Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 1]

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been pining to dive into a Rock G.P.A. for The Blow Monkeys since day one here at PPM. I started this site in 2010, and the fact that there was that live album from 2009, “Travelin’ Souls: Live! At The Legendary 100 Club” always stayed my hand in the early days here. Then 2010 turned into 2011, and a new Blow Monkeys album [“Staring At The Sea”] manifested…and resisted my grasp until 2016. By then the albums that came after that one [“Feels Like A New Morning” – 2013, “If Not Now, When?” – 2015] were also non events in my Record Cell owing to periods of release coinciding with intense travel periods and the desire to save money for travel expenses and remote shopping in exotic environs.

By 2016, I managed to keep up with the more recent albums and crowdsource campaigns again since I was staying put for a change. 2017’s “The Wild River” was just stunning and I’ve just received the band’s 40th anniversary opus, “Journey To You” recently and it maintains the band’s extremely high caliber of achievement and after hearing it I was annoyed that “If Not Now , When?” had been so difficult to buy. I had missed the Pledge Music campaign and that seemed to be the only point of buy-in. Fortunately, the band have embraced Bandcamp now and have a store where their copies of that CD can now be easily obtained, so I threw caution to the wind and finally ordered that missing link in my Blow Monkeys collection last weekend and am wasting no time in starting this long-simmering paean to the works of this band. A group that have never disappointed in their long and rambling journey.


blow monkeys monktone
The Blow Monkeys in their Imperial Phase ca. 1985

I vaguely remember seeing a bit of, or maybe the whole video for “Forbidden Fruit” somewhere along the line in 1985. It might have been MTV’s “London Calling” program or perhaps even the dawn of 120 Minutes on MTV. Where “college radio” music got stuck in the Sunday at midnight time slot. But exposure to “Forbidden Fruit” once did not trip my alarms. What alerted me to The Blow Monkeys was probably the same thing that almost any of their fans would point to as their vector of infection: the video for “Digging Your Scene” getting MTV airplay and sticking in the charts until the song nearly scraped into the Top 10 at number fourteen.

The pop-soul sound of the band was not a typical Monk-magnet thing for me. Even in 1986, I was still aimed toward more synthetic musical targets. But the Post-Punk era was over…I just didn’t know it at the time. Outside of Propaganda, the most I could hope for in the musical environment of the day was Generation C synthpop like Pet Shop Boys and Erasure. And I’d be lying if I said that the musical merits of “Digging Your Scene” was what caught my attention.

No… what caught my attention was the indelibly crass music video for the song that was climaxed by lead singer Dr. Roberts; his outfits changing as if by magic, crooning to an elderly lady in the audience who went all twinkle-eyed at the lip glossed rent boy of her dreams. Even now, 35 years later, I am astonished at its boldness. It quickly became a lightning rod for me and my friend’s eyes. One such friend [he occasionally posts commentary here as The RAHB] beat me to the punch and went out and bought the “Animal Magic” album” first and got the opportunity to appleseed me this time.

I quickly followed suit and discovered that this band were a lot more interesting than the music of “Digging Your scene” led me to expect. The album proffered a compelling blend of jazz, soul, pop, barbershop quartet [!], and even a touch of Dub in its splendid mix of songs. In short order, all of my friends were listening to The Blow Monkeys and I quickly pivoted to buying everything under the sun. Good thing, too.

Their career would travel widely into areas that were not my main concerns, but the quality of the songwriting and playing insured my rapt attention until the fateful day when The Blow Monkeys were no more. By that time in 1991, I had a large collection that has only gotten larger over the years. For the next dozen or so years, lead singer Dr. Robert [Howard] had a solo career that was challenging to follow in the early web era, but I managed to get many of the albums and even some of the singles. Then, in 2008, the band reconvened and have stuck together ever since; having recorded even more albums since then that point then had been recorded at the start of their career. The band had its origins in a vision of “Punk Jazz” but had always had Soul music as one of their main touchstones. Tomorrow we’ll cast our gaze at their earliest recordings.

Next: …Of Parasols And Punk Jazz

About postpunkmonk

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23 Responses to Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 1]

  1. Tim says:

    I literally never heard anything by them until COVID, YouTube has been hitting me with suggestions and the hit to miss ratio for my taste is pretty formidable. I am slowly working my way through the material I’ve gotten since then.

    By the way, another band that the YT algorithim has not failed me on is The Marias. Boy did I fall down that rabbit hole hard. Thankfully they only have 2 eps and an album to gather up unlike other present company.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – !!! Better late than never! For me The Blow Monkeys were “The Style Council” with [much] better songs and playing! Dr. Robert was definitely a Paul Weller fan, but the learner quickly became the master while Weller just floundered to my ears after breaking up The Jam. Even the album with Robert Howard. And For the record I used to own copies of the Slam-Slam album and “Wildwood” but found them uninteresting – even with Robert Howard involvement.

      I’ve never heard of The Marias. Should I be worried?

