I’ve already related how I came to discover Pavlov’s Dog via an enthusiastic NME review of an import copy of their first album, Pampered Menial by Max Bell that, for the first time, convinced me without hearing a note that I would love this music. But this was 1976, and I knew of nowhere where I could hear the album, or even buy it.
A second album and review followed, in the Autumn: At the Sound of the Bell. Same circumstances, same reviewer, same enthusiasm for a different sound, same conviction that if only I could get to hear this band, I would hear something of tremendous value.
Then in, appropriately, late November, I chanced upon a second hand copy of Pampered Menial and chanced the last £2 of my birthday money on it. Time for a single play before rushing off to Chester for the afternoon, to Law College, enough to bemuse but oddly intrigue, and I spent the evening getting familiar with an album that bore out my instinctive response to Bell’s panegyrics.
And, a couple of weeks later, I used the first of my Xmas money to buy At the Sound of the Bell. I gave it the usual immediate spin, listening for scratches and scuffs, clicks, sticks and crackle, the standard paraphernalia of buying a vinyl album that I haven’t had to worry about since going CD in 1987. And it did sound different, worryingly so, and I fretted a little until Xmas Day and I could start to get to know it, and to love it too.
Two reviews, two albums, all in the same calendar year. Then nothing. No more reviews, no more releases. No news of anything in the NME, not even by Max Bell. I became resigned to the fact that Pavlov’s Dog were to be no more than the thickness of two single LPs, a tiny fraction in the rack of my collection, eighteen songs and that’s it, finito benito.
It was years later, another decade, before I thought I knew more. I was listening to Radio One, just about, and a song came on, and I turned to the radio in shock and surprise for surely that was David Surkamp’s voice! But it wasn’t Pavlov’s Dog, not with music like that it couldn’t be. So the band had definitely broke up, and there definitively was to be nothing more.
I was both wrong and right: this wasn’t David Surkamp, but rather Geddy Lee, and Rush, a voice all but identical to Surkamp, but the Dog had split by then, though not without a greater legacy than I knew. Suddenly, an album appeared in another Stockport record shop that I patronised because they were good on stuff like Joy Division, and I fancied the blonde behind the counter: Hi-Fi Demonstration Record it said, on a cover mocked up like those old stereo demonstration records Dad had bought to test out the stereo on the new radiogram. Ian Matthews and David Surkamp, it said. The blonde said that it was something they were considering whether to stock or not, but I suppose I must have been a lone vote because, despite my assuring her I’d buy it, the shop decided against.
The ‘album’ was actually a live 5 track 12” EP of the kind becoming very popular as limited recording cost first releases by hopeful bands (like R.E.M. and Chronic Town), but, unknown to me for many years, Hi-Fi went on to record a full-scale LP before splitting.
But the biggest news was a question for Fred Dellar, who wrote the NME‘s question page, still in 1981, revealing that the Dog had split up but that, the most cruel news of all, before doing so, they had recorded a third LP… that CBS had refused to release because neither of the first two had sold.
This was crushing news, to know that a third album existed, a third set of songs, that I would never get to hear. Remember that this was 1981, and that despite the indie-label era inaugurated by punk, the majors still had absolute control over releases. A third album…
It became a legendary goal for me, an unattainable grail, until, on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Liverpool, at the end of the decade, I attained it. A limited edition bootleg LP, The St. Louis ‘Hounds’, pressed up after the theft of the mastertapes. Its existence was known by then, but I’d stopped reading the NME years before and missed a revelation that would have only made me miserable in trying to locate this treasure.
So, after thirteen years, I had the third album, and it was good. By then, I’d converted the first two albums to CD, a clunky, chunky, double-CD pack taking up a lot of unnecessary space, given that the combined length of the two LPs would have still left space on a single compact disc.
