Wednesday, December 11, 2019

THE FLYS/Today Belongs To Me: Complete Recordings 1977-1980 (2CD) review!

(Cherry Red Records)

Formed in Coventry, England in the mid- ‘70s, The Flys – then operating under the name Midnight Circus – played the pubs and clubs, never fitting in with the Prog, Pub Rock, or Folk scenes. When Punk came along, everything changed. The band – led by singer/songwriters Neil O’Connor and Dave Freeman and featuring bassist Joe Hughes – changed their name to The Flys and finally found themselves an audience willing to listen to what they had to say. The recording of a five track EP led to them signing to EMI Records. And the rest, they say, is history. And by ‘history‘, I mean they recorded two fantastic albums, released a load of great singles, toured quite a bit, recorded a few Peel Sessions, never got the recognition that they deserved, and then split up in 1980. Sadly, these types of stories were all too common. For every artist that made its way into your record collection, there were at least 100 other talented bands more than worthy of that space on your shelves. However, they just never caught that lucky break and were denied proper label support, marketing, radio airplay, etc. The Flys were one of those bands.

Thankfully, the band did make an initial impression – their “Love And A Molotov Cocktail” single is considered a Punk classic – so all was not entirely in vain. While The Flys’ two albums have seen release on CD (thanks to the excellent Captain Oi label), the band’s commercial profile and recognition hasn’t risen much in the 40 years since they split. Hopefully, TODAY BELONGS TO ME: THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS 1977-1980, Cherry Red Records’ two CD anthology, will give the band a little more recognition. Often referred to as a Punk band thanks to the “… Molotov Cocktail” single, The Flys were so much more than that. Some might even refer to them as Power Pop, New Wave, or Post-Punk and, to be honest, all those descriptions would be fairly accurate. Like a mixture of The Boys (UK), Buzzcocks, David Bowie, and pre-REPLICAS Tubeway Army, The Flys weren’t afraid to operate outside of Punk’s rigid formula, adding hints of Glam, ‘60s Pop, Garage Rock, and Synthpop to their audio arsenal. Oh, and O’Connor and Freeman knew how to write some clever and insanely catchy melodies.

Disc One contains the band’s 1978 debut album WAIKIKI BEACH REFUGEES alongside 14 bonus tracks including non-album single tracks, demos, single edits, and more rarities. The album itself is filled with quirky, Punk-influenced Pop loaded with attitude and great tunes. Thankfully, the album is varied, offering up quite a few left-field journeys to genres most Punk bands avoided. “We Don’t Mind The Rave” starts things off with a blast of energetic Pop. “Beverly” switches things up, offering a nice blend of dramatic acoustic passages running headlong into a wall of amplified electrics. “She’s The One” is a playful ‘50s inspired gem. “Fun City” is a Boys-like rocker with some nice twists and turns. “Don’t Moonlight On Me” is a Power Pop classic and one of The Flys’ finest moments. “I Don’t Know” is another sassy Power Pop rocker. The rest of the album offers up even more great melodic gems that still sound powerful over four decades later.  Of the bonus tracks, “Love And A Molotov Cocktail” remains just as monumental now as it did some 40+ years ago. The next four songs are the same quartet of Punk tunes that accompanied that track on the BUNCH OF FIVES EP that the band released before signing to EMI. The non-album single “Name Dropping” is a pure British Pop classic that sadly avoided bothering the upper reaches of the charts. It’s B-side, “Fly v. Fly” is a moody instrumental that exists somewhere in the same universe as The Shadows, The Ventures, and Gruppo Sportivo. Add in some previously unreleased demos and you’ve got half of The Flys’ story on one CD!

Disc Two contains their 1979 sophomore album OWN, an album that moves closer to Power Pop and New Wave without losing the Punk edge. Not only do you get the album in its entirety on this disc, you also get to indulge on 13 bonus tracks including non-album single tracks, edits, and unreleased material. The album is still guitar heavy but the band adds a healthy dose of synth keyboards, although not enough to distract from their full-throttle guitar approach. “Let’s Drive” and “Energy Boy” offer a up an opening 1-2 punch that will tickle the adrenaline in your soul. “Fascinate Me” and “Talking To The Wall” travel the same musical ground that Gary Numan was experimenting with at the same time, although the Flys’ hooks are much more lovable. While albums are normally front-loaded with all the best songs, OWN is jam-packed with great tunes from beginning to end. “16 Down”, “Fortunes”, “Undercover Agent Zero”, “Walking The Streets”, and “Frenzy Is 23” are guaranteed to satisfy those who love slightly eccentric – and definitely eclectic – guitar Pop. The bonus tracks travel down the same road as the album, revealing that the band were certainly prolific at this point in their career. “What Will Mother Say?”, “Today Belongs To Me’, and “We Are The Lucky Ones” should really have been album tracks and not lost to dusty B-sides. The final five tracks are previously unreleased and show what could have been the next step in The Flys transformation. Alas, they broke up before they could get to that point. What a shame.

P.S. That wasn’t the last we heard of The Flys: Neil O’Connor went on to join his sister Hazel’s band. Freeman and Hughes formed The Lover Speaks, and the first album’s drummer Pete King joined After The Fire before dying of cancer at the age of 26.

TODAY BELONGS TO ME is an essential purchase for fans of British Punk and Power Pop. If you already own the long-deleted Captain Oi expanded CD reissues of their two albums, you still need to grab this set since it includes 13 additional tracks between the two discs.

Your pal,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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