      Like

      • Tim says:

        The Marias is in my opinion very adjacent to Swing Out Sister circa “Where Our Love Grows” but feistier.

        Like

      • Echorich says:

        Them’s fightin’ words Monk…I feel like TBM and TSC are comrades in arms from the days when making interesting Pop Music was a battlefield.

        Like

        • Tim says:

          I can take or leave most of The Jam and Weller’s solo output I am 50/50 on but The Style Council I find the alchemy to be on target almost all of the time. It took me some time and effort to get into them but once it clicked it was worth it for me.

          Like

  2. Brian says:

    Echorich is going to scream like a pre-teen at the American Girl store when he sees this series.

    Like

  3. Big Mark says:

    RK and I once had a discussion of the all-time worst band names, and I think we both agreed that Blow Monkeys was the clear winner! I’ve never heard anything other than the MTV hit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Big Mark – But you’ve got to admit, when it’s united with the logo…magic happens!

      blow monkeys logo

      I guess that Robert Howard heard the racist term for Aborigines when he lived in Australia in his teen years and thought that would be a great band name? If you’re a tabula rasa with their music, give the new one a listen. It’s a great Soul album with fantastic string and flute arrangements. A hint of Funk. A bit of Stax. Debut album is a great, dark, Jazzy sound, which we’ll get into tomorrow. No two albums are exactly alike. They were a constantly moving target, songwise.

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      • Tim says:

        Great comment about the name. When they came out I lumped them into a whole raft of often underwhelming acts that cropped up in the mid to late 80’s….Johnny Hates Jazz, Blue Mercedes, etc. and so much of what I tried of those left me feeling that I wasted my money that I didn’t even try with TBM.

        Liked by 1 person

        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – I hate all of other bands too! Curiosity Killed Johnny’s Blue Cat. All seriously underwhelming to me as well. Thank goodness I was buying The Blow Monkeys first. As I said, The RAHB gave it thumbs up and I trusted his judgement.

          Like

      • Big Mark says:

        I will take that under advisement!

        Like

      • Big Mark says:

        I will take that under advisement! I will say, though, that I quite liked the first album by Curiosity Killed The Cat, with “Down To Earth” being an enduring favorite.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Tim says:

          There’s some ok stuff to be found in tthere, but back when we were shelling out $14 for a cd and your return on investment is 1-2 tracks one starts to become conservative.
          I recently caught some Johnny Hates Jazz performing at some retro festival on YT and they sounded better decades on than they did back in the 80’s.

          Like

        • Mr. Ware says:

          I agree with Big Mark. The Curiosity Killed The Cat debut definitely pushed all my buttons and still does. But this is all about TBM, and the new album would be a fine entry point, as it’s really good.

          Liked by 2 people

        • negative1ne says:

          Hi Big Mark,
          I have become a huge fan of curiosity killed the cat, due to their first album, and all the singles from it. I think recently i got their second album which was ok, but not as good, although some of the singles from that were decent.

          they shortened their name to curiosity, and had a 3rd album, back to front, in 1994, which i also got very recently (its a little expensive and harder to source). but i love it, its a return to their original sound, with lots of singles and remixes. worth tracking down.

          later
          -1

          Like

          • Big Mark says:

            I had the second album at the time, but found it a big disappointment after their wonderful debut. I think I listened to the third album when it appeared and found it unconvincing. But the debut remains a favorite from the era, and a year or two ago it entered my collection on vinyl for the first time.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Echorich says:

    In 1984, Bowie released Blue Jean, a song that got, I’ll be generous, moderate response from critics and hardly any from the buying public. But it’s the video that was what’s most memorable about the track. Bowie as a crooner in club that was a cross between 20’s Deco and 80’s decadance. It’s one of my favorite 80’s videos. Then less than two years later, I’m Digging Your Scene makes its debut on MTV – a track that is a true Crooner’s best friend. The video immediately reminded me of Bowie’s Blue Jean, but then it went the full monty building the camp up with every scene. Dr. Robert even apes some of Bowie’s best louche moves on stage – he’s blessed with a very expressive face.
    Musically I was all for what TBM had to offer. There were elements from New Romantic/Blitz, New Jazz Pop and a ton of Soul. Of course Robert Howards way around a lyric was equally compelling. I started with Animal Magic but purchased Limping For A Generation immediately after.
    This is going to be a fun G.P.A. I’m hoping for at least an overall A-.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Smart call on the “Blue Jean”/”Digging Your Scene” video similarities. But Bowie never would have thought of the old lady twinkling. And he died on that hill. Bonus points to Dr. Robert for getting paid in cash at the end. So we all started at “Animal Magic” first, then? Are there any early adopters out there? I remember the excitement of finding “Limping For A Generation” in the bins where even the LP format couldn’t scare me away in 1986! But I had the JPN CD of it by early 1987. How I wished I hadn’t traded in the LP when I got the CD, but that was my [stupid] policy at the time!

      Like

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