Monday, 11 April 2011

Sweet Slag: guerilla jazz rock


I've never seen anything on the web about this bizarre band, so thought I'd post what little I've gleaned about them here. Consisting of of Mick Kerensky (aka Mick Wright, guitar, violin), Paul Jolly (sax), Jack O'Neill (bass) and the late Al Chambers (drums), they formed in Luton in 1969. Their disquieting music set despondent lyrics ("every day is a drag" claims the frantic opener to their sole LP) to heavy, jazzy rock that Kerensky describes on the back cover as 'stock rock', owing to his admiration for Stockhausen. Their weird name, incidentally, was drawn from a term for a carbonate of magnesia that occurs in China. They were decent players, but their music contains lots of dissonance and bum notes, as well as aggressively tuneless singing. They clearly didn't much care about record sales, which is just as well.

The first reference I've found to them comes in the August 1969 issue of ZigZag (number four), which announces that the quartet are on the bill for a 'bread-raising dance' on the magazine's behalf:


A whole year passes before the next press reference that I've encountered - Tracking With Close-Ups was trailed for release on the ever-unpredictable President label in September 1970 (see small ad at the top of this post), but eventually appeared in January 1971, in an ugly sleeve that showed garbage piled high in a tenement's back alley. Here's the press release that accompanied it (which contains the surprising revelation that Kerensky had been a member of Joe Cocker's Grease Band):


Both the small ad and the press release mention a projected single, but that never happened. In my research for Galactic Ramble, I encountered only two reviews of Tracking With Close-Ups. On February 13th Melody Maker described it as ‘Harshly contemporary, jagged, raw and essentially joyless. The playing is solid and straight-ahead, there’s a lot of convoluted improvisation, and they’re obviously a worthy band who deserve to be taken seriously.’ A week later, Disc & Music Echo wrote that ‘This album is notable for an awe-inspiring sleevenote, but the music doesn’t stand the build-up – lyrics lost in the noise, and a general confusion of sound that means you have to take the group’s talent on trust. They’re heavy, of course.’




Sales were minuscule, but they kept gigging. Here are some dates they played:



This small ad appeared in Melody Maker of December 19th 1970:


and soon afterwards Music Now ran this review of a bizarre-sounding charity show they played with fellow underground rockers Ghost, supporting hitmakers The Equals:

Music Now, January 30th 1971
By October they'd become a quintet (with the replacement of O'Neill with John Catlin, and the arrival of Keith Arnold on second guitar), and - perhaps deciding Sweet Slag was too commercial a name - had become plain Slag:


Sadly, global superstardom continued to elude them, and they apparently split soon afterwards.I don't exactly like their album, but it's pretty weird and challenging. As the great Aaron Milenski puts it in Galactic Ramble: 'It's unlike anything else you have ever heard, and recommended to everyone out there who thinks the world is nothing but a piece of shit.'

7 comments:

  1. I'm a massive fan of this album and am amazed that you got this information... where did you get it all from? I'm aiming to try and track the guys down and find out what happened to them!

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  2. Great and enigmatic LP. I have this record. In my humble opinion it's far better and rarer than Red Dirt and many other forgotten records. Thank you for all informations about band. I apologise for my English.

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  3. Thanks...really enjoyed the write-up on this band. I just obtained the CD and am listening to it right now. While I may believe the world is nothing but a piece of shit...I don't think that's the reason I like this recording. I kind of gravitate to anything noncommercial or considered odd by the mainstream and this fits that niche perfectly. Good stuff!!

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  4. Jack o'neill ended up being my step father, we got on great for a few years but then I became a teenager. Despite me being a total pain when I left home he gave me his guitar :)

    Alas it was smashed over my head by an x baptist minister during an argument in a hostel a few years later.

    He is doing ok and has a father Christmas look about him now

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  5. The drummer on this album is my late dad Alan Chambers. He sadly passed in 1998.
    Jack O'Neil is my 2nd cousin on my mums side.
    Paul Jolly i believe still resides in Luton. Met him a few times over the years.
    Mick Wright ended up becoming a MP for Luton back in the 90's...not sure what he is doin nowadays.
    Having heard this album over the years i realise its not exactly an instant charmer on the ears but it was never meant to be.
    It was recorded two yrs before i was born and by 72/73 i believe the band had split,so i never got to see them perform live...but my mum says like most albums (and particularly recordings of that era) the studio never captured the skill and energy of their gigs.
    I was always of the opinion that Sweet Slag were either too ahead of their time or had just missed the boat. Either way its a great tribute to my dad that ppl such as yourselves still listen to their music and find a place for it in your collection.
    My dad was a fantastic drummer and in the early 80's he was in a band called Wedgewood and i would go with him to gigs and sit behind him and watch when he played and thatz how i learnt to play the drums.
    Im in a band called southside jimmy (we are on utube) and i play his old Hayman kit.
    Again its great to kno their is still intetest in the band and if i can help info wise contact me at tangocat1973@gmail.com
    Thanks.
    Paul Chambers

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  6. thanks for this

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  7. Jack was my stepfather, I think he is back in Luton again and I don't know if he knows Alan died, I will see if I can get in touch with his daughter On FB and see if he knows.

    We are kinda related then .... Ish

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