Thuram’s re-master draws out the bottom end of the track, as is also the case with ep closer, ‘Kill the Superheroes.’ This is a track that sounds very much like a young band figuring out its sound. Bonnar’s drums sound fresher and higher in the mix, as the band sorts out the ideas behind their guitar/bass assault, at least with Vines as a member.
Neither Vines nor Bonnar were long for the band. Vines left after Raise and Bonnar is famous for going out for a sandwich near the Canadian border on tour and never coming back. He just up and left.
It is interesting to listen to re-mastered versions of music we are very familiar with from our past, similar to the remastered versions of the perfect album, The Stone Roses, a new depth is added to the music, the sounds of the instruments, the sound of the sticks hitting the snare and cymbals, the pedal on the bass drum, the guitar and bass strings being plucked, all of this becomes clearer, and one can hear both the sum of the parts of the band in the song as much as you can hear those parts.
I have played this ep about 100 times since last week. Just in case you were wondering.