So that was the end of the story, save for getting hold of Hi-Fi’s Demonstration Record which, to be honest, had long since gone out of my head. I don’t know what prompted my memories of it, but something did, and I managed to get hold of a copy, and learn of the hitherto unknown studio album, Moods for Mallards. Wandering around record fairs, asking sellers, I learned a lesson: Pavlov’s Dog were a cult band, but Hi-Fi were a genuine obscurity. Despite including ex-Fairport Convention Ian Matthews as well as Surkamp, ever record dealers had never heard of them.
They weren’t even typical of the Pavlov’s Dog sound that, so improbably, I still loved, being more of a rock-oriented outfit. But as long as it had Surkamp’s voice…
There was a minor diversion sometime in the Eighties or Nineties, I can’t now remember, when I’d gotten onto the mailing list of a rarities specialist, probably because I was still in pursuit of Joy Division obscurities (that were affordable). On one list, something came up under the name of Pavlov’s Dog 2000.
I raced to buy it but on receipt, it proved to be a five track EP, very badly produced, that proved to be a project put together by Mike Safron, the band’s original drummer, who’d only played on Pampered Menial. It had no Surkamp, no relation to the band’s sound and it was crap, and I successfully argued to send it back and get a refund, because the whole thing was a misrepresentation.
However, if you wait long enough, stories never end. On Cup Final day, 1996, I got into London for 9.00am to give myself time for a shopping spree down Oxford Street way. In the big HMV, on a whim, I wandered over to the P’s, to look up Pavlov’s Dog. It was an absurd notion, to think that maybe the third album had been put on CD, and to think of it being in the HMV shop if it had. And it wasn’t, though a CD version would turn up, titled Third, with a revised track-listing, not all that long after, from a German label.
But there was something else: Lost in America. A fourth album, a contemporary album, recorded by a reformed band with a new line-up, but a line-up which included both David Surkamp and original member Doug Rayburn. It’s a disappointment in comparison to the earlier trio of albums, the band having adopted a more conventional Adult Oriented Rock approach but, hey, that’s Surkamp’s voice and there’s one real killer track on there in You and I.
I was still looking for Moods for Mallards and still drawing blanks, but in the late Nineties, that quest came to an end in the most unlikely circumstances.
I was working for my most hated employers and every Friday would see me head home via Manchester, spending an hour among the life-restoring atmosphere of books, in Waterstones, to be followed by a Buy-One-Get-One-Half-Price deal on medium pizzas that saw me through Friday and Saturday tea.
For some reason, in early December, I was in Town on a midweek night, and browsing in the big HMV Store on Market Street. There was still a tiny vinyl section at that time and I was in the Hs, looking for the recently released Half Man, Half Biscuit album. For some reason, call it an affectation if you wish, after they had reformed I was still collecting albums as LPs, not CDs. And I was thumbing through the albums when I caught sight of a garish, yellow on blue title bar reading Moods for Mallards.
A smile was already crossing my face, amusement at the thought that someone else had used the exact same title, before I looked at the left hand end of the said bar, to a little black circle in which it said, in white lettering, Hi-Fi.
This was utterly unbelievable. A rare album by a band so obscure, not even specialist record-dealers had heard of them and, over a decade after its release I find it shrink-wrapped in the big HMV Store in Manchester? I still cannot think of any explanation that makes sense. Yet the proof was in my hand, and I was paying for it at the till.
As this was December, I decided to make the album into a Xmas present for myself, and left it in its shrink wrap. It was the evening by the time I got to Moods for Mallards, carefully unwrapping it, laying it reverentially on the turntable and pressing play before returning to my chair and my wine. Before hearing a scraping, screeching sound with only slivers of music.
I raced back to the hi-fi, lifted the needle and spun the record off the deck to look at it. It was not so much warped as corrugated, almost a third of its circumference bent into a succession of waves by the record having been left too close to a heat source at some point. It was, literally, unplayable. I took it back and got a refund.
It was not until the Twenty-First Century, and the internet that I finally got a playable copy, with little difficulty. And, with the perversity that so often stalks me when it comes to music, having bought the record for its connection with the Dog and David Surkamp, my favourite track turned out to be one written and sung by Ian Matthews, Throw a Line.
In the end, a year or so back, a CD collection of the complete Hi-Fi, with a couple of rarities was released, and after all that chasing, I replaced both records.
The revived band, having recorded Lost in America as far back as 1990, seemed to have been very much a one-off thing, and as I was paying no attention to any kind of music press, I wasn’t hearing anything, except in occasional dribs and drabs. There was a Surkamp solo single that I nabbed via eBay, a strange, slow, draggy version of Louie Louie that I really wasn’t sure about, and then a solo album, Dancing on the Edge of a Teacup that I held off sampling, because this was now when money was tight and eBay auctions or seriously reduced second hand prices on Amazon was the order of the day.
I did download a superb track off YouTube, a majestic, powerful song credited to Pavlov’s Dog, Life in Imperfect Times, a true throwback to their classic sound, though I eventually learned it was from Surkamp’s solo (which is sub-titled ‘The Pavlov’s Dog Trinity Sessions’).
And there was another new album by the Dog, in 2010, Echo and Boo, and assorted Small Tails, which was another victim of economic straitenedness, until last Xmas when, flush with eBay sales, I treated myself to a double splash, and found both albums to be worthy additions to the canon.
By then, however, that third album had finally been released officially, under its original planned title, Has Anyone Here Seen Sigfried? (a reference to the band’s violinist, Richard Nadler, who went under the name of Sigfried Carver). And with no less than ten bonus tracks. Sigfried restored the original running order from The St. Louis ‘Hounds’, and included sleeve notes from Surkamp that made it plain how much he’d hated the record, but here it was, with demo tracks, live recordings and some never-released songs.
I fell upon it with glee, and even ended up replacing that clunky double-CD of the first two albums as these two were also re-issued with bonus tracks. Lost in America got the same treatment, though I’ve yet to upgrade to that, nor acquire the Live and Unleashed CD, featuring the current version of the band on stage.
But it’s thirty-nine years since Max Bell’s two enthusiastic reviews, and it’s still not done. All this reminiscing has been sparked by the chance discovery via Amazon, and the deliberate acquisition of another Pavlov’s Dog album, The Pekin Tapes. No, not another new album, the very opposite of it. The Tapes are Pavlov’s Dog’s original first album, recorded in 1974 when the band was in its infancy, and then Steve Scorfina and David Hamilton also shared lead vocals on songs written by them.
Five of the tracks survived onto Pampered Menial, where they got polished into the hurricane-loud and dramatic versions I’ve been familiar with so long, under the production of Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman, the Blue Oyster Cult producers (Scorfina was an ex-Cult guitarist). Another, Carver’s Preludin and Exordium in E. Minor, runs to its full eight minutes instead of being cut down to about ninety seconds for Pampered Menial, whilst the ‘new’ tracks are simply nothing at all like the band I’ve long known.
As a bonus, there’s an even earlier set of four tracks from 1973, the very earliest demos known.
And that’s not all. Has Anyone Here Seen Sigfried? has been re-mastered and re-issued with the original planned running order and different bonus tracks. The re-mastering is reputedly superb, having been made from the original master-tapes which have re-surfaced. The only comment on Amazon recommends buying it to keep alongside the original release.
And then there’s Of Once and Future Kings, another new CD, another live performance, but of the classic band, mastered from tapes of a live radio broadcast, which is an absolute must for me, being as close to time travel as I’m likely to see in my lifetime.
Once upon a time, and a very long time it was, it was two albums in a rack, a tiny slice of space. All That There Was and All That There Would Be. After all, this was a cult band, and cults aren’t meant to be wide and expansive. But it isn’t like that any more. Someday Soon I’m going to have a CD collection that runs almost into double figures and takes up considerably more room on a shelf than I’d ever have imagined. All for a cult band. I shake my head in wonder at the vastness of it all.